Horsin’ Around 9-6-10
Fort Collins, Colo.
The other day, the farrier was out at my place trimming the horses and we got to talking about horse behavior. He stated that he had heard that horses who are strong right brain users are more inclined to react to a stimulus faster than horses that are left brain users. I know that sounds funny to those who haven’t studied anatomy but having acquired a master’s degree in animal science I thought I could understand and write about this idea.
However, the more I dug into this, the more I discovered how little I know about the brain, and the more I dug into studying the situation, the more lost I became. With the short time I have to write the article, I decided to just stay with the basics and what I can come up with to keep it simple.
However I did conclude that the brain is a very complex part of the body and behavior is a function of the brain. Use of the right side of the brain for both man and horses is very much the same. For instance the right side of the brain controls the left side of the body dealing with long-term visual memory, spontaneous actions and intuition. Therefore a horse treated rough in the past will remember this and will not trust nor respond to a human in the future with out a lot of work regaining that trust.
I have run into this often, buying horses with a little age and trying to work them into what I want to teach. I am having this problem with my new horse by having her head shy and not wanting to be caught out in the pasture. We are working through this by getting her to trust me and walk up to her in the pasture with a halter in my hand.
This is why, on big ranches in the old days and today as well, you went into the corral with a group of horses and roped the one you wanted. As a young man I practiced this hoolihan loop because I knew I would be called on to use it when working on ranches in Montana.
Sure enough I used this catch on the horses called on to ride and amazed the cowboys I was working with as to how well I could do it. I even won a ranch horse race at one rodeo in Colorado. It is a throw that not too many folks can use now because our horses are gentler and easier to catch. But it was one that was used a lot back when I was a young man. The throw is designed not to stir the horses around while catching them.
But I don’t want my horses to have to be roped that way to catch them, so I am training them to let me walk up when needed. However, let’s get back to the horse’s brain, and how they react to situations. The left side of the brain, controlling the right side of the body is the analytical function. This means it is the side we all use to analyze situations and determine how to solve problems.
Have you ever watched a horse examine a gate and figure out how to open it? I watched a proud cut gelding cut off a mare in heat and was causing a lot of trouble. There was a big Percheron gelding in the corral watching all the commotion. I sat and watched him think about all the commotion going on for a long time. Finally he just walked down, cleaned house on the gelding, and let the mare go back to the herd. He used his analytical side of the brain to say that is enough of this and took care of it.
In the wild state an old mare takes care of disruption in the herd, leads them to water, new grass and other things. Unlike movies, the stallion protects the heard from danger and intruding young stallions.
It has been an interesting life studying horses and learning how they think but it takes a lot of quiet time just sitting while watching them.
Prior to his retirement, Roger Thompson was a CHA certified instructor of advanced Western horsemanship and beginning English riding.