The Thinking Rider


Using the power of choice and imagination

While intelligence can be measured in many ways, we do know that humans have a much larger frontal cortex portion of the brain compared to horses. The frontal cortex is the “executive” center of the brain, the part that allows choice and imagination.  Simply put – Riders (humans) have a much greater brain capacity for considering alternatives and make conscious choices compared to horses.

Because humans have cognitive superiority to the horse, the responsibility for making choices that lead to the horse’s emotional, mental and physical well-being is placed squarely on the rider.  Thinking, or using our extra cognitive features, is part of good riding and good horsemanship. The daily choices we make with our horses need to include the well-being of the horse, not just our personal agendas.

A thinking rider becomes a trusted leader. A thinking rider is well informed, educated, pragmatic and practical. This rider knows that taking care of the horse’s well-being is part of being successful in any sport or activity. A happy, healthy horse can simply do more and perform better. It is always in the rider’s best interest to help the horse find balance in body and mind. And balance feels good to the horse, so finding balance becomes a constant perk of the relationship.

So, what does this Thinking Rider do on a daily basis that builds trust with a horse?

  • Works within realistic boundaries by understanding the difference between the horse “being challenged” in a healthy way or being “thrown into panic” and experiencing fear.
  • Doesn’t push the horse into sink-or-swim situations but instead works on simple ingredients that build skills slowly and methodically.
  • Pays attention to how the horse is coping with any given situation and adapts expectations to make the job easier, rather than harder.
  • Is willing to go slower or adjust tasks to be more manageable for the horse when the horse begins to escalate energy and show signs of fear or confusion.
  • Realizes that to earn the leadership position means making choices for the horse, not doing things to the horse. Makes choices that the horse would vote for too.
  • Considers communication might have been misunderstood or is unclear to the horse –  not just assume that the horse is resisting for no good reason.
  • Pays close attention to the horse’s energy, expression and body language to know if any work is appropriate for the horse right now or if more skill development is required first.
  • Understands that overly challenging the horse’s emotional or physical capacity during work will result in a set-back that actually inhibits progress.

The “Thinking Rider” takes complete responsibility for how the horse is doing in any given situation and for the horse’s skill development overall.  This rider is well aware of existing limitations but is always striving to bring out the very best in the horse by listening to the horse’s opinion first and then using our extra capacity for imagination and choice to creatively help the horse gain new skills.

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