Spotlight Feature of the Month: The Rare and Ancient Caspians
Imagine all the best traits of a hot-blooded horse wrapped up into a pony-sized package...
by Barbara Nefer
Picture a sensitive yet sensible animal that exhibits fiery energy but doesn't panic when faced with spooky situations. Envision this horse excelling in dressage and jumping with a child rider or pulling a cart with two full-sized adults with no signs of strain. If you can imagine this, you've probably got a good mental picture of what the Caspian horse is all about.
Dick and Mary Kearley of Hawthorne, Florida, got involved with this intriguing breed several years ago when their daughter, Anne Marie, had her first pony ride and declared that she was “born to ride horses.” With all the conviction that a five-year-old horse crazy girl can muster, she convinced her parents to get her a pony.
Dick was actually double-teamed, as Mary had decided that she wanted a horse, too, and mother and daughter hit him with it together. Soon the Kearleys purchased an Appendix Quarter Horse for Mary and a little Welsh pony for Annie. The horses were boarded at a local barn, and Dick would watch the riding lessons and wonder just what made the equines tick as they trotted around the little dirt arena.
“I studied psychology in school,” he explains, “and my focus was experimental neuroscience. We used animal models, and it was all based on training through schedules of reinforcement.”
Dick became a professional dog trainer and found that his knowledge of how to reinforce or extinguish behaviors worked well with canines and obedience training. Eventually he entered the plant nursery business and his work with animals went on hold for the next decade. Now, with horses in the family, he mused on why an equine would allow itself to be ridden and commanded by a human.
“I would watch Annie, and it baffled me as to why a pony allows itself to be caught and puts up with child sitting on its back, kicking its ribs and hitting it with little stick. I thought, 'What is the reinforcement for the horse?' A little kid can't really force it to do something it doesn't want to, so why does it listen to them?'”
One day he saw a show about wild mustangs on Animal Planet. Handlers were taking blood samples to determine the percentage of Spanish ancestry, and the horses fought wildly. Dick says, “This fellow came on the scene and said that he could gentle the horses to where they could be handled for the blood draw without restraints. He was actually able to do it, and they said he was a horse whisperer. Even though I had studied animals and reinforcement, I had no idea how he did it. I wanted to know what he knew!”
|1 2 3 4||Next|