We are all clear that food, water, clean bedding, company etc, are all essential for horses to live emotionally and physically healthy lives. Without these essentials we generally consider that they are suffering emotionally and/or physically. We just have to look at the 5 freedoms, as outlined in the welfare act (section 9(2)), to see that these, and more, are recognised as essential for an animals well being; they are a right rather than a privilege.
Recently I was given a stark reminder that this list should have another essential added; training. Training for all animals in our care should be a right, not a privilege.
At some stage we need to administer medication, clip toe nails on our dogs, trim feet on our horses, check teeth, etc. Its not been the first time that I have had to pull a stuck twig out of my dogs mouth, or pulled a thorn from her foot. Had I not prepared her for me doing things like that then I would have had to force the issue and possibly pin her down. Instead, because I put training in place, it was simple and easy; I ask her to, e.g. ‘show me teeth’, and she presents her mouth to me ready for what I am about to do.
She may not like that I am fishing about in her mouth, however, because I gave her a specific cue and waited for her to let me know she was ready she knows that I am about to do something with her mouth.
The same is true with the horses. I teach specific cues for parts of their body so that they are clear about what I am about to do. That cue is not a signal that I am about to do something to them, its a question; can I touch you here ? And when we ask a question the polite thing to do is wait for an answer. If we are polite enough to wait for an answer then we also have to respect that every animal has the right to say ‘no’.
If the answer is no then the chances are I have not put in enough training to be able to do what I need to do. So I need to continue with that training plan until such time as the answer is ‘yes’. That might take 5 mins, 5 days, 5 weeks or longer.
If in the mean time, if I need to get something done for health reasons then I am stuck with traditional ways to do things; cornering the animal, possibly pinning, sedation, etc. That puts both me and the animal in danger and it blasts straight through any sort of relationship I may have had with the animal. When we haven’t taught something through positive reinforcement then all we are left with are punishment and negative reinforcement; do it or else. That, for me, is not an acceptable way to do things. I want the animal to be ready through good, careful and thoughtful training for what I need to do.
So for the health and safety for every animal in our care training MUST be a right, not a privilege!