From the horse’s mouth.. – Testimonials.

“Ellen Cochrane is the most patient and lovely person I have met. She is helping me with very difficult 17hh warmblood . He started rearing and biting when led and bossing me around. Ellen show me the correct way that made me feel safe, confident around him and very happy. She is incredibly knowledgeable and helpful. Open minded and seen things which I haven’t seen what have caused all the problems. I will still asking her for help for simple reason.. I can trust her.” Agnes Andryka.

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Agnes and Magnat

“Ellen is one of the most patient and clear instructors I have ever had. She gives you little things to work on and does not overwhelm you with inexplicable jargon. She is great.” Miriam Muller. 2014.

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Miriam and Scooby

“Ellen is a fabulous instructor and a very talented horsemanship coach. Any horse or pony that Ellen gets to work with is very lucky. Ellen is kind, considerate, caring, and empathic in her work and an all round lovely person! Just wished she lived closer.” Gaynor Murfitt.

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Ellen Cochrane with Timmy

“I contacted Ellen to help me with my 5 year old gelding. Having only owned him for a few months he was being quite ‘bolshy’ and at times very difficult to handle on the ground. Always wanting to be the leader, he would often push past me and drag me along on the end of the lead rope!

During my session with Ellen I learnt how use clear body language to convey my intentions to Harvey and saw an immediate improvement in his behaviour. We worked on some trust exercises and by the end of the session I was able to back him up through poles – a huge achievement for us!

We have continued to use the techniques and have seen constant progress. Harvey will now follow me around without a lead rope and will not barge past or try to ‘rush’ me out of the way, although he still likes to try and scratch his big head on my arm!

Most importantly I feel closer to my horse and he has a deeper trust in me. I cannot wait for further sessions knowing we are well on the way to a very special bond.” Rachel Howard-Louvaine. 2015.


“I sent my gelding ‘Prince’ away to Ellen for 6 weeks to backed and schooled, and start his ridden career. After hearing so much good feedback and positivity from other people who have used Ellen I went and had a look round and she was very welcoming and showed me everything there is to see on the yard, his security and other horses on the yard, her own horses and also other horses she had in for schooling. Prince went to Ellen the beginning of June and Ellen came me updated everyday with his progress and how he was getting on, I visited regularly and Ellen helped me to gain my knowledge of Prince’s way of riding, and helped me and Prince bond a riding relationship together. Ellen focused on both ridden and ground work which really helped form the bond. Prince was barefoot and treeless when he went to Ellen and the way Ellen works with horses is phenomenal! She is quiet and understanding and would never smack or be aggressive towards a horse. After the 6 weeks Prince was with Ellen he came home, and Ellen came out to us at home and gave us private lessons to carry on his education and to see how he was getting on. Two years later Ellen is still coming to see him and keeps in contact to see how prince is getting on and his progress. The way Ellen works with horses is inspirational and an absolute star! Im so glad I sent prince to Ellen rather than anybody else, my big boy was a transformed horse when he came back and it was all thanks to Ellen and I cannot thank her enough! I would highly recommend Ellen to anybody weather its a lesson or schooling or breaking. No problem weather big or small is a problem for Ellen! Thank you so much Ellen!” Reanne Carter.

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Ellen Cochrane and Prince.

“I’ve followed Ellen’s work with horses for several years now, and have wanted so much to shout from the roof tops to let people know about her!! Ellen is very special and has worked some genuine magic with many horses, some who would otherwise have been written off as dangerous, when all they needed was someone who could read them properly. Ellen is also a very gifted rider…and rides effortlessly without saddle or bridle even over jumps! I hope this website gets recommended far and wide, as I know there are many horses calling out for Ellen’s special touch….and Ellen, it is so clear you and Gaia were destined to be together…what a journey you’ve been on with her, and such a bond between you. You’re her angel, and she’s been your spiritual guide and teacher!” Brimble Wharton.

From the horse’s mouth.. – Testimonials.

Underneath the walnut trees

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As I fly home from my fourth visit to Morocco, I am taking the time to reflect on my experience. It is mid June 2015 and I am returning, once again, from a little place called Imlil.

This village, in the High Atlas region of Morocco, has come to feel like a second home to me now, full of familiar faces, smiles and handshakes. The hospitality of the mountain people is quite wonderful, although it does tend to hold up your day with repeated doses of compulsory mint tea. At one point, after visits to various people, I actually thought I might start to sweat mint tea. Being involved in this community has opened up opportunities for me that the normal tourist wouldn’t have. The chance to spend time with the locals and to be invited to their houses for Moroccan food is all part of this experience. As a woman, I am often asked how I am treated in this male dominated society, but the truth is remarkably well. I have made friends, had laughs and been intently listened to when giving advice. In fact, the main problem I have with the culture here has been the Moroccan concept of time!

The scenery is something spectacular. The rocky trails and dusty paths are overlooked by cherry trees ripe with fruit, perched upon by the young boys harvesting. The mountains stand proud in various shades of browns and reds, the highest peaks topped with snow, complementing the bright blue sky to create the wonderful back drop. Traditionally built mud houses blend into the mountain sides to make up the villages of the valley. The walnut trees provide shade to those traversing the paths, and underneath these walnut trees pass the working mules and muleteers of the mountains.

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Here lies in my interest, my purpose here. I have been continuing my work to improve the welfare of working mules in the mountains, with specific interest to developing good understanding of the mule, focusing closely on behaviour and communication.

Often overlooked and under-rated, the mule is an incredible animal. Their intelligence to be admired, their agility and ability to navigate the most difficult terrain to be respected; they are not appreciated enough in this world.

The relationship between man and mule in the mountains is often dominated by fear. The muleteer fears the mule, afraid of being bitten or kicked, and the mule fears the muleteer, through fear of pain and rough handling. The mule’s fears are often justified, the muleteer’s? Often not. It becomes a vicious circle of distrust, spiralling into a whirl of misunderstanding which leads to negative communication and a poor working relationship. This lack of understanding leads to issues surrounding how mules are handled and the equipment that is then used. Here lies my challenge – To promote communication and understanding, to replace the need of control through fear and pain.

I am keen to see an end to the use of the brutal traditional bit and to provide training in the use of head collars and bitless bridles, as well as developing the production of these in Imlil. The traditional bit is a crude instrument that provides control through force and pain, it has no place in a good working relationship between man and mule.

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Traditional bits
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If only she could speak, what would she say?
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The traditional bit causes pain and suffering.

Providing training in animal behaviour and bitless equipment offers the muleteers the chance to work their mules in a more considerate way. Developing a trusting relationship based on good understanding and clear communication benefits both mule and muleteer.

Moving forward with this project, I am starting to identify individual muleteers who stand out as mule welfare champions. These individuals have taken a keen interest in training and the welfare of mules. It is these ambassadors of the work who will make this project sustainable, as they are figures within the community who will be able to carry on and spread this work further.

This issue of sustainability also occurs regarding equipment. On each trip I carry with me a suitcase full of head collars, and I want to take a moment to thank each and every one of you who have donated head collars to this cause. A lot of these head collars will have been bargained with as a swap for a traditional bit, providing an instant improvement in comfort for the mule in question as they continue their working day. The issue here, however, is that I quickly run out of head collars and to continue bringing more out is not a sustainable option. Therefore, the women of the Association Tamghartenoudrare have been given the task of making bitless bridles. Initially, the women were just making the nosebands which would then be fitted (riveted) into the bridles that are sold in the village. However, following a visit by a harness maker (a consultant for The Donkey Sanctuary), the ladies are now making the entire bridle themselves. Beautifully crafted and hand stitched they are far superior to those previously used. There is a demand already and the women will certainly have their work cut out.

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The first complete bridle that was made by the women, modelled here by Tosca.

During this most recent visit I had the opportunity to conduct training while on trek. Trekking in the mountains is reliant on the mule, and muleteers will work for trekking agencies to take luggage and supplies for clients. The training treks consisted of two days trekking with muleteers where I could observe and assess the handling skills and communication between man and mule. As well as witnessing some beautiful scenery, these treks proved to be very useful for me. The muleteers and I were able to learn together, while I could offer advice on their mules, they were able to share with me how they work and their own opinions on different aspects of the work. I learnt a lot about what is involved in being a muleteer, and I developed a huge appreciation for how hard they work.

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Tosca during a training trek

I did two treks with different muleteers and found quite a contrast. The first trek involved mature and very capable muleteers, whereas the second involved younger men with more room for improvement. Both treks were fantastic though and all muleteers were heavily involved in reviewing the video footage, talking through issues and taking on board advice.

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Bitless mules and the muleteers on the second training trek

During the second trek I had the opportunity to work with, and see a different side to, one particular muleteer who I had met previously on less than good terms. Back in January this year, the muleteer had passed me with blood dripping from his mule’s mouth. On closer inspection, it could be seen that he had caused terrible injury with the use of a traditional bit. The bit was replaced with a head collar, however the next day this mule was back in a traditional bit. He now has a new mule, who he was also working in a traditional bit. However he has been given a bitless bridle and has since been a delight to work with. On trek, he pleasantly surprised me. He showed great affection and care towards the mules, as well as being very attentive while working. He worked so well that I put him in charge of the most difficult mule on the trek, and I was pleased to see how well he was able to keep her calm and how kind he was towards her. It is easy to jump to assumptions about people, but there is a lesson here – Don’t judge, encourage.

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Mustapha showed a surprising amount of affection towards his mule

The use of video footage in my work is invaluable, and was certainly incredibly useful on trek. It allows me to assess and review in detail and provides an enjoyable visual way of learning for the muleteers. One evening, before the treks, I found myself sat in front of a room full of muleteers, sharing footage, asking questions and offering solutions to problems. They were engaged, focused, listening and learning together. Where there is a desire to learn, there is a potential for change.

The work is full of challenges, and local politics and people can make you feel you are pushing a boulder up a hill. Releasing the full potential of man and mule can be tricky where there is a culture of a “good enough” attitude. The muleteer may think how they work is good enough, he can get his job done, but the challenge is getting him to think about his mule. What would the mule say if she could talk?

Any challenge is a potential success in disguise, and I must not let the enormity of the task in hand shadow the achievements made to date. I have had muleteers on trek with me who were convinced they wouldn’t be able to work their mule without a bit, who not only have changed their opinions but have stated that working in this way should be obligatory. I have worked closely with a muleteer who is now capable of riding the paths without any head gear on his mule at all. I have witnessed changes in people which have warmed my heart and restored my faith. Discussions on behaviour and welfare have been initiated, the community is talking and change is in the air.

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Mohamed riding his mule with no head gear

As I now descend towards Gatwick airport, I wrap up my thoughts and prepare for my life in England again. I am grateful for the path my life has taken. My life has become rich with experience, my heart filled with pride and compassion, and my mind developed in new ways of thinking. I want to thank everyone that I meet along the way, from that incredible person who first got me involved in the work, to each muleteer with whom I exchange a smile with, to my friends and family who support me from home, and to those taking the time to read this now.

Thank you, one and all. Goodbye Morocco, until next time.. Inshallah.

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Ellen Cochrane – Bitless riding and horsemanship instructor.

Gaia Horsemanship

http://www.facebook.com/gaiahorsemanship

http://www.facebook.com/atlasmules

Underneath the walnut trees

The hardships of following your own path

Going your own way can be a difficult thing to do. It takes strength to be different and hold your own views and beliefs. Being a horse owner or rider within the equine world can be challenging if you find yourself breaking away from the norm. The horse world can be a vicious place and livery yards can be terrifying for anyone who holds any social anxiety issues. Mix some social anxiety with a want to do things differently and you get into a tough situation.

Socially, I am not great. I am introverted and socially anxious, meaning I often fear being judged and seek to avoid situations that may cause judgement against me. I also took an alternative path off the horse riding road, and ended up somewhere beautiful. I am, however, aware that not all horse people would agree with me, and therefore have opened myself up to judgement, and my, don’t horse people like to judge!

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I had ridden and looked after horses the traditional way for years, but it was when I got my own horse things changed for me. Having a young horse gave me a break from the riding side of horses, and I believe it is here where my opinions on horsemanship turned. I was aware she’d had a pretty bad start in life so I wanted the best for her and I found that I just enjoyed spending time around her. I would sit for hours with her in the field, spend plenty of time grooming and going for little walks and started to really get to know her. She taught me a lot about understanding the horse, building a trusting relationship and enjoying the things horses have to offer other than riding. It was this time here, where I was unable to ride, that things started to really change for me and when the time came to start her ridden education I wanted to use what was kindest, because after getting to know her as an individual and building a bond, I didn’t want to cause her any discomfort or ruin the relationship we had developed. I opted down the bitless route, and have never looked back.

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However, I remember well the feeling of self-consciousness regarding the subject. I recall an interaction I had with the livery yard owner, where I used to keep my horse; she saw me starting out riding my mare and came over with the question “do you ride western then?”… Slightly stumped and bewildered, I believe I mumbled a “err no, well.. hey.. what?!”, to which she replied, “oh, why haven’t you got a bit in her then?”. I thought it was a strange thing to say, but I remember that I couldn’t actually bring myself to explain the real reasons why she was bitless, as in my mind I could tell the yard owner would think worse of me, would question my reasoning and impose judgement on me. So I simply told her that she has a very small mouth and was harshly bitted in her previous career as a harness racer, so I was just giving her a “break”. She accepted this and walked away, but looking back I do wonder what she would have said if I told her that I believed it was a kinder option and had gone deep into my true reasoning. I was doing bareback and bitless riding at this point, and would often head to the yard in the early mornings to do things with my horse before anyone arrived to see what I was doing. This is the way I coped in order to avoid judgement and uncomfortable situations; instead of tackling things head on, I tend to hide away.

I didn’t stay on that yard for long, for various reasons, and moved to yard where I spent many happy years, and somehow obtained another horse. It wasn’t all plain sailing as there are always some people who have to cause problems, however for the most part I enjoyed my time there. There was an indoor school and they had some rules on its usage for insurance purposes. I very clearly remember asking if it was ok to ride bareback in the school, to which it was. It is strange the way some interactions imprint into your mind, especially when you feel anxious about them. Why was I worried about asking such a thing? Again, it’s that slight worry about being different and therefore being judged. Once everyone on the yard had seen me riding bitless and bareback, and I had battled my way through answering the usual questions I did feel happier about riding in front of people and I was happily riding out with others without judgement. I still kept my groundwork quiet and to myself, as I was worried about what people would think. I was aware the things I do may have looked “silly” to the horse person who just tacks up, rides and does little more with their horse.

It was during my time at this yard that I started getting into bridleless riding, and I was very aware that this was something really quite different compared to traditional horse ways and the ever increasing devices and equipment used for riding. I therefore went back to old habits and would ride only when I knew people wouldn’t be there. Due to the lighting in the indoor school, I found 9pm to be quite a good time, that or very early in the mornings before anyone arrived. My first bridleless ride was late in the evening, it was dark outside the arena and no one else was around. I took the bridle off and my horse popped a small jump for me. It was perhaps one of my happiest moments.

As my horses and I developed, I remember that my confidence in what I was doing developed and some early mornings I actually started hoping someone would arrive and “catch me” as my horses were being so responsive and wonderful to ride. It took me a while before I felt confident enough in myself to ride bridleless at a time when people were on the yard, and it took even longer for me to feel a sense of pride in doing so. I always felt quite uncomfortable, as though others thought I was just being irresponsible or dangerous. Once people had become used to me and what I was doing, I felt more comfortable riding in my own way. I even started to ride other people’s horses in this way and I started to receive some admiration for my horsemanship. The confrontation about what I was doing, which I had been hiding away from for so long, actually made me believe more in myself and I found the slightest support from a few others would help me deal with criticism.

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Despite the good times, I moved from the yard to a private field, where I have again collected more horses somehow. Being away from the normal every day horse world has helped me to be more confident on the path I have chosen, and seeking support from others who share similar views has helped me to believe in myself. I am now very open about how I ride, I don’t hide the fact I ride without tack, and even encourage people to come and watch myself and my horses working together.

Now, as I teach horsemanship and bitless riding, I find my clients often suffer with the same worries that I used to have. The fear of being different and being judged for that difference, and having to find the strength to do things your own way can be exhausting. It is hard when you have to concern yourself over what others think. I take on the supportive role now with those I teach, as I believe the smallest encouragement can override the feeling of being judged. I believe if you push on past the rocky beginning, the confidence in what you are doing will develop, and as you progress and feel a sense of pride in what you are doing the worries about what others think will start to fade away.

For so long, I hid away and avoided confrontation over my way with my horses because of a fear of being judged. The anxiety this caused me led me to find ways to conceal my thoughts and what I was doing, and by hiding away I was able to continue the way I wanted to. Whilst this worked for me and did indeed serve its purpose, it is not ideal and will not help with developing the belief in yourself. Having the support of other horse people is invaluable and if that means moving around until you find a yard you are happy at then so be it; there is nothing worse than arriving to see your horse with a sense of dread as to who will be there. Obtaining support from others could also mean finding like-minded horse owners locally to meet up with.

My advice to those who are heading down a different route is to be strong, believe in yourself, and believe that the way you are going is the right way. The rest of the horse world may follow the main road, but your path is filled with more beauty and more rewards. Once you take that turn, try to avoid looking back to see others wondering where you are going, and just enjoy the journey. Seek support from others following their own paths and find strength from your horse and knowing you are doing right by them.

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Believe in yourself and your horse as you look down the path you are heading.

Ellen Cochrane – Gaia Horsemanship.

http://www.gaiahorsemanship.co.uk

http://www.facebook.com/gaiahorsemanship

The hardships of following your own path

A word on safety, control and equipment

It is common knowledge that handling and riding horses can be dangerous, it is classed as a risk sport, and therefore the issue of safety is often brought up regarding riding without a bit, and even more so without any tack. It is something I get asked about a lot, especially regarding my bridleless work, which to some is regarded as dangerous.

Upon meeting new people, the conversation of horses and horsemanship will often arise, to which I will mention that I ride bitless. The response to this is often “oh that’s brave”, as if in some way riding without a bit makes it more dangerous. It is quite bizarre to me, as I have never thought about it being a brave thing to do, because in my opinion, I am not putting myself in any more danger than any other rider.. in fact, I never knowingly put myself at risk. There lies a difference in attitudes, whereby control is means different things. To some people, feeling in control means using strong bits and gadgets… to me, it means coming from canter to halt on just the word “woah” with no bridle attached.

You see, for me.. I feel safer on a horse that I know, with no tack on, than I would on a horse I don’t know who is tacked up to the eyeballs and strapped up with gadgets. I have had more accidents and incidents when riding bitted horses than I have bitless. Herein lies the main point – being safe is not about equipment and the control that it can give you; it is tangled within understanding, it is about feel and knowing the individual. A feeling of safety is built on the trust developed between horse and rider, which relies on the foundation of time and effort that is put into training.

There is something quite instinctive that kicks in when I work with a horse, which I refer to as a “feeling”, the feeling of knowing when to do things within training. This instinctive feeling is especially useful when backing horses, during their early schooling, or working with difficult horses; and it is this that keeps me safe. It appears a lot when I ride without tack, and it is almost a prediction of how the horse will react to something. I work with difficult horses, yet will not consider myself brave, I do not like to sit rodeo acts (although it is something I became well practised at as a teenager!), so I do what I can to avoid those situations.

Of course, underneath this feeling lies something much more complex. It is a subconscious reading of the horse, which comes from taking the time to get to know them and their individual ways of expressing themselves and what they are trying to convey to you. Once established, it will become less obvious that you are reading and watching, and more obvious that you are listening, subtly or even subconsciously.

Once you can listen in this way, you need to know how to act accordingly. Do not dismiss warnings, as there is no point getting to know a horse if you’re going to ignore them and push things on too fast anyway. Let’s take a horse being backed as an example; I do not like to rush horses, they will all progress at their own pace and, for my own safety as well as their emotional state, I will wait for them and go along with their speed. If they are uneasy about the next stage, I will go back a step and wait a little longer.

Personally, I only do things with my horses when I have that good feeling and I can, to the extent that is possible, predict their reactions. I have ridden over the top of the Malvern Hills without a bridle, and whilst this looks brave, or perhaps even a stupid thing to do, I had the right feeling from my horse. My feeling was “he is ok with this, he is listening, we are good to go”. If I didn’t have that feeling that day, I wouldn’t have done it. If he was showing me any doubts that he wasn’t happy or listening, the bridle wouldn’t have come off.

Khalil on the Malverns

I will happily jump my horses without tack and the same applies here, a good level of understanding and trust produces a good connection. Don’t get me wrong, there is a limit on how much you can predict a horse’s behaviour, they are after all individuals with their own thoughts and feelings, but I still feel safer doing things my way than I used to doing things traditionally.

The connection between horse and rider is vital, but sadly often over looked. Those worried about safety or control will often just add more tack in order to set their mind at ease. Taking time to work with your horse, developing understanding and putting effort into correct training will produce a safer horse in the long run.

I will often say communication is more important that control… with communication established a level of “control” is maintained. Whereas, if one works simply by control then communication will be lacking. Being safe, after all, is more about good communication than methods of control.

Stay safe guys

Ellen

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A word on safety, control and equipment

A word on learned helplessness

A phrase I hear all too often is “you can’t make a horse do something it doesn’t want to do”. These words are appearing a lot in online discussions and it is quite often accompanied by statements claiming that those against a certain act or activity know “nothing about horses”. I, personally, take some offence to these claims and I am quite surprised at the lack of knowledge that equestrians have about their animals. I also find it astounding that they themselves believe their words, and think perhaps they are trying to convince themselves rather than convincing others.

Let me begin by describing a couple of situations that I’m sure we have all witnessed, or even been a part of. For the first example, you are watching someone jumping their horse and the horse stops at a fence, they try again but he refuses again. Now, if we had the decency to listen to the horse we would be able to hear him saying that this is something he does not want to do, for whatever reason and quite possibly self-preservation. Instead of taking a step back and assessing the situation in order to come to a solution suitable for all involved, the horse is labelled “naughty” and the rider approaches the fence again, one hand on the reins and the other smacking the horse with a whip. The horse, now more scared of the rider than the fence in front him, then jumps the fence. The horse had already made it clear that he did not want to do this, and the rider did not make an effort to encourage him to want to, so where does the statement “you can’t make a horse do something it doesn’t want to do” fit in here?

Another example is of course loading a horse into a horse box or trailer. I am sure many of us have been in the situation where a horse won’t load, the horse is saying he doesn’t want to go into that strange box and confined space, and this could be for a number of reasons. It is, of course, possible with time and patience to have a horse happily loading out of his own choice, however I am sure many of us have seen horses beaten into trailers where the horse’s only options are a. get in the trailer or b. receive punishment. Again, the human becomes a greater threat than the object in front of them.

Need another example? I can think of many. Just let your mind wonder and think about circus horses performing and horses in war. Are you sure those horses are only doing those things because they want to?

Something else I was told, by someone arguing that if a horse didn’t want to do something they wouldn’t, was that they are like humans in that respect and you can’t make a human do something they don’t want to do. This statement is pretty easy to pick apart and ignoring the other human examples such as emotional abuse, blackmail etc, how can we forget about the slavery that is a huge and awful part of our history?

If you truly believe that horses perform and do things for humans purely because they want to, then you might as well throw away your whips, bits and spurs, hang up your tack, get on your horse while he is free in the field and just ask for a ride…. Not that simple, huh? A problem within the horse world is that most people always tell their horse what to do, and rarely ask. It is quite possible to make a horse do something he doesn’t want to do, which poses the next question… just because we can, does that mean we should? My answer, on the most part, would be no.

Are we forgetting that these beautiful animals are flight animals? Are we exploiting their fear response in order to satisfy our own means?

So, having established that you can indeed make a horse do something he doesn’t want to do, let’s look at how that is possible.

We are looking at something called learned helplessness. If you think about those two words you can start to come to your own conclusions as to the meaning – a feeling of being helpless to avoid a negative situation because previous experience has shown that you have no control.

The term learned helplessness was devised in 1967 by Martin Seligman and Steve Maier and stemmed from an experiment with dogs. In the first experiment Seligman would ring a bell and then give a dog an electric shock. The dogs became conditioned to expect a shock whenever they heard a bell and therefore would start to react when they heard the bell, even before the shock was administered. The next experiment involved Seligman placing each dog into a large crate with a small barrier down the middle. The floor on one side of the barrier was electrified but on the other side was not. Seligman placed the dog on the electrified side and administered a shock, and although it was quite possible for the dog to jump the barrier to escape the shock they did not even try. The dogs would simply lie down and tolerate the shock. Seligman then tried this experiment with dogs that had not been shocked in the first experiment, and their reaction was to simply jump the barrier to the non-electrified side.

Seligman concluded that the dogs who lay down were exhibiting learned helplessness, and they had learned this helplessness from the first part of the experiment. They did not attempt to escape a negative situation because the past has taught them they are helpless, and they therefore just give up.

Sad really, isn’t it?

So how does this relate to our horses?

It is, sadly, fairly easy to shut a horse down and to make them feel helpless to a situation. By inciting fear and pain to our flight animals we can quickly put them into a state of learned helplessness. Let’s take rollkur, or even just forcing a neck position as an example here. The horse can be forced into a frame with the use of bits, gadgets and harsh hands. The horse will be experiencing a negative situation and to begin with may attempt to escape this through whatever means are possible. But if the hands just pull tighter, the spurs dig in and they receive a flick of a whip to make them oblige, they will soon learn there is nothing they can do to escape this situation. They have learned they are helpless, and are therefore now doing something that they do not want to do. However, because they have now given in, in certain situations it may look as though the horse is actually willing – as it would appear that the dogs were willing to accept electric shocks. When opportunities to escape the negative situation become available, learned helplessness means the animal does not take any action. Their bodies are enduring something unpleasant but their minds feel unable to escape this.

So, finally… on a more positive note; do remember that horse training does not have to involve fear, pain or shutting horses down. Working with the horse rather than against, asking and listening, working on communication and respecting the animal for who they are produces more positive results – It may take more patience and a desire for understanding but it is worth the effort.

Remember – You can indeed make a horse do something that he doesn’t want to do, so be aware of this and consider your actions, are you encouraging a willingness or inducing learned helplessness?

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My thoughts written down. Ellen Cochrane – Gaia Horsemanship.

A word on learned helplessness