The experience I have had with my mare Lucy is that her critter chasing behavior has diminished since I began playing with chasing a target.
This has been my experience too. My mare Rosie who has had agression issues that spilled out onto other horses, dogs, and people who disturbed her has become much calmer and more trustworthy since she's had a legitimate way to release her pent up feelings.
It appears we are talking about, and developing something I would call, Equine Social Learning Theory. In humans a research, Bandura, developed such a theory about how humans learn, and in therapy with young people, the field I worked in, that was the basis for much of our method.
What you are both describing is in line with that. How to take unwanted behaviors, and based on learning theory, teach a new way of behavior and extinguishing of the old.
And one of those ways was to focus on a behavior, usually aggression, but we also worked with withdrawal and similar retreat from the world.
Then devise ways to both explore the behavior, such as acting it out safely, then, immediately follow up with a similar but safe behavior they could perform instead of the unwanted form of it.
Increasing base fitness has been a big factor in encouraging more exuberant play from the more energy concious. Providing timely and thoughtfully structured rewards has also helped. I know there are those who think that we should't reward for play behaviour - we want it to be intrinsically rewarding. However, my experience is that in the initial stages, for a horse who has low energy levels, low status, or who has previously been taught to NOT express themselves, using food rewards strategically in the early stages can be a big booster, and as the horse is encouraged to play more, they DO begin to find that the play is fun, and the rewards can be put on an intermittent schedule, and then phased out altogether.
Romy, you and others, have recently discussed, that there is more too it than the issue of intrinsic reward from the activity itself.
That is true, it does reward itself, but all behavior happens within a much much larger context. Or has considerable potential to that might either suppress the behavior or encourage the behavior.
Going back to the most basic of behaviorism, it's posited that we move toward pleasure and away from pain.
Two ends of a continuum, a spectrum.
If we start from a midpoint, where our feeling is neutral (an impossible state, except in death -- as far as we know
) each creature has both their species characteristic tolerance for pain and pleasure (yes, pleasure can get to be too much and cause a shutdown at times)and also their individual tolerance.
And so you deal with each horse as individuals, as therapeutic practitioners should always be focusing on doing.
You are doing, it appears to me, therapeutic rehabilitation, or with horses whose systems are not corrupted, you are doing self actualization work. From Maslow's hierarchy of needs model.
Hopefully both kinds of horses headed in the same direction under your thoughtful and kindly hand, each of you.
This may or may not resonate for folks, but it's worth taking a look at as we develop our personal equine philosophy.
As I look at how we are with our horses, these are the goals that both the horse strives for, and we provide for them as well.
I believe that given the chance, as you two are discussing, the horse will "actualize." That is it will strive toward the state of being where they realize the most potential they are capable of.
Life is like that for me, and I suspect you get it how much I enjoy my life, and that is what I wish any horse I associate with to have a chance to do. Really enjoy their life.
And thus I know that if he is disabled (as so many of the horses folks here find when the come together) sometimes one has to be very clever in figuring out how to meet that hierarchy of needs, and move with the horse toward his or her self actualization.
These game we play, as you point out, have a great deal more to them than cute tricks for amusement.
Does this present any ideas on how to expand and apply the use of targeting and chasing?
I love your description, Sue, of how an aggressive mare could through this particular play come to be a safer happier and more actualized horse. It's very thrilling. Very like seeing children I an other's work with that blossomed, and bega to really get joy out of live and feel good about themselves, and present less of a danger to the community, and begin to be able to contribute to it.
It still, even after all these years, effects me greatly. And now I get to read about people doing this with horses.
What a wonderful exciting thing you are doing. I am so very deeply moved by it.
Now were did I put my hanky?