Learned Helplessness

Last revised April 19, 2017.

Use of a “patience pole” to defeat horses. The horse can’t eat, drink, or even protect his face from flies with this arrangement. In the picture, six horses are simultaneously subjected to this treatment.1


In the Round Pen

Mark Rashid tells of his encounter with a woman who was offended that her horse was ignoring her. She took it into a round pen and cracked a whip behind it repeatedly, terrifying it and forcing it to run around the outside of the pen.

“What I am doing… is letting this horse know exactly who is boss. He wasn’t paying attention to me, so now I’m making him pay attention. Basically, I am acting like the alpha horse of the herd.”

“With that she turned and entered the round pen, holding only a long whip in her hand. The horse was standing quietly in the pen. It turned to look at her as she walked through the gate, but other than that, it appeared rather uninterested.

“‘As you can see,’ the lady said, after latching the gate behind her, ‘our horse is completely ignoring me and showing me no respect whatsoever.’

“With that, the woman moved to the center of the round pen. She uncoiled the whip, brought it slowly behind her with her right hand, and then quickly and skillfully brought the whip forward and flicked her wrist. The tail of the whip snaked out within about two feet of the horse’s hindquarters and made a very loud CRACK! The horse about jumped out of his skin and immediately began running. The lady once again cracked the whip behind the horse, which sent him running even faster… After about twenty minutes, when the horse was near exhaustion, he finally lowered his head enough to please the lady. It was then and only then that she quit cracking the whip. Appearing very obedient and submissive, the horse quickly turned in and faced her. His body was sweaty, he was blowing hard through his nose, and his head was definitely very low.

“’There,’ the woman said as she coiled up her whip. ‘Now I have this horse’s attention and respect, and you can bet that he sees me as the alpha horse of our little herd, which consists of just him and me. You can see that he is now very content and ready to do whatever I ask of him.’

“I glanced over at the horse, and suddenly the woman’s voice faded as I noticed in him something that I hadn’t seen in a horse in quite a while. (Or perhaps I’d seen it, but didn’t pay it any mind.) What I saw in the horse wasn’t a look of contentment, as the trainer had suggested, but a look of resignation… It was a sadness that started in the eyes and permeated outward until it consumed the entire body.2

Out of Control

In operant conditioning, a horse learns that it can operate on its environment to get what it wants. You provide a cue, he responds correctly, and you deliver carrot. He learns that he can control the carrot delivery system. This is surely a comforting feeling. If you are a good trainer, your horse would tell you that learning is hard, but fun.

But we cannot always operate on our environment to get what we want. Sometimes bad things happen to good people. Or horses. Imagine if your were a subject in an experiment. The experimenter shocked you. No matter what you did, you got shocked at intervals. It wouldn’t take you long to become upset, demoralized, depressed, and fearful. If you only experience it in a brief experiment, there won’t be lasting effects. But if this “experiment” lasts all day, and you don’t have any way to reduce the shocks, problems will develop.

Some horses who struggle with the task of avoiding unavoidable discomfort learn to give up and become mindlessly compliant, apathetic, dull and listless. Yank hard on the bit, and he won’t turn and bite you. He’ll just suffer. Kick him hard, and he won’t buck. He’ll just suffer. A horse who believes he has no control over painful stuff may give up trying to avoid the pain. He willingly does whatever nonsense his rider asks of him. He seems to tolerate everything without excitement. This condition is called learned helplessness. We have created a lesson horse. I have met many dull horses who seem to have no life left in them. I do not like those who made him this way. I do not want such a horse. Seeing a broken horse breaks my heart.

Learned helplessness was discovered in 1967 when researchers immobilized a dog and exposed it to electric shocks that could neither be avoided nor escaped. Twenty-four hours later, the dog was placed in a situation in which electric shock could be terminated by a simple response. The dog did not make this response; instead, it just sat passively. Dogs in a control group, who had not experienced uncontrollable shock or who experienced shocks which they could control, reacted vigorously to the shock and learned to turn it off.3

Researchers have since studied learned helplessness in rats and other animals, with the same results.

Horses with learned helplessness may seem tolerant of pressures from the rider, when they actually find things very aversive.

Triggering Learned Helplessness

Learned helplessness can quickly develop when unavoidable shocks are repeatedly presented. But there are many other ways it is generated in the lab: frustration,4 unavoidable underwater submersion,5 unavoidable cold water immersion6, exposure to insoluble visual discrimination problems7, and uncontrollable stress such as loud noise.8 Studies of learned helplessness have not been done on horses, but “breaking” a horse falls into this framework. During the breaking process, a horse is presented with unavoidable pain and fear, and given no means of reducing this pain and fear. Even outfitting a horse with a knotted rope halter, and tying him with a short lead to a hitching post in the sun for several hours contributes to this broken feeling.

Learned helplessness may be common in horses, donkeys, and mules. Charlotte Burn and others have conducted a significant study of equine welfare. Over 4 years, behavioral and physical data were collected from 5,481 donkeys, 4,504 horses, and 858 mules across nine developing countries. Researchers found that one fifth of the equines tried to avoid a new human observer, but there was no evident relation between avoidance and specific human-caused injuries. Over 13% of equines appeared unresponsive, apathetic and lethargic rather than alert. These unresponsive equines suffered from poor body condition, abnormal mucous membrane color, fecal soiling, eye abnormalities, more severe wounds, and older age, depending on the equine species. The researchers suggest that working equines in poor physical health show an unresponsive behavioral profile, consistent with sickness behavior, exhaustion, chronic pain, or depression-like states.9” Learned helpless manifests in depression, apathy, unresponsiveness and lethargy.

Mechanisms Underlying Learned Helplessness

Rough treatment is not what causes learned helplessness. It is the inability to escape from it.10 It appears that a change in the release of dopamine underlies this. When an aversive stimulus is presented to an animal, such as a shock, dopamine is ordinarily produced. Dopamine gives an animal hope, and the animal imagines “I can get out of this and make this pain stop.” If the aversive stimulus is mildly stressful, then dopamine is released in the amygdala.11 If the stress worsens, dopamine is now released in the prefrontal cortex. And if the stress is at its highest levels, dopamine is released within the nucleus accumbens as well.12 When behavioral responses fail to result in escape from the stressor (as is the case if stress is uncontrollable), profound inhibition of dopamine release in the nucleus accumbens occurs.13 The animal gives up trying to escape this stressor, and that decline in trying to escape this stressor generalizes to other stressors. The animal loses motivation and may develop anhedonia — the inability to feel pleasure14 — and may develop ulcers and/or begin losing weight.15

With learned helplessness, the horse has endured repeated, inescapable or unavoidable aversive stimuli, and shuts down. He has learned that he is helpless in aversive situations, has no control, and needn’t try. The result is a horse that becomes a poor learner, becomes anxious and depressed, and may develop mental illness. “Lesson horses” sometimes have learned helplessness, having repeatedly tried to avoid the unwanted pressures coming from the fools on their backs. Of course, learned helplessness is not confined to horses: it has been studied in dogs, rats, and humans. Learned helplessness comes about when a horse’s efforts do not produce the results they are hoping for.16

Learned helplessness is not the only possible outcome of unavoidable discomfort. A horse may resort to shying, spinning away, leaping, or bucking when given painful conflicting stop and go signals with bit and spurs.

When a horse finds that he cannot avoid unwanted pressure — that it persists despite his best efforts — he experiences conflict and stress, and needs to explore other ways of solving his problem. Sometimes a good solution is to remove the rider from his back. Pressure and treats always teach, but they don’t always teach exactly what we were intending to teach.

Learned helplessness can usually be partially reversed by removing those aversive conditions affecting the horse and doing operant conditioning correctly. When operant conditioning is done correctly, the horse eventually learns that it can control outcomes and make things happen, that it can get praise or treats or love simply by behaving in a certain way at a certain cue.

Characteristics of Learned Helplessness

Animals that have learned that they cannot avoid aversive conditions give up trying to avoid them. Initially, the horse experiences anxiety when these aversive conditions are presented, but that anxiety soon transforms to depression. The horse becomes passive and unmotivated.

Throughout the studies of learned helplessness, subjects show reduced movement,17 poor performance in appetitively motivated tasks (tasks that involve approaching a reward or positive outcome),18 decreased aggression,19 decreased social and sexual interest, and loss of appetite and weight.20 In studies of humans, non-depressed volunteers subjected to a helplessness induction procedure show performance deficits similar to those seen in severely depressed patients.21 Horses who’ve been broken or who’ve done time as lesson horses, show the signs of depression, and are quite likely depressed.

This unresponsive horse is considered “steady”, and not likely to make any unpredicted moves. But such unresponsiveness to the world also makes the horse unresponsive to a human who is trying to get them going, and is now called “lazy”. You should suspect that any quiet, bombproof horse is actually feeling despair, rather than being happy and relaxed.

Learned Helplessness Doesn’t Wear A Name Tag

We know that housing young horses in groups rather than individually facilitates subsequent training22. But we might wonder what underlies this. Is a young horse who is “housed individually” actually depressed, and does that depression interfere with learning? They won’t come lie on our couch to tell us, so we must be psychiatrists based only on what we can learn.

Stereotypy may be a manifestation of learned helplessness. One study has found that a stereotypy reduces the effects of aversive stimuli while the horse is performing the stereotyped behavior.23 That is, if your horse is chewing on his stall or pacing back and forth, he may be experiencing stress which this stereotypy is helping him manage. Preventing the stereotypy interferes with your horse’s coping, and may increase his stress.

Weight loss and stomach ulcers are more likely to occur in animals given uncontrollable shocks.24 In some studies, some animals even became sick or died when given shocks they could not prevent.25 When a horse is prone to colic or gastric ulceration, consider the possibility that these are symptomatic of learned helpless and the horse’s failed attempts to avoid an unpleasant situation.26

Before a horse exhibits the characteristics of learned helplessness, it may undergo stress that is not revealed in its behavior. Suthers-McCabe and Albano (2005) found that some therapy horses had significantly increased blood cortisol (the “stress hormone”) levels after participation in a therapy program for people with physical or mental health issues.27 These same horses, however, showed no change in their behavioral signs of stress. If we are to accurately assess our horse’s welfare, we won’t succeed if we only look for signs of distress. We should look for the presence or absence of signs of happiness.

Curing Learned Helplessness

There are many things you may be able to do to address learned helplessness.

  • Offer group living, so that your horse can begin to explore normal relations with other horses.28
  • Offer trick training of any sort using operant conditioning, so that your horse can experience control of part of his environment.
  • Review his daily life to determine if there are any areas where he is subjected to uncontrollable discomfort. This can range from a poorly fitting saddle to more intense riding gear, such as a bit, spurs, dressage whip, crop, noseband, fiadore, martingale, etc.
  • House weanlings in a paddock rather than in isolation to help young horses become more resistant to later learned helplessness.29
  • Limit exposure of horses to “at risk” children, as this has been found to trigger significantly more signs of stress in horses (ears pinned, increased defecation, and head turned, down, raised, shaken, or tossed).30
  • Replace negative reinforcement with positive reinforcement in training and interactions with your horse. Doing so has been shown to reduce discomfort and improve performance.31

Stop Reading Now

If you don’t want to have nightmares tonight, stop reading now. Otherwise you’ll learn that man’s inhumanity is not confined to man or woman: we are inhumane toward horses too. “Breaking” horses is the chief way that learned helplessness is acquired, but endless lessons can also bring it about. Even dressage and the normal activities of domesticated life contribute to it.

The remainder of this section discusses some of the causes of learned helplessness.

Breaking Horses

“Breaking” a horse doesn’t break bones. It breaks their spirit. When a horse is broken, it is required to “never start at what he sees… nor have any will of his own, but always do his master’s will even though he may be very tired or hungry, but worst of all is, when his harness is once on, he may neither jump for joy nor lie down for weariness…32” When a horse has been broken, it has given up trying to escape the pain of the bit or spurs, given up trying to run or even to choose which direction to walk. It yields to the rider’s demands, and is lost.

Several studies in 1967 found that when dogs were given inescapable shocks, that they failed to learn a subsequent avoidance task.33 That is, having no control over an aversive situation interferes with future learning.

When a horse is trained with traditional techniques, the horse gives up control to humans. The array of such techniques reveals just how cruel humans can be.

  • A horse’s head is tied to his tail tightly, forcing him to stand with his neck bent around.34
  • A horse’s leg is tied up, so that he must stand on three legs. The horse may be left in this situation overnight.35
  • A horse is “hog-tied”, all feet bound tightly together. Lying on his side, the handler may now whip the horse or otherwise injure him.
  • A horse is tied tightly to prevent escape, and thrown to the ground. Hia head might be covered. He is now rubbed all over with a blanket or feed sack. This is one of the many early meanings of “sacking out”.

A horse is “hog-tied”, all feet bound tightly together. The handler now stands on him and whips him.

This three year old was tied for 6 or 7 hours from her bosal to her tail. The bosal wraps around the nose, so any effort to straighten her neck tightened the noose around her nose. After this ordeal, she was described as “pretty tired”. It was also reported that when mounted, “it was difficult to get her to move or steer… she was so mentally tired she couldn’t even move out of the way of the gate being opened.36



Throughout the history of human-horse interaction, humans have done some terrible things to horses. Here is advice from a Peace Corps manual on training horses, in the “Humanity Development Library”: “Casting a horse or donkey by pulling the hind legs out from under it is best accomplished in the following manner: • Choose soft terrain. • Hold the animal in front with cross-ties, or by a strong lead rope or “twitch”, which is a loop attached to a short handle. • To apply the switch, put the loop over the muzzle and twist until very secure. • Tie a fixed loop in the center of a long rope, and fit the loop around the animal’s neck like a collar. The knot rests on the withers and the two ends are parted over the back, one on each side, and brought along the flanks and down between the hind legs. The right-hand rope circles behind the right pastern and is brought forward along the animal’s right side. The left-hand rope is used in a similar fashion on the left side. • People on either side of the animal pull ropes, “walking” the rear legs forward until the animal sinks gently into a sitting position.37

Through the use of hobbles and sacking out, horses are prevented from escaping rough treatment until they stop resisting, and enter a state of learned helplessness. At that point, advocates say that they are ready to ride.38

A horse that is “broken” in this way is not ready to ride. It is ready to die.

Restraining with Twitches

Ample cruelty may be demonstrated in brief encounters by a handler. If a horse must be restrained, some handlers “twitch” his ear, his nose, or neck. Others may put a chain over the horse’s nose or use a lip or gum chain.

Neck Twitch39

Twitching a horse’s nose. The nose is pulled into the twitch, and the stick is twisted.40

Twitching an ear.41

Use of nose and gum chains.42

The “calming” effect that it has on the horse is considered the result of the release of endogenous opiates in response to the pain caused by the procedure. Its effectiveness in distracting the horse from other stimuli (such as the use of clippers) can be attributed to both the actual pain and these endogenous analgesics.43 According to Hall and Goodwin (2008), “This form of restraint most certainly involves an inescapable aversive experience for the horse. Depending on the duration and frequency of such procedures, the subdued behavioral response that occurs may not have long-term consequences; however, it is an example of at least transitory learned helplessness.44

Training with Negative Reinforcement

The predominant form of reinforcement used in horse training is negative reinforcement. Its misuse can be the source of a number of behavioral problems—including the development of unresponsive, lethargic behavior45. Here are some examples.

Learned Helplessness in Dressage

Habituation to scary stuff is generally good, because it reduces the chance that a startle response will leave you on the ground. But habituation is not always our friend.

Riders often incorrectly maintain prolonged bit pressure46 to keep their horse “on the bit”, obtain poll flexion, and improved balance47. In turn, horses soon become somewhat habituated to this pressure,48 and riders, in turn, need to increase the pressure used or the severity of the bit. This vicious cycle49 leads to unintended consequences, including pain and suffering for the horse, and dissatisfaction for the rider.

Consider the fashionable idea of forcing hyperflexion (rollkür) on our horses in dressage training. Through the use of extra bits and reins, the horse’s head may be pulled down into the desired position. We are told this doesn’t hurt a bit. But in one interesting study, horses were ridden through a Y-maze, with one arm resulting in a ride in a circle in the rollkür position, and the other arm resulting in a ride in a circle in regular collection. Once the horses knew the maze, they were given a choice of which arm of the maze they went down. Of the 15 horses tested, 14 avoided rollkür and chose the arm with regular collection without side reins.50

And consider the very fashionable idea of riding with a bit. Those who use them will tell me that they don’t cause pain if handled properly. But research shows that a) they are normally not used properly51 and b) they cause pain and sometimes physical damage.52 The simultaneous use of bit and spurs sends the horse mixed signals, causes pain which the horse cannot escape.53 This “crank and yank and crank” is a common experience in lesson horses and many saddle horses, and the learned helplessness that it engenders may be why such horses “switch off” and become unresponsive, unmotivated, and apathetic.54

Learned Helplessness in Your Barn

Many horses live confined and isolated for long periods of time. But horses are social animals, not solitary animals. They need the company of others, and want companionship more than almost anything else. One study gave horses the options of (a) individual stall with hay and straw, (b) hay outside, (c) firm or soft ground surfaces, and (d) the company of others or not. Horse’s highest priority was always to be in the company of other horses. The horses also showed a preference for being outside and eating grass, regardless of the weather conditions (Schatzmann, 1998)55. A stall prevents your horse from being with his buddies. A life alone prevents your horse from being with his buddies. Hay and brushing won’t cure this. Horses that have been stabled for most of their lives with no opportunity for social interaction often become apathetic and lethargic.56 Perhaps learned helplessness is desired by riders who want flat, unresponsive horses — or by stables that rent them by the hour to city slickers. But I don’t like it.


1 Image source: Hawkins, Katlyn. and

2 Rashid, Mark. Horses never Lie: the heart of passive leadership. Skyhorse Publishing Inc., 2011. Page 67.

3 Overmier, J. Bruce, and Martin E. Seligman. “Effects of inescapable shock upon subsequent escape and avoidance responding.” Journal of comparative and physiological psychology 63.1 (1967): 28.

4 Rosellini, R.A. and Seligman, M.E.P. (1975) Learned helplessness and escape from frustration. J. Exp. Psychol.: Anim. Behav. Proc. 1: 149-158.

5 Altenor, Aidan, Edwin Kay, and Martin Richter. “The generality of learned helplessness in the rat.” Learning and Motivation 8.1 (1977): 54-61.

6 Weiss, J.M., Glazer, H.I. and Pohorecky, L.A. (1976) Coping behaviour and neurochemical changes: An alternative explanation for the original “learned helplessness” experiments. In: Animal Models in Human Psychobiology, G. Serban and A. Kling (eds), pp 141-173. Plenum Press, New York.

7 Bainbridge, P.L. (1973) Learning in the rat: Effect of early experience with an unsolvable problem. J. Comp. Physiol. Psychol. 82: 301-307.

8 Glass, David C., and Jerome E. Singer. “Behavioral Aftereffects of Unpredictable and Uncontrollable Aversive Events: Although subjects were able to adapt to loud noise and other stressors in laboratory experiments, they clearly demonstrated adverse aftereffects.” American Scientist 60.4 (1972): 457-465.

9 Burn, Charlotte C., Tania L. Dennison, and Helen R. Whay. “Relationships between behaviour and health in working horses, donkeys, and mules in developing countries.” Applied Animal Behaviour Science 126, no. 3 (2010): 109-118.

10 Weinraub, M., & Schulman, A. (1980). Coping behaviour: Learned helplessness, physiological change and learned inactivity. Behavioural Research and Therapy, 18, 459–512.

11 Inglis, F. M., & Moghaddam, B. (1999). Dopaminergic innervation of the amygdala is highly responsive to stress. Journal of Neurochemistry, 2, 1088–1094.

12 Puglisi-Allegra, S., & Cabib, S. (1997). Psychopharmacology of dopamine: The contribution of comparative studies in inbred strains of mice. Progress in Neurobiology, 51, 637–661.

13 Hall, Carol, Deborah Goodwin, Camie Heleski, Hayley Randle, and Natalie Waran. “Is there evidence of learned helplessness in horses?.” Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science 11, no. 3 (2008): 249-266. Harvard.

14 Cabib, S. (2006). The neurobiology of stereotypy II: The role of stress. In G. Mason & J. Rushen (Eds.), Stereotypic animal behaviour: Fundamentals and applications to welfare (2nd ed., pp. 227–255). Oxon, UK: CABI.

15 Seligman, M. E. P., & Maier, S. F. (1967). Failure to escape traumatic shock. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 74, 1–9.

16 McGreevy, P. D., and Andrew McLean. “Behavioural problems with the ridden horse.” The domestic horse, the origins, development and management of its behaviour. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge (2005): 196-211.

17 Wagner, H.R., Hall, T.L. and Cote, I.L. (1977) The applicability of inescapable shock as a source of animal depression. J. Gen. Psychol. 96: 313-318

18 Anderson, D.C., Cole, J., and McVaugh, W. (1968) Variations in unsignalled inescapable preshock as determinants of responses to punishment. J. Comp. Physiol. Psychol. 65, Monog. Suppl. 1-17. ; Rosellini, EA. (1978) Inescapable shock interferes with the acquisition of a free appetitive operant. Anim. Learn. Behav. 6: 155-159. ; Rosellini, R.A. and DeCola, J.P. (1981) Inescapable shock interferes with the acquisition of a low-activity response in an appetitive context. Anim. Learn. Behav. 9: 487-490. ; Zacharko, R.M., Bowers, W.J., Kokkinidis L. and Anisman, H. (1983) Region-specific reductions of intracranial self-stimulation after uncontrollable stress: Possible effects on reward processes. Behav. Brain Res. 2, 129-141.

19 Maier, S.F., Anderson, C. AND Lieberman, D.A. (1972) Influence of control of shock on subsequent shock-elicited aggression. J. Comp. Physiol. Psychol. 8& 94-100.

20 Weiss, J.M. (1968) Effects of coping responses onstress. J. Comp. Physiol. Psychol. 65: 251-260

21 Abramsom, L.Y., Garber, J., Edwards, N.B. and Seligman, M.E.P. (1978) Expectancy changes in depression and schizophrenia. J. Abnorm. Psychol. 87: 102-109.; Price, K.P., Tryon, W.W. and Raps, C.S. Learned helplessness and depression in a clinical population: A test of two behavioural hypotheses. J. Abnorm. Psychol. 87: – 113-121.; Raps, C.S., Reinhard, K.E. and Seligman, M.E.P. (1980) Reversal of cognitive and affective deficits associated with depression and learned helplessness by mood elevation in patients. J. Abnorm. Psychol. 89: 342-349.

22 Søndergaard, E., & Ladewig, J. (2004). Group housing exerts a positive effect on the behaviour of young horses during training. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 87, 105–118.

23 Nicol, C. (1999). Understanding equine stereotypies. Equine Veterinary Journal, 28 (Suppl., The Role of the Horse in Europe), 20–25.

24 Weinraub, M., & Schulman, A. (1980). Coping behaviour: Learned helplessness, physiological change and learned inactivity. Behavioural Research and Therapy, 18, 459–512.

25 Seligman, M. E. P., & Maier, S. F. (1967). Failure to escape traumatic shock. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 74, 1–9.

26 Schramme, M. (1995, July/August). Investigation and management of recurrent colic in the horse. Practice, pp. 303–314.; Lester, G. D. (2004). Gastrointestinal diseases of performance horses. In K. W. Hinchcliff, A. J. Kaneps, & R. J. Geor (Eds.), Equine sports medicine and surgery (pp. 1037–1048). Edinburgh, UK: Saunders

27 Suthers-McCabe, M., & Albano, L. (2005). Evaluation of stress response of horses in equine assisted therapy programme. Anthrozoös, 18, 323–325. Thiel, U. (2005).

28 Søndergaard, E., & Ladewig, J. (2004). Group housing exerts a positive effect on the behaviour of young horses during training. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 87, 105–118.

29 Heleski, C. R., Shelle, A. C., Nielsen, B. D., & Zanella, A. J. (2002). Influence of housing on weaning horse behaviour and subsequent welfare. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 78, 291–302.; Nicol, C. J., Badnell-Waters, A. J., Bice, R., Kelland, A., Wilson, A. D., & Harris, P. A. (2005). The effects of diet and weaning method on the behaviour of young horses. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 95, 205–221.

30 McGreevy, P. D., & McLean, A. N. (2005). Behavioural problems with the ridden horse. In D. S. Mills & S. McDonnell (Eds.), The domestic horse (pp. 196–211). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

31 Warren-Smith, A. K., & McGreevy, P. D. (2007). The use of blended positive and negative reinforcement in shaping the halt response of horses. Animal Welfare, 16, 481–488.

32 Sewell, Anna. Black beauty. Broadview Press, 2015. Chapter 3.

33 Overmier, J. B., & Seligman, M. E. P. (1967). Effects of inescapable shock upon subsequent escape and avoidance learning. Journal of Comparative Physiological Psychology, 63, 28–33.

34 Richardson, C. (1998). The horse breakers. London: J. A. Allen.

35 Hall, Carol, Deborah Goodwin, Camie Heleski, Hayley Randle, and Natalie Waran. “Is there evidence of learned helplessness in horses?.” Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science 11, no. 3 (2008): 249-266. Harvard.

36 RosieJonesHorses. “Pantanal Perspectives”. February 9, 2013.

37 Watson, Peter. “Animal Traction: Peace Corps Manual.” (1981).—off-0hdl–00-0—-0-10-0—0—0direct-10—4——-0-1l–11-en-50—20-about—00-0-1-00-0–4—-0-0-11-10-0utfZz-8-00&cl=CL1.1&d=HASH0113c7507f62288f1860ce3b.7.5&gt=1

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39 Image source: “Restraint”. Penn Veterinary Medicine. 2016.

40 Wilhelm, Charles “Creating your dream relationship with your horse. Teach your horse to accept clippers.”

41 Image source: “Restraint”. Penn Veterinary Medicine. 2016.

42 Source for nose and gum chains photos: “Restraint”. Penn Veterinary Medicine. 2016.

43 Webster, J. (1994). Animal welfare: A cool eye towards Eden. Oxford, UK: Blackwell Science.

44 Hall, Carol, Deborah Goodwin, Camie Heleski, Hayley Randle, and Natalie Waran. “Is there evidence of learned helplessness in horses?.” Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science 11, no. 3 (2008): 249-266. Harvard.

45 McGreevy, P. D., & McLean, A. N. (2005). Behavioural problems with the ridden horse. In D. S. Mills & S. McDonnell (Eds.), The domestic horse (pp. 196–211). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press

46 Cook, W.R., 1999. Pathophysiology of bit control in the horse. J. Equine Vet. Sci. 19, 196–204.

47 [McGreevy, P.D., McLean, A.N., Warren-Smith, A.K., Waran, N., Goodwin, D., 2005. Defining the terms and processes associated with equitation. In: McGreevy, P.D., McLean, A.N., Warren-Smith, A.K., Goodwin, D., Waran, N. (Eds.), Proceedings of the First International Equitation Science Symposium, Melbourne, Australia, pp. 10–43.

48 Odberg, F.O., Bouissou, M.F., 1999. The development of equestrianism from the baroque period to the present day and its consequences for the welfare of horses. Equine Vet. J. Suppl. 28, 26–30

49 Miller, R., 1995. Desensitization to frightening stimuli. Behavior of the horse. J. Equine Vet. Sci. 15, 299–300

50 von Borstel, U. U., Merkies, K., Shoveller, A. K., Duncan, I. J. H., Keeling, L. J., & Millman, S. T. (2007, August). Impact of riding in rollkür-posture on welfare and fear of performance horses. Paper presented at the 3rd International Equitation Science Conference, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan.

51 Clayton, H. M., Singleton, W. H., Lanovaz, J. L., & Cloud, G. L. (2003). Measurement of rein tension during horseback riding using strain gage transducers. Experimental Techniques, 27, 34–36.

52 Cook, W. R. (2003). Bit-induced pain: A cause of fear, flight, fight and facial neuralgia in the horse. Pferdeheilkunde, 19, 75–82.

53 McLean, A. N. (2003). The truth about horses. Victoria, Australia: Penguin.

54 Hall, Carol, Deborah Goodwin, Camie Heleski, Hayley Randle, and Natalie Waran. “Is there evidence of learned helplessness in horses?.” Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science 11, no. 3 (2008): 249-266. Harvard.

55 Schatzmann, U. (1998). Winter pasturing of sport horses in Switzerland: An experimental study [Abstract]. Equine Veterinary Journal, 27 (Suppl., Equine Clinical Behaviour), 53–54.

56 Hall, Carol, Deborah Goodwin, Camie Heleski, Hayley Randle, and Natalie Waran. “Is there evidence of learned helplessness in horses?.” Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science 11, no. 3 (2008): 249-266. Harvard.


4 Comments for "Learned Helplessness"

  • Chiara Marrapodi

    Hello David,

    After reading this web page I would like to invite you to write an article about learned helplessness or the like in equines for The Journal of Animal Consciousness if you feel so inclined.

    Email me for more details.



    • david

      Hi, Chiara. I am just discovering your comment two and a half months late! Yes, I would love to write an article on learned helplessness or some other topic for the Journal of Animal Consciousness. I’m sending you an email right now. – David

  • Carolyn Morris

    I use the pressure/release and approach/retreat system for training. Mind you it is very light pressure. The slightest try is rewarded with release of pressure. I have found this training system to be very effective and the horse doesn’t appear to become depressed. However my horses do not spend hours and hours or months on end in training. Are saying to ask a horse to do a particular task and when the horse does it correct then give it a treat instead of releasing the pressure?

  • Pierre

    I would like to have your permission to translate your article in french and publish it on ower web site.
    Due credit will be given.
    We are a western riding school and training facility, and your article fits well with our philosophy on riding and training.

    Thank you,


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