I place HUGE emphasis and focus on touch acceptance within my programme both inside The Academy as well as in my one to one coaching. Here’s why…
Many horses don’t actually enjoy being touched or scratched by humans due to unpleasant or even painful classical associations which have been paired with human touch due to things such as musculoskeletal pain, ill-fitting tack, heavy rugs and conventional training practices which rely on the application and removal of aversives such as leg aids, spurs, whips, bit pressure.
And that of course means those touch/scratches aren’t going to be perceived as something appetitive (pleasant) that we can use to positively reinforce them for any behaviour responses we want to see more of, since they aren’t going to want to work to gain them if they view them as unpleasant.
What you might not know though is that touch and allogrooming actually releases oxytocin in both the horse and human; it is the bonding hormone, also known as the love hormone!
So it’s actually that allogrooming and scratching between friends/family that is the glue which holds these social relationships together (along with various other activities). These behaviours actively deepen social bonds, facilitating and building both trust as well as feelings of safety. They promote that feel-good, nurturing CARE system within the brain – we have all seen horses do this with a good friend in their herd.
If we can help our horses to learn to enjoy our touch first and then a good scratch, we can begin to develop our own social bonds with them, which then allows us to also become associated with these feelings of safety, dependability and become someone they can place their trust in.
Perhaps we could use these darker days this winter to spend some time focused on developing these bonds with our horses, looking at how we can remove or reduce some of those unpleasant things which have caused our horses to dislike human touch and build up so we can use this allogrooming to REINFORCE OUR HORSES.
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This entry was posted in Academy Online Courses, Equine Training, Positive Reinforcement Training, The Academy of Positive Horsemanship, Young Horse Training and tagged positive reinforcement, Reinforce your horse, scratch your horse, touch acceptance.
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