Horse people around the world share certain qualities: a genuine affection for their horses, an honest desire to learn, a willingness to listen to their horses and curiosity to seek answers for the problems they are having with their horses. You surely must be a horse person, otherwise why would you be reading this article?
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True horsemanship has nothing to do with learning lists of “Equine Do’s and Don’ts”. It means watching, listening and analyzing your horse and its behavior. It means reading, discussing and thinking about your approach to your horses’ behavior and how you may wish to change it. It is a journey of discovery that countless others have made before you and it is our good fortune to learn from those who have been here before, both human and horse.
Most problems between humans and horses are the result of human actions. These actions may be in the past or the present. For example: Imagine carrying a bucket into a field of strange horses you have never seen before. Chances are they will be crowding around you in about 6 seconds flat! Someone in the past trained those horses to believe that oats came in a bucket and, we know, they all love to eat oats. Now, imagine quietly walking into the same field with a halter and immediately all the horses run to the far corner of the field. The horses’ behavior in both cases has given you some information about those people who have trained these horses, it has nothing to do with you. However, if you wish to ride these horses then you sensibly will have to do something different to alter their behavior and make them easy to catch.
Modern horse training is not a simple path from A to B, in fact, there are several centuries of knowledge from Europe that influences our modern thinking and training. In past centuries, people’s directions on how to partner with a horse were influenced by their purpose. Horses had a purpose – to serve us – without complaint. Whether laboring in the fields, carrying soldiers to battle, pulling carts or transportation, horses were seen as a tool to do our bidding.
I visited Xinjiang recently and saw horses laboring for the farmers by pulling wagons into town. But today’s horses can be so much more. I have seen hundreds of European Warmblood’s and dozens of thoroughbred racehorses throughout China kept in stables purely for their owners’ pleasure and prestige. Horses also can serve as a friend, teacher, mentor, psychologist and soul-mate. For many people, especially little girls, the horse is their first love. We owe it to the horse, kept as part of our modern lifestyle, to become educated and understand their behavior. If we do so, their and our lives will also be enhanced.
Horse owners are starting to ask better questions. Instead of “Is there a medicine/ gadget/ punishment/feed that will make my horse stop doing this behavior”, more enlightened horse owners are asking, “Why is my horse doing this, and what can I do about it?”
If you are a typical horse owner, you sometimes find yourself frustrated and baffled by the behavior shown by your horse. Even those who think they have to punish the horse’s misbehavior by mechanical or chemical means (beating or drugging the horse) are often happy to discover all they really need is a greater understanding of the reason behind the horses actions.
When you are frustrated or angry there is only one thing to remember, this is a HORSE with a simple horses’ brain, not a human with our complex brain! To beat a horse for doing something that comes naturally to him, like running away from pain, is clearly the act of a brutal or crazy person.
It is important to differentiate between horse behaviors that are Instinctive or Learned. You need to know how to encourage, discourage, modify or eliminate specific Learned Behaviors. You also need to know which innate behaviors are destructive to the well-being of the horse (known as Stereotypical Behaviors) and how to help the horse cope in situations that cause him stress. Stereotypical behaviors always arise from stress, including mental and sometimes physical stress.
区分马的行为是属于“本能反应”还是来自于“后天习得”，非常重要。你需要知道如何鼓励、劝阻，纠正，杜绝某些特定的“后天习得”行为；还需要知道哪些“先天性行为”对马的福利有害（已知的有：刻板行为Stereotypical Behaviors），以及如何帮助马适应会导致它们出现“应激反应”的场景。刻板行为（Stereotypical Behaviors）通常是由于应激反应引发的，既包括心理应激，某些情况下也包括生理应激。
This journey to understand horse behavior is complex and most of the answers demand that you think, consider and ask yourself even more questions. It is fundamental to truly understand that a horse lives a “horse life” which is radically different from a human life. It is impossible for him to react like a human being as his brain is not human. His priorities are completely different from his owners. Do you really think a horse would love to live in a box and once a week run fast in a big circle with 10 other horses? If you understand horse behavior and evolutionary history you will know he would be happiest in a vast warm grassland, with trees for shade and a stream for water living within a herd of mares, foals, colts and a dominant stallion.
Unfortunately, few modern horses in China live in equine paradise, so it is our job to understand how to keep his mind and body happy within the confines of a post-industrial environment.
There is a lifetime of learning to be had and as you grow in experience you will become a mentor to others who are newer to the world of modern horsemanship. Very often there are two answers to exactly the same problem which a novice would not have the experience to differentiate.
For example, take the case of a horse that refuses to jump a small cross bar that he has jumped many times before. Here are the trainers’ responses for the same horse with two different riders:
Answer 1: Present the horse to the fence again and give him a tap with the whip to encourage him forward.
Why? The horse is simply taking advantage of a rider with weak legs who cannot push him on to the fence strongly enough and he has therefore stopped.
Answer 2: Stop jumping the horse immediately.
Why? Because this rider has a weak seat position and previously when he jumped the fence the rider became unbalanced and harshly jabbed the horse in the mouth. In fact, the riders’ hands told the horse to stop last time so the horse is anticipating the same command and is logically (using his horse brain) coming to a stop.
为什么？因为这个骑手不够强壮，做不稳，不能保持平衡（has a weak seat position），上一次跳障碍时，该骑手失去平衡并且非常用力扯缰绳，猛烈刺激了马的嘴，因此骑手通过手的动作命令马停止。这一次跳交叉杆时，马认为自己会收到同样的指令，因此，以马的观点来看，在障碍前停下来是理所当然的。
As you can see, the two answers are opposites yet both are correct. It is the experience of the trainer that allows him or her to choose the appropriate response.
So far we have been considering normal or Learned Behavior, but there is another type of equine behavior called Stereotypical Behavior. It is often an unconscious response to stress and we will also consider how nutrition may impact these vices.
Scientists study stereotypical behaviors in many different animal species and define them as “invariant and repetitive behavior patterns that seemingly have no function”. They tend to develop in captive animals and may be indicative of reduced welfare. Stereotypic behaviors can be grouped into oral and locomotory types.
Wood Chewing, Cribbing and Windsucking – Stereotypical Behaviours That Lead to Poor Condition, Colic and Stomach Ulcers
Cribbing is an oral stereotypy that involves the act of grasping a fixed object, usually a rail, fencepost or stable door, with the incisor teeth. The horse emits a grunting sound with or without aspirating air into the cranial part of the oesophagus.
Cribbing, windsucking and wood chewing also damage a horses teeth and oral structures. Throughout a horse's lifetime, its teeth wear naturally from eating roughage and processed feeds. Chewing wood excessively wears the incisor teeth, lessening the horse's ability to properly chew and digest food. Poor tooth surface impacts the horse's capability to maintain a proper weight. When left unattended, this can ultimately shorten the horse's life span.
Working closely with a veterinarian or an equine dentist to regularly monitor wear of the horse's teeth and to make any necessary changes by filing is critical to maintaining the overall health of the horse.
To understand why a horse chews wood, it is first important to understand the difference between cribbing, wood sucking, and wood chewing.
According to recent research, crib biting occurs in about one in 10 stabled horses. It is recognized as a vice in racehorses and was once thought to be genetic and virtually incurable. However, it has since been found that crib biting is closely related to high-concentrate diets and insufficient roughage. With good management, the habit can be prevented. Many trainers believe that this vice can be learned and are very reluctant to have a crib biter or windsucker in their stables fearing that others will mimic this undesirable behavior. It is also thought these behaviors can become a habit, in many cases impossible to break.
Horses that chew wood are suffering from either boredom or nutritional inadequacy. There is a direct relationship between the amount of fiber in the horses diet and the amount of wood chewing that occurs.
Chewing on wood, can progress to the more serious condition of cribbing and wind sucking. The horse may become obsessed with chewing any wood they can get their teeth into. In the stable or paddock they can, over a period of time, chew through solid boards. A horse that crib bites will start by licking its feeding crib, or the stable door, and biting down with its incisor teeth. It then opens its mouth, arches its neck and sucks in air, making a grunting sound. This is a form of obsessive or compulsive behavior and can be repeated as many as 8 000 times a day. Many horses damage their incisor teeth in the process.
An affected horse often stands away from other herd members and does not interact with them. It is also normally in poor condition and prone to colic due to stomach ulcers (Please read Equine Gut Function and Considerations Regarding Ulcers online). It is important to check for the condition when buying a horse, especially racing Thoroughbreds.
What is the cause
Extensive research conducted on large groups of racehorses has shown a clear link to lack of grazing on pasture. The condition can develop as early as seven months of age, when foals are weaned away from their mothers and often locked up in a barn or stable. Windsucking was seen in nearly one-third of two-year-old racehorses after being brought to trainers, stabled for most of the day and fed high levels of concentrate.
Researchers found that the stomach fluid of affected horses was highly acidic and suggested that windsucking is a defense mechanism that increases salivation. Saliva is alkaline and could have a buffering effect on stomach acid.
What can be done
Successful prevention has been achieved with a windsucking collar. These are made of leather, with a small square projection that prevents the horse from arching its neck to suck in air. They are fastened around the throat, almost like a dog collar and should not be too tight as they can block off the jugular vein, preventing normal blood circulation. An affected horse should wear this collar at all times, except when it is ridden. This is not a cure and does not address the mental stress that the horse suffers which causes the windsucking behavior.
防咽气癖项圈（windsucking collar）能成功预防咽气癖。它们是皮制的，方形的突出部分，能预防马弓着脖子吸进空气。将其固定在咽喉处，就好比狗项圈，不应该太紧，以避免压迫颈静脉影响正常的血液循环。出现该行为的马，除非这些马正在被人骑乘，应该一直带着防咽气癖项圈（windsucking collar）。然而，这并不能治愈马，也不能帮我们找到导致马出现咽气癖行为的心理应激。
Although the collar is fairly effective, it is important that these horses are fed sufficient hay or kept at pasture where they can graze all day. It is also a good idea to put them in paddocks with electric fencing instead of fences that are easy to chew on. If they must be stabled then they should only be stabled at night and always provided lots of quality hay. Treatments include feeding an antacid supplement, and making sure the horses diet has been created by an equine nutritionist to address the digestive system consequences of this behavioral issue.
尽管防咽气癖项圈（windsucking collar）相当有效，与此同时给这些马吃充足的草，或让它们全部时间都呆在能自由吃草的放牧场，也非常重要。此外，把这些马放在安装有电围栏的放牧场，也是一个好方法——围栏是木头的，它们很容易就能啃到围栏。假如它们必须要被安置在马厩，那么你应该只在晚上把它们放在马厩中，并且确保要给它们提供很多的优质的草。治疗方案包括，给马补充抗酸剂（antacid supplement），并且确保马的日粮计划是由马匹营养学专家制定的，因为他们了解“这一行会给马的消化系统带来哪些问题”。