Perhaps on a drive through prime horse country you’ve found yourself taken by the view of gleaming, magnificently muscled horses grazing contentedly within fenced in fields presided over by stately barns and manor. Some of these horses are worth many hundreds of thousands of dollars as would of course befit such multi-million dollar equestrian complexes. And some of these horses are so prized because due to the finest breeding and the finest training they are capable of clearing five and six foot rails, with a rider on their back to boot. Now there’s so much about animals we take for granted that except for the grandeur of the vista before us, we might not give such a scene a second’s thought. But nevertheless it might prove fruitful to ask, since the fences are only five and sometimes even only four feet tall, and if our current theories of animal cognition are true (i.e. animals can think as in compare relative points of view so as to problem solve and improve their lot in life), then why don’t these superb equine athletes simply jump out? After all the grass is always greener and they regularly see other horses ride by and which prompts them to run excitedly to the fence line as they are of course herd animals. And then no doubt they’ve seen deer regularly hop in and out of the field in order to get the grain they miss, yet they always stop short. In fact, even were the field to be cribbed to the nub and the place deserted, I expect we would find horses starving to death with the green, green grass of life standing undisturbed just out of muzzle range. In other words, if our current theories of the animal mind and learning are correct, one would have to suppose that a trainer must have trained them not to jump out, as for example most trainers and behaviorists advise puppy owners that they have to train their little cubs not to bite. (Curiously, every day I work with highly aggressive dogs that were trained from day one not to bite, yet I’ve raised many shepherds from bloodlines selected for the capacity for biting and never trained them as pups not to bite human flesh, and as adults in police/protection programs actually encouraged it, and now that I think about it, I also never taught my children not to rob banks or bop people over the head and take their wallets when they run out of money.)
About ten years ago we adopted two horses, “Maggie” and “Guinness” and we kept them for another five years. Guinness was a retired hunter/jumper and was a really big gelding at 16 & ½ hands. He was trained to leap six foot rails. Living at the end of a dead end road, we used to let Guinness and Maggie roam the property at will as it seemed wasteful to mow the thick grass on our front and back lawns without giving them first dibs. And to prevent them from leaving our property which was otherwise surrounded by low walls and dense thickets on a steep hillside, I laid a skinny pole across the two low stone walls on either side of the dirt road that turns into our driveway. The rail was about three feet off the ground and Guinness would walk up to the rail and leaning as far as he could stretch, munch the grass on the other side of the rail. Even though he could have easily stepped over the obstacle without even having to jump, he never took it upon himself to walk over that rail and be on his way to an excellent grazing adventure. Now bear in mind that Agi had ridden him up and down that road on many occasions, and he and Maggie once got out at night when Guinness “picked” the latch on the stall door and then in abject panic they ran up and down the road before their thundering hooves woke the dogs and alerted me to what was going on. But when he was out in the yard, as long as I had the pole securely wedged into some rocks so that his weight wouldn’t knock it down, I never feared he would step over and be on his way. It truly was an incongruent sight, a huge horse trained to jump high fences, stymied by a rail that only reached to his knees.
The reason my toll gate worked is that Guinness did not “know” how to jump a fence, no matter how many thousands of fences he may have cleared, and even though it would seem he understood how to pick a stall gate latch in order to let himself out so that he could then get out and do what he wanted to do. And it couldn’t be that he was “smart” about gate latches but “stupid” about low fence rails, a self-contradicting logic loop especially because there are probably a million horses just like him that are kept securely behind fences and yet are stabled each night with a chain guard or snap to lock their stall gate tight. Rather, no matter how high a horse can jump or how many jumping exercises and competitions a horse has mastered, a horse has no IDEA, no self-contained knowledge IN ITS BRAIN to which it can autonomously and independently access in order to solve problems. The animal mind is an energy circuit that literally and physically plugs its body into its surroundings. The external environment IS part of its mind because it is essential to a feeling. Therefore, a horse knows by FEEL—not by reason, concept or thought—How, When, Where, What and Why to jump.
This feeling is a state of rapport with its rider and if we consider more closely what composes a feeling of rapport, we find that it is made of a state of attraction, alignment and amplification. In other words, the information on how to jump a fence is not in Guinness’ brain, it’s in the feeling, the other half of which is in the rider on its back.
One of the key components of a feeling is a degree-of-intensity (like the amount of energy an engine supplies to a drive train) so that unless that specific degree of intensity is recapitulated BY EXTERNAL INPUTS (such as the weight of rider, the tight bit in mouth, the squeeze of rider’s leg on chest, a sense of compressed space before the fence, etc, etc.) and then AMPLIFIED to a level of energy that can surmount the degree of resistance of a six foot fence it is confronted with, then the physical memory of what jumping a fence feels like remains unavailable to its mind and the horse doesn’t know how to jump a fence. A horse has no idea, it has a feeling. In short, the information is in the energy.
So the reason we don’t have to teach dogs not to bite human beings or kids not to rob banks (or horses not to jump over pasture fences) is because over the course of their emotional development we have allowed them to learn what to do with their energy in the direction that we can align with and then amplify to full intensity. This cultivated expression of innate talent then becomes the How, What, When, Where and Why of how they focus their energy. Anything else just wouldn’t feel right.