Why Teaching Tricks Helps Overcome Fear In Horses

We know that by teaching tricks we are teaching our horses to be fearless. It just works. It also makes sense that teaching a horse that it’s fun to play with tarps and all the various weird toys we come up with desensitizes them to many of the things horses are usually scared of.
I also like to say that it builds their confidence in themselves and their trust in us. Which it does.
The science of it goes so much deeper than that though. And it all comes down to choice.
When we give our horses choice in what we do together it inhibits the amygdala, the fear circuit in the brain, to put it very simply. The amygdalae help define and regulate emotions. This makes the horses less afraid. Letting our horses have some control over what they do on a regular basis conditions the brain to expect to have control even when the animals don’t actually have a choice. Then when they encounter a situation where they don’t have control their brain reacts in that same way they are used to reacting, with choice, and the amygdala is still suppressed.
The brain has been reformed to not feel as much fear!
Horses brains develop in completely different ways when they are given choice. Choice causes horses, any animal, to respond to fear and stress in a proactive manner. To take control and try to shape what is happening to them. When a horse isn’t given choice they respond to fear and stress in a reactive manner. The spook, they run, they strike out.
So yes, we are teaching our horses not to fear all of these specific things that we are working with. It goes so much deeper than that though. The depth of the change that giving choice makes on animals, and people, is just amazing. We know and can easily see the difference it makes. That it can completely rebuild the brain structure dumbfounds me.
Which it shouldn’t. We already know that positive reinforcement rebuilds the way the brain functions. That looking for the good in things causes us to find the good in life and can even help to ease depression in some cases. We already know that teaching animals to look for more and different solutions allows them to solve problems on their own far beyond what animals without that experience are able to do (https://www.clickertraining.com/the-unexpected-benefits…). So it should be a simple thing to say oh, of course this is how it works. Still the intricacies of it all never cease to intrigue and enthrall me.


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