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Learning Theory in Equitation
Transcript of Learning Theory in Equitation
What are the principles of Learning Theory?
1. Train easy to discriminate signals
Take Home Messages
Consistent outcomes from stimuli allow animals to have greater controllability and predictability of their environment
Critically evalute the factors that influence the welfare of the horse
Express & justify an opinion on the public perception of the ethics of the use of horses
2. Reduce negative reinforcement pressure
3. Shape the components of responses progressively
4. Train & subsequently elicit responses singularly
5. Train only one response per signal
6. Train all responses to be initited & completed within a consistent time frame
7. Train persistence of elicited responses
8. Avoid & dissociate flight responses
Why Does It Matter?
We only have two hands, two legs and a seat to deliver signals
For example, leg aids produce gaits changes, quicken stride, lengthen stride and lateral movements...
Without clarity in signals horses experience conflict as they are not clear on the desired response
How do you distinguish between:
Slow your trot
Come back to walk
Short rein pressure
Intensity controls how quickly you want the decrease
Speed & number of repetitions control how long long the decrease should go on for
Long rein pressure - this doesn't release until walk rhythm
Strength of pressure controls how quickly walk is achieved
Essentially - use the minimum pressure that will elicit the desired response
It is unethical to apply unnecessary force - good training sensitises an animal to light aids
How is this Achieved?
Fortunately, horses has excellent anticipatory responses we can utilise
Light antecedent signal
If the light signal ALWAYS precedes the stronger pressure, horses will rapidly learn to respond to the light signal to avoid stronger pressure
This occurs through classical conditioning
This facet of training develops "obedience" - measured by speed of response AND lightness of aid that illicited it
Progressive improvements in responses through training
How is this achieved?
Teaching the young horse to walk forward
A small single, hesitatant step forward
The single step is illicited by a light aid
The horse takes multiples strides
McClean & McClean, 2008)
The handler can speed the steps up
The line (direction) of the horse can be altered as it walks
Rein, leg & seat connection are consistent
Head, neck and body position of horse are consistent
The horse responds everytime is it cued and only if it is cued in all circumstances
Ask for one response at a time, especially if they are opposing signals
The horse cannot stop (hands) and go (legs) at the same time!
This request causes severe conflict
Stages of Welfare Compromise
This results in "overshadowing" - the more salient stimulus outcompetes the other
1) Lowered responding to individual signals
2) Acute stress resulting in raised muscular tonus & fear
3) Conflict behaviour - bucking, bolting, shying & rearing
4) Chronic stress - physiological & immunological deterioration
5) Learned helplessness - the horse tolerates pain with severe welfare compromises
6) Wastage - the horse is removed from the population
Confusion occurs if a signal has more than one response associated with it
Confusion leads to conflict & wastage
Mulitple possible responses also reduces the reliability of the signal
The horse should initiate a response to an aid immediately
Consistent time frames aid in developing obedience & habit formation = stimulus control
The optimal time frame is 3 beats=
For bilateral gaits such as walk this ensure the aid has been applied to both legs = straightness
The horse should continue with the elicited response until given an alternative cue
True self-carriage means the horse maintains its own rhythm & tempo, line & straightness, head & neck outline
If this is not the case, the rider is "nagging" which results in habituation to an essentially meaningless response
Releasing the hand and leg for a few strides tests for self-carriage -
If a behaviour is critical for survival, it is hugely reinforcing
This ensures the critical behaviour is repeated
With repetition, the strength and speed of response increases
How can we avoid this?!
Fear responses are intentionally & unintentionally used in horse training
Fear responses are less prone to behavioural extinction than other responses ( Doux, 1994)
Error Free Training
- do not allow the horse the opportunity to express a flight response
Train self carriage
- This promotes the consistency of behaviour, the opposite of a flight response
Train acceleration & deceleration responses
- horses that are unclear in this are prone to hyper-reactivity
They are also prone to "spontaneous recovery"
This has an enormous impact on stress and their ability to cope with the demands of performance
It makes them predictable and controlable which is more pleasurable & much safer for the handler or rider
The timing of release is critical - poor timing causes conflict & confusion leading to behavioural problems & poor welfare
General Principles of Learning
Principles of Learning
Habit forming or bringing the horse under stimulus control results from long-term potentiation
In this example the horse will either become "heavy" or "dead to the leg"
Most of the movements we require from performance horses are exagerated and refined natural biomechanical responses
Many of us have experienced a "spontaneous half-pass"!
Training aims to bring these responses under our "stimulus control"- they are elicited ONLY by our stimuli
However, horses are constantly being affected by external environmental stimuli
"He does it so beautifully at home..."
With effective repetition and reinforcement, we can bring the horse under our stimulus control so that we out-compete the alternative stimuli
Windy day, other horses, plastic bag, irratic pigeon, competition environment....
An important feature of learning in higher vertebrates
It allows animals to offer a response that it likely to be appropriate under new conditions
Prey animals don't generalise as readily because there is a risk that an incorrect response will result in them being predated upon
During learning, the new response it entirely context specific but once learned it is performed in all contexts
Horses will require 5-7 variations in a learned response before they will generalise to all contexts
Inter-trial spacings of less than 20 seconds may inhibit classical conditioning (Prokasky & Whaley, 1963)
New neural pathways cannot sustain repeated stimulation as they have massive oxygen & glucose requirements which deplete quickly
Space repetitions by 20 seconds or more and halt a series of repetitions after a short train of correct or improved responses
These sets of repetitions can be repeated if a sufficient time gap is left between them
The resting period can be filled with another new or familiar task as these employ different neural pathways
McGreevy & McLean (2010)
McGreevy & McLean (2009)
Punishment in horse-training & the concept of ethical equitation
McLean & McGreevy (2010)
Ethical Equitation: Capping the price horses pay for human glory
McGreevy & McLean (2007)
Roles of learning try and ethology in equitation
Jones & McGreevy (2010)
Ethical Equitation; applying a cost-benefit approach
McLean & McGreevy (2010)
Horse-training techniques that may defy the principles of learning theory and compromise welfare