Saturday 9 January 2021

Attachment theory and horses - serve and return

 A few people have been writing about attachment theory and horses recently, so I thought I'd 'go public' with this little piece relating to attachment theory that I was putting together as part of the Equine Behaviour Affiliation's Applied Behaviour Course. 

Serve and return. If it's new to you, this video may help 

InBrief: The Science of Neglect

So, that's a good introduction for humans, and particularly the importance of serve and return for children. 

As adults, this still matters - for example just brief eye contact with a trusted friend can really help to calm you when you are feeling worried. 

How about horses? The relationships that are central to a horse's life will hopefully be equine, but aspects of attachment theory can help us to think about how we interact with them too. 

Here's a little clip of Harvey, an ex racehorse who lives at my yard. Harvey has just been attacked by his food bowl! He somehow managed to flip it up and fire food into his face and got a big fright. 5 minutes later he is still not eating. 

Here, I think we have some serve and return. He touches me (and it's not for treats - he knows all about my right pocket!), I respond, and he then feels safe enough to eat. He repeats this movement a few times before really settling.

Completing this serve and return might seem a small thing to us, but think how you feel when you try to catch that friend's eye when you are worried and she looks away or ignores you. It's not so different, and can make a huge difference to the horse and really strengthen a relationship. 

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