Learned Helplessness in Horses

When a person lays a horse down to show its submission, the animal might actually be using its last line of defense.

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learned helplessness in horses
A well-intentioned approach to lay the horse down to cure behavioral or attitude problems might have serious physical (muscle damage) and mental (learned helplessness) effects. | Photo: iStock

Q.What are your thoughts on laying a defiant or strong-willed horse down to make him more submissive? Will this assist in the training process?

—Via e-mail

A.The ultimate goal in horse training is to end up with a horse that is responsive, safe to be around, and enjoys his work. Training involves the use of learning theory, as this is quite simply how we all—humans included—learn

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Written by:

Hayley Randle, PhD, runs the undergraduate and graduate equitation science programs at the Equitation Science Academy at Duchy College in the United Kingdom, in conjunction with Plymouth University. She has been involved in large mammal behavioral research for the past 19 years. Her research interests focus on animal (in particular equine) behavior, training, individual differences, and welfare. Randall has successfully competed in endurance but is now spending any spare time she has with her son, Border Collies, senior Arabian gelding, and Shetland Pony.

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