A Horse’s Sense of Fairness

Discussion in 'Horse Chat' started by Dona Worry, Feb 11, 2017.

  1. Dona Worry

    Dona Worry Senior Member

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    I found this article, it made an interesting read.
    A Horse’s Sense of Fairness
    http://signin.juliegoodnight.com/articles/free-articles/a-horses-sense-of-fairness/?doing_wp_cron=1486763675.6313290596008300781250


    Published February 8, 2017 Leave a Comment

    [​IMG]“Does my horse have a sense of fairness?” Recently, one of my Interactive Academy members asked me this question—a question that no one has ever asked me during my forty years of teaching people to ride horses. I’ve been working with this rider for a while now. She’s working through my 12-month curriculum with her horse to help improve her own horsemanship, as well as advance her horse’s training. Those endeavors involve improving your own leadership skills. Considering her leadership skills led to the question. So, does a horse have a sense of fairness?

    Your horse’s point of view, on any given subject may be (and probably is) quite different than your own. What your horse views as unfair treatment may surprise you. But fairness does not exist in a vacuum—it is always relative to other factors. We get caught up in our own, singular point of view, and fail to consider all the factors. What seems perfectly reasonable to us, may be viewed as grossly unfair as another.

    Leadership is not just about your actions or intentions; it is also about your honesty, integrity and fairness—including admitting your own mistakes and taking responsibility yourself if your followers fall short of your expectations. Authority is not the same as leadership—just because you have authority over others does not mean that they have a desire to follow you or accept you as their leader.

    Horses most certainly have a sense of fairness, just as they are good judges of leadership and trustworthiness. Because they are herd animals, they are mindful of leadership, hierarchy, rules, and ramifications of behavior. They are instinctively drawn to strong leadership, with a compelling desire to be accepted in a herd and a profound fear of banishment from the herd. Horses thrive when leadership, rules and structure exist and they flail in the absence of it.

    That’s not to say a horse never does anything wrong or that he would think any discipline was bad. He knows when he is breaking a rule or pushing a boundary and he usually responds well to fair punishment. But when rules are unclear or inconsistently enforced, when you say one thing but then do another, when you inadvertently punish even though no punishment was intended, or when the punishment does not fit the crime, a horse will feel that they are being treated unfairly, and his trust in you diminishes.

    How would you know if you horse feels like you are treating him unfairly? This is what varies greatly with horses—given his natural temperament, he may react strongly or not at all to any perceived injustice. Reactions from the horse may range from a slight tensing and lifting of the head, to shaking the head, refusals, running through the bridle, crow-hopping, bucking, or shutting down (becoming nonresponsive). Of course, there could be many causes for these type of reactions in a horse, but whenever a horse is frustrated, it’s always important to consider your own actions, and how they may be viewed by the horse. After all, none of us is a perfect leader for our horses.

    Here are some common scenarios where I see people treating their horses in ways the horse may consider unfair…

    Unfair treatment #1

    Ask him to do something then punish him for doing it: An easy way to test your horse’s sense of fairness is to cue him to canter, then hit him in the mouth with the bit when he does. How he reacts to that will tell you how tolerant he is. This happens far more often than you think, in all levels of riders. Sometimes it’s related to lack of skill; other times it is reactionary—a rider fearful of the canter often snatches the horse up as soon as they respond to the cue. From the horse’s point of view, you asked him to do something then you punished him for doing it. Responses from this kind of conflicting signal can range from a small shake of the head, to crow-hopping, to a refusal to canter for you anymore, to flat-out bucking. But usually it is the horse that is blamed; not fair, nor is it honest, from your horse’s point of view.

    Unfair treatment #2

    Asking for one more time: Let’s say you’ve been working on something very challenging for your horse—like jumping gymnastics. Maybe you start with just a few rails up in the line of jump-very-stride obstacles and gradually you add more until it is a very challenging and strenuous exercise. After some stops and starts and failed attempts, your horse finally goes through the full gymnastic correctly. You are thrilled! So what’s the first thing you say? “Let’s do that one more time.” You know what happens next. He’s already given you his best and that wasn’t good enough; now he’s tired and emotionally spent and you ask for more. Things fall apart and what should have been a great training session turns into a salvage effort. Fairness would dictate that you recognized your horse’s best effort and let him rest on that, rather than feed your own greed.

    Unfair treatment #3

    Setting the horse up for failure: This is the actually the real, unedited scenario that stimulated the whole discussion on fairness between my Interactive member and myself. “The last time we went to the arena, there were about 15 of us in there at once – usually, I have the place to myself, or maybe one other rider. This was a big test I thought – thinking about how anxious he was on the first day of the clinic [she’s referring to a clinic she took with me, 6-8 months ago, when he had come uncorked]. He did great! He stayed focused and listening to me. The only negative was when we were done, I loaded him up – no problem. So I decided to practice unloading and loading since we were a little tired and away from home. He decided no. A nearby rider gave me some help. This made me think about fairness. Was it unfair to finish and then ask for more?”

    Yes, it was unfair. Clearly the horse had given of himself, worked very hard and done the right thing. He had every reason to believe he was done and would receive the kindness of comfort from his leader that he had a right to expect after a job well-done. Instead, he was set up to fail; he was set up to rebel. After all, he had already loaded once without resistance. Was that not what you wanted? Authority should not be exploited. My father often said, “A well-trained horse that trusts you, will jump over a cliff if you ask. But that might be the last time he trusts you and it might be the last time you get to ask.”

    Does an impatient horse need to learn more patience? Yes. Should we expect perfect patience of him in every situation or at the same level we do another more patient or more experienced horse? No. Should we make him jump through hoops when he is most anxious or most aggravated, just for the sake of seeing him jump through the hoops? No. Should we ALWAYS set him up for success? YES! A good training exercise sets the horse up for the greatest chance of success, not throwing challenges at him one after the other with the intent of making him fail.

    A good leader does not expect his followers to do things beyond their capabilities. Yes, you want to push your followers to be the best they can be, but you cannot make them be something they are not or live up to an unattainable expectation. Everyone wants the feeling of a job well done. If we think our horse may not be capable of giving us what we want in that moment, it’s best not to ask. Do something else instead. Come back later and address it when the chances of success are greater or when you have removed other obstacles.

    While your expectations should be high, you are not trying to find your horse at fault and it is not about you, but more about what your horse is capable of giving. It’s about asking him to try and then recognizing his try, even when it is not perfect. Every horse is different and what may seem like an awesome response from one horse may be nothing for another horse.

    It’s good to have high expectations; just remember that expectations lead to disappointment, so make sure your expectations are realistic and attainable. Your horse will rise to your level of expectation, be it high or low. Have high expectations, and recognize your horse’s efforts honestly and fairly.

    Join the academy and get my one-on-one feedback as you work with your horse: HorseTrainingHelp.com

    Have a good ride,

    Julie Goodnight
     
  2. RelaxMax

    RelaxMax Senior Member

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    Interesting read!
     
  3. Alsosusieq2

    Alsosusieq2 Senior Member

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    I've always liked Julie, but the term fairness kind of runs a little along the lines of the pink unicorn set. I think it'd be more appropriate to think in terms of the rider/trainer fairness, which she does address.

    Very nice woman and usually a lot of common sense.
     
  4. Alsosusieq2

    Alsosusieq2 Senior Member

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    I like what her dad said, it's darn true. Pushing a tired horse isn't using your own common sense and generally is going to wind up negative. Just like anything else dealing with anything or anyone, tired isn't a good place to start.
     
  5. Garfield70

    Garfield70 Senior Member

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    No, they have a sense of reliability. If I do x, y is always the consequence,.

    If your actions and reactions are erratic, unpredictable, you irritate the horse.

    Some will be more thick skinned if you grate on their nerves than others. Has nothing to do with a sense of fairness, attributing that to horses is nonsense because fairness implies that the horse can determine my intention, which they can not. A horse doesn't know whether I hang in it's face because I am being mean or because I am unbalanced and a bad rider, doing it totally unintentionally.

    As far as the "doing it another time" thing, has nothing to do with a sense of fairness either. The ability to concentrate is at one point simply used up. If you exercise beyond that capacity, the horse can not respond accordingly. Or maybe the horse gets bored by too many repetitions. Has also nothing to do with a sense of fairness.


    I would steer clear from people/trainers who antrophomorphise animals in the way of this author.
     
    Last edited: Feb 12, 2017
  6. bobo and horses

    bobo and horses Senior Member

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    I always would like to believe that our horses love us, but ------nope, they only want in, or out, or their next treat or their next meal, they are not capable of the emotions we enjoy believing that they are capable of feeling.

    They do enjoy scratching where it itches, grooming, etc. they do meet us at the gate, but only because we have trained them to, and if we were cruel, they would not do so. So, is that their sense of fair treatment? It is in my opinion another kind of training - that people mean pain. Kinda rambling, but, I still want them to love me, not gonna happen, lol
     
  7. Alsosusieq2

    Alsosusieq2 Senior Member

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    I actually think of her more in line with practical advice but this wasn't a great article. Gotta agree with you as "fairness" is a human term to me.
     
  8. slc

    slc Senior Member

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    I found this article.....

    “Does my horse have a sense of fairness?”

    I don't believe horses have a sense of fairness, not in the sense of when it's violated it provokes moral outrage, like a human would feel. But I think that because of how they learn it very often seems that they have a sense of fairness. And I think the rider has to be aware of this. In other words, if a horse is prepared, step by step, with each step following logically, he's far less likely to 'object'. He'll 'get it' because it has been step by step. If the training isn't set up sensibly, he's going to be upset and resistant. As an example, say I have always taught the horses to back up when I enter the stall. One day, I have a different idea. I come in and punish them for backing up. The response is going to be confusion, rushing about - 'anger' and 'disobedience'.

    Your horse’s point of view, on any given subject may be (and probably is) quite different than your own.

    I don't know that horses really have 'points of view'. Maybe in the most vague sense, such as wanting to eat, and stay with the herd. Most of a horse's behavior is purely instinctive or governed by physics. He doesn't have a point of view so much as he has a body that obeys the laws of physics, and instincts designed to help him survive. And I think a person would have a hard time not understanding how the horse 'works'.

    Leadership is not just about your actions or intentions; it is also about your honesty, integrity and fairness

    Eh..no. I don't think a horse understands anything about 'leadership'. I think they just react.

    Horses most certainly have a sense of fairness, just as they are good judges of leadership and trustworthiness. Because they are herd animals, they are mindful of leadership, hierarchy, rules, and ramifications of behavior. They are instinctively drawn to strong leadership, with a compelling desire to be accepted in a herd and a profound fear of banishment from the herd. Horses thrive when leadership, rules and structure exist and they flail in the absence of it.

    I don't agree with the above. And I don't think a herd can be compared to human-sense words like 'leadership', 'hierarchy' and 'rules'.

    I think the idea of horses being 'drawn to strong leadership' -- I think all that 'leadership stuff' is a justification for some training philosophies, nothing more.

    That’s not to say a horse never does anything wrong or that he would think any discipline was bad. He knows when he is breaking a rule or pushing a boundary and he usually responds well to fair punishment. But when rules are unclear or inconsistently enforced, when you say one thing but then do another, when you inadvertently punish even though no punishment was intended, or when the punishment does not fit the crime, a horse will feel that they are being treated unfairly, and his trust in you diminishes.

    I think horses respond as they do for much simpler reasons than the idea of leadership.

    How would you know if you horse feels like you are treating him unfairly?

    Well it's a rhetorical question but again, what we call 'unfairness' and the horse wanting 'fairness' is more about the horse being surprised or shocked because what's being done is different.

    Ask him to do something then punish him for doing it: An easy way to test your horse’s sense of fairness is to cue him to canter, then hit him in the mouth with the bit when he does.

    Well, yeah.

    Asking for one more time: Let’s say you’ve been working on something very challenging for your horse—like jumping gymnastics. Maybe you start with just a few rails up in the line of jump-very-stride obstacles and gradually you add more until it is a very challenging and strenuous exercise. After some stops and starts and failed attempts, your horse finally goes through the full gymnastic correctly. You are thrilled! So what’s the first thing you say? “Let’s do that one more time.”

    Again, not because the horse realizes there's an 'unfairness' there, but because he's tired, mentally, physically or both.

    Setting the horse up for failure:

    The only negative was when we were done, I loaded him up – no problem. So I decided to practice unloading and loading since we were a little tired and away from home. He decided no. A nearby rider gave me some help. This made me think about fairness. Was it unfair to finish and then ask for more?”

    It's a mistake to keep going when the horse is already mentally/physically tired. Trainers that get greedy are trainers who experience a lot of resistance. Repeating something is a punishment, something most people don't get. For purpose of conditioning things get repeated, and the horse can accept that, when it's an accustomed number of repetitions, but any time you repeat something you run the risk that it's not clear how you want it done. Because again, repeating something is a punishment. It's very important to understand what each exercise does, for example, doing 10 different exercise for engaging the hind legs and repeating each one ten times, is guaranteed to create resistance as the horse is going to get tired.

    Does an impatient horse need to learn more patience? Yes. Should we expect perfect patience of him in every situation or at the same level we do another more patient or more experienced horse? No.

    Well yeah.

    Should we make him jump through hoops when he is most anxious or most aggravated, just for the sake of seeing him jump through the hoops? No. Should we ALWAYS set him up for success? YES! A good training exercise sets the horse up for the greatest chance of success, not throwing challenges at him one after the other with the intent of making him fail.

    Pressuring an anxious horse never works out so hot.

    And the trouble is, if you repeat something 30 times because the horse 'keeps doing it wrong' and then the horse gets it right once, and you either keep repeating OR quit for the day, the horse remembers those 30 times more - and makes the mistake more. The smart thing would be to not repeat the mistake 30 times! In other words have enough skill to not repeat a mistake 30 times. Again as Reiner Klimke said, 'Don't make any mistakes'.

    So say the horse(that knows flying lead changes) does a flying lead change wrong once. Figure out what to do to stop that and do it, don't have him do 30 wrong lead changes.

    A good leader does not expect his followers to do things beyond their capabilities.

    Nice words, but most people can't tel what the horse's capabilities are.

    Come back later and address it when the chances of success are greater or when you have removed other obstacles.

    Maybe. Depending on 'remove other obstacles' is. Most 'mistakes' of horses are rider mistakes, and when a horse makes a mistake the rider has to be able to know what his mistake was.

    While your expectations should be high, you are not trying to find your horse at fault and it is not about you, but more about what your horse is capable of giving.

    Eh. It is of value at times that the horse does make a mistake and gets a correction as long as it's a 'thinking correction' and actually accomplishes something. Most of the time, we don't actually want the horse to make a mistake. It needs preventive riding.

    It’s good to have high expectations; just remember that expectations lead to disappointment, so make sure your expectations are realistic and attainable.

    Unreasonable expectations are bad, but how does a rider learn what unreasonable is for a given horse?

    The bottom line is that most riders have a temper. If the horse doesn't do something right they get mad and start backing the horse up like mad or turning it in tiny circles or something, and they don't analyze why the horse made a mistake. They're backing the horse up around the entire ring 30 times because they're mad.

    And why are they mad? Because the horse made a mistake. And why did he do that? Well, most likely, they did something wrong.
     
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  9. Arem

    Arem Senior Member

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    I would say... don't get hung up at n the word "fairness" and our often trivial human associations with it. The animal sense of "fairness" would be a lot more simple, and I think the article addresses it as such.

    I do think animals have a simple understanding of basic "fairness" or justice. They are capable of knowing if they're being treated right or wrong. Some care more than others, but most seem to have a basic grasp.

    An animal (horse or dog chiefly) that is unfairly punished or punished more harshly than is warrented certainly does know that they were not treated in a way that was... fair.
     
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  10. Garfield70

    Garfield70 Senior Member

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    No, it has nothing to do with a sense of fairness. It had been punished much less severely for a similar behaviour and suddenly you overreact and wham. The horse is not irritated because the act was unfair by you but because the horse is totally surprised/startled because it didn't expect it.
     
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