Whew, we’ve had some hot days, haven’t we?
As important as it is to stay hydrated, keeping water supply flowing for your horses (even hosing them down from time to time), watering your plants to keep producing the fruit and vegetables that you enjoy at your table; so it is to establish respect without fear with your horse. In other words, be a place of deep, calm waters for your horse while you instruct them how to function well in the relationship.
The study of the human brain has advanced (SWITCH ON YOUR BRAIN by Dr. Caroline Leaf is an excellent book on this study), and so has study of the horse brain.
Knowing and understanding how horses learn helps humans become better at introducing new information to their horses.
So much is going on in your horse’s brain while you are teaching it something. At the get-go, all horses have a built-in opposition reflex that helps protect them from predators. As you teach/train, you are building new neural pathways that overcome this instinct, and work to make your horse smarter and safer.
Note to self: All horses are NOT the same. Some horses have a stronger opposition reflex than others, therefore, some horses are going to require more time than others to overcome it. Release some patience so as not to get frustrated, or think your horse is being rude if it takes more time than you hoped for to get past this reflex. You’re building a brain that thinks rather than responds only to instinct.
Like humans, information is constantly coming from its sensory organs. Useful information is either sent to the right brain (where instinct lives) or to the left brain (where learning and information storage takes place). When I use the term right/left brain, I am not referring to specific halves of the brain but descriptively speaking.
In training, the horse notices your body language, energy level, focus and intention instinctually. Horses in the wild will be grazing peacefully and all of a sudden, heads are up, tails flagged, and they are running full speed ahead. Why? Instinctually, they are aware of a predator (mountain lion for example) who’s hungry and looking for food. Another scene would be a mountain lion resting on a cliff above a herd of horses grazing in a meadow. Instinctually, they are aware that the lion is not hungry looking for food, and they aren’t in any danger.
Horses learn from discomfort. Repeatedly in training they are asking “What must I do to find comfort?” Let me explain. You’re doing some groundwork and you want to teach your horse to back up. You put pressure on your horse’s nose, which is uncomfortable to him. This information is sent to the processing center of the left brain. Your horse is looking for information that is stored in its brain (neural pathways) that will bring comfort. If this is the first time you are working with this horse about backing up, there’s no information on file. The brain searches for information it does have to relieve pressure. Your horse may toss its head (pressure continues) or move forward (pressure continues). When your horse takes a step backward, you RELEASE, and the horse finds comfort. A tiny bit of chemical passes from one cell to another and the beginning of a neural pathway is formed. As you repeat the process of releasing pressure each time your horse steps backward, a neural network is established. Each time you squeeze on its nose, the signal goes to the neural pathway, and your horse immediately responds by stepping back. One of your most effective training devises is consistency. When you begin to teach something new, it helps when you use the same pattern every time. Choosing consistency requires less sorting for your horse to respond to your request. When your horse is getting a mixed or unclear request and has to do much sorting inside, the brain slips over to the right side and instinct switches on (kick, bite, buck, rear).
A release means “YES! You got the right answer!”
Another note to self: It’s important to release at just the moment the response you are looking for happens. This ushers you into awareness. Oh, what would we be moved to create on this earth if we lived in awareness!