BARKS from the Guild May 2016

Page 48


An Alternative Perspective

Sara Richter explains how modern technology can offer a new insight into equine behavior


and help horse trainers see the world in the same way their charges do

n an unseasonably warm winter day in Chicago, Cherokee and I were preparing for a training session in the sunshine. The great outdoors was not something this 18-year-old American paint horse mare was unaccustomed to, as she spent every day turned out in a large and lovely pasture. However, as we approached the open door that leads out from the barn, she froze in her tracks. I scanned the environment but nothing had changed, nothing was out of place, nothing was novel, and nothing was moving. Cherokee, however, stared dead ahead at a puddle. This was particularly strange as she typically plays in puddles. She had even had to walk through a few to arrive at this puddle. I offered her the ball that we use as a target, to which she responded with a furrowed glance before staring down the aisle once again. We shaped our way to the puddle, until she would touch the edge with her muzzle, yet she still would not travel through it. Instead she would stand at the edge, lift her foreleg and promptly take a large step backwards. It was at that moment that I realized this mare was seeing something that I simply could not. The problem was not puddles in general, it was this particular puddle. It is no surprise that horses perceive the world differently than humans do. The filters on an iPhone can be As forceused to help us understand the world from a horse’s perspective free train-


BARKS from the Guild/May 2016

Looking at the world through a horse’s eyes can be a revelation when dealing with behavior issues

ers we tend to think outside of the box, to find new ways to empathize with and understand the animals that we work with. However, there are situations in which our ability to empathize and understand may be inhibited by our physical differences. Dr. Temple Grandin describes the vision of horses in her 1989 piece, Behavioral Principles of Livestock Handling: “The latest research on color vision in farm animals shows that they are dichromats with cones (color sensitive retina cells) most sensitive to yellowish-green (552-555 nm) and blue purple light (444445 nm)2. Humans are trichromats and see the full color spectrum. Dichromatic vision may make the animal more sensitive to seeing sudden movement. It may explain why grazing animals such as cattle balk at drain gates, shadows, and anything that has high contrast of light and dark.” (Grandin, 1989). Schemas are the mental framework through which we view the world, which are acquired from past experience and perception. They help us to interpret new information and develop inferences based on the knowledge that we have acquired over time. However, our human perceptual schema can stand in the way of our ability to understand the unique perspective of the animals that we are trying to understand. That day, I discovered that my iPhone is an incredible tool for pushing past my human perceptual schema to better appreciate the horses that I work with. Due to recent software updates, Apple has provided iPhone users with a set of photography filters that can be used to view the world as we would with a new set of eyes. To access the photo filters on an IPhone, tap the icon of three circles in the bottom right corner located inside of the camera app, then simply select the filter that you would like to apply (see image, bottom left). There are two filters that I primarily utilize while working with horses; Noir and Process. The Process