A Mare’s Complicated Trick or Something Else?

A reader wonders why her mare turns her head, grits her teeth, and sticks out her tongue.
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A Mare
Horses are always learning (or unlearning) based on our responses to their behaviors. | Photo: Photos.com
Q: My 7-year-old Thoroughbred mare grits her teeth, turns her head sideways, and sticks out her tongue. She usually exhibits this behavior when waiting to come in or if I am standing by the fence. Is she looking for a treat, or is she just impatient?

Beth Fischer, via Facebook

A: It’s hard to know what initially prompted this particular set of behaviors in your mare, but my best guess is that she’s basically self-taught herself a rather involved “trick.” It sounds like some of the time when these behaviors have been performed, she has been taken into the barn or given a treat. Voilá! She has received positive reinforcement for said behaviors.

Many horse owners are fairly good at understanding their reinforcement schedule when it comes to teaching a horse what they want or expect (e.g., to accept clippers, to respond to halter pressure, etc.), but sometimes we forget that the horse is always learning (or unlearning) based on our responses to their behaviors

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Written by:

Camie Heleski, PhD, MS, is an instructor and adviser in the University of Kentucky equine science and management program. Previously, she worked at Michigan State University, where she was the two-year horse management program coordinator for 25 years. Her applied research interests include equine behavior and welfare, horse-human interactions, and working equids in the world’s developing regions. She’s currently president of the International Society for Equitation Science and has served as scientific chair for the National Farm Animal Care Council’s Canadian equine welfare code committee. Her equine research and outreach efforts have taken her to Brazil, Mexico, Honduras, Egypt, and Mali. She enjoys dressage with her Arabian gelding, MSU Ducati._x000D_ _x000D_

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