Training Theory: Two Brains

horse with two brainsThere is evidence that LIKE the human brain, sensory stimulation actually develops a horse’s brain. Learning facilitates more learning. The more you stimulate and teach your horse, the more neural pathways are developed along which new learning can take place. It’s like adding on to a railroad system. Once the tracks are laid to one destination, the learning process for another destination can travel to the first stop freely and be required to build only the portion that goes to the next learning stop. With enough track, your horse’s brain activity will be criss-crossing all over the place, picking up new “tricks” more easily all of the time.

By the same token, if a track has been laid to a bad behavior, care must be taken to stop stimulating and/or rewarding that behavior so that the “bad” neural pathway can “atrophy”. If the horse is again stimulated in the same way that he was when he learned the bad behavior, the pathway can become strong and polished again. See Reinforcement Theory

A horse’s brain is also DIFFERENT than a human brain. While both equine and human brains have two sides, horses are very one-sided because they have a very underdeveloped corups callosum, which is the connective tissue between the two hemispheres of the brain that allows messages to go from one side of the brain to the other. The human brain has a very well developed communication cross-over, but horses do not.

Therefore, in horses, learning from experience on one side of his body is frequently not immediately accessible to the other side. (Have you ever ridden a horse who spooked at an obstacle on his left, got over it, and then spooked at the same obstacle coming back? His right side did not de-sensitize to the object when his left side did. He has to be introduced to the object on both sides to accept on both sides.)

The saying at our ranch is, “Change Sides, Train a New Horse”. Good horse trainers realize that you must train your horse to perform a maneuver with conscious effort devoted to each side of his body separately. Train one side to perfection first, then train again on the other side. Only after he performs well on both sides is the maneuver accomplished.

Most horses are also decidedly one-handed: preferring to perform on the left side or right side of their body (again much like humans). There is usually more resistance on the side that is not so adept. His physical musculature and coordination may not be as well developed on that side either. He will have a “good side” and a “bad” side. Rule of thumb is that you must practice and work twice as frequently on his “bad” side as his good side. Resist the urge to avoid his bad side training. It is not as instantly rewarding for you, but in the long run it is critical to your success.

There is some evidence that a horse who picks up the 2nd side training more quickly than the original training on his dominant side has a special talent that lends itself to becoming a good performance horse. Maybe he can learn in stereo?

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