REQUEST FOR INPUT with Dissertation - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 24 Old 10-20-2019, 01:12 PM Thread Starter
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REQUEST FOR INPUT with Dissertation


My name is Joan Martin and I am currently in my final year of BSc (Hons) Animal Behaviour and Welfare at Hartpury University, UK. Iím running a questionnaire survey for my dissertation on the practice of neck-patting of horses as a form of reward.

I would appreciate it if you could complete my anonymous survey at and/or share the link with others.

Thank you for your time.

Kind regards,
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post #2 of 24 Old 10-20-2019, 07:03 PM
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Done. I wanted to write 'it depends' on so many of the questions...

Have met very few horses(well only one I can think of) that actively enjoy being patted so don't see it as an effective reward.

BUT as so many people do this, I do desensitised horses I train to being patted, so they at least are less likely to feel it as punishing/stressful. And as with any signal, with association it can gain meaning as a 'secondary reinforcer' or a 'bridge'.
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post #3 of 24 Old 10-20-2019, 07:56 PM
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I agree, I haven't come across a lot of horses that WANT to be patted. But different horses like different things...

Last edited by ACinATX; 10-20-2019 at 08:04 PM.
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post #4 of 24 Old 10-21-2019, 02:35 AM
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And Joan, there are a number of us here who are big on animal behaviour & ethology & behavioural training, so hope you don't just stay for the survey comments, but join the club!
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post #5 of 24 Old 10-21-2019, 03:57 AM
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Agree that there are so many possible variants.

I have had many neurotic horses that, within a very short time, have become so laid back they found it hard to stand!
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post #6 of 24 Old 10-21-2019, 11:45 AM
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Ive used one of my horses for the questions, she has a history of abuse that has left her distrustful though she's nothing like the horse that we bought, its still there below the surface. She probably had good homes prior to the abusive one.
If I'd used one of the other horses the answers would be very different.
I have commented on the survey - none of my horses show any concerns about being patted, including that one, provided the pat is accompanied by the right tone of voice and body language

Just winging it is not a plan
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post #7 of 24 Old 10-21-2019, 01:37 PM
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I noticed that the age and gender of the horse was not requested in the survey. Much of my horse's behavior I attribute to her being a yearling. She has not yet learned to completely relax or trust, as she has only been handled by humans for about 4 months. I would imagine that an older, well-broke horse would behave differently. Certainly, in a few years my horse will behave in a more relaxed and confident manner. Just a thought.

Best of luck on your dissertation!
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post #8 of 24 Old 10-21-2019, 06:47 PM
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Interesting comments aquamarine - I thought it was going to be opposite when you said yearling. It was a 4mo baby i knew who loved being patted hard on the rump!

I think it's not about trust & being desensitised about it - yes I agree that a 'well broke' to it horse tends to *behave* differently and understand it as no threat. (& im interested to hear from Joan if the studies on heart rate etc were differentiated between unaccustomed & desensitised horses?) But I got the idea this study/survey was more about using 'patting' as a reward, whether people are aware whether the horse actually likes it - whether it is in fact a reward for them.
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post #9 of 24 Old 10-21-2019, 08:28 PM
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I have had to request at least 6 times in my life that people not "pound" my horses on the neck when supposedly "patting" them. I really really hate that. I can't imagine any horse liking to be slapped repeatedly. I remind them that horses can feel a fly crawling on their necks--why would they like to be pounded on? Why would anyone think it appropriate anyway? Yet people do it.
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post #10 of 24 Old 10-21-2019, 10:04 PM
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Thank you for that. A friend told me years ago that horses don't receive patting as well as rubbing/scratching. I found that to be generally true, in small ways. It's good to take these things into consideration, particularly when stroking/wither scratching might simply be a more naturally effective praise. Patting (with or without visual confirmation of the source) is not relaxing; even humans typically only do this to each other or accept it of each other in states where excitement is appropriate. Massage therapists do not remove their hands haphazardly or frequently from a client for the very reason that there is a physical and mental reaction to being touched, and then experiencing the absence of that touch. Patting isn't inhumane by any means, but if we're going by what a horse naturally sees as a positive 'feel good', then why would we choose the pat over the wither scratch? Just seems less practical, really. That said, I believe that scratching is just the icing on the cake after "release" (the allowance of relaxation). I would be interested in what happens when patting is used in conjunction with allowing the horse to 'relax'. Does patting then become a cue for the horse to relax? Does the horse then associate patting differently? Would patting then lower the heart rate instead of increase it? I wouldn't be surprised at any of those things.
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dissertation , reward , survey

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