Learned Helplessness and the Shut Down Horse.


Do you need to change bits because your horse is ignoring the one it’s In? Well, There is a reason your horse ignores you or even gets to the point it blocks you out. It’s a condition called learned helplessness. 


Ok, hang with me for a little bit here, this may be boring but pay attention for a brief psychology lesson.   So, what is learned helplessness?  


 Learned helplessness, in psychology, a mental state in which an organism forced to bear aversive stimuli, or stimuli that are painful or otherwise unpleasant, becomes unable or unwilling to avoid subsequent encounters with those stimuli, even if they are “escapable,” presumably because it has learned that it cannot control the situation


A study was first done with dogs receiving a small electric shock rendomley with no cause or no correct answer. What they found is when they provided the shock in a situation they were looking for a response they did not have a response. Later the same study was done with people and loud noises. The random loud noise was unavoidable and the people in the study began to block that out. This is why every interaction with your horse is important. They are paying attention and learn very fast what to block out because there is no control for them in the situation.  Sometimes they do that with us in general because they never feel in control of the interaction with the human. This creates a horse that ignores the human and would rather pay attention to its outside surroundings. 

We need to make our interactions mean something. This is why I tend not to handle horses over a fence. The minute I am on their side of the fence they need to interact with me and react to what I am doing. I want them to know that what I do has a direct response required. They pay attention to each other in the same way.   

What we are looking for in horse training is the horses attention and to feel in control of the situation. Control gives confidence!  If we do not feel in control of a situation we lose our confidence. However we grow in confidence if we have control in a situation and can feel successful. We feel a lot more comfortable galloping a horse across a pasture that we can steer and stop when we ask, but not so much if one runs off and ignores all our cues or aids. The horse is the same. 

A great example of this and is very common is in the practice of leading a horse. If you lead next to your horse and pull forward on the snap and pull back and to the side and towards you and your horses feet never respond your horse begins to think that there is no response that is correct so it will begin to ignore that interaction. Then as you lead your horse it looks at other things rather then you for direction. Most of these horse exhibiting this also have spooking issues under saddle.  This brings us back to the first blog post and how important a horses focus is while we are riding and handling. Everything we do needs to mean something if it’s not we are losing relivence in the horses life.  Like building any relationship communicating is super important so don’t have your horse block you out. Every interaction means something until the horse learns it does not. Make sure you mean something to your horse.