Horses Can Learn by Observation

For the five of you who read my review of Horse Brain, Human Brain from this morning, you might find what happened this afternoon really interesting.

Not me. I’m a hen.

The author of that book, Janet Jones, claimed that horses can learn from observing other horses. She shared that she’d seen horses learn to open gates and do ground work just by watching. I didn’t think I’d seen that before. Well, I saw it today!

Kathleen and I were measuring Mabel with the horse height tool we’d found. (16 hands) we accidentally left a gate open, and of course everyone except Dusty went out. We were fine with it, because we knew they’d come back at feeding time.

We’re free.

I ended up out there with them for a while, because I was urgently searching for the beverage cup I’d left somewhere out there. I wanted to take it on my upcoming trip.

I was too slow. Buh.

I watched Mabel as she purposefully strode across the grass. Where was she going? She went to the new trailer! What? She looked all over it for treats.

The grass IS greener here.

Now, she has never been through trailer friendliness training. Only Apache has. She was watching! Wow.

Any more treats on this thing?

By the way, in a minute, Apache walked right up to his former enemy and thoroughly checked it out. Looks like I did a good job with the trailer thing. Now to cut out the treats and just do praise, as Jones suggested.

Freedom. For a while.

I love it when you get validation of new knowledge so quickly. Thanks for escaping, horses.

Book Report: Horse Brain, Human Brain

Rating: 5 out of 5.

There haven’t been many book reports lately, thanks to all that knitting of baby blankets I’ve been doing in my off times. But I did manage to get through Horse Brain, Human Brain, by Janet L. Jones, and I’m glad I did.

Anyone who rides, trains, or just loves horses will want to read this book, because it sure helps you understand what’s going on in the “noggins” (the word Jones uses repeatedly) of our equine friends. It will make interacting with them much more successful and rewarding.

I have to like Jones. Once I read her biography and saw that she wrote her dissertation on how brains process ambiguous words, I knew she was a like-minded soul in more than just mutual love of horses. (Little known fact, after pragmatics and syntax, my favorite subject in my academic career was neurolinguistics. I came very close to studying that in grad school. I guess everything would have been different, so I’ll just drop that tangent.)

I have a brain? Whoa.

Readers of this book will find a lot about how brains and neurons work, but Jones does a great job of explaining technical terms in ways that are relatable to your average horse-loving human. She also provides a great glossary you can use if you forget what the hypothalamus does, or something akin to that.

My brain tells me to eat more grass. It makes me happy, as you can tell. Dopamine.

You’ll also find stories of real people and real horses to back up the scientific information Jones shares, which really helps you see how knowing the way a horse thinks can help you with your own horses.

I have to say that my biggest takeaway was that horses don’t have prefrontal cortex. Zero. None. That’s the part of the brain that lets us plan and evaluate a course of action before doing something. A horse, as a prey animal, can’t afford to mull over the options when a mountain lion is approaching. They need to run first and think later. Just knowing that little tidbit helped me a lot.

Pardon me, but when is the donkey brain book coming out?

The other part of the book that fascinated me was her assertion that horses and humans are two of the few (if not the only) examples of two different animals communicating instantly, almost as one, which is what a good horse and rider pair do. Jones explains how our brains and muscles coordinate in a feedback loop to each other.

I’m hoping Jones’s work encourages more research into how the equine brain works, even though horses do not make ideal research subjects (they are expensive to maintain and not particularly interested in cooperating!).

Want to know more? Get this book. I’m glad Tarrin recommended it to her students. Even if you aren’t a horse person, the information on how our brains work together is just plain interesting.

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