09 November 2012
One of the most influential riding instructors I had was an old cavalry officer. When I started taking beginner lessons from him many decades ago, he was quite old--his 80s I later discovered--and extremely crotchety. Several people warned me to expect yelling, swearing, and little concern for the comfort or mental health of the rider.
For the first few lessons, I found him exactly as described. I also discovered I had about as much aptitude for jumping as I did for playing the piano: next to none.
Since Captain Meyer taught jumping, this was frustrating for all involved, but one day things changed. Captain Meyer was loudly badgering me because I was refusing a small coop. Captain Meyer knew I was causing the refusals, not his mare. I knew this too, but under his yelling, my tension increased with each effort. Finally, I did the totally unthinkable. Near tears, I turned my head and snapped, "You wouldn't treat me like this if I were one of your Thoroughbreds."
To my surprise, he didn't curse. He instantly softened his voice. I don't remember his exact words, but his voice soothed and soft directions provided confidence and the timing. The mare and I trotted in circles a few times as he talked me calm. Then he had me approach the jump. His words urged and encouraged, his tone saying "Easy, easy, easy now. Now FLY." And his mare and I sailed over the little coop.
After that, Captain Meyer never yelled at me again. Even when he barked instructions from a distance, I could hear encouragement in his tone. I still had no talent, but I became a favorite student of his, and he became my first memorable instructor.
I'll always remember him sitting neat and stern on Native, his tall, mobile lectern.
In "Do Horses Expect Humans to Solve Their Problems" (Lesimple et al. 2012), the researchers "hypothesized that because domestic animals are so attentive and dependant [sic] to humans’ actions for
resources, the counter effect may be a decline of self sufﬁciency, such as individual task solving."
The experiments challenged horses to open a box containing their food ration and "more than half of the horses that showed exploration behaviors toward the experimenter failed to open the chest (N D 18, 60%), while only a third of those that did not (N D 5, 31.2%) failed (Fisher’s exact test, p D 0.04)."
Were I continuing their experiment, I'd test upper level horses, including a set described by their owners as intelligent and inquisitive. I suspect the choice of riding school horses used for students "from beginners to moderate level" played a part in so many horses failing to open the box. Typically, riding schools chose docile, patient horses for beginner/intermediate rather than horses with great curiosity or keen intelligence.
I could certainly be wrong about horses in general, but, whether filled with food nor not, few boxes go unopened around here. My horses like me, but they love a good puzzle, and they adore toys.