Every horse lover always has wondered how wonderful would be working in a horse sanctuary or rescue centre. Its something that is written in our skin to help healing an animal we all are so fascinated by.
Nonetheless, the reality is quite different, to rehabilitate horses that have been mistreated, abused, neglected or have been left starved to die requires way more than love and cuddles, or even the sense of wanting to do something altruistic for another being. Here is where awareness, science and knowledge become allies, this golden combination is the key for guaranteeing good welfare and well-being for any kind of animal. The horses at this sanctuary all have different stories, they have come from different backgrounds and the way you approach to them must be, indeed, personal and individual. There are lots of studies that suggest horses have personalities just as unique as people do. Some of them have a stronger mentality than others, others are more affectionate and look for attention, but others come here completely shut down and to save them all we can do is care about them, give them time to heal and hope for the best.
As an equestrian, I have seen many types of training horses, the equipment that is used and what is used for. We are not here to say if you use a bit to stop your horse or whip to help you move him forward, you are doing it wrong. However, as well as the horse must be trained, the rider needs training as well before being able to use powerful equipment on them. Luckily we count on many resources about horses to know how to do everything right and do not create trauma that lasts forever.
A horses memory is very particular, short term memory does not last more than a few seconds, but long term memory sticks there forever, and of course, they remember bad things way more than good things. Fortunately, we can use that positively in our training, horses are brilliant in what psychology calls Operant Conditioning Training, based on the work of Skinner, 1938. This theory is the basis of associated learning, in other words, it creates an association between a behaviour and a consequence. Giving a positive reinforcement after the right behaviour, the horses learn that what we are asking is not a bad thing and he will be rewarded at the end. Clicker and target training is based on positive reinforcement. Horses at the finca have demonstrated that this method gives them the confidence they need to start working and feel more comfortable doing it. Once they have made the association it is easier for them improve further as they know what to expect, as traumatized animals, mastering this step is crucial before moving forward.
This is the case of Quarentino, a horse that spent 7 years of his life alone in a stall and everything done with him was by force. This horse will show signs of stress just for the fact that someone, horse or human, is in his personal space. In the sanctuary, target training was used on him to increase his confidence and willingness to go out from his comfort area. It has worked fantastically. After two months, Quarentino can be around other horses, take more humans in his trusted bubble and accept physical contact. Patience and positive reinforcement is all it took to heal this horse's mind and over time, for him to be a happy horse for once in his life and I am happy to be a part of it!