Learned helplessness and bitting

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Learned helplessness and bitting

Post by Sydney on Tue Mar 10, 2009 11:10 pm

I rode a friends horse a wile back that was so obedient
under saddle. She would react however you wanted making you look like the next
Olympic gold medallist. However she responded without enthusiasm for the job.
She was almost dull and listless except for the fact that she responded to you
right on cue, every time. Everyone loves to ride her but I got off with a
feeling of guilt. I felt like I used the mare and that she did not enjoy the
ride even though she responded to me perfectly. She Jumped a few grids and
cantered four figure eights, changed leads not a second after I asked her and
even did a canter pirouette as if she read my mind. I tried her bitless and she
gave me the exact same results with a little quicker stop. Why?

A thought I often get with riders reluctant to listen to
what their bits when they say “my horse loves his bit” and indeed the horse may
respond to the bit. What he may be responding to is a condition known as
“learned helplessness”


Learned helplessness is a condition in animals and humans
where it learns to act helplessly to certain stimulus or situations, even when
the chance to avoid harmful or unpleasant circumstances arises. Basically the
subject feels he/she/it has no control over the situations outcome and just
gives up.

Studies were done in the sixties on dogs. The dogs were
experimented on with electric shocks. Some dogs could avoid the shocks and
would do so every time. Other dogs were not allowed to avoid the uncomfortable
shocks. The dogs receiving the unavoidable shocks learned to become helpless
and did not attempt to avoid the situation, even when given the opportunity to
do so in further tests. The first group of dogs learned quickly how to avoid
the shocks wile the dogs that had learned in the first tests the shocks were
unavoidable and simply did not try to even attempt to figure out how to avoid
them.

This is also seen in humans displaying the mental illness
known as chronic depression. As far as I have seen it has not been studied in
horses but it should be, especially with certain training methods and
equipment. The equipment I am going to focus on is bits.

Although bitless is my main pursuit bits are my main
topic. I don’t think I can accurately
describe the benefits of bitless without fully understanding bits and their use
(or misuse most of the time). I study the kinds, sizes, weights, textures and
shapes when I go into tack stores. I simply cannot get enough of bits yet I
promised Indigo so long as she is in my care she will never have a bit in her
mouth again. Don’t get me wrong she was wonderful with a bit in her mouth I
just wanted a better relationship with my horse.

Lets face it, there is no nice thing about bits. I have yet
to find one scientifically backed up article on why I should stick a bit in my
horses mouth yet there are an increasing, and alarming number of articles on
why I shouldn’t. I think I like to stick on science’s side. A horse was not
designed to be controlled, ridden or even have a length of anything in it’s
mouth. It engages the need to salivate, and when a rider asks that horse to
work he has to breathe. Excess salivation that is not natural and the need to
breathe when running is. There is no way you can breathe and swallow all that
excess saliva at the same time. So we get drooling. Frothy spit strings from
our horses mouths, lands on their chest, legs and the ground. But that is a
mild result.

I have yet to see a horse that has had a bit in it’s
mouth for the first time react without head tossing, chomping, head shaking etc
to contact on the reins. Weather it be to turn the horse or stop him he fights
it that very first time. After prolonged exposure and a good trainer that is
consistent in his or her hand cues and training the horse accepts the bit as
part of work and goes about with little or no fuss, most of the time. The
annoyance lessens if they can figure out what cues mean but the stimulation
(contact) never goes away 100% because we hold the reins attached to the bit. Those
that don’t? Well they are the dogs that have learned they can avoid the shock.
They rear, poke their noses out, buck, spook violently all in attempt to find
that golden door to freedom.

Makes a lot of sense, especially for methods such as rollkur.
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Sydney

Posts : 292
Join date : 2008-08-10
Age : 30
Location : Harrow Ontario Canada

http://www.nurturalhorse.com

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