Stump A Chump

I haven’t cared for too many horses over my years, but about ten years ago when carrying buckets of feed to my two horses, I noticed the following which brought me to an important understanding of Pavlov’s research. Guinness and Maggie would at first be milling excitedly in their paddock when they saw me emerging from the shed where the feed was kept, but as I neared the gate they both then got down to some serious hoof stomping and head-bobbing only to desist when their snouts were deep into their respective feed buckets. And when you think about it, this kind of stomping/bobbing behavior is the basis for a lot of horse tricks as in “Mr. Ed,” and especially “Clever Hans” who had the psychology community hoodwinked for a while in the early twentieth century when he would stop stomping as he had arrived at the proper answer to an addition problem posed by a researcher. So my question is, why do horses stomp the ground and also bob their heads up and down when they are excited?

Published April 27, 2011 by Kevin Behan
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11 responses to “Stump A Chump”

  1. Russell says:

    Now I’m not sure why horses do this but it seems remarkably similar to what the Brelands describe in their paper “The Misbehavior of Organisms”

    http://psychclassics.yorku.ca/Breland/misbehavior.htm

    They termed the phenomena “instinctive drift” and write of raccoons washing, pigs snuffling and chickens pecking at a ball. Problems with behaviourism noticed 50 years ago by experts in applied behaviourism.

    I would guess that horses do this because it’s what eating grass feels like?

  2. Jenya says:

    My guess: that’s what running feels like.

  3. kbehan says:

    Thanks; the notion of instinctive drift is close, but not close enough. And your guess is closer yet, and almost there. Let me add that what I’m striving for ties together the notion of physical memory and the information-is-in-the-energy notion. So just to paint a more vivid picture. The horses are excited seeing me bringing two pails of sweet grain, but are blocked by the gate.

  4. Jenya says:

    To a horse, the feeling of blocked attraction feels the same as running? Because running is how a horse goes to ground? (Am I even on the right track here?)

  5. kbehan says:

    Excellent. Remove the block (i.e. open the gate) and what would the horse be doing? Running toward me with the pails of grain in my hands. In the horse’s mind it is the act of running that produces the grain in its mouth, not the fact that I am bringing grain to it, which, if it was able to think like that, would motivate it to do nothing and simply wait for the grain to arrive, which is what a thought driven being would most likely do as for example when we order our food at a restaurant and then just sit at the table and wait for the food to arrive because we recognize that someone is bringing it to us in deference to the order we just placed. But for a horse, the sight of a human bearing bucket of grain equals 200,000 volts of excitement and that level of excitement is most efficiently expressed via the physical act of running. And the act of running is physically executed by way of an external focal gaze on food that is simultaneously coupled to a subliminal focal gaze on its body’s center of gravity, and in the horse’s mind this “fusion” of the outer with the inner is what produces the taste of food in its mouth. Therefore, when mechanically prevented from running, that didn’t matter to the horse. It still had to manifest the grain into its mouth by way of running, and so it bobs its head up and down and stomps the ground just as if it is running, because in its mind, the act of running is what produces the grain in its mouth. It has no idea that I am bringing it the food. It is reliving the physical memory of running, and so it ends up running in place with its head going up and down while its hooves strike the ground, just as if it is running.

  6. Christine says:

    So then, this is also why dogs get excited when you start getting their dinner ready. And all that jumping, barking and carrying on is, in their mind, what brings the food to them? Then what’s the purpose of training them to “settle” in order to receive food — is it for our convenience? Just curious

  7. kbehan says:

    Exactly. They have no “idea” that you mix the food and then bring them the food, even though they watch you mix and bring the food and have done so for years. They are feeling that by being excited they are willing the food into their mouths. So when you teach them to “settle” which is remarkably easy to do since the emotional ground as object of attraction is so obvious, i.e. the food that you both have in common, then therefore feeling calm is what wills the food into their mouths, which is just what every cat that catches a mouse learns-to-do-by-feel as well.

  8. Christine says:

    Well, so far Duncan is the only one who gets it. Even though I don’t give them their food until they are quiet, calm and give me eye contact, Bodie and Diva still are way too excited when I start preparing dinner for them. What am I missing with them? Duncan eats first because he’s the one waiting calmly and quietly. Diva goes 2nd and Bodie 3rd.

  9. kbehan says:

    Dogs have a group consciousness. Duncan is occupying the calm-to-feeding polarity and others are radiating along a spectrum. Other dogs excitement reinforces Duncans’ calmness whereas Duncans’ calmness reinforces their excitement. One dog learning to be calm about food is one order of magnitude. One dog with second dog is 2X2 the order of magnitude. One dog with two other dogs is 3X3X3 the level of difficulty. So must work each dog alone first to create the imprint. Then as Jenya writes, keep digging the trench deeper until it can handle all the energy. Keep On Pushing!

  10. Christine says:

    “So must work each dog alone first to create the imprint.”

    Are you referring to “foundation” work — pushing, tug, etc.? Or do you mean working 1:1 regarding the settle at feeding time?

    Interestingly to me, Sister (who is staying with us while my mom is in the hospital), is getting the “settle” fairly quickly. Would that, then, signify her radiating to the same polarity as Duncan? And will that serve to reinforce Diva & Bodie’s excitement? I know, always with the questions….

  11. kbehan says:

    Yes, work each dog independently in regards to feeding routine, then mix and match until all three can do it together.
    And then yes, if left to their own demise, then the calmer Sister is the even more excited D&B to stay in balance.

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