Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Studying Horse Psychology

A Flashlight and watching each horse's reaction...

I keep a manual flashlight in the barn. It's the type that doesn't need batteries. When you need light, you crank its wheel and it lights up. The more you crank, the brighter it gets. I was using it and decided to try an experiment with the horses. How do they feel about this noisy apparatus? I put it to the test...

Cowboy - first to investigate, least afraid, close investigation
Abby - snorted, but never moved her feet, went back to eating quickly
Rain - next least afraid, actually lipped it
Nina - next least afraid, went back to eating fairly quickly with flashlight in the hay
Z - next least afraid, much more reactive, but very quick to cope, then able to eat from the bin
Rio - next, quick to leave, finally after several minutes, stopped moving. i waited and he looked to me. i touched him while i cranked. my touch helped tremendously! he was not calm, but trying hard.
Tina- the most afraid, initially quickly trotted away with energy. then, eventually smelled it while it was quiet. i turned away, cranked it slowly and she was gone. she would obviously need to most time to adjust.

This was a fun experiment for me. People think I'm crazy, but it was midnught when I did this. There was some down fence and I had to travel the next morning so I wanted to get it fixed. I walked the fence with the flashlight before coming back to the herd and seeing how stimulating the flashlight was.

Some things to consider:
1. How much did the other horses reaction affect the individual horse's reaction?
2. How long would approach and retreat take to turn around the more worried horse's responses?
3. Some horses seemed more brave when I touched them while they investigated. Is that related to the good handling they've had in their lifetime and the way they feel about people? Or is a touch helpful no matter the human history?
4. Does it necessarily mean that more frightened horse couldn't eventually be as confident as the least frightened horse with training and time?
5. Rio and Tina were probably equally concerned about the flashlight. They also spend the most time together. Does that have impact? Does Tina learn to be cautious from Rio? Or would she have acted that way regardless of Rio's response?
6. If I did this every day for 7 days, how much would their reactions improve?


Alice said...

Loved the flashlight experiment. Kinda like clippers--some horses think they're deadly and others don't care.

Tia Jones said...

Thanks, Alice! I was quite fascinated, actually. The most interesting thing for me was how my most advanced horse, Zarah, proved to me that innately she's not at all the most confident. Hmmm...