I was reading a study the other day by ISES (International Society for Equitation Science) in which Dr Andrew McLean and Professor Paul McGreevy suggest that “Patting – rather than stroking – may not be the positive reinforcer we think it is”.
In this report McGreevy cited unpublished data that shows that 2/3 (two thirds) of horses at the 2012 Olympics accelerated on being patted, whereas horses stroked on the wither displayed more ‘affiliative behaviour’ (friendlier for those of us who don’t speak equitation science).
This theory is not new and was bought to my attention many years ago. It is suggested that giving a little rub on the wither will help lower a horses heart-rate and settle them better than a pat.
For me the issue is not should we pat or should we not pat – it is how the pat is delivered that is the key. A hearty loud slap on the neck may not mean much to a horse and for me a quiet, delicate touch that sends a gentle sensation through the horse creates a much more pleasant sensation and as with everything in dressage, when you are pleased with your horse and you want to reward him – less is more!
My personal view is that I’m not sure how necessary it is to make a scientific study of the subject. Most equestrians know when their horse reacts positively to the delivery of their reward (be it a gentle pat or a scratch) whether the delivery is right or not and given that horses learn through repetition the hearty slap might not feel the best but if this is what you do when you have just finished the jump off and you have gone clear, it will be associated with pleasing circumstances and a happy rider. Surely this will therefore reinforce the positive outcome.
Bit like the ‘Pile On Celebration’ in team sports.
Can’t imagine for a minute that it feels good physically but it sure does feel good emotionally!
- Any thoughts? What do you think about the patting principal?
- Given that most scientific studies throw up more questions than answers. What do you think about science in equestrianism?
- Is this type of study helpful? Necessary?
Patricia – The Dressage Tipster