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Equine Learning Essay

3165 words - 13 pages

Learning and the HorseLearning may be defined as changes in an animal's internal behavioural organisation that depend on reinforcing properties of experience of its environment. ( Domjan et al cited in Murphy 2003).Throughout its life, a horse's innate abilities and instinctive responses are shaped, refined and extended by learning. Experiences are perceived by the horse through their five senses (sight, hearing, olfaction, taste, touch) which results in the formation of memories and lasting changes in behaviour. Horses naturally learn best those things which are biologically relevant to them: what is dangerous and what is not, the smell and texture of good food, where to find water and shelter, who's who in the herd, sureness of foot, how to mate, or fight, or scratch those itchy spots. However, we also expect them to learn specific athletic skills, 'good manners', and how to live within the unnatural constraints we impose upon them (Burton, 1999).Horses use the same senses as us humans to perceive the world around them, but differ in their mode of use and capabilities. It is therefore essential for a trainer to have some comprehension of the horse's unique perceptivity in his/her quest to teach the horse.The SensesSightIt is apparent to any observer of the horse that they rely on vision to a great degree during their activities. The horse possesses the largest eye of any land mammal and a third of all sensory input to the horse's brain comes from the eye (Burton 1999). Little is know of the equine visual system and capacity particularly when the horse is in motion in comparison to other species ( Saslow 1998).The equine eye is placed relatively far back on the skull in a lateral position (Hughes 1977). The horse has the ability to visualise almost all of the 360 degrees around him in an horizontal plane except for a narrow area directly behind and directly in front (Harman et al 1999). An advantage of this binocular mode of vision is that the brain can combine two slightly different images to judge the distance of an object, a process called stereopsis. In the horse, the binocular area is limited by the nose, which obscures anything directly underneath and up to four foot in front of it. Therefore, a horse must be able to turn or lower his head in order to see where he is treading and to navigate obstacles safely. It is worth bearing this in mind whilst riding and particularly when jumping. The horse needs a degree of freedom to move his head to obtain a good view of the jump in the approach phase and also to see where his front feet will land. (Burton 1999)Research has established that horse's have the ability to see colour. They can differentiate between grey, red, yellow, green and blue. This indicates that the horse may have only two cone types in common with such mammals as dogs, pigs and squirrels (Burton 1999). As the horse is vigilant 24 hours a day they have acquired good eyesight both in daylight and darkness. The horse's eye is...

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