Let’s ask ‘why?’

Let’s talk about why we should always be asking ‘WHY?’

Every behaviour has a reason, a story, a justification. Every behaviour can be a way of communicating something and, very often, can be a cry for help.

We should not see behaviour as a problem, but more as a message.

We, as the caretakers of domesticated equids, have the obligation and responsibility to ask why our horse is behaving in a certain way.

This doesn’t involve just looking at ways in which we can push the behaviour down, cover it up or ‘fix it’ but to dig deep into the cause and evaluate what welfare needs the horse is not having met, what emotions the situation is producing for them, what is the reason behind this behaviour, and what measures can be taken to help them.

It is understandable to think that skipping over the ‘why?’ and straight to the ‘well what can we do about it?’ (or ‘how can we get rid of the problem?’) is the easier option in many ways. Longer-term, however, it can create more ‘problems’, or more extreme behaviour, as the horse realises that the more subtle signs are just ignored.

Ignoring behaviour doesn’t make it go away, it might just make it less visible temporarily, but the cause has not been addressed so it is still there, under the surface, causing the horse more negative emotions and quite possibly worsening every day that we fail to peel off the lid and look at what’s going on there.

Making assumptions about a behaviour without taking the time to understand the full story is letting our horses down. How do we feel when we are struggling, confused, overwhelmed or in pain? How do we feel if we try to voice that and get dismissed, ignored or treated harshly?

Constantly striving to better understand how horses tick and why they do certain things helps us to forge a stronger human-animal connection and may even prevent unwanted behaviour occurring in future.

We can all generally agree that prevention is easier than cure. We can prevent things from causing the unwanted behaviour by ensuring that we meet our horses ethological needs and fulfill all of the five welfare domains. We can watch them for subtle signs that they aren’t coping and ask why they are not coping, along with focusing on positive ways in which we can encourage desired behaviour.

This sets both us and our horses up for success.Let’s all strive to be better equestrians and consequently better humans. Let’s always ask, Why?

Published by Kate Fletcher

I have an MSc in Equine Behaviour, Performance & Training and over 10 year's experience working on the front line of animal welfare operations, helping people help animals. I currently work for an international equine welfare charity and am committed to promoting compassionate training and positive human-animal relationships using least invasive, minimally aversive methods and through encouraging human behaviour change.

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