June 30, 2013 — Finding out just why horses do the things they do is the focus of Advanced Equine Behavior, a 12-week online course being offered by Equine Guelph, that has been designed to increase your knowledge through evidence-based research as it relates to horse behavior, learning theory and related welfare issues.
“The field of horse behavior and welfare has exploded with research in the last 10 years and more is generated each season,” said course instructor Kelly Hecker-Jimmerson. “My job as instructor is to highlight some of the areas that are getting the most attention, for example, equine learning, neurophysiology of behavior and stress, and welfare management. We also show students where to find the latest research, without reading or hearing about it from a second or third party, so that they can stay informed even after the class is over. This will help them develop the proper skills to critically assess research and apply it to real life situations.”
Hecker-Jimmerson is a graduate of Michigan State University with an M.S. in equine behavior and management and a Bachelor of Science degree in psychology. She is a certified riding instructor with CHA (Certified Horsemanship Association), PATH International (Professional Association for Therapeutic Horsemanship), and she is certified through ARPAS (American Registry of Professional Animal Scientists) as a Professional Equine Scientist.
Course topics include exploring equine behavior research, understanding equine learning and abnormal behaviors, and relating management practices to equine behavior and welfare. Students will also be provided with the opportunity to conduct a research project with a topic of their choosing as it relates to equine behavior. Through researching, students will also be able to obtain different interpretations on the information gathered and share it with their peers.
“In our first offering of this course last year, students became quite intrigued with issues related to understanding horse psychology and behavior,” said Hecker-Jimmerson. “One popular topic is horse learning theory: how does the horse really learn what we ask of him and what can we do to enhance our communication to facilitate that process.
“We also look at equine stress and stereotypies,” she added. “Just how do we know when a horse is stressed? Can we identify stereotypic behaviors and manage them effectively? Learning about behavioral and biophysical indicators of stress that are used in conducting research can be very helpful in assessing the mental status of a horse at virtually any point in our care.”
Not only will students have the opportunity to review some of the latest research in horse learning theory through this online course, but they will also have the opportunity to discuss learning theory with certified trainer and behaviorist Shawna Karrasch. In the late 1980s, Karrasch trained marine mammals such as killer whales and dolphins at SeaWorld in San Diego, California, and now uses the same technique with horses.
Hecker-Jimmerson said that often our interactions with horses becomes very subjective and can be influenced by our personal mood and perceptions. Helping students to develop tools and skills that allow them to more objectively evaluate the horse and their interactions frees them from their own emotions to get another view of what is happening in that relationship, and hopefully give them some insights on to how they can improve their communication with their horses and strengthen that bond.
“And isn’t that what most of us are striving for?” she added. “A strong bond based on trust and respect?”
Advanced Equine Behavior is part of the Equine Science Certificate continuing education program and will be included in Equine Guelph’s Fall 2013 online lineup. Other course offerings include Management of the Equine Environment, Equine Nutrition, Equine Functional Anatomy, Equine Genetics, Equine Growth and Development, Stewardship of the Equine Environment, Equine Business Management and Equine Journalism. Registration is now open, with courses running from Sept. 9 to Dec. 1, 2013.
Equine Guelph is the horse owners’ and care givers’ Centre at the University of Guelph. It is a unique partnership dedicated to the health and well-being of horses, supported and overseen by equine industry groups. Equine Guelph is the epicenter for academia, industry and government–for the good of the equine industry as a whole. For further information, visit www.equineguelph.ca.