PATH INTERNATIONAL

The Basic Behaviors Profile: An Objective Way to Assess Program Horses

By Christie Schulte Kappert
Program Director, The Right Horse Initiative, a program of the ASPCA
PATH Intl. Equine Welfare Committee Member

Bringing a new horse into your program is an exciting time—a time that can also be stressful, uncertain or disappointing. You have high expectations for your horses, and so do your participants. No matter how well you know a horse, they’re still individuals and can all react differently to the demands of their new job.

Have you ever had a conversation with another horse person who tried to describe a horse that’s “well-trained” or “broke”? Or, had someone assure you—with the best of intentions—that a horse is good to handle and then try to carry out a simple task like picking up a hind leg, loading in a trailer, or catching in a pasture, and come to a different conclusion about that assurance? 

One way to objectively and consistently evaluate potential new program horses, whether from a purchase, donation, adoption, or other source, is by using the Basic Behaviors Profile, developed by The Right Horse Initiative.  

The Basic Behaviors Profile (BBP) is a tool for adoption organizations, trainers and horse owners that describes 14 common interactions between horses and humans on the ground. These are typical skills that owners expect a horse to have such as catching, haltering, leading and tying. It was developed by behaviorists, veterinarians and trainers and tested for reliability and validity. While the BBP was originally created with equine adoption centers in mind, it has powerful applications for PATH Intl. centers and instructors. It provides objectivity and consistency when different instructors, equine managers or volunteers may be involved in horse selection, training and management.

What does it do?

  • The BBP provides a clear picture of a horse’s training level at 14 basic ground handling skills.
  • It helps standardize and streamline the search and match process for programs, adopters and adoption organizations.
  • When adoption organizations or horse sellers provide it to potential new owners, it inspires trust and transparency in the process.
  • It provides trainers a starting point from which to develop a training program for each horse assessed. 

What does it NOT do?

  • It is not a pass/fail assessment. Horses who don’t complete many items may still be the Right Horse for an experienced adopter.
  • It does not assess under saddle skills, or specific skills in therapeutic riding or other equine-assisted therapies. 
  • The BBP does not prescribe training techniques. There are many humane and compassionate training styles that can successfully teach the assessed skills and behaviors.
  • It does not predict a horse’s future ability or trainability; or what activities it is suited for.
  • It is not a complete description of a horse. It is simply one piece of the evaluation and matching process.

How does it work?

  • The BBP is a simple assessment that can be carried out by anyone with basic horse handling knowledge. It will take two to three people about 15 minutes to complete. 
  • An observer will instruct a horse handler through the 14 items, marking “complete” or “incomplete” for each. 

Once complete, the results can help inform your decision on whether this is the right horse for your program. 

In addition to assessing horses you’re considering adding to your program, there are several ways the BBP could come in handy. Try it out on horses who exhibit behavioral changes, perhaps acting up for volunteers where there previously weren’t issues. Keep a dated copy of the BBP results in each horse’s file and re-assess them at regular time intervals to note any changes in behavior, determine if they need refresher training, or simply a break to prevent burnout. Retiring a horse out of the program? Sharing the horse’s BBP results with potential new homes shows transparency and inspires confidence that he’s a good citizen to have around. I’ve even assessed my own personal horses and found a few holes that I didn’t expect—skills that I’d want to be sure they have if they ever go to a new home!

I had the privilege of being part of the 2019 PATH International Conference and leading a pre-conference workshop at the Harmony Equine Center in Franktown, Colorado. The Harmony trainers and I carried out the BBP assessment on two adoptable horses and had a robust discussion with attendees about how they responded. The feedback I heard from conference attendees showed me how important behavior and training is to make sure you get the right horses in your barn, and that they’re happy in their jobs. 

If you’re interested in trying the BBP out for yourself, visit https://therighthorse.org/basic-behaviors-profile/ for the download and instructional videos. And be sure to check out www.myrighthorse.org to view adoptable horses and their Basic Behaviors Profile results, like handsome, adoptable Cowboy.

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