Horses see The World Differently

Spotlight On Training: Horse Perception

Horses have not developed their intellectual mind in the way humans have over thousands of years, but this does not mean they are less intelligent, only that their intelligence works in a different way. They are much more in tune with their body than most people. We have the same 'apparatus' in our nervous system to become aware of ourselves in a similar way to horses, but our evolution favoured a different specialization, and now our horses, when free to, have a much more sophisticated sense of their own physical well-being than we can often appreciate. One of the consequences of their different consciousness is that their mind is not full of thoughts in the same way as our is. Their mind is full of how they are feeling in each moment. Of course they have an excellent memory, but their memory is largely implicit, meaning that it is not based around thought in the way explicit memory is - it is the storage of internal states and automatic procedures, like feelings and associations and behaviours, e.g. galloping.

The implications of these differences are fundamentally important to our approach when looking after horses. We can't just talk to them about things and find out their opinion in a way that is easy for us to understand. The fact that horses have such a strong sensory connection and implicit memory, but can't place it in time in the same way as us and understand it 'logically', means that their associations with us are very significant. Once they have made certain associations with tack, training procedures and riders, it is a long and difficult road back if we go the wrong way. These associations are memorized when they are either intense enough experiences or repeated often enough. Eventually your horse becomes an expression of your training, like a work of art, reflecting your integrity and your expertise or lack of it! Fortunately for us horses are remarkably generous and emotionally enlightened so the way back is usually still open.

This four year old has been trained for six months on the lunge without a rider to build up her musculoskeletal strength to the point where she could carry a rider easily. This preparation means she enjoys being ridden, and her understanding of the aids, and her engagement, is excellent for her age.

This ex-racehorse is making the journey back mentally and physically from a traumatizing career. Both her rediscovery of how to integrate with a herd and her dressage training, which gently re-patterns her nervous system, are some of the contributing factors which have re-established her personality and joie de vivre.

The fact that horses perceive feelings and internal states which are not obscured by thoughts, explains the power of engagement in training: the unique synchronisation of certain muscles that transforms unbalanced motion into a harmonious equilibrium is a powerfully positive feeling for the horse, one which he in turn associates with the rider/trainer. This has a profound effect on the relationship between horse and human, making it one of reciprocal trust and pleasure, instead of dominance and restraint.

Spotlight on Management: The Importance of a Happy Lifestyle

We have found that the first step we can make to win our horses acceptance is to do everything we can to recreate for them their natural environment. We may have changed the physical appearance of horses fairly radically over the last several hundreds of years, but they have been evolving a mentality and a way of being over many millions of years. Unless we want to keep horses as living machines it is our responsibility to try to conceive of this.

Horses are happy when they are able to move and associate directly with their own kind in a herd structure. They are also happy when they feel good physically, so their diet and the health of their feet and spine etc. are particularly important to them. Many of the traditions we follow now have been structured more around our needs as horse-riders than the needs of horses, but this leads us into more problems in the long run.

Working with Ardeche (left) since she was a yearling has been a challenge all the way. She was aggressive as a result of profound insecurity, mixed up with hormonal imbalance and conformational difficulties (she s several of inches croup high). Many spinal and developmental problems as well as temperomandibular joint (TMJ) imbalance which probably led to complications with her teeth, have been resolved, and there may well be more hiding underneath!

Winning her trust, and feeling the connection which is maybe only possible after going through so much together, is what having a horse is all about for us, and seeing her so happy with her herd is part of that.

News Flash: Coming Soon on Happy Horse Training

The Seven-Step Natural Trim

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See Natural Horse Hoof Care for more on the intelligent barefoot alternative.

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