I just returned home from four days in Houston, Texas. I was there for the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC) annual conference. There were three full days of lectures about the science of animal behavior (with ethology, physiology, and a few other ologys thrown in.) I go to hear talks like the one by Dr. Lore Haug DVM, about stereotypies.
The physiology behind them is not simplistic!
The options of how to alleviate these behaviors is also not simplistic. Dr. Haug compiled the current research to share with us. Using this information, we can better understand the parameters that determine what we can do to improve the lives of horses with stereotypies.
I go to hear talks by people like Dr. Cecilia Marré Marré who came all the way from Chile to give several presentations. She’s honed her training perspective putting in the hard work in the real world, as a veterinarian, a behaviorist, a marine mammal trainer, a dressage rider, and the founder of the only accredited assistive dog training facility in Latin America. (Check out this FaceBook page.) Her talks were filled with science, but also with videos of case-histories.
It’s costly in time and money to both attend and to speak at these sorts of specialized, small and grass-roots driven conferences. I truly appreciate all that the presenters put into their talks.
The formal lectures are invaluable, but what I really come for is to make connections. Those between-sessions and after-hours conversations with other trainers who have a world of experience, helps me to understand and do better in my one small piece of this globe. One night at dinner, I sat across the table from Ken Ramirez who had a very funny story about playing the training game with the Obama’s two daughters. One night, Cecilia and I sat outside and talked horses. We talked training. What works, what doesn’t, why and why not. What we know and what we don’t. What we’d like to see get communicated to the wider community and which practices we wish weren’t so popular. It was intense, affirming, challenging and set my head spinning. I’ll be mulling it over for months to come. I might have to go to Chile to continue the conversation (Cecilia, I hope you’re reading this!)
At last year’s conference I met Dr. Lore Haug, who, it turns out, takes dressage lessons on her own horse. The conference was only forty-five minutes from my barn, so, I invited her out to meet Tonka and see how I use a marker and reward when I ride. This year, the conference was near her home, and I went down a day early so that I could go to Lore’s boarding stable and meet her Arabian gelding, who is still looking good in his twenty-first year.
He decided to get decorated for my visit.
That was okay, we chatted while Lore cleaned him up.
Then I got to watch Lore ride, and give her an impromptu lesson. Don’t they look super!
She let me get on and ride, too. (I brought my helmet and boots. I’m always prepared to sit on a horse!) No photos of the, but I will say that it was 80° F and I was hot by the end. Which was glorious. (Today I was back home in a quilted vest and jacket and riding indoors.)
At the end of the four days, in the van from the hotel to the airport, I felt done and looking forward to the many quiet hours of travel to get home. I sat next to a veterinarian behaviorist and, of course, we got to talking. The horse people at these conferences are a small contingent (most are dog trainers), but it turned out that she was one of us. We discussed the differences between how food rewards are handed out when training dogs versus how we do it with horses. Out of the entire trip, that half-hour chat flicked my idea light bulb. More on that in the months to come!
Check out the IAABC website. There’s a lot of free information on-line. There are courses to take. You can find behavior consultants to help you locally. Maybe you’ll want to join. The conference is near Boston next year. I’ll be there. Having conversations. Come and join them.