Hillydale Ponies

Hillydale Ponies Breeder and trainer of ponies and horses for sale. Horses and ponies taken in for starting and retraining We are located near Goulburn in the beautiful southern tablelands.

We specialise in producing ponies for children.


Have you ever wondered what is going on in your horse's brain?

Wondered how horses actually learn things?

Why they shy at things they have seen many times before, forget what they have learnt in the past or sometimes seem incapable of learning anything at all?

Why some habits are hard to break and others disappear easily? Why bad habits are learnt so quickly?

What happens inside their brain when they are frightened?

Why they sometimes explode seemingly out of the blue?

Have you wondered whether food reward training improves or hinders learning? Or what happens when we use pressure release training?

Or what effect stress or exercise has on how well horses learn or forget things?

If you've ever wondered about any of these questions then our upcoming series of seminars exploring and applying the neuroscience of learning as it applies to equine learning, cognition and training is for you.

This first seminar is a general introduction to the neuroscience of learning with application to horses. We will share the latest research including research we've conducted recently.

Later seminars will explore the questions posted above and much more.

When: 1 May, 1pm-4pm
Where-Southern Tablelands Riding School
Cost: $50 per person, includes afternoon tea and comprehensive handout.
For more information, please email: [email protected] or PM or call 02 4844 4354.

Hillydale Equitation Science

Hillydale Equitation Science

Have you ever had to deal with a stressed horse? Would you like to know more about how stress affects your horse's ability to learn and remember?

We are conducting a research project investigating these questions. We're also looking at whether exercise improves learning- something that hasn't been studied in horses before. Our study could help owners better identify stress in their horses, leading to training and handling methods that are low stress, which is better for horse welfare as well as keeping us safer.

We're looking to borrow suitable horses to take part in this study.

Our study will take place between August and October and will take four days. The first two days will involve getting to know the horses and letting them get to know the research staff. The second two days will involve the study proper. Our study has been fully approved by the Charles Sturt University Animal Ethics Committee.

We're looking for horses that have a basic education under saddle (walk, trot and canter) and are sound and healthy. We can assist with transporting horses to and from their home base and they will be given expert feeding and health care while they are with us.

We will be conducting the study in two locations, near Goulburn NSW and Wagga Wagga, NSW.

If you'd like to contribute to this important research by loaning us a horse or find out more about the study, please get in contact via PM, call 02 4844 4354 or email [email protected]

Hillydale Equitation Science Services
Hillydale Equitation Science Services

Hillydale Equitation Science Services

The findings of this study are super cool.

Basically, mice learnt to coordinate the neural activity in their basal ganglia to generate a musical tone that resulted in electrical stimulation of dopmaine producing neurons- eg that got a good feeling every time their brains produced the right kinds of electrical waves.

The mice were hooked up to a brain interface machine which turned the spiking of their neurons into a tone which automatically delivered the dopamine stimulation reward. If their brain activity was of the right frequency, the tone got produced and they got the reward. If the brain activity wasn't of the right frequency it didn't produce the reward tone and they got no reward.

Over multiple sessions, the mice got better at producing the right electrical pattern to produce the rewarded freqeuncy and the reward.

What this study shows is the law of effect in action- basically, the brain learning the neural activity that produces a reward and then repeating that pattern to keep getting the reward.

Put very simply, this study captured what the brain does during positive reinforcement learning. In this study the mice didn't have to do anything other than change their brain activity. In more standard positive reinforcement learning like we use with horses, the animal has to do something- like touch a cone to get the reward- the food. This study gives an insight into what is happening at the neuron level during this kind of learning. It is highly likely that the relevant dopamine neurons in our horses get tuned in a similar way once the association between the behaviour and the reward gets established.


Hillydale Equitation Science

Hillydale Equitation Science

Have been pleasantly buried in the books these past few months and have started to emerge with an exciting research plan for the next few years. Its going to be a busy busy time!

Something I learned recently that might be of interest to others is what happens to the brain when we "habituate" or are "sensitised" to something. Unsurprisingly, opposite processes are involved.

Habituation (no longer responding to something- like girth pressure, the sound of a whip crack) results in a loss of connections between the relevant neurons. You may recall from an earlier post I mentioned these things called dendritic spines- small structures that protrude from the dendrites and are the structural and neurochemical basis of memories. In a nut shell- more spines = stronger connections= stronger memories. With habituation, because we stop attending to the stimulus, the connections get weaker. We lose spines on the relevant dendrites, less neurotransmitter gets released and we forget to respond to the stimulus. We have habituated.

In contrast, sensitisation results in the opposite process. Spine density increases, so more connections between neurons, more neurotransmitter release, stronger memories. And there's more, in sensitisation, stimuli that are similar to the original one that's reacted to can elicit the same strengthening of neural connections as the original one. Using a horsey example, say your horse gets a fright from a white plastic bag. That fright leads to synaptic strengthening through increasing the number of those spines. Then the next day you go to put his white rug on and instead of standing quietly, he's leapt away in terror. That's because the plastic bag fear has sensitised him to similar stimuli and he reacts accordingly. His threshold for reacting is now lower because the synaptic transmission is so much more efficient.

This has significant ramifications for horse training and handling. Sensitisation can easily override habituation as spines are rapidly increased with use (within minutes and lasting for days). We need to be careful about not inadvertently sensitising our horses to every day stimuli such as us! Sensitisation can be useful for overcoming problematic habituation, such as when a horse is no longer responding to leg pressure. But we should be careful to minimise fear responding in our horses to reduce the likelihood of creating super strong synaptic connections for big reactions we don't like to deal with such as shying.

Hillydale Equitation Science

Hillydale Equitation Science

More insights from neuroscience. When we (and horses) are stressed, the "thinking" part of our brain gets sidelined by the "doing" parts. Specifically, the frontal corticies or prefrontal cortex (PFC). The PFC is responsible for much of our cognitive processes- evaluating options, analysing data, comparing the present set of circumstances to past circumstances, drawing connections between things, learning the relationship between an action and an outcome (good or bad). The "doing" part of our brain is located in the basal ganglia- a group of nuclei (groups of neurons) that influence motor behaviour and predict rewards and punishments (plus a lot more). Of particular importance for this is the striatum- three separate nuclei including the caudate nucleus, the putamen and the neucleus accumbens. The nucleus accumbens is a dopamine rich area, the caudate and putamen are not.

The PFC enables flexible responding that adapts to changes in the environment whereas the striatal system is much less flexible and underpins habits- where we do the same thing over and over. When habits become really "ingrained" we lose sensitivity to the outcomes of our actions. This means we keep doing the thing whether or not we get a reward or a punishment. In neurological terms control of our behaviour has moved from where rewards/punishments matter (nucelus accumbens + dopamine) to them having less importance (putamen and caudate neucleus -dopamine)

The PFC is a very stress sensitive structure, and depending on our perception of the stress (can we control it, have we experienced it before, can we escape or avoid it), our PFC can be taken "off line" by stress. Through complicated neurochemical processes involving noradrenaline, cortisol, glutamate, dopamine and others, stress downregulates neural processes in the PFC. At the same time, stress enhances or at least doesn't interfere with processes governed by the striatum. This means when we are stressed, we are more likely to respond with a habit type response and less likely to engage in flexible, adaptive thinking and responses. Our striatum system takes over more responsibility for what we do when we are stressed. This means we can be efficient but less flexible.

The same is very likely to be true for horses. When they are stressed, especially if the stressor is of high intensity, prolonged, unpredictably and inescapable, their brains will switch from PFC control to striatal control meaning they will revert to habits rather than be able to learn new things. In addition, they might persist with a response to a cue, in spite of the fact they are either not getting a reward or are in fact getting punished. An example of this could be at a horse show when its common to see people pulling very hard on their horses's mouths but the horse doesn't slow down. Running away from fear is a much more habitual response than slowing down from bit pressure.

It has often been said that scared horses don't learn- this is partly true. Scared horses can learn and they can learn how to escape what is scaring them (eg by pulling back and getting free) very efficiently (in one try). But what scared horses can't learn is new things that rely on the frontal cortex and they may have trouble recalling learning that relies on that same area.

It's another reason why we should avoid scaring our horses in training at all costs. Endless chasing in a roundpen, on the end or a rope or flapping a plastic bag on a stick in their faces will achieve the very opposite of what we want which is a horse that can "think" rather than just "do".

Caveat- the processes I have described here are in reality a lot more complicated and its not a simple "either/or" in terms of those memory systems. That said many studies in other species have demonstrated that stress impairs flexible, goal directed learning in the frontal cortex and biases animals and people towards inflexible habit responding instead.

It you'd like to experience a fun filled weekend with like minded horse people on a beautiful rural property going trail...

It you'd like to experience a fun filled weekend with like minded horse people on a beautiful rural property going trail riding, learning about horse behaviour, conquering some fun challenges on the stockman's course or cross country course, or would like some help improving your riding this weekend is for you!

The wonderful Judith Bogaart of the Southern Tablelands Riding School will be hosting this fantastic trail riding weekend and I'll be on hand to provide private and group lessons to complement the trail riding activities.

Both nervous nellies and hoons catered for. Fab food, a roaring campfire and of course wonderful horsey company and conversation on offer. Not to be missed.

Contact the Southern Tablelands Riding School for more info.
Hope to see you there!

Hillydale Equitation Science

Hillydale Equitation Science

Trevor trotting today. Getting there. Loose reins at this stage- no contact at all, simply wanting a soft go and then maintenance of the gait. He took a little while to realise that he did have to keep going but got it eventually.

Hillydale Equitation Science

Hillydale Equitation Science

Phoebe wearing a rider. So far nothing has fazed this young lady. Feeling very excited about where she's heading. Will put the saddle on tomorrow and then start to put it all together on the weekend.

Hillydale Equitation Science

Hillydale Equitation Science

SOLD to a lovely local home. Thankyou to all who enquired

For sale- Fabulous all rounder ASHx mare

Jessie is offered for sale on behalf of her owners as she has been sadly outgrown. Standing a shade over 14 hands high and approx 12 years of age (as per dentist), Jessie is a very quiet and laid back lady who has done it all.

Jessie has been to pony club, played polo cross, sported, moved cattle, gone trail riding and the odd ag show, all with child riders.

She is completely unfazed in new environments-unload her from the float and hop on- straight onto a loose rein. Good on trails on her own or in company. Will stand tied to the float all day. Her current rider is a very nervous novice who has learned to canter, played some polo cross and gone on trail rides with Jessie- building her confidence along the way.

Jessie will work in a frame or a loose rein.Always ridden in a snaffle. Needs spurs to get her motoring but not a plod-she will go from a light squeeze for the nervous riders but is always happy to take it slow. A great option for the anxious as she isn't worried by a bit of tension in her riders. She knows her job and does it without fuss or hassle. Happy to pop over jumps, no fizz, no stopping.

Friendly to handle, good to catch, trim, float etc.

Jessie will suit a wide range of riders from novices to nervous adults wanting an experienced, been there, done that all rounder for pony club, trail riding, sporting and cattle events.
Recent video:https://vimeo.com/210170101


Located near Goulburn NSW

Contact 02 4844 4354
[email protected]

Hillydale Equitation Science

Hillydale Equitation Science

We've started the search for two special galloways for a special client.

We're looking for the following:

8-16 years of age
Geldings or mares
Any breed, any colour
More solid build with functional conformation
Is sound with no signs of major arthritis, joint issues or back problems

A quiet, unreactive temperament- curious about new things rather than scared of them

Friendly- the kind of horse that is happy to wander up and say hello in the paddock and is happy to let you or the kids fuss around them without getting irritated

Has been exposed to kids- ideally high energy kids that are a bit unpredictable and do the darnedest things around horses.

A basic education that is well established- knows how to stop, slow and turn from rein cues, goes from leg cues and all in a snaffle bridle and without needing spurs or a whip.

Can be ridden by beginners or novice riders or nervous riders or likely to have the temperament to be suitable for that kind of rider with a little more training.

Has been there and done that- been exposed to a variety of unfamiliar environments and events such as pony club, local comps, trail riding etc

Willing to offer a trial period with full legal protection in the extremely unlikely event that something goes wrong

Happy to allow a vet check

Ideally located somewhere in the Southern Tablelands, Southern Highlands, ACT, South West Slopes, Monaro, Northern Victoria or Sydney/Blue Mountains region.

What is not a priority for us:
Show or competition results
Stunning looks
Jumping ability
One person horses
Hard to catch or wary of unfamiliar people

Our client will offer a life long home for the right horses in a caring environment with a small workload, the best of health care and nutrition, custom fitted tack and training methods which are evidence based and humane.

Out client has a realistic budget which balances the need to find some truly special horses and a knowledge of current market conditions. We will travel further afield if needed.

If you think you've got something that might fit the bill please PM us or call 02 4844 4354.


Southern Tablelands
Goulburn, NSW


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