Humans are driven by goals when interacting with their horse:
- Today I work on the right lead canter
- tomorrow we practise more of the back up etc etc.
Even if you are not an ambitious person, you have some sort of goal for the day, what you want done.
Its part of human nature , how our brain works, to set goals, make a plan.
Planning is part of being a human. It happens in our frontal cortex. It identifies and sorts options, prioritises,, forms strategies to achieve what we want, monitors accomplishments and makes changes if circumstances change. We cannot switch it off. It just happens.
Our frontal cortex makes about 40% of our brain, so a huge part as you can see. Vision only takes about 18% of our brain as a comparison. Humans have the most highly developed frontal lobe (frontal cortex) of all mammals.
That's why sometimes we forget that we are expecting too much all at once from our horses ( in one day).
We are making goals even if we are not realising it.
Humans are goal driven, because it feels good when we achieve our goals. Our brain is releasing heaps of Dopamine ( feel good neurotransmitter), and of course everyone likes the feeling of " being successful".
Our beloved horses do not have a goal driven brain, they have stimulus driven brains.
Horses are motivated by the sounds, smells and sights in their immediate environment. Some other aspects are important here in comparison to the human brain:
So, what is enough "training"? When does it become over -handling????
The best way of building a good connection to your horse is daily contact for an hour or two, rather than just spending time on the weekend together, and filling this time with " expectations and goals" to make the most of it.
Daily interactions has many benefits:
Within the equestrian culture, some trainers still believe that if some handling is good, more handling is even better.
From a brain perspective, it is not better. Learning needs time and relaxation in between, to create new pathways in the brain. This guarantees long term learning without stressing or tiring or even frustrating the horse.
And a very important aspect is: Mentally stimuli is WORK too. Being in a new environment ( e.g. a clinic), tied up at the barn waiting, being groomed and get hooves cleaned, having the farrier working on their feet etc.
All these examples do not involve PHYSICAL work, or following our demands in type of training, but it is still training and learning involved here. A horse is always aware of its environment ( sounds, smells, movements) and it is their nature to respond to it in some ways. We demand from them to stand still, being tied up, getting into a trailer etc., which is a huge mental work for them, as they need to "ignore" their instincts.
We need to remember, their brains are built to run away.
How do we match human goals with equine needs without "over doing" it????
A healthy horse spends about 70% of its daily time with eating/grazing and having a drink. Horses sleep on and off through the day and night, having naps in between their chewing time. Horses walk along in their paddock to support their digestion with easy moving. While horses do all that, they always keep an eyes or ear on the environment to be able to notice anything " important". Too much stimuli can be overwhelming for the horse and can cause stress.
For their mental health routines are useful. Feeding times in the same timeslot every day, performance horses need regular exercises to keep muscles, joints and ligaments in good condition and be less prone to injury.
Social contact is essential for a horse, with no human involved. Horses speak a different ( body) language than we do. So, time for just social contact with another horse is very important. having a paddock made in the same paddock is needed for grooming, looking after each other, playtime etc.
So what would be the "right" amount of time spending with your horse???
For continuous learning and improvement in performance and communication between rider and horse.
- Source of information from the book " Horse brain, Human brain" from Janet Jones, videos about the horses brain from Dr. Steven Peters -
Stay curious, for the love of horses!!!!!