Identifying the origin and cause of rearing is very important for the appropriate resolution of the behaviour (Hothersall and Casey, 2012). Pain in pain-related rearing must be eliminated before attempts to modify behaviour can begin (Jonckheer-Sheehy et al, 2012), and an understanding of how the behaviour was reinforced in the past is also helpful in behaviour modification (Hothersall and Casey, 2012). McGreevy (2012) and Mills (1998) agree: before applying Learning Theory for behaviour modification, they recommend identifying the ethological relevance of the behaviour to the horse, as well as removing any causes of pain.
Next, a behaviour modification approach based on Learning Theory and tailored to the horse’s specific situation can be formulated (Hothersall and Casey, 2012; McGreevy, 2012). For example, aggressive behaviour often arises due to social isolation (Creighton and Hockenhull, 2010). Therefore, aggressive rearing may be treated by introducing social contact with conspecifics (Hothersall and Casey, 2012). If the rearing has been shown to have originated as a way to avoid pain, an aversive stimulus, or an impossible task, presenting an insignificant version of the stimulus and teaching the horse an alternative response through counter-conditioning may be effective (Hothersall and Casey, 2012).
Because rearing is highly reinforcing to the horse displaying the behaviour, it will be difficult to bring to extinction. McGreevy (2012) stresses that the horse must be capable of doing what is being asked of it, and that a quick fix is an unrealistic expectation. Increasing the force applied to the horse will not help to resolve the behaviour (Mills, 1998; McGreevy and McLean, 2009).
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McGreevy, P. (2012) Equine Behaviour: A Guide for Veterinarians and Equine Scientists. Saunders Elsevier. ISBN: 978-0-7020-4337-6
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