Training the Brain ANATOMY IN ACTION - PART 6

Updated: Feb 18

Hello and welcome to part 6 of my blog series on the Horses Inside Out Conference 2020 - Anatomy In Action.

Today I would like to share with you a little about speaker Dr Andrew Hemmings and his presentation on Training the Brain.

Andrew is a Principal Lecturer in Equine Science and the head of the Equine Management and Science department at the Royal Agricultural University in Cirencester.

Andrew’s main expertise and interest is in brain function in relation to behaviour.

He is a very passionate speaker and it was fascinating to listen to his presentation and learn more about how we can use what we know about the brain to effectively understand and train our horses as well as have a deeper understanding of what most of us call ‘stereotypical behaviours’.

I would like to share with you some of the key points I took from the presentation. Please note this is not a comprehensive list of all of the points Andrew made, but the ones that resonated with me:

  • The horse’s frontal lobe (the exectutive centre) is much smaller than in a human brain

  • The horse is therefore less able to supress their primative desires and override them (fight/flight)

  • The Central Sulcus divides the frontal lobe from the rest of the brain

  • The Motor Cortex (behind the Central Sulcus) tells the body how to move

  • This part of the brain receives information such as smell, sight and touch

  • If the horse is either tired or stressed they are unable to learn

  • Pathway Strengthening = longterm potentiation

  • This is not possible without consolidation

  • Learning is a PHYSICAL change in the brain

  • 2/3 more intense training sessions with consolidation are more benficial than daily training

These last few points we really important for me.

Often some of the horsemen I have followed and studied have discussed the importance of ‘letting your horse soak’ after a new lesson. Some even tie there horses for a time to allow this process to happen.

I have often wondered if this was a necessary process and if it really did make a difference to the horse learning the lesson.

Based on Andrew’s research it seems this is actually necessary, the horse needs some consolidation in order for the new brain pathways to strengthen.

  • Horses are masters at understanding body posture and changes in posture

  • Dopamine increases blinking

  • Your horse’s gut health can relate to their learning profile and dopamine

  • Crib biters:

  • Overactive Dopamine

  • Exceptional learners

  • Quick thinkers

  • Do not UNLEARN very well

  • You must be exceptional careful when training

  • Weavers

  • Exceptional learners

  • But can unlearn and are no habitual like crib biters

  • Keep stress levels down during learning and this will translate into habitual overtime.

There was far more in depth information from Andrew with pages of information shared in the delegate booklet provided by Horses Inside Out. These were just the points that resonated with me.

I hope you have found this blog informative and useful, I look forward to sharing Part 7 of my blog with you about the presentation by veterinarian Sue Dyson about why your horse could be struggling with performance.

Thank you again to Horses Inside Out for allowing me access to their professional photos.

Hope to see you soon.

Jess | Jessica Limpkin Equine Massage Therapy

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