In the continuing discussion of Brain v Mind, I am taking the theory one step further and positing that if my mind controls my brain, then odds are in favor of my horse's mind controlling his brain as well. I'm not going to venture into the "what in hell, then, is going on in the cockatoo's mind that's causing his brain to signal that he needs to shriek like a banshee while I'm trying to type?". I don't know the answer to that and possibly never will. Horses are easier, so I'll pretend to be knowledgeable about their mind/brain dichotomy.
|"Can we discuss this?"|
Last week I suggested that if you are riding in fear (or doing anything else with an overlay of mind issues), your mind--your "self"--is allowing unresolved problems to trigger responses in your brain that, in turn, trigger autonomic nervous system responses along the lines of massive dumpings of adrenaline into your blood stream, raising of blood pressure, dilating of pupils (making Fuzzbutt look far darker and more menacing than he actually is), humming of show tunes, and so on. I suggested that the over- or inappropriate reactions could be quelled if you took a moment to recognize the voice of your mind and tell it kindly to step off while you realistically assess the situation. Quiet the big voice of your mind so that the little one can be heard and felt by the brain. I reference the intriguing book, Blink: the Power of Thinking Without Thinking, by Malcolm Gladwell. There is a lot to be learned yet about how the mind makes snap decisions and what intuition really consists of, but for now the idea that our minds have a better sense of the world in quiet moments than in frantic ones seems workable.
So, back to the horse, it seems logical that if our minds talk sometimes overly loudly to our brains, thus causing out-of-proportion reactions in our bodies, the horse has a similar structure to his mental functioning. That certainly explains why a squirrel close up isn't at all frightening in the pasture while one rustling a few leaves in a tree along the trail is horrifying and worthy of a massive, wild-eyed, sit 'n spin. He is most likely already on edge as he's in an unfamiliar setting that sets his nerves jangling with possible threats and his is loud mind voice is screaming "Predator!" with such conviction that his quiet, sane mind can't be heard when it whispers, "It's a friggin' squirrel, you wing nut!"
When I was learning about horses back in the dark, pre-Internet ages, I was told repeatedly never to pat or fuss over a misbehaving horse because the attention would only cement the bad behavior. That would lead to many trials of retraining and relearning new responses. As time has passed, however, calmer voices have spoken and pointed out that it's imperative to know the reason for the reaction at hand, both in the horse and in ourselves. I've seen the benefits of this shift for myself with my own horses. The horse become sulky and sullen and wants to quit working every time you reach a particular point in your riding regimen. Do you assume it's something he's doing just to spoil your day? Do you call him lazy? Do you beat him? Force him? Make him see your superior ability to analyze situations?
I would suggest that a better route would be to first determine what role you're playing in his reaction. Is your loud mind screaming at your brain that there's something amiss? Did you notice a subtle slowing of Fuzzbutt's reaction time as you made the third pass at the oxer? Did your loud mind scream at your brain, Kick him before he stops! Did you do that? Did your muscles tighten and your heart rate increase? Did he notice?
If the answer to those questions is yes, then perhaps you cued him to become balky. Maybe he knows you're going to kick him right about where that dark spot in the ring footing is, and he's become reactive because he hates being kicked. Maybe the first time he balked it was because he had an itch or was a little sore or just needed a breather. Did that accidentally trigger a series of events that got out of control?
Did you check in with your horse? Did you try quieting his screaming mind by changing up the routine, giving him a break, talking to him, petting him, or otherwise distracting him from whatever is bothering him? If you did, did you take the time to notice whether he quieted and calmed and changed his intentions? If not, why not? Do you care?
Thinking Horsemen of the World, the challenge is afoot! Find a way to put your quiet mind and his into harmony. It can't hurt, and it might be a step toward enlightened riding.