Everything Horse Magazine August 2021 Issue 44 - Page 36

Is your youngster

Ready to Ride ?

This month , Equine Behaviour expert , Loni Loftus MSc AABW , BSc ( Hons ), PgAEd , CCAB returns with an insightful piece on how to know when your youngster is ready to ride . Loni considers both physical and mental development of the equine so we , as horse owners , know what questions to ask and observations we can make to ascertain whether or not it ’ s the right time to back and ride our young horse .

Significant research into when horses may be physically prepared for working life has been undertaken ; however , their mental capacity for work is often less considered . In the human world , psychology is a massive aspect of athletic success . However , there is much less emphasis on this in the equine world .

Temperament , mood and arousal Many horses are selectively bred for physical type , discipline capabilities and temperament traits . However , the horse ' s psychological traits are significant components in task-orientated suitability and can have a huge effect on their behavioural responses and performance .
The horse ' s temperament ( psychological predisposition to certain behavioural traits in response to the environment or a challenge ) is influenced by genetic factors and early life experiences during the malleable young months of life . In addition to these relatively static traits , horses will have more transient moods ( which may be short or long term ) and emotional reactions to specific triggers based on prior positive and negative experiences . These moods or ' affective states ' are significantly altered by pain , changes in lifestyle ( environment ), handling and training .
In addition to temperament and mood , we must also consider arousal in the horse . Arousal is part of a horse ' s psychological state , and when a horse becomes aroused , the sympathetic nervous system is activated .
This system is responsible for being alert , prepared and ready to flee or fight if required . Therefore , for most noncompetitive horses , we would look to see relatively low levels of arousal and high levels of positive valence ( see figure 1 ).
However , for competing horses , we expect to see higher arousal levels to enable optimal performance ( for those interested in the science , the currently accepted theory is the Yerkes-Dodson law or ' inverted " U " theory ' where both under and over-arousal negatively impact on performance ). Optimal arousal varies markedly between individuals and the specific task required ; for example , the level of arousal needed for a dressage horse is very different to that of a flat racehorse .
Maturity Young horses mature at different rates and will have different arousal levels according to their breeding , upbringing , weaning experience , maturity levels and general wellbeing . Consider this similar to the stages of equine physical development ( table 1 ).
Preparing the horse for working life To help prepare the young horse for working life , there are several things that we can do : Consider your horse ' s type , breeding and temperament in relation to what she would be best at doing . Some horses excel in competitive environments , while for others , it makes them anxious and unable to cope . Some horses are bred for speed or stamina or jumping ability , so try and match your horses ' genetics to his job where practicable .