One Brain Two Horses
July 3, 2020
Not only does a horseman need to learn how a horse thinks, but one also must learn to recognize which side of the brain is in use.
Horses, like people, can be left or right handed. Moreover, and this is really important, they are either left or right brained. The left side is where the thinking happens. The right side is reactive. So, learning which side of your horses brain is the dominate side will give you keen insight into their personality and why they act the way they do in certain situations.
When I first got into horses I would occasionally hear, “that horse is left-brained, or that horse is right-brained.” I had no idea what in the world they were talking about until a lady pointed me in the direction of Carson James and Pat Parelli. They talk about a lot about this feature of horses. I was also instructed early on when learning to work with horses – especially in regards to desensitization – what you do on one side of the horse you must do on the other side. Or, What you do to one horse you’ve got to do to the other horse. Other horse? I’ve only got one here. I later came to understand better what they were talking about. Because one side is the thinking and reasoning side and the other side is reactive it is critical when teaching them and working with them that you do the thing you’re doing on both sides.
Horses can and do move from one side of the brain to the other quite quickly. Sometimes if you’re paying real close attention you can actually see it happen. All the horses I’ve worked, so I’ll apply this to all horses because I haven’t see one not exhibit this behavior yet, will lick and chew when they’re thinking or processing information. They will also do this if you’re grooming them and they’re really enjoying it they’ll begin licking and chewing, but in this context it simply means they’re really enjoying what you’re doing for them. But, I digress. This simple act of licking and chewing during a training session, whether on the ground or under saddle, is a sure fire indicator that they’re thinking about something that’s going on. It also indicates they’re gaining understanding of what you’re attempting to communicate. Do Not Miss This Queue from your horse that he’s getting it. You’ll spare your horse and yourself a lot of wasted time and frustration if you know what to look for and how to read your horse.
Some horses are very demonstrative when licking and chewing. Others not so much. They’re a lot more subtle about it. My wife’s horse, for instance, is very subtle about it whereas my horse Sonny is a lot more demonstrative when he does it. You have to learn to read your horse and learn their personality. Sonny is much more of a thinker, whereas my wife’s horse is reactive. While very smart, my wife’s horse is a typical cow horse; smart, slightly extroverted but definitely reactive. For the longest time she was terrified of cows. Never mind that all they way back in her bloodlines there are cow horses. Its in her DNA. She can spin on a dime and when you pull on the breaks in a hurry she’ll drop her rear end just like the reigning horses on TV come to a sliding stop. We had to stick her in the field with Sonny and the cows for her to get over being afraid. She understands now.
When we were teaching her lounging – specifically changing directions – it took some time because we kept missing the queue she was giving that she was getting it. We thought she was being stubborn, but we were missing the her queue to us that she was getting it. When we caught on finishing that task went quickly and now she’ll use that cow-horse spin to switch direction quickly while on a lounge line. In this instance we’re appealing to the left-brain for understanding and counting on the right-brain to react to the request for direction change quickly. Now, when we’re in the saddle we can get her to change directions much faster and when we take her cow sorting she’ll get right in there after them because now she likes chasing the cows around.~Mark Weaver
If you're willing to learn there are many teachers. Not all of them are human!