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Episode 209: Raven Hickson Pt 2: Tickling Rats and Horse Play


We continue to explore the connection between tickling rates and playing with horses in Part 2 of our conversation with Raven Hickson. Raven is a behavioral neuroscientist. She’s just finishing her PhD. She’s been studying social play behavior in a rat model of neuro-development disorder.


Raven comes from an applied animal background. Her bachelor’s degree is in Animal Science from Cornell. Her focus was on neurobiology and behavior and psychology courses. She interned over two summers as a zookeeper at the Cleveland Zoo which is how she learned about husbandry training and the idea of species-appropriate enrichment.


After graduating, she spent time working in zoos, and as a high school animal science teacher, and then as the manager of a small boarding barn before she moved to Scotland in 2017 for a Master’s in Applied Animal Behavior and Animal Welfare at the University of Edinburgh.


Her master’s dissertation led directly into her PhD project which has focused on social play behavior in rat models of neurodevelopment disorder, paying particular attention to refining methods to improve welfare.


She has two Icelandics who live at home with her. She’s been attending both my in-person clinics and now the on-line clinics.


In this conversation play is front and center. We begin by looking at five criteria that can be used to recognize play. We also talk about our experiences with fear. The traditional horse world teaches riders to suppress their fear which often has a negative effect on training. I know many people struggle with their own fear. The irony is they are often afraid to talk about it. The "get back on the horse after you've fallen off" mentality influences their training choices and reduces their ability to play with their horses.


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