Horse trainers will be working with a horse’s memory and acknowledge that horses have good long-term memory. Research has shown that horses are also able to remember things that they learned a long time ago, whether it is positive or negative.
For riders there are advantages and disadvantages to this. If you teach your horse something, he’s going to remember it for years and years, even if you haven’t practiced it in the meantime. This is usually good.
As with most animals, if you reinforce good behaviour in a positive way the horse will remember and continue to exhibit good behaviour.
But the downside is that if he has had a bad experience, he won’t forget that either. If the horse finds itself at a place where it has a bad memory, it will not have forgotten years later. The horse links an experiences to the whole environment. It will remember the physical surroundings, sounds, scents, everything.
Experienced riders tell of how a horse always shies at a certain place. If a horse remembers danger its response will always be flight. People do not always understand how strong these memories are for the horse.
So obviously this is why it is so important for a rider or trainer to avoid frightening a horse. Prevention is far preferable, as it is difficult to retrain a horse that has had a traumatic experience.
When training a horse, repetitions must be done immediately and consistently. Researchers have found that the temperament of the horse does not make a difference. Basically, they all learn in the same way.
Prevent Negative Experiences in a Horse’s Memory
Reinforcement in training is important. Undesirable behaviour must be corrected as soon as possible, while desirable behaviour must be positively rewarded as soon as possible. That’s why we were always told to “make much of your pony”.
A horse remembers sounds and can associate a sound with a behaviour. So some trainers think that we should use words as paert of our teaching. Verbal commands and sounds such as clicking the tongue can be used, the way dog trainers use them.
However, a horse will learn nothing when under stress, as the survival urge will blank out memory.
Context is also important.
Animal behaviourists believe that horse can recognise each other after a long separation. They can also recognise people whom they have worked with. So let’s make the memories good ones.
To read more about horses go to our special equine feature.
To receive all our notices and each edition of SA Smallholder, for free, register here.