Posting from Tintagel

Survey Corps horses - trainer's point of view

February 08, 2017 | 5 Minute Read

/Attack on Titan anime eye-catchers, ep. 21/

Except humans, horses and the rest of animals are ignored by normal and abnormal Titans of the SnK universe. Specific human-titan relations are dominated by prey-predator dependence where the Titans reside at the top of the food chain. Specially adapted horses are the only chance for escape from death when Titans attack. They are fast and strong, able to run for a relatively long distance maintaining stamina reserves and are irreplaceable in the vast terrain.
For example: Thomas - one of the messengers sent to four major walled cities - fulfilled his order by riding the same horse for 8 hours and stopping only for a while every time he noticed citizens to warn them about a potential breach in Wall Rose[2].[1]
Selective breeding for the exclusive military use makes the horses extremely valuable and expensive. Father told Sasha Braus that right after the fall of Wall Maria[2], when humanity lost majority of the territory including resources and the meat shortage became a fact, that the government offered people from hunting villages to stop hunting and becoming horse breeders in exchange.[1]

Key word should be selectively bred, but animals - even domesticated animals or human beings - are not born fearless of specific sounds and with trust towards people. Also, they don’t prefer the “fellow soldier” more than food or environment to run and explore thanks to breeding selection only. The breeder’s job is to cross over both the most perfect bloodlines (pure bloodlines are the most suitable) to pass to their offspring the special tendencies including genetic diseases. That’s why there are rare exceptions[3]. By selective breeding you can manipulate height, weight, shape, colour and health predispositions. Behaviour is not heritable.

SC horses are specifically prepaired for combat. They are:

  • socialized to
    • close relation with human and social contact
  • habituated (decreased or ceased to respond) to
    • shots (guns, cannons, bombs)
    • sudden 3DMG sound - if it’s closely used in action
    • Titans - approaching and noises
  • conditioned to
  • trained
    • whistle recall

Hajime Isayama - maybe intentionally, maybe not, who knows - choose the positive reinforcement as the method of SC horse training. Survey Corps train their horses like professionals train dogs - dolphins, horses, birds - in our real world.

  • Positive punishment means to decrease the probability of the unwanted behaviour repetition in the future and is - indirectly - related to animals trained to be perfect working machines. (old ‘traditional’ training system)
  • Positive reinforcement means to increase the probability of the wanted behaviour repetition in the future and is - indirectly - related to human-animal relationship like working in one team. (training system based on cognitive ethology researches)

To put it more simply - If you reward the animal for a behaviour which you anticipate, it’ll repeat the rewarded behaviour sooner or later. If you reward an animal for the trained behaviour after you commanded it, it’ll repeat rewarded behaviour when you command again.

Care for your horses, soldiers. While they cannot speak. they can discern between riders. They are fellow members of the Survey Corps who feel anger and sadness just as we do. If you ever lose a horse, bring as much of its mane back you can for a burial. Just like your fellow men and women, they are your comrades-in-arm.[3]

SC veterans express their soldier-horse relations pretty often by depiction (manga panels) or verbally (speech bubbles). In anime it’s exposed even more.
Especially Miche Zacharius and Dita Ness who openly thanked his horse for coming back to him on the Titan’s battlefront.[4] In anime his horse Charlotte is chewing off his hair when he’s introducing himself to new recruits.
To be strict, if SC horses weren’t trained by positive reinforcement in pair with taking care about their strong relationship with the team-rider, they wouldn’t come back to the soldiers without the preceding whistle command.

Of course, not every horse chooses social approval as a reward. To be honest, they rather choose food or environment - just ignoring his trainer/owner for running free (at least in the beginning). Anyway, we still don’t know in what way SC horses are selectively bred. They can be motivated towards social approval from parent to offspring. They might not fear Titans for generations. Potential parents can be selected by their behaviour and fearlessness, not only by required looks. Required looks can be a standard for years, in every bloodline.

(…)the only fashionable time to visit Ehrmich is the autumn, when the Garrison drives them /the horses/ toward Trost and Stohess for the Survey Corps. Such majestic figures, trained in defense of our nation; it brings a tear to the eye of every patriot.[5]

[1] AoT wikia - Clash of the Titans arc
[2] AoT wikia - Walls
[3] Attack on Titan Guidebook, p.242
[4] AoT wikia - Female Titan arc
[5] Attack on Titan Anthology, p.128

Attack on Titan manga by Hajime Isayama
Attack on Titan Guidebook
Attack on Titan Anthology
Attack on Titan wikia