Dealing With Enthusiastic Equine Learners

Learn how to modify an overzealous carrot stretcher’s behavior.

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enthusiastic equine learners
Enthusiastic learners, as long as she is not rewarded—either with the carrot or any form of attention from you (positive or negative)—will next learn to discriminate when their behavior leads to reward and when it doesn’t. | Photo: Alexandra Beckstett/The Horse

Q. I have taught my horse to do carrot stretches from side to side and down between her legs. She’s become so enthusiastic about them, however, that she immediately tries to wrap her neck around to her flanks or between her legs when I enter her stall or am otherwise interacting with her off cross-ties. I’m glad she’s so eager, but can I or should I discourage this?

—Via e-mail

A. What you describe happens all the time as a normal, natural phase of the learning process. For enthusiastic learners such as your horse, as long as she is not rewarded—either with the carrot or any form of attention from you (positive or negative)—she will next learn to discriminate when her behavior leads to reward and when it doesn’t, and she will give up the fruitless attempts

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Written by:

Sue M. McDonnell, PhD, is a certified applied animal behaviorist and the founding head of the equine behavior program at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine. She is also the author of numerous books and articles about horse behavior and management.

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