Ed­i­tor’s Note

Practical Horseman - - Contents -

I’ve owned my horse, 23-year-old Mer­lot, for 16 years. We’ve spent the last 10 in the same board­ing fa­cil­ity. Dur­ing that time, he has demon­strated that he re­ally dis­likes one of the two groom­ing stalls. In­ter­est­ingly, the stall he doesn’t like is closed in on three sides and the one he is much more com­fort­able in has a door in the back of it. The door isn’t of­ten used, but when peo­ple do come through it and Mer­lot is there, he is to­tally fine with it. It seems to go against in­stinct for him to be hap­pier with some­one com­ing up from be­hind as op­posed to be­ing in what I think of as a “safe” en­closed area. Sim­i­larly, he also has never re­ally liked the closed-in wash stall. A Thor­ough­bred, Mer­lot raced un­til he was 7 years old, and I’ve of­ten won­dered if his anx­i­ety of be­ing in a closed-in area has some­thing to do with a start­ing gate.

Mer­lot’s be­hav­ior came to mind as I read this month’s story about un­der­stand­ing how horses’ mem­o­ries work (p. 46). There isn’t a huge amount of re­search on the topic, but stud­ies in­di­cate that, not sur­pris­ingly, there are dif­fer­ences in how horses’ and hu­mans’ mem­o­ries work, and un­der­stand­ing a horse’s can help in train­ing. For in­stance, Dr. Sue McDon­nell says that horses have “al­most pho­to­graphic mem­ory of the cir­cum­stances sur­round­ing neg­a­tive ex­pe­ri­ences,” which was key to help­ing them sur­vive in the wild as they evolved. So one bad ex­pe­ri­ence can stay with them for a long time, even for­ever. To over­come what might have been a neg­a­tive as­so­ci­a­tion with closed-in places with Mer­lot, I used a lot of treats and it seems to have worked. He now tol­er­ates be­ing in those closed-in ar­eas, mak­ing it eas­ier for me to care for him.

While un­der­stand­ing how your horse’s mem­ory works af­fects how you care for him, as in my sit­u­a­tion with Mer­lot, it also can af­fect how you train him in the sad­dle. In this is­sue, the top three fin­ish­ers in the 2018 U.S. Hunter Jumper As­so­ci­a­tion In­ter­na­tional Hunter Derby Cham­pi­onship dis­cuss how to ex­pose your horse to the dif­fer­ent ques­tions that are typ­i­cally asked in der­bies (p. 28). If you prac­tice the var­i­ous derby el­e­ments at home, they all say, and build good mem­o­ries there for your horse, you’ll have a bet­ter chance that he’ll con­fi­dently jump them in the com­pe­ti­tion arena.

The take-home mes­sage for me: The next time I’m train­ing my horse, I need to re­mem­ber that I’m cre­at­ing mem­o­ries—good or bad—and that striv­ing for the good is a cru­cial el­e­ment to be­ing an ef­fec­tive horseper­son.


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