I have been spending quite a bit of time focusing on the horses brain. There is more and more research coming out about how horses think and learn. I am a registered nurse and love learning about things like this. I will admit when I was going through the magnawave certification, I got really excited when they started talking about synapses, neurons, and cellular permeability. I know......I am a bit of a nerd.
Some of the work that I have been reading has been from Dr. Stephen Peters. He is a neuroscientist and speaks in great detail about the horse's brain. He talks about a horse who is anxious and wants to get a nibble of grass. He describes how the horse getting the nibble of grass will allow him to reset his nervous system. I have been taught since I was young that when the horse lowers his head, it releases endorphins. Even if you haven't studied horses in depth, most can see a relaxed horse has it's head down or level with the withers.
I taught a class yesterday about gaining confidence. My favorite part about teaching is learning. I will give away a secret. Most of the classes I teach are subjects that I am curious to know more about. Gaining confidence is an area that all equestrians would like to grow in. I find having confidence does not just mean not being scared. Having confidence is knowing why. When looking at the horse, I am constantly asking why. A lot of my why questions are about the horses body and how it works, but I also want to know why horses do the things they do.
I've truly been enjoying the time I've been spending with my five year old Shine. She is a curious, social, fun horse. I decided to bring her for a walk down the road today. She is not very spooky and in fact, she is quite curious about most things. As we were walking down the road, she spooked at a giant ant hill. At least that is what I believe she spooked at. We continued on our walk and turned around to go home. As we were walking home, I took the time to observe her face. I was watching her muzzle to see if it was tight or relaxed. I was watching her nose to see if her nostrils were flared. I was watching her eyes to notice how they were looking around. I was watching her ears to notice the direction they were going.
As we approached the ant hill, her mouth got a little tense, her ears perked up, her eyes got wider, and her nostrils flared. She stopped and her head came up slightly. I stopped and observed. I went to the other side so that I was between her and the ant hill. I breathed and allowed her time to take in the info she needed to take in.
There was a moment that I almost asked her to walk forward and than I thought "nope", allow her to take the time she needs.
It was only a few moments, but that time was important for her. I am guilty of being in a rush for no reason. She lowered her head and I leaned forward to see if she was ready to take a step and she was. She walked to the other side of the road and I followed. I was allowing her to do what she needed while I was in an observation mode. She went to the side of the road and nibble on the little bit of brown grass that was there since it is after all still February. I instantly thought of Dr Peters work and that she was resetting her nervous system after a scary moment.
Now I don't know for sure that it was the ant hill she was afraid of it. It could have been a smell in the area that I couldn't smell or she was seeing something completely different than what I was assuming it was. Now the interesting part about this is that she did not attempt to eat grass at any other point during our walk.
Think about your relationship with your horse. Think about the last time they got nervous. What did you observe in that moment? What did they do to try and sooth themselves? Did you assist in that moment or did you make that moment worse for them?
Take time this week to observe their body language. Zone in on one area, maybe the muzzle and watch that area with a soft eye. What do you see?