Equi-libre Horses

Positively coaching the art & science of horsemanship and equitation; enabling you to bring your equine dreams to life

How Horses Learn, Feel & Communicate

How Horses Learn, Feel & Communicate

This is a comprehensive online course lasting 12 weeks, available ONLY to Members of The Academy.

Whilst the content as per the outline below sounds a little dry and entirely theory based, it really isn’t at all!

The whole course content has been designed to be a fun, educational means of exploring the different learning procedures, which are vividly brought to life in a way that is really easy to understand via real-life examples and first-hand training scenarios/experiences. Video footage is abundant throughout the course.

2018 Course Dates

Monday 26th February 2018 – Sunday 20th May 2018


Skill Level

No previous knowledge in these topics required. A good all round practical experience of equine management and training is useful

Number of modules


Total Hours

25 / 45 – dependent on student input

Course Duration

3 months with tutor support – 2 weeks per module

No Attendance Required

Conducted by home study + ability to access a horse locally for the optional final module’s home study

Delivery of course material:

Entirely online through video lectures in the classroom and forums inside The Academy. Each Module’s material is released at the beginning of it’s two week period and remains for the entirety of the course.

Loving the depths of analysis here for habituation and flooding – Debbie Busby

“Oh Jo, you have no idea how powerful the How Horses Learn, Feel & Communicate course is. You have this amazing ability to gather a lot of information and then put into a format that makes sense of it all in a way that is easy to understand, but the subject matter is still huge! You literally compress it into bite size chunks for us to digest at which point it expands. You are amazing!”

Heather Richardson

“This course has been skilfully masterminded with each module a natural, logical progression of the former. I really feel this course has opened my mind to a completely different, ethical and fun way to train.

I cannot recommend this course highly enough. Jo Hughes has clearly poured her heart and soul into it and her passion is evident.”

Amanda Bradley

“I have just finished watching the content for the last module of the How Horses Learn, Feel & Communicate course. I wanted to say THANK YOU to Jo for putting together such an amazing course. In all honesty I had a little cry!

I feel so grateful that Jo does what she does and shares it with us all. I don’t know where I would be without it. If you haven’t done the course, you really should, it’s so so inspiring! I am just so grateful to be able to learn about the subtleties of horse behaviour and communication from such a wonderful teacher.”

Rebekah Marshall

Check out Part 1 of our taster videos about this course. In this video, Jo introduces Equine Ethology – the scientific study of the horse’s behaviour in its natural environment.


In Module 5 of the course, we delve into this area and learn all about equine body language communications.


→ The presence of equine play behaviours are a sign of an individual’s well-being and good welfare.

Learn more about the innate primary brain function of PLAY in our How Horses Learn, Feel & Communicate online course.


The Academy is the ONLY one of it’s kind – offering horse owners worldwide the opportunity to learn about up-to-date training protocols and, possibly more importantly, exactly HOW to apply them to horses through our online home study courses.

Learn more about how modern behaviour scientists help horses to overcome feelings of fear and anxiousness in the 21st Century.

Course Outline

Module 1 – Learning Theory – Operant Conditioning

  • Scientific study of Behaviour – Psychology
  • Learning Theory and Motivations
  • Quadrants of Operant Conditioning
  • Appetitives and Aversives
  • Freedom of choice

Module 2 – Learning Theory – Classical Conditioning

  • What is Classical Conditioning
  • Innate, involuntary reflexes
  • The scientific research
  • Positive reinforcement training – the bridge signal
  • The stages of Classical Conditioning

Module 3 – Learning Theory – Habituation & Flooding

  • What is habituation
  • The FEAR reflexes – fear potentiated startle reflex, freeze, flight, fight, faint
  • Escape & avoidance responses in a prey animal
  • Systematic Desensitisation
  • Thresholds
  • Risks with habituation
    • Sensitisation
    • Flooding
    • Learned Helplessness & psychological disorders
    • Negative reinforcement of escape behaviours
    • Conditioned fear

Module 4 – Affective Neuroscience – Emotions

  • Why emotions matter
  • Dr Jaak Panksepp – the blue ribbon core emotions
    • Primal emotional circuits
    • Social emotional circuits
  • A look at Aversive emotions
  • A look at Appetitive emotions

Module 5 – Equine Ethology – Body Language Communications

  • Introduction to equine communication
  • Aversive ‘feel bad’ body language
    • Behaviour expressions of alarm
    • Agonistic behaviours
    • Stress/calming signals
  • Appetitive ‘feel good’ body language
    • Affiliative behaviours
    • Relaxed, happy ethogram

Module 6 – Behaviour Modification – Systematic Desensitisation & Counter Conditioning with Equines

  • What is modern horse training?
  • Ethical training protocols for modifying any behaviour that involves any kind of arousal or emotional reaction
  • Why are fears and anxieties best to be avoided in horses?
  • Why use appetitives such as food to train?
  • Learn how to shift a horses emotions in a more positive direction
  • Create calmness, curiosity, interest, confidence, happiness and contentment in your horse and enable time spent with you to be genuinely enjoyable, pleasurable and fun for you both – whatever your goal!

Speaking as a behaviour consultant, I have seen some nice videos from Jo Hughes where she picks up Ellie who is grazing, does some CT with her then “puts her back” so to speak, even though they never left the field. Ellie has choice to engage with Jo or graze. Relaxed, calm, no frustration and no compulsion. This is what I’d be aiming for with the CT.

I’m doing Jo’s course as a CPD refresher and the content so far is excellent although I’m afraid I’m a week or 2 behind as I’m so busy! There is a huge amount of varied information that suits different learning styles, from videos to academic papers, and if you have the time you can really delve deeply into the finer points of how horses learn and how they experience and act in and on their environment, but even if you have less time available and can’t go into those depths you will still acquire good knowledge in a structured way which will help you to be a better trainer. Jo’s also set up a really good discussion forum, whatever level people are at they feel confident to ask analytical questions with open minds and everyone is encouraging and respectful, I haven’t seen one instance where anybody might have felt belittled or put down. So if you can join the next course in July, go for it!”

Debbie Busby – Equine Behaviour Consultant

“We don’t know what we don’t know. Sounds simple doesn’t it, but we can never know things or discover things if we don’t have an open mind. I didn’t know anything about website design until I went on a course, I had never heard of some of the programming languages – so how could I have hunted them out for myself?

Its the same with how we train horses. If we have never heard of operant and classical conditioning then how are we to know we need to learn about them? Same goes for the emotional systems all mammals share.

So if you have heard all the learning theory terminology but have no idea how they can be used with horses, or you don’t understand about the emotional systems and how training can affect them, don’t be afraid to learn more.

Jo Hughes’ course “How Horses Learn, Feel and Communicate” is a good starting point. 12 weeks of videos, quizzes and lots of feedback and support.

This is an extremely useful course for anyone who has contact with horses, we all need to learn to communicate and ethically train horses. Horses are learning all the time – whether we are actively doing a training sessions or just taking them to and from the field and stable.

The course is a mixture of video presentations, articles from various websites and questions to get us thinking about why we do what we do and how the horse may feel about this. The scientific content is at a level anyone can understand. One example is looking at videos of flood desensitisation and assessing the possible emotions felt by the horse. Then we had to find videos to illustrate this technique.

Jo is very patient and makes excellent videos presentations, she is always willing to answer questions, and assist in our training problems.

I can whole heartedly recommend this course.”

Gill Langridge

Well, the 12 week online course “How Horses Learn, Feel & Communicate is over 🙁 – it has been an amazing learning experience with so much information and in such depth in Jo’s video lectures for each module – access to additional learning materials via links to web pages that meant we could delve as deeply as we wished into each topic; however the video tutorials themselves were so clear and packed with information that for many will be plenty deep enough to allow for an excellent grounding in helping us to prepare for training our horses with an understanding of learning theory, the emotional circuits of the brain, the ethology of the horse and how to read and understand their body language. The forum allowed for more discussion via various assignments designed to motivate deeper thinking and questioning of our understanding of the subjects, culminating in a quiz on each module.

I have added so many layers to my knowledge and my interest to study further has been nurtured and encouraged.

Thank you Jo for a wonderful course! I know how much you have put into this – and it shows. Excellent and I highly recommend this course to anyone who wants to further their understanding of these topics.”

Carolyn Jenkinson

I concur with all of this! Loving the course but definitely need more hours in the day! I really love the Jaak Panksepp vids, he is something special. Love the course Jo – you’re something special too!

Amanda Bradley

Cornwell Media