Horse behaviour at incidents, creating a casualty centred rescue, minimising stress and maximising safety and welfare
Horse are large, powerful animals with a strong fear response, this usually makes them the most dangerous aspect of a rescue scenario.
They are also often described as being unpredictable although with training people can be trained to predict equine behaviour much more accurately and so predict when the horse is liable to react aversely.
Like other mammals horses learn through classical and operant conditioning. By understanding these processes they can be applied within a rescue scenario to reduce the likelihood of aversive reactions from the horse. The result is a safer and less stressful rescue for all the stakeholders involved.
Negative reinforcement describes the process of learning when behaviour is rewarded by the removal of something mildly aversive, hence it is often called removal reinforcement. Consider a horse loose on a motorway each time a person approaches to catch the horse it flees thus removing the perceived pressure of the person. However if the person stops on the edge of the flight zone and steps back before the horse moves the behaviour being rewarded is standing still. Usually within a few moments the person can approach close enough to catch the horse without it fleeing.
After graduating from Glasgow University, Scotland, Gemma spent 18 months in first opinion equine practice in Yorkshire. She then under took a 2 year internship at the R(D)SVS before commencing in a residency programme. As well as rotating through the different departments in the equine hospital and ambulatory practice this has given her the opportunity to develop an equine behaviour service. She is currently completing an MSc through research, investigating interactions between equine veterinarians and their patients.
Gemma is the current Veterinary Liaison officer for the International Society for Equitation Science.
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