Working With Your Horse – Part 2: The Horse’s Other Brain

This is the second in a series of articles on Working With Your Horse.  The first was entitled:

It may appear to be going off at a tangent, but first let us introduce a very impressive lady, Temple Grandin.  If you have never heard the name before, the following video will give you some indication of why she is so impressive.


As is mentioned in her profile, she has been featured in People Magazine, the New York Times, Forbes, U.S. News and World Report, Time Magazine, the New York Times book review, and Discover magazine. In 2010, Time Magazine named her one of the 100 most influential people.

The reason for introducing her here can be seen in a longer video entitled "My Experiences with Autism and Animals".  The following charts she displayed illustrate some important aspects of how horses think.

grandin sensory details

grandin other brain

grandin watch for danger

grandin language covers up

How can Temple Grandin offer us a particular perspective on this.  Her belief is that the human autistic mind operates in a very similar way to the horse’s mind.  Such a mind receives a host of impressions and develops patterns and associations among them.  There is no attempt to logically summarize all these signals.  In some way they’re all present in the mind at the same time.  Depending on how the mind assesses that collection, the reaction may be either Fight or Flight and most often the latter.

In the case of the horse, an additional factor is that their two eyes operate independently.  In effect, they have independent left and right monocular vision.  Each eye brings a collection of impressions that cannot be integrated with those from the other eye and both must be held ‘in memory’.

Humans also have part of their brain that is concerned with images and sensations and emotions.  They also have part of their brain that is concerned with the most basic of reactions such as fight or flight when unexpected happenings occur.  Different researchers have used different terms to describe these other human brains, such as the heart brain or the gut brain.  The simplest picture of all this is to assume we all have a logical brain and an other brain that includes all the non-logical information we deal in.

Horses too can be pictured as having a logical brain and an other brain that handles all that sensory information they receive from their two independent monocular eyes.  Their other brain is a much bigger influence on how they react as compared with humans.  If we are to work effectively with our horses, we must be aware that their thinking processes may be very different from ours, given their different brains.

As a very recent article points out, Thinking Like a Horse Simplifies Training. Perhaps their summary is the shortest way of expressing the concept:  Horses and humans are wired differently.

The next article in this series will explore just how important that different wiring is.

Part 3: Communicating With That Other Brain