By: Lindsay Grice
- Stress and tension plague us in modern times. Too many voices. Too many demands. With white knuckles and gritted teeth we soldier on. We can spot the signs of tension in a person – but what about a horse?
As judges we’re trained to recognize technical errors, lack of talent and lameness. What about signs of tension? We’re talking about this more, but the more subtle signs are easily clouded by a flashy mover, which naturally impresses us and we feel inclined to reward.
Conflict behaviour is a term in learning theory describing the way horses respond when they’re confused. Short rigid necks, busy mouths, fixed ears, hasty steps – these happen when a horse feels torn between the mixed messages he’s getting from his environment or his rider. Simultaneous, opposite signals or noisy cues trigger a horse’s flight response and when there’s no way out, he acts out (often subtly) or zones out (learned helplessness).
I admit, it’s a dilemma – comparing a talented but tense horse with an average happy one. It’s enough to stir some conflict behaviour in judges! Would honing the penalty system to include specific signs and degrees of tension be a step in the right direction? What about educating our riders beyond the mechanics and posture of the sport to the science of how horses learn? ( the “whys” behind the “hows – my passion!).
What do you think?
Coach, trainer, equine behaviour lecturer and judge, Lindsay Grice, has prepared horses and riders for wins at major horse shows in the US and Canada for over 20 years. Starting her career on the hunter A circuit, she continues to actively compete in both english and western events, specializing now in the AQHA circuit.
Lindsay teaches Equine Behaviour for the University of Guelph Performance Horse Handler course. In her popular clinics, she draws on the principles of equine psychology and sports psychology to bridge the communication gap between horses and riders and explains both the “hows” and “whys” of training and showing.
Lindsay is an Equine Canada judge and AQHA specialized judge, as well as a certified Equine Canada and NCCP (multi event) coach. www.lgrice.com