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How Your Horse Learns

Updated: Apr 2, 2023

You can have the best breeding and conformation but without a good temperament and trainability you may struggle to train and bring out the best performance in the horse. To understand a horse's temperament and how he learns you need to have an understanding of the equine brain and how the two link together. However, there has been very little research done on the equine brain. Dr Andrew Hemmings is keen to change this, for the good of the horse.

Dr Andrew Hemmings is a world authority on the equine brain and how that organ impacts on behaviour and training. Andrew is a Principal Lecturer in Equine Science and the head of department (Equine Management and Science) at the Royal Agricultural University, Cirencester. He is passionate about making neuroscience available to horse owners in such a way that all horses will benefit from better training, welfare and management.

His main research focus over the last couple of decades has been the development of behavioural and cognitive tests that can be applied by anyone in a range of everyday training scenarios.

“Andrew has a long association with Horses Inside Out and has also spoken at the Horses Inside Out annual conference on a number of occasions and I'm delighted that he will be returning again in 2023," says Gillian.

"His lectures are always hugely popular, he has such passion and enthusiasm for the topic and makes complex information interesting and easy to understand. I'm sure his presentation will be fascinating and give us all food for thought when it comes to training and handling horses."

At our 2023 Annual Conference - Upwards and Onwards Andrew will talk about his latest research and results in brain training, learning theory and behaviour and how it all relates to riding, training, performance, management and breeding of horses.

To whet your appetite here are a few interesting facts about the horse's brain and how he learns:

  • The horse brain weighs around 700g, half the weight of the human brain that's around 1,400g

  • The frontal lobe (the executive centre) of the horse's brain is the decision making part of the brain and is significantly smaller in comparison to the human. This means the horse is less able to supress their primitive desires and override them (fight/flight)

  • The Striatum, in the forebrain is responsible for fine motor control, habit formation and also the reward/pleasure centre

  • The Motor Cortex (behind the Central Sulcus) tells the body how to move. This part of the brain also receives information such as touch, smell and sight

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

  • When a horse learns something a physical change in the brain takes place - these physical changes need time for consolidation. This is why if you teach your horse a new movement - he may struggle a little, so you him a break. When he comes back into work he'll nail than new movement

You can also watch the online seminar with Dr Andrew Hemmings in the Horses Inside Out Academy:


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