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Dr. Miller has authored a number of books and articles providing scientific explanation for why natural horsemanship techniques work. Chapter One of his book, "Understanding the Ancient Secrets of the Horse's Mind" is provided below. This book provides an excellent basis for understanding equine behavior and then goes on to explain how to apply this understanding to solve common behavior problems.
What people are saying about "Ancient Secrets of the Horse's Mind"
history of the human race and that of the horse are closely intertwined. The
human fascination with horses dates back to our caveman ancestors and, perhaps,
even beyond that. The earliest recorded history of mankind is in the form of
drawings etched into the stone walls of caves. Many of these drawings are
depictions of horses. When archeologists uncover remains of ancient
civilizations, more times than not, they also discover evidence that horses were
part of the social and economic structure.
facets of the human fascination with horses are understandable. As horses became
domesticated, they became beasts of burden. They were used to till fields, pull
heavy loads and transport goods and passengers from place to place. Horses
brought prosperity to those cultures that learned to domesticate them. Horses
extended the range over which men could explore, hunt, trade and wage war. An
army traveling and fighting on horseback has a distinct advantage over one that
is on foot. The horse is also an important item of our social fabric.
Competitions, races and games involving men and horses are as old as man’s
domestication of the animal itself.
all of our fascination with horses can be explained in practical or utilitarian
terms. The grace and beauty of the horse enthralls us today in the same way it
enthralled caveman artists of many millennia ago. Horses are living works of
art. On any given day, more people pause along roadsides to enjoy the beauty of
a horse galloping across the field than there are visitors to all the art
museums in the world. And horses have always been subtle symbols of wealth and
power. The Bedouin tribesmen of the Arabian Desert are quick to point out that
“a man’s treasure is carried in the bellies of his mares.” There are few
in Kentucky who would disagree!
all else, it is probably the mystique of the horse that so fascinates and
perplexes us humans. Embodied in the horse is the same range of abstract and
intangible personality characteristics that we find in ourselves. Judged from
the human perspective, some horses, like some people, are fearful and others
bold; some have a strong work ethic and others are lazy; some appear to have the
desire to win and while others are non-competitive; some react rationally to
situations, others irrationally; some always seem to be good-natured while
others are hostile; and, some are said to be honest and others dishonest.
Perhaps our desire to understand the horse is nothing more than a desire to
understand ourselves and the people around us.
hundreds of years we have used selective breeding to influence what our horses
will look like and how they will move. By careful mating, we can influence the
horse’s size, color and shape. We can breed horses that will run faster races,
pull heavier loads, cut calves out of the herd more nimbly, or endure long treks
through uninviting terrain. We can genetically influence whether a horse will
prefer one gait over another, whether its neck will be long or short, its nose
dished or level.
all of this selective breeding, the foal born in your stable last night
inherited the same ten traits, as did the horses depicted on the wall of the
caveman. These ten, inherited traits influence how the horse perceives the world
around it and how it reacts to its environment. These traits include anatomical,
physiological and behavioral characteristics that are intimately linked. The ten
traits determine how the horse responds to training and interacts with its
handlers and other horses. These ten traits are embedded deep within its DNA and
are shared, without exception, by every horse that was ever born. When one
understands the ten traits, the personality of the horse is not as mysterious as
it first appeared.
horse people understand these ten traits and use them both as a means of
influencing the horse to respond in a predictable fashion and as a means of
avoiding the danger inherent in being around horses.
horse can fulfill its potential unless its trainer understands the ten traits.
No horseperson will ever fulfill his or her potential without first
understanding the ten traits. No person is safe working around horses without
first understanding the ten traits.
is a summary of the ten traits every horse inherits. The following chapters
discuss each trait in detail and explain how you can use each to your advantage
when dealing with horses. Understanding these inbred characteristics will unlock
the secrets of horse behavior.
The Secret of Flight: The horse in its wild state depends upon flight
as its primary survival behavior. The horse’s natural habitat is grasslands,
prairie or steppes. Its primary enemies in nature are the large predators,
particularly those of the cat and dog family, such as lions and wolves.
Anatomically, physiologically and behaviorally the horse is a sprinter.
Considering its enemies and its habitat, sprinting straight away from any
frightening stimulus is the best way for horses to survive. To understand
horses, above all else, the natural instinct of this species to flee from real
or imagined danger must be appreciated.
The Secret of Perception: Prey species must be more perceptive than
predators if they are to survive. Horses are a prey species that live with the
danger of being eaten by their predator enemies. They are programmed to be on
the lookout for danger and are always prepared to flee from it in an instant.
Inexperienced horsemen often fail to appreciate the extreme perceptivity of the
horse. Horses have an uncanny ability to detect sensory stimuli that are far too
vague for us to sense. We commonly interpret the flight reaction caused by the
stimuli as “stupidity.” Horses are incredibly aware of their surroundings,
so much so that people often misinterpret the horse’s reaction as
“psychic” or the result of a “sixth sense.” However, the responses,
which elicit such opinions, are caused by reactions to the same five senses we
possess: sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch. What is difficult for us to
identify with is the superiority of those senses in the horse and the swift
flight reaction that a stimulus to those senses can provoke.
The Secret of Response Time: The horse has the fastest response time
of any common domestic animal. “Response time” or “reaction time” is
defined as the ability to perceive stimuli and react to it. Prey species must
have a faster response time than a predator or they get eaten. The horse is such
a large animal that the speed of its response time is hard for us to comprehend.
This short response time is essential in a flighty creature. It isn’t enough
to run away. One must run away instantly and at high speed to survive.
The Secret of Rapid Desensitization: The horse is more quickly
desensitized to frightening stimuli than any other animal. Why is a
flight-oriented creature so quickly desensitized to frightening but harmless
stimuli? If this weren’t so, horses would spend all their time running and
there would be no time to eat, drink, rest, or reproduce. So horses, in nature,
must quickly learn to ignore basically frightening but harmless things such as
tumbleweeds, thunder, quail and other herbivorous prey species, such as bison,
antelope, or deer. Once they learn, they never forget.
The Secret of Learning: Not only do horses desensitize faster
than other domestic animals to frightening stimuli, but other kinds of learning
are obtained with similar speed. If a novel experience, such as the first
shoeing, the first trailer loading, the first saddling, the first worming, the
first experience of any kind is traumatic, the horse will henceforth fear that
if a novel experience is made pleasurable and if comfort rather than discomfort
ensues, the horse will remember that and will be more accepting of such an
experience in the future. The reason that great trainers are able to obtain
results with startling swiftness, is due to the fact that they use technically
appropriate behavior shaping techniques in a species which is inherently able to
learn with great speed - a matter of survival in a prey creature which depends
upon flight to survive.
The Secret of Memory: The horse’s memory is nearly infallible.
Horses never forget anything! Fortunately, horses forgive and were it not for
that fact, a majority of professional horse trainers could not make a living.
Horses can and do survive inept, improper and inhumane training methods. Many of
them manage to become satisfactory performers, although the information yielded
by the relatively new sciences of ethology (scientific study of animal behavior
in their natural surroundings) and behavior shaping show us that most of our
traditional training methods are inefficient and cumbersome.
donkey and its hybrid offspring, the mule, have as keen a memory as the horse,
but unlike horses they do not forgive. Thus, donkeys and mules are notoriously
more challenging to train than horses. All good mule trainers can train horses,
but the reverse is not true. There is truth in the old saying, “Mules must be
trained the way horses should be trained.”
categorize every learned experience in life as something not to fear and, hence,
to ignore; or something to fear and, hence, to flee. This is extremely useful in
the wild and utilizes the species’ phenomenal memory, but it often creates
problems in domestic situations. If a horse categorizes a harmless stimulus
(such as an electric clipper, a piece of plastic, a white cat, a flag, a
tractor, or a veterinarian, etc.) as something to run away from, it creates
major problems to those of us who must handle it. What horses experience creates
lasting attitudes, especially if the horses are young. It is incumbent upon
those who must work with horses not to cause bad experiences that the horse will
forever regard as a reason to flee. This makes it especially difficult for
farmers and veterinarians because everything they do is frightening and some
things are painful.
is, therefore, the owners’ responsibility to desensitize (train) horses to
accept such routine procedures as farriery, veterinary examination including
invasion of the body openings and basic therapeutic procedures such as
dentistry, intubation, and oral or eye medication.
The Secret of Dominance Hierarchy: The horse is the most easily
dominated of all common domestic animals. It is a herd animal, subject to a
dominance hierarchy and because it is a flight animal, the horse needs
leadership to know when and where to run. In the wild, horses need leadership
and readily accept it. Even naturally dominant individual horses (which are the
exception in all animals that live in groups) can be dominated and rather
quickly if one knows how to do it. The methods by which this can be accomplished
most effectively are not natural to human beings. We must be taught.
8. The Secret
of Control of Movement: The horse is the only common domestic animal that
exerts dominance and determines the hierarchy by controlling the movement of its
peers. It is understandable that in a species in which the ability to run away
means life or death, positional control is the way in which leadership is
established. Dominant horses make threatening movements towards subordinate herd
members. The submissive individual, yielding its space, reaffirms the role of
the dominant leader.
of movement is the basis of all horse training disciplines. Horses accept our
dominance when we cause them to move when they’d prefer not to, or when we
inhibit their movement. Thus, trainers use many techniques to control flight in
the horse. These techniques include round pens, training rings, longe lines,
driving lines, hobbles, lateral flexion of the head and neck, vertical flexion
of the head, lateral control of the hind quarters, snubbing green colts to
experienced horses and working them in harness next to an experienced horse.
The Secret of Body Language: Each species signals subordination or
submissiveness with a body language instinctively understood by their own
species. Horses give subtle signals when they are willing to submit to any
domination. We must learn the body language of horses by experience or by
education. As we shall see, the body language, or signalment, of horses is
unique to the equine species. It is imperative that people handling horses learn
to read the body language of their charges.
The Secret of Precocity: The horse is a precocial species,
which means it is neurologically mature at birth. Commonly, the newborn of prey
species is precocial. For example newly hatched chicks, ducklings, goslings,
quail, grouse, newborn fawns, calves, lambs and foals are fully active soon
after birth. Unlike kittens, bear cubs, puppies or newly hatched owls or hawks,
all of which are predatory species and quite helpless at birth, the precocial
species must be quickly able to recognize danger and flee from it.
imprinting period of the precocial species is immediately postpartum, when they
visualize and memorize what they see move and want to follow and respect it
(which in nature is usually the mother). This helps them to stay with their dam
and the herd and they are quickly imprinted to do so. In species with delayed
imprinting periods this occurs much later (six or seven weeks in puppies, for
example). These imprinting periods permit immediate learning and permanent
retention. The best time to teach horses, therefore, is right after birth.
Attitudes, temperament and reactions can be shaped in just a few hours if we
book will cover each of the above subjects in depth, and then describe how to
solve behavior problems using this knowledge. Click
here to order your copy of Understanding
the Ancient Secrets of the Horse's Mind
For comments about this web site, send mail to WEBMASTER at email@example.com. Note: With Dr. Miller's extensive lecture and writing schedule, he regrets that he does not have time to answer individual questions on equine behavior. Our apologies, but the Webmaster is not qualified to answer equine behavior questions.
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