A few words about horse memory and approaches to training
“The horse is stupid, but memorable,” wrote James Phyllis. I do not agree with the thesis about horse stupidity: years of communication and interaction with this animal taught me to think differently. Of course, like other living creatures, the intellect of horses individually varies depending on a variety of factors (including breed, gender, age and life experience of a particular horse). But, as for memory, you can’t argue with Phyllis. Once having learned something, especially at a young age, a horse remembers this for a lifetime. In the same way, horses remember both people and kinsmen with whom they once were together – not only numerous life stories testify to this, but also modern research by scholars of ethologists. Not without reason the main structure of the brain responsible for memory is called the hippocampus, from hippocampus – seahorse, the symbol of the sea god Poseidon. If a person’s hippocampus is destroyed by a disease or injury, then memory is destroyed.
You say: what about those horses that behave like goldfish – they blinked and immediately forgot? Yes, such “instances” are undoubtedly found. Here are just the reasons for this reaction may be different.
Some of the horses simply do not understand the meaning of the requirement, and therefore do not remember it. After all, horses are very economical in matters of their own energy consumption, and prefer not to engage in things that are considered useless and meaningless! Someone needs to repeat the same action more times because the information is badly “distilled” from short-term memory to long-term one (which, incidentally, may be due to the lack of certain vitamins and microelements in the animal’s body, for example, Fe or Zn).
Another common problem may be the fact that all horses react very strongly to any strong human emotions, including negative ones. When the level of stress hormones begins to exceed the value that is optimal for learning, they completely cease to perceive information. The horse, which “until blue in the face” is driven for the sake of the correct performance of a certain element or exercise, or else it is unjustly punished, is occupied only with the thought of finally being left alone. After all, there is a huge difference between recognizing and remembering the necessary movement or performing it thoughtlessly mechanically, especially if the work is accompanied by irritation and anger on the part of the person. Did you find yourself in childhood in similar situations with a subsequent feeling of your own helplessness, hopelessness, and corners? If such a story repeats repeatedly or does not change for the better over a long period of time, a syndrome of learned helplessness develops. This is the very state when you will take everything for anything, everything falls out of your hands, you are almost always not confident, extremely anxious and do not get the slightest pleasure from the activity, even if at first this activity aroused genuine interest! Surely in almost any rental or “training” you are faced with horses that are in such a state of mind and psyche as a whole. Depending on his individual characteristics, as a result of such training and upbringing, a horse can become openly aggressive or completely withdraw into itself, sometimes “exploding” with unpredictable reactions. It’s a shame when in such a situation there are horses that once began to interact with people with an open heart and a soft look. Due to stress, the horse ceases to understand what is wanted of it and why it is being punished, working with it becomes not only useless, but also harmful. The only thing that the horse remembers during the session is unpleasant emotions and physical discomfort.
Direct connection of the quality of memorization with the emotional coloring of information gives us a huge advantage in training horses. Do not skimp on praise when you are really happy with the horse! The praise for a horse is not so much a piece of sugar, but rather (and above all) in your sincere emotions. Rejoice with the horse, laugh, say “thank you”, and she will remember the required action better than just getting a treat. For horses, positive emotions are no less, but even more important reinforcement than food. Let’s not forget that the horse is not a predator, and therefore the perception of the “carrot-and-stick” ratio is fundamentally different from the perception of a dog. For such a social animal as a horse, approval from an authoritative member of society (in this case, a person) means status in the community, comfort and safety (the basic need of the animal victim).
Developed horse memory gave rise to good advice to finish training with something good, which, however, applies not only to horses. Some take this idea too literally, as an indispensable need to squeeze out of the horse that which she could not do to praise and “fall behind”. Most often, this approach leads to endless training, as a result of which the pair is actually turned off from what is happening and begins to climb onto the wall.