My name is Brianna Ferguson. I'm a horse trainer and equine bodyworker...but first and foremost I'm a horse lover. My journey with horses started at a young age, and I quickly realized that our paths were deeply intertwined. Each and every horse I loved pushed me further into a space of alternative methods & advocacy. Everything came together when I found positive reinforcement-based training and adopted a holistic mindset to horse care and training.
My training approach is centered around positive reinforcement, LIMA, and the humane hierarchy. My passion lies in finding the root cause for behaviour and helping horses and their caregivers find their way back to a relationship built on trust and connection. As certified Equibow practitioner, I am able to synergistically combine behaviour and training with equine bodywork, holistically supporting your horse's physical and mental health.
About My Training Practices
Training animals with positive reinforcement is not a new concept. For years we have applied the science of behavior to dogs, marine animals, and zoo animals to create strong, resilient behaviours built on a foundation of trust and cooperation. It hasn't been until more recently that the horse world has begun to introduce these concepts into our riding, training, and relationships.
My approach to training is not a one size fits all method, nor do I believe in taking a black and white approach to operant conditioning/learning theory. Every horse is unique and different, yet every horse benefits from having their voice honoured. The foundation to all of my training practices lies in working with our horses in a consent-based manner and truly listening to their wants and needs. This can be achieved by applying positive reinforcement based techniques in combination with horse-human connection time, species appropriate enrichment activities, and a holistic evaluation of the horse's lifestyle and management. My goal as a trainer is to empower owners to develop a deep understanding of how to apply these techniques and strengthen their relationship with their horse.
My background as an equine bodyworker also allows for an understanding of biomechanics and the horse's physical well-being as a pillar of training success.
What is Positive Reinforcement (R+)?
Simply put, positive reinforcement is the addition of an appetitive (something that the learner enjoys) as a means to reinforce a behaviour and increase the likelihood of that behaviour occurring again.
In practice, this looks like offering the horse food reinforcement or scratches in order to reinforce desired behaviour. Positive reinforcement based trainers will often use a clicker or other bridge signal to mark the precise moment the desired behavior occurs and to communicate to the learner that reinforcement is on it's way.
This is both a valid and common concern, given a horse's size and the potential risk if the horse does not understand how to access their food reinforcement in a safe way. Food manners are addressed with a two pronged approach:
First, using a low value food reinforcement. Carrots, cookies, and other treats that are high in sugar will often create anxiety and over-excitement in your horse. It is far easier to promote calm behaviour when using a low value reinforcer, such as a hay pellet.
The second prong involves teaching the horse how to safely and calmly accept their reinforcement. All behaviour is able to be shaped and reinforced - just like we can (inadvertently) teach our horses to paw and head butt for snacks, we can also teach them to stand calmly and quietly between reinforcement.
But won't my horse turn into a cookie monster if I hand feed them?
Can positive reinforcement techniques be used to teach riding and other complex behaviours? I thought R+ was just for tricks?
Positive reinforcement can be used to train any behaviour, regardless of its complexity. In fact, positive reinforcement is ideal for training complex behaviours, due to how criteria is gradually built and expanded upon in the shaping process. These techniques create resilient behaviours built upon a strong foundation.
The only time positive reinforcement is ineffective is when there is underlying pain or lifestyle challenges that need to be addressed. Once these challenges are resolved however, positive reinforcement is the perfect tool for creating new, enjoyable associations with stimuli or behaviour the horse may have previously seen as negative.
About My Bodywork Practice
After learning about the science of behaviour, I became fascinated by the interconnected nature of the horse's mental and physical health. No matter how much time we spend training, progress is determined by how the horse is feeling in their physical body. I began searching for a bodywork technique that aligned with my ideals of what interactions with horses should look like - consent based, minimally invasive, gentle, and positive. That's when I found Equibow.
What is Equibow?
The Equibow technique offers support to horses of all breeds, ages, and disciplines, and helps to heal and restore their bodies to a state of mental and physical balance. This modality addresses the fascia, facilitating healing through nervous system repatterning. Whether your horse is struggling with performance, behaviour, soundness, or you’re just looking to support their overall wellness, Equibow helps to create happier, healthier horses.
Horses who receive regular bodywork support are more successful in their training endeavours, have increased longevity and soundness, and improved overall health and wellbeing. Helping horses to heal both physically and mentally offers an opportunity to get to know your horse’s true self, beneath all their layers of pain and compensation, creating improved connection and communication between horse and owner.
How can Equibow help my horse?
What does an Equibow session look like?
Each Equibow session is as unique as the horse being worked on. The session unfolds in a way that is guided by the horse and where they need and want support in that moment.
Sessions begin with assessment of the horse to the degree that they are open to and capable of. This may include hands on palpation, assessment of the joints and their range of motion, and evaluating the horse both while stationary and in movement. The goal of assessment is to meet the horse where they are at and identify any challenges they may be experiencing.
Assessment will allow the practitioner a better understanding of where to begin when offering the horse hands-on support. The techniques offered to the horse during their session will be tailored to the individual, prioritizing supporting their physical body while also considering their emotional state.
Sessions typically last an hour to an hour and a half, and create a safe container for both horse and owner to find healing and support. Questions and discussion during the session are welcome, and we will wrap up a session by discussing the findings and coming up with a homework plan to further support the horse in the weeks following.