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THT Bloodstock

" A horse liv​es by the laws of their nature. Where they fit in to the herd, how they interpret their world, how they learn, how they're coached, how they 

ultimately perform, is governed by the rules of that nature; it is wise to make an effort, to understand it."  ~ Kerry M Thomas​



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Emotional Intelligence Part One, The Nature of Leadership

Posted on August 19, 2022 at 10:25 AM

Emotional Intelligence Part One

The Nature of Leadership

Position Paper


Kerry M Thomas

THT Bloodstock


“The nature of leadership is found within its disposition; it is presence, it is as absorbing of environment as it is influential within it. It is versatility of action, patience in perception and imperceptible in deliverance.”



The herd dynamics are those naturally occurring traits, tendencies and characteristics that make up the individual psychology and where this places the horse in the hierarchy of the herd structure. It is in short, the operating system of the physical machine.

The study of the herd dynamics and the vital role it plays in any athletic discipline is a study of the many pieces of the psychological jigsaw puzzle making up what I call the behavioral genetic code. There are many singular areas of essential importance and influence, but none of the collateral pieces are as influential as the sensory system. Physical soundness is certainly desired in the horse-athlete, yet equally essential for the optimization of talent and too often undervalued, is sensory soundness.

Regardless of the athlete or the discipline, stress is a factor to be reckoned with, and there is both physical and emotional stress. The sensory system plays an essential role in stress management as it communicates the external world of environment with the internal world of the psyche. The efficiency with which information is transferred directly governs the optimization of what we determine as talent while minimizing physical stresses by allowing freedom of motion between mind and body. As with any sport, there is a fine line between being physically capable and psychologically able. It is not enough to consider if the horse can physically handle the rigors of life as an athlete, they must also be capable of handling the emotional demands.

We cannot effectively machinate that which is driven by emotion, as sentient athletes, we must be mindful that horses are often a reflection of their environment. If we really wish to understand the horse, we must take our view, from the hoof.


Found at the leading edge of emotional intelligence is natural mind-to-body fluency, itself manifest from sensory efficiency, or as I like to call it, sensory soundness.

There are two separate aspects of a complete, sound sensory system. The intersection of the commonly understood “physical senses” with the oft mysterious “psycho-sensory” (interpretive). These not only need to properly merge but do so at a rate that is at minimum twice as fast as physical pace for the horse to move fluently (freely) in its environment. No true understanding of the horse can be embraced without first understanding the dynamics of the relationship the horse has between themselves and their environment. The way the external environment is absorbed by the sentience of self reflects the individuals’ emotional intelligence. Communicated through the innate ability to properly interpret and respond to that which is absorbed, emotional intelligence is directly responsible for one’s ability to lead by virtue of its being the foundation of independent nature.

The horse is fundamentally geared to operate best as one among the pieces of herd structure, their placement in the hierarchy determined not by others, but by themselves. Through the laws of nature, herd structure is bound by the fabric of dependent/co-dependent relationships. An individuals’ standing within the herd is predicated upon individual efficiency of the sensory system. No matter the type of relationship you have with your horse, or the kind of relationship your horse needs to have with their environment relative to the athletic discipline they are in, the senses play a primary role. The sensory system communicates the environment to the horse, the horse communicates with their environment through their actions within it. The greater part of all physical action is an impulse of emotion.

Characterizing the very definition of herd leadership has less to do with the actual herd than it does the individual. In nature, herd structure is sorted out by the freedom that comes from movement. Challengers to the establishment who are too young or not quite ready to sustain their position have freedom to move off and seek another family group or, for the colts, move into bachelor herds to continue their schooling. The number of horses in their natural landscape who have innate independent nature are few. This form of what I describe as psychological natural-selection ensures that only those who can rise above, up through the ranks, are able to do so. A process that in turn preserves the integrity of the herd in a volatile world through the promotion of emotional intelligence.

Indiscriminate breeding will threaten to destabilize any species through the interruption of this natural process. The simple but potentially perilous act of arranged matings between herd dynamics that may not be complimentary or even compatible is a drastic deviation from natures’ intent. Emphasizing physical and pedigree while under-valuing, at best, behavioral genetics, often results in the manufacturing of power without intelligence, which at length becomes untenable. Where we “strengthen” one, we “weaken” the other; when financial gain is the primary goal, Mother Nature is often its casualty.

This is not to say that leadership-worthy emotional intelligence cannot be demonstrated in governed matings. It does mean that if our husbandry of a species is manifest from a “controlled” environment, our processes for selected breeding should be equally thoughtful.

A key subset to the independent nature found in emotional intelligence is within the area in which equine performance is most reliant, athletics. Athletic intelligence is that portion of a horses’ acumen that is expressed through physical motion during times of elevated stress. Subtle in its separation from herd dynamic leadership related to the chain-of-command, athletic intelligence, commonly expressed in the elite herd dynamic, can be effectively represented in the less than elite. In the world of equestrian sports, these differences, and the manner of their expressions, play a significant role in a horse’s ability to perform.

In elite herd dynamic horses’ emotional intelligence is leadership through presence over the course of daily life, including times of high stress and competitive motion where they can impress themselves upon the environment, not be subject to the caprice of change. Their mind to body fluency is innate, the likelihood of emotional fatigue low. Rooted in the natural ability to interpret the environment in both the group herd dynamic, GHD, and the individual herd dynamic, IHD, at a faster rate than physical movement, allows them to ‘move through the environment.’ Behavioral Economics 101; the optimization of physical talent is realized through the auspice of psychological ability.

We can “data and analytics” ourselves right out of being competitive where the nature of performance, is driven by emotion.

Individuals devoid of herd dynamic presence can nonetheless be a leader among their peers as athletic ability expresses through their pattern of motion. Tendencies under stress reflect the true appraisal of athletic intelligence; worth is what you are willing to pay to for the value you hope is realized in the athlete. Competitive acumen operating without the luxury of presence expresses leadership through movement. Adoption of independent nature experienced only after physical rhythm has been established is perilously vulnerable to the caprice of environment. Where emotional intelligence expressed through presence is athletic fluency leading through the environment, those who compete through movement are dependent upon the rhythms of the environment to find mental fluency. In these more common circumstances, the partnership between horse and the human in saddle plays an important role; to ride with fluency means the persons’ mind through the horse’s body. (*See “Sample Profile” on Sport Horse Services & Big Race Analysis here on THT Bloodstock website)

The significant psychological differences commonly understood as performance style are as subtle in their disparity as they important to comprehend. When it comes to coaching and training the athlete you must ask, are you developing from the environment into the psyche or from the psyche into the environment?

Prey animals do not have the luxury of being aloof. Horses among these, by an overwhelming majority, are often devoid of the intellect for independence. This is not by mistake. Emotional intelligence in a herd leadership capacity is found only in those rare individuals whose sense of independent nature is not reliant upon athleticism, but acumen. Mother Nature is wise, she knows that in daily life the survival of the herd relies upon only a slight few. However, for the sustainability of the herd structure under duress, temporary herd-member independence is a necessity in greater numbers. These individuals discover independent nature through urgency of motion, their “athleticism” allowing momentary relief from their trammels in the name of safety, (basic instinct). The duration of, or what we at THT Bloodstock refer to as ‘Time-In-Motion,’ (T.I.M.) is the time a particular individual can be isolated from their dependencies and function with purposeful motion until emotional stress causes mental fatigue. The longer T.I.M. the more elevated the horse is in the natural order of herd hierarchy and subsequently the more athletic ability is available.

Athletic intelligence translates to competitive nature when under stress, where learned behavior leaks into natural tendency. Here, pace of physical performance reflects the rate of interpretation and determines the available T.I.M. of independent, purposeful movement. All horses by nature have the capacity for athletic expression in motion, but not all horses have athletic intelligence within their nature, to sustain it. In other words; rendered into the world of human sport, we must appreciate that where we have removed the horse from the wilds of nature, we cannot eliminate the atavistic nature, from within the horse. This reality necessitates herd dynamic makeup be party to physical makeup and pedigree when juxtaposed with the demands of the discipline considered. Investing in the horse because they appear physically suited for the chosen sport does not automatically mean they are mentally akin to adopting it. A feeble recruiting program is one that does not consider what makes the athlete whole.

Adaption and assimilation to situational chaos is what affords versatility in motion; things like “thinking on your feet” and “slowing the game down” are only available to those with fluency in their anticipatory responses. We can coach and develop natural ability where it exists, for we can nurture herd dynamic tendency, however inherent character traits are the true nature of leadership and these cannot be machined or manufactured. Through presence one may lead the masses through the trials of an age, through force, one may only conquer but a moment in time.


The most important part of horsemanship is control of your emotions, you cannot effectively coach, train nor teach without it. If you are unable to manage your disposition, you will be unable to properly communicate your intentions. Navigate down the center, and never be so foolish as to think you can fear them into trusting you, if you want to earn trust, teach them how to trust themselves.

If we wish to advance the integrity of equine sports, we must be accountable both for and to, the athletes within it.



Herd Dynamic Capsule Bits & Tips

Posted on June 17, 2022 at 10:25 AM

THT Bloodstock

Herd Dynamic Capsules, Bits & HD Tips


“Herd Dynamics Matter; every horse, every discipline, everywhere…” THT


First introduced in the introduction to our 2022 Kentucky Derby Analysis (see Big Race Analysis), I continued to collect and save my wide assortment of scribbled notes from cases we’re working on to articles I’m writing and save them in “Herd Dynamic Capsules”. As some of you may have noted on my recent YouTube shows for THT TV, I have started to incorporate a Tip-Of-The-Day, and what follows is along those lines. As I work on show ideas, advancing our racing & sport-horse services, create articles, research papers and new seminars and clinics, I began to consciously save these HD Bits & Tips and wanted to make them available as part of our ongoing website updates.

I hope while you’re here you will enjoy our new look, our updated links section where my Herd Dynamic Series on Australia’s “Canter Therapy Podcast” hosted by Dr. Shelley Appleton and Kathryn Christieson can be found. Also check out the new Services Section with added Sport Horse Disciplines including the brand-new Photo-Expression Analysis service and our new Rugged Posh Gear line on the THT Store.

The store has a special place for me personally because all proceeds go into our new THT’s Destination Hope program, where we provide services and aid to human/horse therapy NPO’s. As this program continues to get its legs, I will be creating its own section on our website to explain more and to share the stories of the programs we’re helping.

Special note of interest, I have every intention to start offering more Herd Dynamic Clinics not just in the USA but abroad, and if you are interested in hosting or just in getting info and updates, send us a message through our contact form with the email address(s) that you’d like for us to use.

As always, thank you for being here, your time and your interest is appreciated.


"The first step in realizing your dreams, is believing that you can…"

~Kerry M Thomas




85% of herd animals are inherently dependent for 50 to 55% of their environmental interpretations. Translated into athletic performance this compromises total herd dynamic strength. This is not to say that they cannot achieve athletically, it does mean that the larger body of work will be predicated upon environmental assists that upper level, more herd dynamically sound and independent individuals do not experience, especially under competitive stress. ~Kerry M Thomas


Sensory Soundness is vital for mind to body fluency and the optimization of physical talent. Holes in the sensory system require outsourcing, outsourcing to assist the interpretive aspect weakens herd dynamic strength. Under competitive stresses this is expressed through a feeling of isolation; separation anxiety from herd structure is an antagonist which creates performance unease. ~Kerry M Thomas


Affective mind to body fluency requires balance, a natural cadence between the herd dynamic and the environment. Horses with an independent herd nature harmonize themselves from within and are less likely to over-express with non-purposeful movement. Horses with a dependent herd nature are inclined to outsource in order to find harmony between self & environment, which makes purposeful motion vulnerable to environmental caprice. ~Kerry M Thomas


Mental fatigue and “wear-and-tear”; the road to performance can be littered with emotional detritus. Recognizing and staying ahead of these performance compromising issues means clearing the psychological path and building in “Rest Stops” for human & horse alike. ~Kerry M Thomas


Coaching through the natural herd dynamic is of vital importance lest you be antagonistic to it. Nurture the horse, develop the athlete, means identifying “who” the horse is by nature so you can set realistic goals for “what” they can become. Your vision for your horse needs to align with the horses’ perception of themselves through the lens of their herd dynamic. ~Kerry M Thomas


Psychological growth is the result of experience blended with tendency and occurs most affectively through a harmonious relationship between environmental experience and inherent nature. The primary sensory aspect through which stimulus is processed leads the way in uncluttering the physical world around the emotional horse. In upper-level horses there is efficacy in the sequence where stimulus is identified, funneled into the psycho-sensory for interpretation resulting in an independent, purposeful motion. Associative, co-dependent learning occurs through secondary aspects where stimulus identification is outsourced for an interpretive-assist before translation into physical movement.

Psychological “growth patterns” are representative of individual growth occurring through either experience’s influence on tendency, or tendencies influence on experience. In order to coach properly, you must recognize the difference. High level herd dynamic horses have more than one primary aspect to draw upon, allowing them a greater degree of adaptability to situational chaos. ~Kerry M Thomas


A riders’ tendencies and the horses character traits must be compatible in order to optimize mental ability and physical talent. Riding with fluency means understanding herd nature as a whole and the inherent nature of the individual so that your mind flows freely through the horse’s body. The natural herd dynamic allows for efficient communication between horse and environment as well as horse and peer; human interpretation of environment is communicated through the sensitivity of herd nature. When fluently connected, the relationship between environment and horse is translated through human emotion; communicate better, ride with fluency. ~Kerry M Thomas


Be it performing as an individual or competing in a herd structure, stress is a factor. Because of this, the two parts of every would-be horse athlete needs to be considered for ability & talent. There’s a significant difference between a physical distance time-ratio and psychological time-in-motion. The merger between them represents the stress-attrition-aggregate, accumulative stresses negatively affecting total performance.

These equations and their ratios are vital to understand in order to properly structure training and coaching programs and for setting achievable goals. Where accumulative stress compromises the total athlete, both mental and physical fatigue, measured separately, can be countered with proper preparation. It is folly to “train” the physical athlete and think the mental will be equally in step. Psychological preparedness should supersede physical demand. For example, if it takes two minutes of physical exertion to complete a task, mental aptitude should be prepared for four. ~Kerry M Thomas


High level athletes have the capacity to operate independently of their inherent herd nature and have identifiable characteristics of this. The ability to keep psychological time with the rhythmical changes in the environment is chief among them. This high-functioning herd dynamic trait allows the horse to anticipate and adapt, adjusting their physical motion purposely to move through the environment and not be moved by it, (herded). ~Kerry M Thomas


Where equipment works in partnership with the physical horse, the rider must work in partnership with the emotional horse. Viewing ourselves as an “emotional accessory” helps to nurture our human/horse relationship. ~Kerry M Thomas


When your horse “sees ghosts” … The lack of environmental interpretation, more easily masked while standing, creates sticking points when in motion causing residual expression. It is essential that you do not ask your horse to process secondary stimuli, (or task two), before task one has been properly filtered. Among the greatest training impediments are when the physical horse moves into another sequence while the psychology is still processing the initial. This deepens outsourcing dependency and places the burden of filtering on you, which requires calm confidence and consistency lest you facilitate the horse’s associative aspect. Subject to the emotional environment in which it is activated, this leads to a point of contention and makes a horse what we refer to as “sticky”. ~Kerry M Thomas


Training and workouts can be very misleading when it comes to gaining an understanding of competitive nature on the race track and actual performance capacity in the arena or cross-country course. If your horse “falls to pieces” emotionally when you get to your event, or looks great in the morning but falls short in the afternoon, it is because the largest part of physical training is being run through the Group Herd Dynamic alone. Unlike the competitively underwritten Individual Herd Dynamic or IHD, the GHD allows the horse to mentally adapt to physical activity, or “mentally rate”. The horse becomes harmonized to his/her environment which allows for physically advancing while mentally lagging behind. Coaching tip: change training locations as often as possible to engage IHD stress management. ~Kerry M Thomas


Instinctive tendency verses learned behaviors. Instinctive tendency relates to how a horse naturally reacts to emotional and environmental stresses where learned behaviors are introduced conditioned responses. These two things must align in a relatable manner for training to be truly successful and not antagonistic to herd dynamic nature. ~Kerry M Thomas


Equine PTSD is conveyed as emotional instability when expression is managed through the Anticipatory Response Mechanism based purely on the associative aspect. Trauma and negative experience engage basic survival instinct, making self-preservation a moment-to-moment sequence that interrupts the capacity to identify and interpret two similar experiences and/or emotions as being singular. This dramatically separates the compartments of emotional stability; moments of calm are over-exaggerated (depression) as are the moments of agitation, (anger). ~Kerry M Thomas


You can’t reasonably expect to make an average athlete great, but it is reasonable to expect not to make a great one, average. ~THT Bloodstock





Intro Piece ~ Kentucky Derby 2022

Posted on June 6, 2022 at 9:55 AM

*Each year for our Kentucky Derby Herd Dynamic Analysis I pen an intro-piece that is both intended as just that, an introduction to that years' profiles, and also represents my newest concepts and phylosophies on behavioral genetics and the psychology of the equine athlete. What follows is the introduction to our 2022 Derby Analysis. The full profiles can be found archived on Big Race Analysis section on the toolbar. On my YouTube channel linked on the home page, you can find some video commentary."

Thank you for being a part of this year’s Derby report. As always, we appreciate everyone, from those who are purchasing

this report for the first time, to those who have supported our product over the years. 2022 marks our twelfth Kentucky Derby

analysis. The journey has been one of discovery and progression as we march forward to advance our work. Thinking about

when we started and about where we are now makes me excited for what yet lies before us.

We continue to make unique discoveries the deeper we dive into the fascinating world of herd dynamics. We do it as our

business to provide forward-thinking services for the industry, but also to augment a deeper appreciation for the horses. There

may be few enigmas on the cover of the horse, but there is no shortage of mysteries dwelling within their psyche. As complex

as any sentient social being, the unique essence of the herd dynamic only reveals its secrets if you’re patient enough to peer

through their expression to understand the inflection.

Within the eye of a horse there can be found the truest reflection of ourselves. This is why we are drawn to them; it is intrinsic. I

know for me personally that among the things I saw looking back at me were a depth of reasons to stay on and push forward. If

you were here for last years’ derby introduction you will know what it is that I am referencing, a time of great sadness and loss

just weeks before the Kentucky Derby Analysis, had befallen me. It was a tough road as many of you have experienced, or are

experiencing, yourself. I can tell you that among the most important relationships you will ever have, is the one you have with

yourself. It is essential and its reflection can be found within the relationships of everything else around you.

I’m often asked what it is I learn the most when studying horses, and be there many, the individual’s intricate link and the

manner of its connection to the whole, is profound. Their innate ability to adapt and assimilate to the battle scars of life helped

me tremendously and reminded me that despite the pain I experienced, I had to think forward. I dusted off, put my hat back on

over the summer months and determined to live again, love again, embrace every moment of the unknown amount of time that

is left. It is possible to rediscover joy and the excitement of what’s next while remembering with respect what you once knew;

happiness is a choice.

The journey of life is a series of events, experiences marking time along the way, contributing to our own unique growth.

Experiences themselves do not define who we are, but the manner in which we negotiate them and their effect upon us is a

reflection of who we are. No experience in life, in my opinion at least, is trivial nor fleeting. All can be as enlightening as they can

be lingering, and almost all can have an associative effect on another.

This sets in motion, as the collection of experiences multiply over time, a growth pattern; which means that the manner in which

the next experience is interpreted is predicated upon the interpretation of the experience(s) before it. Separate incidents are

strung loosely together by the fabric of association and it is from the associative aspect that a memories’ timbre is rooted. Like a

song or a scent can take you back through time; a journey that carries with it the profound statement made at its inception, be it

positive or negative.

For me the sound of crickets and frogs/toads in the summer nights takes me back to 12-year-old me, spending time with my

family at the cabin up near Penn State. I may be 53, but when I close my eyes and hear them, I disappear into yesteryear with

ease. It serves as a comforting reminder that time itself, in some measure at least, can be removed by our imaginations, for only

the physical is subject to it, when our minds are set free.

Horse Profiling & Handicapping

Studying the collection of psychological ingredients in horses and how the assemblage of them is composed to manifest what I

often dub the “operating system” is the baseline for herd dynamic profiling.

Making an effort to postulate how a particular group of horses is likely to respond to a changing environment and the competitive

nature of their peers is a study in many parts. Few more important than identifying individual growth patterns and where an

individual is on their’s as compared to others they’re facing.

Handicapping with herd dynamics starts here. Handicapping races is different than handicapping horses inasmuch as in a

particular race you’re seeking to identify where a horse is in their physical and psychological growth pattern to project how well

they match up against another.

Handicapping a horse is the art of identifying and projecting the trajectory of those growth patterns. It is impossible to properly

ascertain any would-be competitor without considering them as both physical and mental athletes. Before you can surmise how

a particular horse may compare to peers in competition, you have to understand how that horse collaborates with his/herself. If

the mind-to-body fluency is disrupted under stress, competitive nature cannot manifest into competitive edge. This means that

you have more physical talent than you do mental stamina and grit, and you are left to determine which of these are most likely

to prevail.

Mind-to-body fluency is the smooth and sequential psychological translation of information, manifested into a controlled physical

response. The common equation for this is the sensory system, acting like radar, identifying environmental stimulus in one or

more of the sensory aspects which is necessarily funneled into the psycho-sensory (mind) for interpretation.

Physical response is administered based upon interpretation, the manner of which, be that controlled or reactive motion,

indicates the nature of interpretation. When information is not properly interpreted the horse will display erratic physical

movement(s), internalize emotional stress, or a mixture of both. When these things happen in competition it greatly affects both

physical pace as well as mental stamina.

To offset what I classify as interpretive disruptions, the horse has two main sources of remedy, both an extension of their

atavistic nature. First is their reliance upon the built-in herd dynamic characteristic of dependency/co-dependency within herd

structure, and second, interpretative disruptions are circumvented altogether through the associative aspect.

The sense of insecurity is the great emotional enemy of the psyche, and for the prey animal this can be quite hermetic. Prey

species find sanctity in harmony, peace in comfort. The herd animal sources them largely through their peers and environment.

When emotionally removed from this inherent herding tendency, the horse can become overwhelmed with a sense of

psychological confinement and exposure that can dramatically alter their personality. Isolated at too young of an age. the horse’s

normal growth pattern is at risk and greatly skewed by the lack of nurturing where interpretation is outsourced and experiences

cushioned through the watchful eyes of older horses.

When harmony and comfort become dependent on associations through an isolated psyche, strong addictions to them occur,

even to the point of emotional trauma. Many addictive behaviors that manifest later can be traced to a disruption or interruption,

of the nurturing process. A breakdown of the family structure can have great effect on psychological development. That is why I

always say, nurture the horse, develop the athlete.

The Kentucky Derby is more a total experience than it is a race, and trying to resolve the most likely “order of finish” can only

be surmised through the determination of the hierarchy tiers. In order for us to do this, we have to unravel the herd dynamic

makeup of each horse, identify who they were, who they are now, and where they’re likely headed. Herd Dynamics tell a tale

about the horse and their most likely trajectory based upon many accumulated and studied ingredients, chief among these is

naturally occurring, inherent psychological growth patterns.

Who the horse is now may or may not be the truest representation of their future selves. At this particular stage in their career

path the majority of horses have less races under their belt than they have ahead of them (at least I like to think so anyway),

which translates to a still developing psychological growth pattern for the greater number of participants.

It is true that we see varying degrees of mental aptitude from the very near completed painting to those just starting to fill in.

The Kentucky Derby evaluation process involves gaining a comprehensive understanding of the horses’ projected future while

studying a snapshot of the now. You have to compare the individual that they are to the individual they have potential to become.

As a total experience, obtaining a view of how the race itself is most likely to develop once the herd is in motion can only be

embraced by appreciating how this new and unique milieu will be acknowledged by the horses within it. Who among them are

best equipped to keep psychological time with the environmental changes they’re in? It matters not whether we are looking for

prospects at a horse sale or profiling for the derby, the horse must be considered both physically and mentally. The question has

to be asked, is there psychological athleticism enough to maximize physical talent?

Assimilation to sudden changes is the cornerstone of versatility. This can only be done effectively and in a controlled manner of

expression when the interpretative process is cycling at a faster pace than the rate of changes around them. The assimilative

processes identified in competition, along with their growth pattern, is a reflection of adaptability to situational chaos as a whole.

In condensed environments of stress such as a race, individual stimulus has to be interpreted relative to the rate of physical

motion of the interpreter, (this is also true during training, tasks must be mentally completed before moving to the next). To

efficiently maneuver through an environment of uniquely moving parts, the horse must physically harmonize pace while having

the ability of increasing psychological rhythm, when necessary, in order to maintain proper emotional energy distribution.

Multitasking is the navigation of multiple stimulus without losing physical efficiency. This aptitude is an earmark of a high

functioning sensory system and elevated herd dynamic.

The further removed the individual is from an obligation of outsourcing to their peers for their interpretations, the more elevated

they are within the structured hierarchy. One of the more difficult things for a herd animal to do is operate independently of that

nature. The mark of independence is a psychological rhythm that does not have to change to match the physical pace of others.

These horses are highly versatile because they’re mentally tactical. They are not left to assimilate to sudden changes after they

happen, they navigate the chaos in a strategic manner without over expressing. Reading the room properly allows you to keep

time with the changes in your surroundings.

Whether we’re evaluating total athleticism at an auction or determining an athlete’s probability of success in the Kentucky Derby,

the evaluation of independent nature is requisite to it. I care less about the pedigree or how physically awesome any horse is

before I determine how likely these factors are to be maximized in the heat of battle. Fast times at a two-year-old in training

sale, or stellar physicals at a yearling sale, mean little if in the end there are grave deficiencies between the ears. When you

make a decision to invest in a horse, you’re investing in the total animal, everything they are regulates everything they can

become. I want to “feel” the horse; I know what they are, I want to know “who” they are before I can get a sense of their inherent


Handicapping with the herd dynamics is not about studying what happens to a horse in a race, but understanding how they react

to what happens. There is often quite a difference between horses that are in the Kentucky Derby and a “derby horse”. Paying

attention to details in the horse’s career path such as sensory efficiency, mind-to-body fluency, expressions of stress and how

protracted time-in-motion (T.I.M.) demands affect mental stamina, go far in ascertaining how long a particular athlete can sustain

competitive edge. In shorter distance races the T.I.M. is obviously less, but that does not mean that mental fatigue is removed

from the equation.

The management of mental stamina is predicated upon the emotional density of stressful situations and how long they

last. Regardless of whether a race is 6 furlongs or 1 ¼ miles, these physical distances are psychologically fragmented into

disproportionate demands of mental focus and strain. Properly handicapping a horse requires a close look at how they mediate

each moment of elevated emotional strain, be it a quick disruption that takes but a second, several strides, or the protracted.

In addition to this, you have to make an effort to comprehend the actual intensity level of these stresses which, to reiterate

an important factor, means paying close attention to the reaction and/or recovery time. Each of these compartmentalized

competitive stresses can have a major impact on the psychological aptitude of the athlete, gnawing away at their emotional

energy, altering its distribution, curtailing the duration of competitive edge coming down the home stretch.

Comprehending the horse’s natural ability to mentally rate and identifying the characteristics of it, are important. There are great

benefits to be realized in a seemingly impervious psychology; an energy distribution that has an achievable cruise-control cycle

allows the horse to maximize conserved energy for purposeful responses. Competitive edge, generally associated with an IHD

shift, is not a tool that has but one use. In a high functioning herd dynamic, there is versatility within it and controlled ability to

access it in the necessary degrees required by the situation, nothing more, nothing less. Over expression within the body of the

race and you risk running short of mental stamina at the end, under-expressing and you risk, well, falling short.

Compartmentalizing your handicapping helps embrace the battles within the war. Comparing what the physical numbers show

to what your eyes are telling you, helps you better understand the level of fluency between mind & body. Tactical turn of foot

without a tactical mind, will lean upon the jockey for thoughtful execution. A tactical psychology with a heavier turn of foot asks

for positional assistance while allowing trust in the horse. Those with both tactical turn-of-foot and mentality only ask for the

humans to stay out of the way and ride with finesse and feel. Handicapping the collaborative relationship between horse & rider

is an important part of the equation; you have to understand the horse in order to do this accurately. It’s vital to not undervalue

the horse/human communicative aspect by over-valuing the rider’s accepted skillset. Matching human tendency to herd dynamic

traits are important in every such relationship from the race track to the dressage ring.

An appreciation for and an understanding of the horse in their entirety is essential, it’s not just the horses in a race that matter.

A horse is a horse all of the time. Their performance capacity is an extension of, not a separation from, who they are. Identifying

the characteristics of the individual and determining if they are inherently capable of sustaining the physical and emotional

demands of athleticism should always be considered regardless of discipline, lest a horse be placed into an environment they’re

not readily equipped to handle. Achievable goals are ones that align with total athletic ability.

There is “cost” and there is “value”; cost is what you’re willing to spend on the value you hope you’re getting. It’s wise to identify

the athletic strengths physically and mentally and ask how they’re likely to collaborate and which among those are more likely to

carry the day if there is disparity between them. These are key factors you should consider in your investment strategy be it for

handicapping or purchasing.

Closing Thoughts

From my point of view, an understanding of herd dynamics can go far in bringing the horse back into horse racing. The horses

themselves are the greatest ambassadors the industry has, introducing who they are can supersede what they are, allowing

for a much broader reach. Connecting people with the athletes beyond their “profession” is an important step to sharing the

endearing beauty of these animals. Cultivating appreciation and interest in the sport not through the wallet, but through the

heart, is in my opinion, the way for a brighter future.

Each year during our comprehensive study which produces this product, I personally end up with a vast collection of scribbled

notes and thoughts about the herd dynamic makeup of each horse, information that is of course incorporated into the full

profiles of the athletes you have here. As I was thinking about ways to try and expose more people to the personality side of the

horses, I thought it would be fun and perhaps even helpful in fostering interest with at-large fans, who may only be race fans one

weekend a year, to have access to some “color commentary.”

I decided that I would take my notes and thoughts, condense them down to a few fun facts, add a touch of additional musings,

and create little herd dynamic capsules as a character summary. I look at these as being more like the fun “get to know the

player” information on the back of baseball cards. When I was a kid, I always loved reading that information, it made the players

seem more real to me. I wanted to offer an opportunity for making the horses as personally available as possible through the

herd dynamic lens by putting the capsules on our website blog.

The beauty of the horse we must never lose sight of, and if by taking a view from the hoof we can merge the passions of the

horse players and industry insiders with those who simply love horses, every equestrian industry just might benefit.


A very special thank you each year goes without saying to THT partner Pete Denk without whom this month-long undertaking

would not happen, let alone for the 12th time. I certainly appreciate everyone at Brisnet for all the hard work and time it takes on

their end and as always, a special nod of appreciation to our roots with Kentucky Confidential where this journey began.

And indeed, I can’t thank those of you enough who have supported our efforts now and through the years. Our goal is to provide

you with as much unique interesting information as we can about the horses in an effort to not only help your betting strategy but

also to perhaps enjoy them even a little more than you already do.

At THT Bloodstock we are a full-service international bloodstock company and we invite you to visit us at www.thtbloodstock.

com to learn more. Let us know how we can help you, reach your goals.

Herd dynamics, because if you’re not thinking forward, you’re already behind.

Thank You,

Kerry M Thomas, Founder

There are many key factors to understanding horses and appreciating their athletic aptitude,

below are some important things to keep in mind.

“The mental capacity of the equine, controls the physical output of the athlete.”

“I have always considered in nature that roughly 85% of herd animals are inherently dependent for 50 to 55 percent of their

environmental interpretations; translated into athletic performance this compromises total herd dynamic strength. This is not to

say they can’t achieve athletically. It does mean the larger body of work will be saddled with environmental requirements that

upper level, more independent minded peers, are less likely to assist with.”

“Only running in spots is a reflection of a disruption in growth patterns which is a reflection of interruptions in psychological


“The smoother the sensory sequences the more evenly distributed the emotional energy, even distribution conserves mental

stamina for the drive home.”

“Where equipment works in partnership with the physical horse, the rider works in partnership with the emotional horse.”

“The balance between mind and body affects the cadence between horse and environment, athletic expressions are in large part

emergent properties of these. When there are tendencies of personality that gnaw away accumulatively at total performance, the

reliance upon physical talent is heavier.”

“Herd Dynamics Matter; every horse, every discipline, everywhere.”


Herd Dynamic Capsules, Derby 2022

Posted on May 3, 2022 at 5:50 PM

Color Analysis Shorts & Competitive Keys

Kentucky Derby 2022


Herd Dynamics; bringing the horse, into focus…

I have long believed that one of the best ways to bring the magic of horses to a wider audience was through sharing the intricate beauty of herd dynamic profiles, their unique “personalities”. It is the emotional connection that is the most endearing and so to can it be the most enlightening.

This year, in addition to our more comprehensive Kentucky Derby Analysis which sells through Brisnet, { find the link at the bottom of the home page before the Derby, and after check for it on Big Race Analysis section } I wanted to offer an avenue of accessibility to all those who, like myself, are horse lovers. During the course of our month-long efforts to study and develop the full profiles of the contenders I always have a collection of scribbled notes about them and their behavioral genetic traits. Those singular characteristics that make them “who” they are, are of course detailed at length in the full report, what follows here are some fun snapshots of that unique information. These free capsules are my invitation for horse lovers everywhere to get to know the athletes in a different way by showcasing some of the captivating ingredients of the athletic psychology tour work in herd dynamic profiling reveals. My goal is to broaden not only the appreciation and love for “who” the athletes are, but offer a window into the inner world of all horses.

I hope you will enjoy these, and feel free to share the link to this blog with any and all who enjoy the wonderful world of the horse.

Kerry M Thomas

Founder of THT Bloodstock





Cyberknife; Gun Runner Colt Trained by Brad Cox

I remember Pete and I were at Fasig Tipton in Timonium Maryland and we made it a point to look at two Gun Runner colts, they were quite matter-of-fact in their personality traits. Their herd dynamics even on a cursory look were very straight forward and some behavioral genetic stamping was evident. It’s interesting to go back and review the profiles of colts we did for past derby reports who now have progeny of their own in the derby.

Cyberknife has all the earmarks of a behavioral pattern that is fast cycling and what we call a hi-rev IHD or Individual Herd Dynamic. His sustained operating system and manner of athletic expression could be described, if he were a human athlete, as hyper-active, at times walking a slippery line of emotional stability. This is an athlete who shifts his gears and drops the clutch every chance he gets, a “go now” personality.

Competitive Key: Body control and space awareness under competitive stress.


Barber Road, Race Day Colt Trained by John Alexander Ortiz

Very business minded with an even-emotional energy distribution, he seems to have a knack for handling the unexpected. Barber Road certainly comes to the party with a vibe that says “I feel it, I can handle it”. He doesn’t seem the type to be easily discouraged and this lends itself to those personalities that typically exude the professionalism you expect in a pro athlete, the proverbial cool cat under pressure.

I get the sense Barber Road has sneaky athletic intelligence, a playful heart, solid grit and has the wherewithal to gut it out in tight spots. I’d go in to battle with these character traits any day!

Competitive Key: It will be of vital importance for him to stay within his cool and collected mindset.


Tiz The Bomb, Hit It A Bomb Colt Trained by Ken McPeek

One thing that rings clear about some athletes, when they’re locked in, they move as my dad used to always say, dish-rag loose and have the ability to stay locked in. Tiz The Bomb’s forward expression has substance. As an athlete competing against hi-level competition this tendency is an important asset. All athletes when under competitive stress are required to increase the rate of their psychological gear changes in a controlled manner if they hope to maintain mental and physical pace, and this is something that Tiz The Bomb shows he’s capable of doing. It will be important for him to operate with optimum efficiency on all cylinders in order to minimize the emotional stresses that this distance can bring to bear.

I find it beautiful to see when a horse like this hits his zone, he’s clearly operating in a happy place mentally. It cannot be understated how important that is, a joyful horse is a game competitor.

Competitive Key: Environmental interpretations are going to be important for sustaining competitive edge.


White Abarrio, Race Day Colt Trained by Saffie A Joseph, Jr

His emotional expressions could seem physically translated as ardent, but they’re not. I think White Abarrio can best be described as an intense athlete who isn’t tense. That is to say, though he may wear his emotions on his sleeve, he doesn’t necessarily reveal them to strangers unless you’re within his combat zone. Another Race Day pro, one of the striking characteristics he brings to the game is the symbiotic relationship between his herd dynamic traits and his physical talent.

From start to finish this guy sees himself forward, grabs the ball with a firm hold and dares his peers to take it from him. And if you happen to have it, he’s the guy who will be eager to nudge it from you.

Competitive Key: Emotional energy will need to be proportionally distributed within the IHD combat zone.


Mo Donegal, Uncle Mo Colt Trained by Todd Pletcher

There are some personalities that are clearly alert and environmentally sensitive, ready to act or respond at a moments’ notice. There are some that seem to be rather ho-hum and plodding & it’s clear the only way they’d get out of bed is if it caught fire! Then there are those who may seem disinterested, utterly forgettable, until they show up like a steady hand in an uncertain night. Mo Donegal is that individual who reads the room and understands the vibe before determining how to respond to it. When he does respond, he does so with quiet authority.

A face in the crowd at times, Mo Donegal is that personality with all the glittery appeal of a diamond in a mud puddle, the deeper the water, the more brilliant the shine.

Competitive Key: The jockey’s tendencies and the horse’s nature need to be compatible here, timing is key.


Zandon, Upstart Colt Trained by Chad Brown

Some athletes you watch and as you get to know them better, paying attention to the little details in their personalities and their mannerisms of expression, you sit back and think, “raw athletic talent”. Naturally athletic is the defining tendency in Zandon. Equipped with inherent depth to his emotional energy, this colt is his fathers’ son in many ways when it comes to personality traits and the fast rhythmed, hi-energy character. These types of herd dynamics often beat to their own drum, ready to take on the world how they find it, they’re always willing to go find out what’s around the bend.

Fearless and strong, Zandon reminds me of that yet to be seasoned athlete who carries a bearing of confidence, as if they’ve been there and done that. We know they haven’t, but the impressive ability to adapt to sudden changes paired with emotional energy to spare gives an air of influence that, despite some bumps along the road, leaves us expecting there is more to come.

Competitive Key: Finding that exacting synchronicity between mind & body right from the start.


Taiba, Gun Runner Colt Trained by Tim Yakteen

Experience is often relied upon to help us through future situations, helps us anticipate them and learn what to expect. Experience helps shape our personalities through the building of character and it does much the same equines. There are those athletes that rely on seasoning to grow-forward, building their foundation brick-by-brick. Then there are those scant few who seem to have a wealth of seasoning, character and tough-it-out veteran grit, who are in reality, still wet behind the ears. Taiba is that type of herd dynamic.

Taiba has the audacity to calmly nip at your heels, agitating his peers in a casual manner, luring them into acquiescence; he just might be in front of you before you knew he was behind you.

A matter-off-fact, authoritative forward expression moving freely through the environment are the prevailing tendencies on display. Professional mannerisms in the heat of battle with a flair for the assumed, Taiba carries himself with casual yet fast cycling athletic rhythms. He gives the appearance of one moving as if on a carpet above the ground.

Competitive Key: Stay within himself, be true to his nature and not being afraid to exercise patience.


Messier, Empire Maker Colt Trained by Tim Yakteen

Finding synchronicity between the outside and inside world is hinged upon fluency of interpretation, itself predicated upon the efficacy of the sensory system. With athletic expression Messier is vocal about what is going on within him, both when he is influencing the environment or responding to changes in it. Some roads we’re on are smooth, some are bumpy. Sometimes there is open space in front of us and sometimes we sense something may well be around the next bend. Messier walks a fine line between push-and-shove and wait-and-see, sifting through the sand to find the gold that could be there, while learning how deep to dig and how far to reach.

An above average competitive nature housed within an emerging herd dynamic leaves the door wide open for the trajectory of his growth pattern. No lack of effort and try certainly go a long way, and Messier is largely of a determined-to-fight through it kind of horse. Time will tell if he’s found an athletic plateau or if the heat of battle amongst his peers reveals sustained grit, power, and focus; ingredients to which he has access.

Competitive Key: Keep psychological time to adjust to the changes in the environment.


Smile Happy, Runhappy Colt Trained by Ken McPeek

It is interesting not to mention exciting to profile a Kentucky Derby contender who is the son of a Stallion that was selected and purchased as a yearling on your recommendation. Smile Happy is that horse for us at THT. In 2013 at Keeneland September, the yearling who topped our herd dynamic list and ticked all of our boxes, was a Super Saver colt who became Runhappy. Each horse is of course unique, yet there are definitely behavioral characteristics that present themselves from herd dynamic stamping. Worth mentioning above all is that Smile Happy exudes a joy when he is racing. His sensory system is high functioning and he has shown in his brief career that he can apply a sustained mental focus and effort over protracted time-in-motion.

Smile Happy has a very keen ability to read the room, and his responses to environmental changes are concise and athletically expressed. His nature is one of independence from the crowd with a strong Group Herd Dynamic that lends itself to his ease of adaptability. Rarely carrying any internal stress, Smile Happy has behavioral traits that help him absorb & process changes in the environment.

Competitive Key: Drawing on his environmental awareness to grit it out and sustain competitive edge.


Simplification, Not This Time Colt Trained by Antonio Sano

There are those who are “real characters” as they say, and there are those who express a lot of character. To put it simply, Simplification is an athlete that tends to wear his heart on his sleeve, expressive and honest at every step. One of the most important parts of any athlete is their mentality, there is nothing that underwrites underachiever quite like physical talent undermined by mental fatigue. This is not an issue here, Simplification is the very definition of terms like workman, hard trying, gritty effort, determined rhythm. He sometimes uses a hammer where a paintbrush would do, but truth be told this behavior trait I’d rather have in an athlete than be devoid of it.

Simplification is a straight forward kind of guy. His emotional energy distribution congregates in the forward aspect, though he has enough balance in his sensory efficiency to keep his path and avoid trouble much of the time. His fast-rev internal rhythms are supported by his physicality though he can find himself a little one directional, making sensory leads changes nonsensical to his mindset affecting physical lead changes.

Competitive Key: Finding tactical finesse while maintaining natural grit to help avoid mental/physical fatigue.

Charge It, Tapit Colt Trained by Todd Pletcher

The personality traits of the individual have much to do with how they learn, the rate at which they learn, and how what they learn is ultimately expressed. Charge It is one of those athletes whose mental aptitude has great potential when in an environment where he has the time to absorb it in-sync with his moderate to methodical mental cycles. A strong and well-balanced mind-set are evident, what is also evident is that because of the rhythm of his nature, he’s a student who likes to stay in class.

Charge It distributes his emotional energy quite evenly and though his physical talent appears to have the ability to support tactical motion, his current demeanor on the growth pattern slide-rule lends itself to a little deliberation; some are the dirt bike, others are the Harley. Time in motion is a definite asset with this psychology, what is yet to be determined is if Charge It is along his competitive education path far enough to take his hi-rev cycles and mental rating ability, up a notch.

Competitive Key: Maximizing his physical rhythms with an increased urgency in the competitive zone.


Zozos, Munnings Colt Trained by Brad Cox

There is emotional energy, and there is athletically expressed emotional energy. When you lay your eyes upon Zozos, not only can you see the athletic expression, you can feel it. With a steady rhythmical hum, he enters the gate, ready, emotionally engaged and when the gate opens, it’s immediately clear this is a competitive nature in its purest, perhaps even its simplest, form. Straight forward and honest, this horse has the get-things-done kind of personality, if you were in the playground and picking a team for kickball, (one of my favorites back in the day) Zozos would be picked first because you just know… You know you’re getting a gamer.

With this type of psychology, where emotional energy distribution stays housed primarily within the forward aspect, the internal growth patterns are knitted together rather firmly, making external experiential growth primary. This can be a problem for lesser herd dynamics, but this athlete knows nothing of a defeatist attitude and if I’m a recruiter at the combine I look at him with a nod of approval. There is something to be said for the matter-of-fact expressions. A piercing personality is an asset for Zozo.

Competitive Key: Allowing the environmental chaos to sort itself out for a hard push down the stretch.


Epicenter, Not This Time Colt Trained by Steve Asmussen

Professional athletes give off a certain vibe, they have an air of confidence about them that is less “cocky” than it is “matter-of-fact”, when you know, you know. Epicenter brings a natural, high-level herd dynamic presence with him where he goes, evident even in his first race was his poise. Athletic expression in motion defines competitive nature in its purest form, competitive edge is born from the sustainment of it. When the density of stress elevates, it requires the intensity of grit be equal to it, Epicenter is the manifestation of this.

A high degree of emotional intelligence provides a very good base for more versatility than has yet been called upon. A personality with synchronicity between mind and body provides fluency within his athletic rhythms and a natural cadence between the internal and external allows freedom of movement. He is a very intense competitor, a fast learner and harmonizes quickly with the influx of environmental stimulus. Perhaps not a 100% completed herd dynamic growth pattern, but very near it.

Competitive Key: Acknowledging that there is more tactical versatility at hand, patience & trusting in it.


Tawny Port, Pioneerof The Nile Colt Trained by Brad Cox

When it comes to being athletic, there is no substitute for effort, it is the cornerstone of competitive nature and aids a great deal in any horses’ capacity for growth. Tawny Port is that sort, an athlete that is true to himself and gives his version of “best-effort” at every turn. This honest hard-trying athlete has a fairly well-balanced personality that has seen some recent progression in that both environment and peers have become more readily comprehended. A fact which has assisted his time-in-motion emotional energy distribution by making it more efficient.

Another key factor of personality is that all important sense of independence among the crowd, and Tawny Port’s growth pattern has started to define his sense of independence. These personality types find themselves getting comfortable over time and even if they don’t completely adapt to all of the changes in the environment as they happen, when push comes to shove their determination forward staves off mental fatigue in combat.

Competitive Key: Avoid situational chaos, take advantage of any chance to leap frog herd dynamic peers.


Happy Jack, Oxbow Colt Trained by Doug O’Neill

Efficiency of sensory lead changes is the cornerstone of available equity within the mind to body fluency sequence and psychological growth patterns. Disruptions in this sequence certainly doesn’t make one devoid of ability or talent, it just makes the process of learning more dependent on tutoring. When this happens in a condensed time-in-motion format such as competition on the track, an athlete can sometimes feel a little anxious. I consider Happy Jack as a horse to fall in to this range, which translated into athletic performance compromises total herd dynamic strength.

This is not to say that Happy Jack isn’t nor can’t be an athletic achiever, what it does mean is that the larger body of work will be saddled with environmental requirements that upper level, more independent minded peers, are less likely to assist with. This adds to the challenge and places a stronger slant onto pure physical talent as the mind works to sort things out.

Competitive Key: Environmental/herd placement to minimize interpretive demands.


Pioneer Of Medina, Pioneerof The Nile Colt Trained by Todd Pletcher

The balance between mind and body affects the cadence between horse and environment, athletic expressions are in large part emergent properties of these. When there are tendencies of personality that gnaw away accumulatively at total performance, the reliance upon physical talent is heavier. Pioneer Of Medina is a fine athlete representative of one who has enough physical ability to help offset any minor holes in the herd dynamic. His psychological rhythm by nature seem to dance on the line between focusing on singular tasks to trying to absorb multiple stimuli. His current growth patterns are slightly anchored by the demands of interpretation at speed which can leak emotional energy from the forward aspect, some of that energy pushes down through the body.

Efficacy in the sensory lead changes are less than fluent but the addition of equipment has helped to cone his emotional energy forward. Hard trying and physically talented, when Pioneer Of Medina is able to get the right physical position, the duration of competitive distance shrinks. The use of blinkers is wise here and the right jockey will be too. Where equipment works in partnership with the physical horse, the rider works in partnership with the emotional horse.

Competitive Key: Understanding that mental rhythm is dependent upon physical rhythm, get position early.


Classic Causeway, Giant’s Causeway Colt Trained by Brian Lynch

Control of one’s emotions is a valuable skill, especially for the athlete competing at high-levels; it is a trait of behavior, you cannot teach it. Classic Causeway is just such an athlete. Displaying an independent nature from herd chaos and an emotional intelligence that allows him to operate devoid of the weight of stress, he cuts through the environment with purposeful motion. There is good functionality in the Group Herd Dynamic (GHD) collaborative with athletic expressions that are manifest in the faster cycled Individual Herd Dynamic (IHD), where competitive edge lives.

Classic Causeway can hold his own against peers from a herd dynamic point of view. That said, the physical horse has to be able to sustain the mental horse’s competitive nature as effectively at the end of a race as it does just out of the gate. Having naturally athletic expression is an asset and helps greatly in not misusing emotional energy, which contributes to sustaining the physical output. With tendencies such as these an efficient collaboration between mind and body fluency can carry an athlete forward.

Competitive Key: Conserving physical energy by harmonizing mind & body cadence with the environment.


Crown Pride JPN, Reach The Crown Colt Trained by Koichi Shintani

Athletic expression comes in many forms and varieties based upon the rhythms of personality. There are the subtle and the refined that emerge from the methodical GHD. There are the urgent and forward fast cycling, more commonly associated with the IHD. And there are some moderately cycled personalities that dip into both. Crown Pride has a very expressive and determined, aggressive natured vibe to his fast cycling personality. Raw and powerful mannerisms that dance along the line between purposeful and reactive, a balancing act of psychology in motion that his physical talent and raw power sometimes have to push through.

With edgy mind-to-body fluency, and true physical talent, I would describe Crown Pride as having the behavioral characteristics of that individual who is going to do an act, and ask for forgiveness later. His emotional extension is dwells nearly 100% of the time in the forward aspect. This tendency enhances forward focus yet risks an interruption in the internal cycles. A sincere and pure athlete, he has depth in his emotional energy, how useful he applies it is up to him.

Competitive Key: Keep the operating system ahead of the body so he can balance rhythm to environment.

Summer Is Tomorrow, UAE; Summer Front Colt Trained by Bhupat Seemar

A fast rhythmed cycle from start to finish best describes Summer Is Tomorrow’s personality, for he is giving it all he has the moment the gate opens. Psychologically speaking, these fast-forward mentalities are athletically expressive with a determination that runs slightly on the edge of over-doing it. A hard trying horse that’s of an all-in character, Summer Is Tomorrow (I wish it was!) moves into forward space with teeth gritting enthusiasm. Hyper-sensitive at times to changes in the environment and/or urgency from the jockey, this is the type of mind-set that responds best to a rider with feel. He is already operating at optimum rev, the clutch is already dropped, he needs no firm hand nor strenuous emotion in saddle.

One thing about athletes with these psychological rhythms to be mindful of, if you ask too much too early, you run the risk of mental and physical stamina running out. Interestingly enough, extra time-in-motion can be an asset as it assuages the intensity of in-the-moment battles for position, helping to relax and more evenly distribute emotional energy.

Competitive Key: Easing through situational chaos and not being urged, avoid over-intensification unnecessarily.

Ethereal Road, Quality Road Colt Trained by D. Wayne Lukas

Mind to body fluency is essential for the sustainment and optimization of physical talent, it is what allows for the fluid translation of identified stimulus. Some horses rely heavily on the Group Herd Dynamic part of their psyche to harmonize their rhythm into an IHD competitive drive, and some are shifted into that faster cycled rhythm from the start. Ethereal Road’s tendencies seem rather drawn to shifting from GHD to IHD with a sense of drag. These psychologies are generally carrying the burden of needing to outsource to herd dependency, meaning they’re conviction of releasing the herd and shifting into an independent motion can be a struggle. Once shifted into his faster cycling rhythm Ethereal Road has shown a sustained competitive nature, however he is yet still searching for his breakaway sense of moving independently. Competitive edge remains in the shadows, but it doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

Ethereal Road has shown there is a solid competitor hidden away inside this oft times perplexing athletic psychology, especially when time and environment help him sort things out. An early shift into more targeted focus points can help protract it. The jockey can have a lot of influence in helping the colt negotiate the environment and get him into a physical rhythm early to facilitate the cadence in his mind.

Competitive Key: Minimizing environmental awareness demands, finding early open space.


Rich Strike, Keen Ice Colt Trained by Eric Reed ** Derby A/E List**

Each horse has unique manners of athletic expression and there is no one size fits all to any personality trait nor tendency. Rich Strike’s manner of expression has the earmarks of one who struggles with the internalization of stress, and where there is a degree of that, his tendency in motion remains athletic. Athletic and a true, hard trying gamer is the prevailing behavioral trait. The balance for Rich Strike is finding psychological harmony through his physical motion.

By the looks of him one could logically surmise this herd dynamic rhythm is of the faster sort, a hi-rev cycle. Though in reality, his internal cycles are more methodically paced. This helps his mind to body fluency find cadence over a period of time in motion. Rich Strike can rely on his consistent determination in competitive drive when in combat to optimize every bit of physical talent he has. This is all you can ask for in any athlete, sincere and honest effort every time.

Competitive Key: Finding early position, harmonize mind to body fluency, smoothly transition forward.

Rattle N Roll, Connect Colt Trained by Ken McPeek **Derby A/E List**

Herd dynamic growth patterns are a tell all in so many ways for the trajectory of the athlete, it is a reflection of who they were, who they are, and who they’re likely to become. Rattle N Roll progressed well via a very defined psychological growth pattern which, housed within the GHD, truly supports his competitive nature over the all-important Time-In-Motion (T.I.M.). This type of athletic psychology is best expressed at distance, it fits his internal rhythms and his ability to conserve and distribute emotional energy.

A horse with such alacrity in his sensory clearance as evidenced by his interpretative efficiency relies upon the harmony of mind to body fluency to eat up time over distance. The sensory system, with no signs of sensory lead change interruptions in any of his performances, were hampered in his last two races by equipment. Herd dynamic growth patterns generally happen in 3 stages, one stage is developmental; another is refinement & versatility and the hoped-for final stage is a herd dynamic power surge. Rattle N Roll is a solid athlete, very capable and worthy. I’m not sure what stage he is at now in his growth pattern because when there is applied sensory disruption it can interrupt internal growth. We will get an idea in his next race if it is devoid of sensory impeding equipment. But rest assured, there is depth within this herd dynamic that may well find itself again.

Competitive Key: Allowing the inherent and natural athlete to manifest without over-influencing.


*Extra* We had already profiled Un Ojo, so I thought I would add his capsule for you.


Un Ojo, Laoban Gelding Trained by Ricky Courville

As herd animals the greater majority of horses step up to the plate with some form of outsourcing dependency in tow, be that sensory sequence gaps or a hidden inferiority complex that when push comes to shove, sees some fade in the heat of battle. When it comes to Un Ojo, he’s having to negotiate environmental changes and situational chaos with one of his primary senses compromised, the lacking of his left eye. No doubt that since the unfortunate circumstance that led to the loss of his eye, Un Ojo has done well to adapt, most horses can indeed rely on their inherent nature for assimilation.

Lucky for him that his personality has surely assisted his adaption, for he has all the earmarks of a sweet, patient and discerning sort and where there is some hesitation in various aspects, he can be forgiven. On the one hand, Un Ojo is a steady psychology, a rhythm indicative of the group herd dynamic. Surveying the environment to determine the proper mental pace with which to move. The fact that the left oblique is visually challenged does pose some risk to the methodical mindset as efficiency in environmental interpretations are key for the dial-up, into target IHD battle zone. Just like in real estate it’s about location, location, location, for Un Ojo.

Competitive Key: Finding placement that allows the majority of herd chaos to develop in front of him, then launch his cannon shot.





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We are a full service bloodstock company, contact us to learn how we can help you, achieve your goals!


Thank You,



“Herd Dynamics Matter, every horse, every discipline, everywhere.” THT


A View From The Hoof

Posted on October 31, 2021 at 8:30 AM

A View from The Hoof

Stress, Communication & Performance


Position Paper by:

Kerry M Thomas






Where good communication is the foundation of any successful relationship, stress is its antagonist. In athletics, the cornerstone of sustainable performance is predicated upon the dynamics of that relationship.

Any effort to machine physical talent without a focus upon psychological ability, the operating system of that machine, cannot long be sustained. Emotionally driven athletes are always at risk of seeing their athleticism gnawed away by the attrition of emotional stress, stresses that can compile within the individual from three primary sources; individual to individual, herd peers to individual and environment to individual. The only constant being “self” in the ever changing, be it subtle nuance or dramatic, world around them.

No horse can realize true athleticism without first having the inherent ability to operate freely as an individual amidst the nature of the herd instinct that binds them. There is a difference between self-aware and self-absorbed; one interprets the environment and moves through it purposely, the other assumes their position within it and is subject to be moved by it. All horses are exposed to a variety of stresses, it is how they are communicated and processed that separates a horse. In order for any horse to realize their true athletic capacity and achieve sustainable, consistent performance, they must first be a “horse among horses”, in a manner of speaking. If there are no identifiable characteristics of separation within their behavioral genetics, you are building on common ground while trying to reach uncommon glory.

It is the nature of herd dynamics that the greater number of animals will share a bulk of behavioral characteristics where the fabric of the herd itself is bound inseparably by a dependency/co-dependency relationship. Identifying the outliers for athletic purposes requires that you identify the characteristics of competitive nature and determine how those special set of stresses are likely to be communicated. The inherent nature of this communication ultimately determines athletic output. It must be remembered that as stress increases for the individual, so does the natural desire to outsource. The most difficult thing for any herd animal to do is sustain independent nature during protracted and elevated levels of stress. It’s much easier to be a voice in the choir than it is to stand out front for your solo; when determining athletic capacity in the emotionally driven, you need to identify inherent tendencies that aid in the mitigation of stress to avoid future addictive outsourcing.

How the horse communicates individually with the world around them will affect every facet of their lives from herd placement in their natural world to their ability to perform in ours. The true artistry of the horse is that which is find within them.


Part 1

The Addictive Nature of Stress


Few things are more compromising to personal contentment than internal stresses. Stresses that manifest within the individual horse from the anticipatory and/or associative aspects often have no avenue of succor and bounce around inside the psyche like a pinball. Ultimately these internally fabricated stresses will either be individually filtered or externally expressed; disrupted behavior patterns are generic and momentary events for the most part, however altered behavior patterns run the risk of leading to dependency which is one step away from addictive nature. The way in which any horse instinctively communicates internally manifested emotional stress determines ultimately their capacity to adapt to psychological isolation.

The characteristics of dependency are rooted in the sense of confinement, it is from this perception which addictive tendency, (bad habits), is born. Profoundly affecting the sustainability of competitive nature is the athlete’s ability to properly communicate and subsequently filter isolative stress; when you isolate the herd animal, you’re exposing both their strengths and their weaknesses. Keeping in mind that unlike predatory species, contentment is ultimately the naturally desired reward for the prey animal, not food. Humans have introduced food as reward as a reflection of ourselves which often creates food-driven tendencies but these are artificially manufactured and can bring forth fabricated behaviors. When coaching and training various species of animals it is always important to align with their nature lest you run the risk of manufacturing dependencies. The capacity of the herd dynamic plays a vital role in how much you can “get away with” before dependency is conceived.

The irony for the psychologically herd-based horse is that the majority of equine disciplines requires them to perform and compete segregated from the herd environment; racing isn’t a team sport. It can be a confusing fine line for the horse to be asked to know the difference between competing with/alongside and competing against. Horses define harmony in the plural sense, identifying horses who are not entirely pinioned to this common notion is the baseline for identifying athletic tendency.

By the laws of nature, few are the number of horses who can be removed from a herd environment and subsequently remove themselves confidently from it. Any horse heavily reliant upon their codependency’s to find balance and harmony in changing environments will be driven to find a replacement; that which is taken away must be recovered. If you are dealing with a physically talented athlete who is saddled with attachment disorders, your hopes for realizing that talent runs through their dependency and is hinged upon your tactful ability to provide for it. These are not a one size-fits-all sequence of events, psychological outsourcing is often fragmented and ironically in nature, the fewer number of (areas of dependency & attachment) the stronger is the bond to it. In other words, lower-level herd dynamic horses are actually less prone to be securely attached to their multiple areas of herd-bound tendencies than higher level horses who have one or two. Mid to lower-level herd dynamics subsequently will exhibit more “reactive behaviors” across the board in isolation yet are at a lower risk of any of those leading to an addiction for a replacement. Higher level herd dynamic horses have fewer attachments but their relationship with them internally, is much stronger; this heavy dependence if not carefully managed (it is easy to overlook) can lead to emotional trauma. Emotional trauma is uncomfortable and its soothing required to mitigate it, lest it take one down the winding road toward addictive behaviors.

Addiction is manifested from the secure attachment to one thing that appears to offset the emotional trauma of another; harmony is always based within a checks and balances system of the psychology. There is a fine line between emotional trauma that beds down with the associative aspect and that which attaches to the anticipatory response mechanism; one paves the way for Equine PTSD and the other for nuisance savoir-faire. Both are risk factors for addictive behaviors most especially when these go unchecked, and the insecure individual is heavily reliant upon his/her outsource-tendency to enlighten the darkened spaces of their mind.

These internal stresses are rarely revealed as overt impediments to the individuals’ nature within a herd structure, but exposed in isolation, even the most physically talented will shrink in the eyes of competitive stress. Competitive stresses are not limited to our human point-of-view of what competition is, not every horse has competitive-nature enough to emotionally handle the nature of competition. For the human it is often viewed as moments, for the horse it is experienced as a journey. The manner in which a horse’s emotional energy is communicated internally, how they manage internal stresses, dictates the manner of expression when external stresses are communicated to them through the vehicle of environment.


Part 2

Environment; Adapt & Assimilate


The largely unseen though inhibiting nature of anxiety upon performance is itself manifested from and determined by, the ability or inability to harmonize emotional stress. Applied environmental influences veneer this base and are communicated through the sensory system, eliciting secondary physical reactions.

Physical objects in the environment cannot themselves be addictive, nor the cause of bad behaviors or stress, only emotion can realize stress in this sense. However, through the associative aspect their influence can be profound both in providing quarter or enhancing anxiety. The sensory system communicates the external to the internal, making the efficacy of it of primary interest when considering how an individual is likely to perform. The physical expression we see, runs through the sensory inputs they feel. Overlooking this fact is ignoring the natural herd dynamic. Environment can be a tremendous tool for success when understood through the lens of the horse, but can become the ultimate antagonist if not. It is a mistake to attempt to out-maneuver Mother Nature in the herd dynamic game of chess.

Environmentally speaking, adaption is a psychological process of herd function where assimilation is a psychological process of individualism. Closely related they yet serve the horse in very different manners; one aids in “binding the herd”, the other is an indicator of the ability to separate as an “athlete”. It is folly to overlook these processes for they are the difference between the environmentally dependent, “herd-bound” and those individuals who slip through their environment untethered, “athletic”.

The ultimate success of the competing psychological athlete on the race track is based upon that individuals’ ability or inability to be just that, an individual. This is a tendency that must be coached through its assimilative nature and not the adaptive in order to realize true athleticism. Horses that naturally assimilate more smoothly anticipate their environment and the changes in it, opening the way to mental versatility; these horses are using their sensory systems proactively. The differences between the horses that are prone to adapt from those whose tendencies are to assimilate can be difficult to discriminate between however their divergence in approach to coaching and training are vast. The variance in the psychological learning process is naturally occurring within the herd dynamic itself. Through the course of time in a natural setting the majority of horses adapt while a minority begin to move from adaption to assimilation as the anticipatory response mechanism matures.

From a coaching and training standpoint, the adaptive horse is far more prone to leveling off psychologically despite their physical talents, hitting a competitive plateau. Ironically this more often than not fits into the physical training part of a program. The adaptive process once molded to an environment is akin to repetition and familiarity, that is to say, you won’t get much of an argument from the horse you’re training-up to physical condition in the morning. But in the afternoon when the environment can be vastly different, your horse can struggle greatly from the psychological demands, defaulting to their adaptive, herding nature. Physically prepared to complete a task amidst their peers, maybe, mentally willing to compete against them as an individual, unlikely. The basic herd adapting behavior, which by nature makes up the bulk of horses, is quite happy to move within the environment, seeking a partner to run with if the crowd isn’t available.

Adapting to environmental changes is a process of wait-n-see, allowing the environment to “sort itself out” before determining a place to fit in to it. The time and effort that this takes is closely bound by the interpretive fluidity of the environment funneled in to the psyche. On the racetrack where things happen fast, this process can leave even the best physical athletes seemingly lost in the crowd one race and out front in another. This is because while the psychological speed is one thing, the physical speed is another, and simply put some horses can outrun their own internal fractions. This can be fine in races when running of and in itself is probably enough, however in scenarios where the horse has to actually compete against capable peers, they are at risk to mental fatigue. Mental fatigue sets in when the buildup of emotional stress begins to disrupt the ability to adapt to environmental changes, this is the blade that separates adaption from assimilation in competition.

Stress is unavoidable, a common thread of life itself; the space between athlete and athleticism is found in the manner with which it is processed. Long before the horse ever sees a racetrack, there are identifiable characteristics of what that process is.

Assimilation is the “next-stage” of herd dynamic development that allows for the natural separation between the majority of mid-level horses and the minority of those that move themselves upward on the leadership totem pole. Standing upon the foundation of the universally common herd mentality, assimilation is realized through the anticipatory response mechanism (*Horses; The Athletes Within- Part 2 The Psychology of Learning) which through time and experience allows the upper-level herd dynamic to begin to identify more individually within the herd fabric. This in turn opens the way for “a horse” to be less affected by the actions and interactions of “the horses” around them and ultimately the environment at large. Independence requires the individual have an enhanced sensory system and interpretative aspect to allow them to determine their own course of action, their mind-to-body fluency is not implied by the herd nor the environment after it reveals itself. Instead, these horses assimilate while maintaining fluency by anticipating changes in their environment and being able to comprehend the entirety of said environment while discriminating between what will and will not affect them. By virtue of this the building up of emotional stress is greatly minimized, reducing the likelihood that the upper-level HD ever is acquainted with mental fatigue. These athletes will go as far as their physical talent can take them, and in some cases, even further.


Part 3

Psychology & Sustainability

The question of how any horse will perform on the race track is fun to ponder, and indeed a great deal of financial investment is funneled in (and mostly lost) to its speculation. The real question that must be asked is, does the prospect mentally and physically have the foundation tools to even get there? Getting there and projecting how competitive they’ll actually be is yet another layer to the question altogether.

The process of recruiting an athlete I liken to standing on one side of a canyon and ascertaining whether or not you have the tools available to build a solid bridge across. There can be great expanse between dream and reality and much open space for your investment money to fall into while you bridge the gap. Both physical structure and mental fortitude are required to get it done right. As your horse works their way across and navigates the many minefields laying in wait to derail all efforts, many will psychologically plateau even while they continue to develop physically. Physical development without emotional enrichment is an unsustainable combination when the ultimate goal is “one against many” and/or head-to-head competition.

In order for a herd animal to strongly desire separation in the chaos and stress of herd motion, (competition), firstly they have to have the innate herd dynamic ability to do so and secondly it must be properly cultivated in order to be affective. A properly prepared athlete “on the playing field” is one who has been both nurtured and developed along the way.

Adaption is the most basic form of preparation. For a time in the early stages of development the adaptive process adequately serves both the psychological as well as the physical. Yet, as the physical horse may well benefit in strength and stamina by continued stress demands layered one upon another in a training program, their body adapting to these new demands, the psychological athlete is often left behind. If adapting is all you teach, the process of adaption is all that will be learned by most horses. The majority of horses, which naturally fall into the upper middle to lower middle herd dynamic range, will ultimately become more reliant on their physical ability to sustain them. It is the minority of horses in the upper-level herd dynamic range who do not have to wait for the environment to change in order to adapt to it. These horses can assimilate to those changes as they happen or even anticipate them, effectively getting the drop on their environment so to speak, allowing their physical talent to operate uninhibited by their psyche. Recognizing the differences between these herd dynamics is crucial. The sustainable athlete moves through the physical environment unimpeded by their psyche; this mind to body fluency is “athletic instinct” and an earmark of higher-level HD’s.

If you want the horse to be versatile during the chaotic stresses of competition against their peers, you have to do more than train them, you have to coach them. You don’t coach a horse how to adapt, they do this by nature, you coach up their assimilation ability through a multiple stimulus process. You cannot create versatility; you must nurture its growth where it exists. It must be understood that in order for your athlete to sustain their competitive nature against peers, they must first have the capacity to not beat themselves psychologically in the effort to do so. Coaching athletes through themselves helps them develop the anticipatory response mechanism which is the cornerstone of assimilation, a sequence of events that by proxy allows the horse the benefit of processing stress in a way that doesn’t impede physical ability.

Before any of this can happen, you have to determine the manner in which the horse is naturally distributing emotional energy, a basic fundamental revealing of their herd dynamic. As I have said many times, horses are emotionally driven athletes, how and where they place the bulk of their emotional energy during times of stress dramatically affects their ability to sustain performance in a controlled and purposeful deportment. Not only does it translate to the style of performance, where the bulk of emotional energy is distributed in any individual stands to be stamped into their progeny as a tendency. These “markers” are imparted as behavioral genetic traits, if they collide with similar markers in a mate instead of being complimentary, the result is often less than competitively useful; but that’s another topic for another paper.

How a horse distributes their emotional energy is a reflection of how they are communicating with their environment as a whole, this includes the relationship with the environment we create.

Matching athlete to environment is far more delicate than just figuring out what “type” of talent you have in determining what type of program they should be placed into. What a program is must also fit who the program is run by; the athlete’s herd dynamic should be compatible with the mental approach of the humans involved. The cooperative relationship between human and horse emotion will weigh heavily on the developmental process over time; the manner of expression in the student subject to the manner of impression from the teacher. Similar curriculums represented through the environments of two even slightly different teachers can translate to vastly different outcomes. The young athlete’s herd dynamic should be carefully paired with a schooling environment that is at least compatible, if not fully in tune with them. If the young horse has a herd dynamic befitting the mostly adaptive process where their ultimate success will be predicated upon physical talent, a basic “cookie-cutter” approach will be less detrimental to their psyche than a horse who has the earmarks of assimilation.

Getting the advantage of an upper-level herd dynamic and sustaining that advantage over competitive distance means having it nurtured and cultivated along the way. Higher level herd dynamic horses will naturally find their own separation along their respective journeys to be sure, however it is a misuse of rare ability not to recognize it early and work to advance and hone its translation above and beyond that natural course. The HD Profile once identified should be monitored along the way to help match the variations of its natural growth pattern with the challenges being presented to it.

It's better to let a horse develop an utilize their own naturally occurring competitive nature than it is to have them purposefully or by proxy be taught or learn something counterintuitive, which risks becoming under the strain of competitive stress, counterproductive. As emotional communicators horses are both sensitive as well as responsive to changes, even subtle changes, in the emotional climate around them. This is true of every horse regardless of their respective places in the herd dynamic hierarchy. Because of this, it is folly to underestimate this reality in any training program even where we as humans consider the physical training to be the most important; no physical talent is devoid of the impressions and intent of its operator.

Physical training with physical ques as primary triggers run the risk of adding emotional stress to your horse because they ask the horse to respond instead of teaching the horse to react. Response motivated triggers teach the horse “if I feel this, I do that” often without the benefit of accessing their psychological field-of-view which leads them to operate inside a mentally closed space. This can represent the results we seek but also build-up emotional stress within them making these responses prone to being erratic or over-exaggerated. Physical triggers ask the horse to respond first and deal with any emotional stresses that accompany it second, all while performing. This is a classic cause of what we call “drag” and hesitation, compromising versatility. Mind to body fluency and the optimizing of physical talent relies upon and defers to the herd dynamic regardless of whether your athlete is leaning on adaptive or assimilative processing. Accessing and incorporating ques that are “intent & feel” based as primary may never require a physical accompaniment and where a physical que is applied it can be done so with a soft hand. This puts the psychological athlete ahead, clearing space, allowing for the horse to react more efficiently and with less risk of stress. By proxy you’re extending the shelf-life of competitive nature because mental fatigue is less likely to become a factor.

Physical triggers used as a primary source of motivation do not always come with the “quick-result” we seek most especially if the horse is having an identity crisis in the heat of battle in herd chaos. Subsequently these physical ques are, sadly, often applied over and over again with harsher force than otherwise. It must be remembered that physically applied triggers are themselves subject to those applying them and their emotions. Horses are such sensitive communicators their absorption of our stress can affect them, dramatically reducing response time of the emotionally driven physical triggers; this equates to, the stronger our emotion the less physical force is actually needed. To this point, the horse can be coached quite effectively with a soft hand and strong feel.

If we wish to minimize, for example, the use of the whip in a race, we should also greatly minimize its role in the entire schooling process, and minimize too the reliance upon physically based triggers where they exist. The extemporaneous use of equipment as a trigger or overly exaggerated aid is an indication of a lack of compassionate horsemanship, only adding to the burden of emotional stress.


Closing Thoughts


Emotional communication is Mother Nature’s dialect, it is the fabric that binds one’s self to another and transcends both time and species in reciprocity. Like the sound of music can move you regardless if there are words you can understand or not; emotionally the horse is that music, and your connection with them is manifest within the rhythms between you. You have to be emotionally sensitive, patient and aware in order to properly read the environment you hope to communicate with, and not yourself become a source of anxiety. Minimizing emotional stresses and coaching up your horse means in part, being yourself an absorbent of, not a contributor to, the naturally occurring stresses within the environment.

A great many horses are asked to fast-track it emotionally through the processes we create for them. Dramatically experiencing “life” at a clip oft times faster than the herd-based animal is prepared for by nature. From weaning by the sale’s schedule calendar, tossed into a boarding school like atmosphere with other immature minds and so on. Wherever we rush the natural process we must then become surrogate for that which we have removed. The ever-adaptable horse can lead us to become complacent when in reality, to adapt is to survive in their world, and this early adaption process initiated into the developing mind can manifest firm dependencies hidden within the herd dynamic.

There are a multitude of physical barriers to have to get through for any horse to grow into a sustainable and efficiently talented athlete. However, there are equally any number of psychological road-blocks that can easily derail even the most robust and talented athlete. Having athletic talent does not always an athlete make, there is often disparity between the money paid for the perceived value of a horse and the actual athletic value found within them. Price prestige inside the sale ring may wow the onlooker, but rarely translates in remotely equal comparison outside of that on the race track. There is a lot of space between the hammer and the finish line, and it is my belief that through the herd dynamic this space can be drawn closer together.

Regardless of physical structure, talent or proposed value, any would-be athlete devoid of the basic fundamentals inherent in their herd dynamic profile is facing more of a challenge than already exists. This is where expectation and reality can be at odds and the horse gets caught between them; it isn’t fair to the horse first and foremost, to be recruited for a career they aren’t suited for and it isn’t fair to the investor to invest into a dream where hope and reality are further apart than is already accepted. The individuals’ herd dynamic make-up matters, for at no point along their career path is there a separation of mind and body. What endears us to them emotionally, is physically translated into the world, by them.

No magic elixir can replace the value nor the effectiveness of the natural herd dynamic or replicate the sustainability of it. A responsible horse industry starts with being responsibly accountable to each horse within it.



Horses, The Athletes Within Part 2, The Psychology of Learning

Posted on June 18, 2021 at 10:20 AM

          Horses; The Athletes Within

Part 2

The Psychology of Learning


Position Paper


Kerry M Thomas







How information is delivered, affects how it is received. This is an essential communication rule-of-thumb and in no circumstance more profound than during the process of learning, be it teaching/coaching human to human or training/coaching human to animal. Emotional inflection influences both the mental retainment and physical execution of what is being taught. Where physical training should match the level of physical capacity to get desired results, in order for coaching to be affective it must align with the inherent herd dynamic rhythms of the horse. These two individual growth patterns often happen at different rates and when training over-extends the mental coaching to execute, stress rears its ugly head.

Learning happens through what I consider two primary avenues, accidental and purposeful. Purposeful learning comprises that which is being taught in a structured and largely controlled environment, accidental learning is everything outside of that.

If you really want an advantage, coach between the ears, for that is where competitive nature develops into competitive edge. When you build the athlete from within, you’re giving yourself a better chance at true sustainability without outsourcing to artificial elements. Being true to the inherent nature of the horse is the art of horsemanship. Perhaps the question comes down to; Alchemist or Artist?

Training and coaching the equine athlete are developmental processes of physically sculpting while mentally nurturing. Longevity of competitive aptitude and sustainability of physical soundness, though evolved at different rates, find themselves at length, codependent. How horses learn and the degree of which it is independently accessed is contingent upon both their inherent herd dynamic rhythm and the extent of their dependent nature. Without knowing this, any curriculum you create commonly defaults into the category of accidental learning, leaving the door of inconsistency wide open.



The Process of Learning


In order to understand the process of learning for the horse in any practical sense, we have to first remember that as herd animals, much of their individual “knowledge”, so to speak, is collectively shared through and from the herd as a whole. The herd learns the rules of survival and navigates the environment of life collectively; herd sustainability depends upon it. Innately co-dependent upon each other to varying degrees, which minimizes individual stress and anxiety, when a herd animal becomes isolated, their resource of one another removed, stress and anxiety are introduced with a more constricting tone.

In isolation learning for the prey animal is often predicated upon the defensive posture of experience; when stress and anxiety come to the party, everything that is being “taught” risks the taint of worry being attached to it. Survival of the herd and the survival instinct of the individual are not the same thing, few horses are naturally equipped to live on their own contently therefore few are naturally equipped to learn in isolation. The process of being taught hinges upon the individual horse’s ability to interpret in a manner that translates to purposeful motion, movement and body control being the measurement of trainability of mind. Teaching consistent and controlled response to particular stimuli runs through the psycho-sensory system 100% of the time. Think of it in terms of holding the remote for a model airplane you’re flying, accept in this case your signals have to run through the mind of the pilot for translation before they get to the body of the plane.

Before you can hope for consistent physical execution of commands you have to understand the functionality of the operating system you’re coaching, mental preparedness and physical fitness do not always go hand-in-hand. The more sensory sound the horse, the greater their inherent ability to function isolated from the herd environment. Sensory soundness is a key herd dynamic measuring stick for it reveals the characteristics of independence and must be taken into consideration whether recruiting or developing. You cannot successfully coach an individual horse whose interpretation of their world runs primarily through the interpretations of another without incorporating what strengths they have to buffer that which weakens. The results will be random, inconsistent and subject to the influences of the environment, these are key ingredients of performance anxiety. You coach through the herd dynamic; you train through the body.

For the learning process to take place, to be imparted and imbibed, the space between the external and internal world of the individual horse has to communicate efficiently. When what is being taught is a physical action, it is essential that the psycho-sensory sequence translate the information quickly and completely before the physical act is asked for or required. Horses with more efficient sensory systems can be expected to respond more quickly in a controlled manner, horses with less efficiency will respond with far less consistency and body control. This is a tell-tale indicator that you’re getting a reaction instead of a response.

The properly functioning sequence of an independently sensory-sound horse operates accordingly: physical senses identify stimulus in the environment, acting not unlike radar or sonar, information is then funneled into the psyche for interpretational processing. Efficiently executed, the horse responds, inefficiently executed, the horse reacts. By degrees the environmental demands can range from the simple and easy singular stimuli to multiple stimulus in a rapidly changing environment. The greater the demand the more pressure to increase the rate of interpretation in order to maintain controlled responses and action. When the primary physical senses are overloaded in horses that cannot interpret fast enough to keep the room empty of clutter, they become reactive. Arbitrary reaction is a result of stimuli being hastened through the interpretation process or skipping it altogether (you can tell which by the level of emotional energy accompanying it). In a coaching/teaching setting, you have to always be mindful that you’re not asking for more than can be transacted. Familiarity with the degree of sensory soundness and the speed of the interpretations is fundamental to the student/teacher relationship. Keeping in mind that in order for any horse to maintain controlled responses, the foundation from which learning is possible, they must identify and interpret at a faster pace than their physical actions; the mind must stay ahead of the body.

Because the sensory (physical) and psycho-sensory (mental) systems are predicated upon sequencing so should your program be, it is folly to condition the physical athlete without nurturing the horse. In a system where physical response is sustained and controlled through the auspices of mental acuity, where the psyche must clear space for the body to move through, training the horse without coaching the athlete is an infraction against the art of horsemanship.




Stress, The Great Inhibitor?


Unsupervised stress can truly be a great antagonist, gnawing away at emotional energy while increasing the onset rate of mental fatigue; mental fatigue drastically compromises the ability to adapt, to be coached, to learn. Minimizing disruptive emotional stress whenever possible is essential but to do this you have ask the question, where does stress enter the picture in the first place?

Stress itself is not an enemy, yet how it is managed determines the space between fortitude and failure because it is from and through mental attrition that sustainable grit is born. When building the physical athlete, it is from stress that new strength is developed, and when coaching mental fortitude, adapting to unexpected adversity, dealing with the oft times heated exchanges of competitive combat, it is the strength from within that make all the difference. To have mental “toughness” is just another way of saying that you’re able to manage and even capitalize on the inherent stresses that surround you in ways your competition cannot. Part of the sequence between coach and athlete is the presentation of adversity and learning how to assimilate to it and execute with a coolness of mind in the heat of battle. You have to want the ball when your back is against the wall if you dare to compete at the highest levels.

In order to build upon the inherent reality that stress is going to happen, you have to understand the characteristics of emotional stress as juxtaposed with the individual character traits of the athlete you’re coaching. Fear and anxiety are often at odds with confidence and valor, it’s not enough to leave it to chance; remember there is purposeful learning and accidental learning. One of the main antagonistic characteristics of stress is a build-up of emotional pressure without a controlled outlet for it to filter through, be it learned or naturally occurring. A major component of scouting talent is the determination of tendency under stress, you can ascertain a great deal about an athlete by gaining an understanding of this crucial part of their herd dynamic.

Stresses manifest in two primary ways, there are internal emotional stresses that come with the herd dynamic and where they rank within the herd environment, and there are external stresses that present themselves for absorption. The tie that binds these two together for any individual is that both forms are run through the psycho-sensory system for filtering and processing. External stress, which is mostly associated with a physical stimulus, is funneled into the herd dynamic via the senses to be processed by the sentient horse where it is comingled with emotion. Internal stresses are emotions under pressure from feel and instinct perceived in the environment. Each form is subject to the filtering process of the individual, the more complete the sensory soundness the higher level the herd dynamic, lessening the tendency to outsource. Everything that is learned be it through purposeful or accidental avenues, positive or negative, is rooted upon the innate premise of interpretation for self-preservation; what you teach must run through their progressions in order for it to be learned. Stress unmitigated affects retention, cloaking the message, especially when the sensory sequences are overloaded above interpretive ability. You don’t want to overcrowd the room beyond its capacity, introducing three when only one gets out will soon see a stress reaction where controlled motion once was. These are the potholes, those disruptions that occur “out of nowhere”.

Co-dependency itself is not the cause of stress that impedes learning however the tendency to outsource risks becoming a roadblock and must be identified to be assuaged. Before you embark on a coaching plan you need to identify the strengths and weaknesses (all athletes have some of each to one degree or another) by determining the efficacy of the sensory system, and a major part of this is in knowing how well the horse is making sensory lead changes. Deficiency in this area is a major source of negative stress and reactive behaviors and a driving force that exposes the horse that is heavily reliant on codependency within the herd for their strengths.

The sensory lead change is as vital to the ability to learn and execute as a physical lead change is to the efficiency of motion. Whether the horse is moving, the stimulus or both, matters not, how that stimulus moves through the external senses before being funneled into the psyche for interpretation, does.

It’s true that not all stimuli in the environment are created equal. The harmonic hum of the natural world cruises through the rhythms of each horse and the herd little noted. It is that which disrupts this orchestra that warrants survey, and the ever-vigilant sensory system, the radar of self-preservation, always at attention, springs into action. When any such stimuli are detected, or even suspected, it is given more attention and focus and is absorbed into the psyche for further detailed analysis. When only one sense is required, the horse can clear space using just one sensory lead, pretty basic and straight forward unless the horse and/or the identified disrupter is moving. Movement demands the targeted to be shuffled through more than one sensory aspect before it is funneled into the psyche, thus requiring a “sensory lead change”. Some horse’s hand-off this information smoothly from one sense to another, allowing that horse to multitask and absorb more than one environmental disruption, but many do not. By virtue of this reality, Mother Nature presents to us the herd animal intricately bound by the fabric of codependency.

With increased demands on the sensory system comes increased stresses, increased stress for the individual is often remedied by the herd. Problems in sensory lead changes occur in horses who have trouble combining their senses to identify stimuli, multitasking. Horses that cannot multitask do not transition stimuli through the sensory compartments smoothly, they instead attempt to reacquire it in each distinctive aspect and often get stuck in one for a random length of time frustrating fluency of motion. This is what we at THT Bloodstock refer to as “bumpy transitions”. In the herd environment, “herd bound” horses simply rely upon their herd mates to bridge these gaps. A prerequisite for outsourcing, it is quite common and in fact all horses do it in varying degrees, knowing to what degree and in what aspect is crucial because it affects how horses learn. You have to allow for and incorporate these tendencies especially in the beginning as you coach the horse through their sequence gaps by creatively filling them.

In the natural world the rate of interpretation determines the space between horses in the hierarchy, is a key factor in the cat and mouse of breeding, and a line between life and death. Outsourcing after all, is only as effective as the one being leaned on is competent. Mother Nature has provided another tool in the horse’s psychological toolbox to hasten the interpretational process and minimize the total reliance on outsourcing; the Anticipatory Response Mechanism. As a coach/trainer, this can be your greatest friend or your worst enemy. But what is it and how does it work?

One of the main components of a horses’ psychological growth patterns as they gain exposure to various experiences along the way is housed within association. Associations play an important role in all of the survival instinct sequences because it is what allows the impressionable mind of youth to knit together their own view of the world. Initially everything is a curiosity and much of the world the young horse knows is understood through the interpretations of their mother. (This of and in itself should never be overlooked in a breeding program). As time goes on and the common environments become dotted with uncommon moments such as unexpected stimuli and the situational chaos that accompanies the mundane, the learning process gets a tutor; the associative aspect.

In the early stages of mental growth, the associative aspect serves as a mental bungee cord, encouraging the foal to create space between themselves and their mother for longer and longer periods of time. This natural weaning process, which happens at different rates for each foal by nature, eventually transitions the young mind from one that relies entirely on mom to one that seeks independence. The associative aspect before independence still leans on the mare by default, the associative aspect after independence replaces the mare with something new, the engagement of their anticipatory response mechanism.

In nature this transition takes place only when the foal is psychologically prepared for it, broodmares often instinctively recognize this and apply their own strong encouragement. In domestication where the natural course of time and rhythms of the young horse can be at odds with the calendar of the human world, the road to independence can be bumpy and have profound latent influence on the future growth patterns of the horse. Associations can house hidden stress when they’re connected to a negative traumatic experience as is the case with any emotionally charged being. It must be remembered that the strength of the concrete footer plays a major roll in the sustainability of everything layered on top of it.

As the growing independent mind begins to apply the associative aspect to the interpretations of the world around it, self-preservation instinct jump starts the Anticipatory Response Mechanism.

The anticipatory response mechanism is where learned behaviors blend with associative triggers to facilitate quick responses, the manner of physical response reflects the manner of its emotional interpretation. The primary function of anticipatory response is to facilitate a required action faster by circumventing interpretation; this process not only manifests from learned experiences but in due time starts to manifest from any associations with it. In nature this is useful for herd survival, built into the individual behavioral genetic code it helps ensure any response to threats, real or perceived, allow the horse to alter physical movement in a controlled manner without the prerequisite of full interpretation. It’s why a horse will often hesitate stepping into a dark trailer or stall, becomes uncertain about footing, gets fractious “out of the blue” and many more examples too numerous to name. Stress and trauma can live here, things that happened many moons ago can by associative trigger cause a reaction “completely out of nowhere”, Equine PTSD finds its home within it.

The learning process is subject to it all, when you’re coaching a horse, you have to be mindful that you may already be up against perception, one bad experience at any time even with something as “simple” as entering an indoor ring, will need to be mentally filtered before you start to teach your horse. It is folly to train any would-be athlete while they are processing emotional stress. By association that which you are trying to teach will be attached to and associated with that negative emotion and subsequently become a form of performance anxiety. In retrospect the opposite is also true, by creating comfort and emotional calmness in all environments associated with task, what you teach can be learned with far less disruption. If your school is inviting, your students will enjoy going to class.

Because of the function of association and the manifestation of anticipatory responses, the great majority of the time what you see expressed physically is a reflection of the learning process but is not reflective of what has been learned. Learning is an act of psychology and not itself a physical action making the manner in which something occurs more revealing than what has occurred. Things which are introduced to the psyche through the physical vehicle, whether soothing or discomfiture, collect in the associative aspect where they can become learned behaviors and subsequently be anticipated. Like the crackling of the plastic peppermint wrapper, these cultivated behaviors generally fall into the category of accidental learning, and not the purposeful teaching of a specific curriculum. It’s important to note that cultivated behaviors that are not associated with or anticipate a physical action as part of the sequence, leave the horse’s responses to their own devices. This leads the way to bad (spoiled) behaviors, especially in lower herd dynamic level horses; effort then reward coaches better than reward with no effort.

Both forms of erudition are valuable and essential for influencing purposeful physical action, yet it is vital to recognize their differences; accidental and purposeful can be coaching assets, but you do not go about them in the same way. If you do, negative stresses will get in your way and instead of controlling the stress introduced to help develop the athlete’s determination and grit, uncertainty will facilitate confusion and frustrate the relationship.



The Art of Communication


The art of communication in many ways illustrates the art of horsemanship. Coaching is a deliver and receive transaction, if the manner of delivery does not communicate well with the manner of reception, the learning process becomes frustrated.

Because there are the two common forms of learning, purposeful and accidental, there are two avenues of teaching and you have to always keep in mind which one you’re going through. Much of what the horse relates to through their physicality, a good scratch or a sore foot, enters the associative aspect through sensation thus it is related to it, that which enters the psyche through emotion is thus related to feeling. Those commingled experiences that have both physical and emotional characteristics will be associated in the horse’s psyche with one or the other and reflected accordingly. Horses, emotionally charged though they are, do not reason in the way we think of it, horses do not separate information to compare it against itself, if it enters together, together it stays. Think of it this way, if I happen to come across someone who is having a really bad day and they communicate with me in a way that is actually counter to their normal manner, I can reason that they’re just “off” and that they’re not really all that bad. If you come at a horse while having a really bad day, and your physical and emotional communication imparts this, the horse is not going to give you a pass and say “well I am sure they’re not all bad, just having a bad day”. You will be associated with what you communicate, each time.

Though we may be commonly familiar with a horse’s body language, mostly because in our artificial domestic settings there is less natural herd environments than otherwise, horses are extremely fluent in emotional communication. They have to be by nature, it is the quiet language that helps keep the herd invisible in plain sight, for too much of the physical language brings the risk of being singled out by lurking predators. Emotional communication is primary, physical communication is secondary. The accent of whatever enters the psyche slants its absorption and influences its response. You have to communicate with the horse by corresponding with their natural instinct; the information you present for learning will be judged by the mode of its presentation.

Tone of presentation needs to align with the inherent psychological rhythm lest much of what you hope to teach risks being fragmented, only imbibed in pieces. Pace of coaching needs to adjust to pace of learning, and line of communication needs to match herd dynamic ability. The three herd dynamic rhythms (reviewed in part one), fast, methodical, moderate, each have their own fundamental pace of learning based on that rhythm as well as their own individually unique manner of “comprehension”, so to speak, based upon the efficacy of that rhythm. What is taught needs to fit the mental cycle and how you communicate it needs to mesh with their avenues of absorption, this is the place where training and coaching merge. The majority of learning for an individual horse is a process of adaptive learning, assimilation to environmental changes while in motion. This is because a largely sedentary horse amongst the herd can count on their herd mates for self-preservation, but when in motion, especially in rapid and chaotic motion, self-preservation becomes more self-aware. If you expect your athlete to perform as an individual, you coach them individually and engage their self-reliance that they can naturally find separation from the herd tendency. If you’re needing horses to perform in a team, you coach them in a fashion that leans upon co-dependency where the strength of one can offset any weakness of another. You coach the offensive line as a unit, you coach the running back as an individual.

Creating the base for the adaptive learning process, (assimilation to controlled environmental changes and situational chaos) opens the door for the horse to reconcile properly and competitively during the accidental learning environment of competition. The key for an individual to excel in a trial of peers is their ability to adapt to situational chaos, this ability is the difference between fear and anxiety or confidence and fluent athletic expression. Each inherent herd dynamic rhythm asks to be coached in the manner that aligns with natural tendency, your ultimate goal being to enhance anticipatory response. This allows for quick and fluent mind to body communication, minimizing wasted motion and honing emotional energy distribution into a purely athletic expression. Physical talent without this, is often potential unrealized.

How much time in motion the athlete has before mental fatigue becomes a risk is one of the first questions that has to be answered; for the psychological athlete, duration supersedes task in the race to the finish line. Incorporating purposeful challenges in a program is a controlled stress environment, the use of multiple stimuli applied in layers is a great way to engage the natural learning processes for they subsequently begin to be anticipated. As you advance your coaching you advance the challenges, increasing stress by degrees, in this way you give yourself the chance to teach confidence to adapt to the unexpected. You can’t prepare for every situation, but you can coach the tools of preparation for handling it through controlled challenges. Too much too soon however, creates negative stress, negative stresses are anticipated negatively.

By nature, the fast rhythmed herd dynamic responds better to singular stimuli that is identified and interpreted quickly, simple, concise, clean triggers that allow their fast-cycling interpretive aspect to transition with minimal clutter. Layering should be tightly cropped sequences that are easily associated with one another as the horse is coached toward the final result; the athletic expression that is desired. These horses are best served by coaching methods that employ point-to-point stimuli that are closely aligned with one another whether two or ten trigger points are required to reach your goal. Think in terms of the relationship from information to output; in order to maintain fluency from mind to body with controlled physical motion, what you’re coaching cannot clog the psycho-sensory superhighway, you’re merging in a lane of already fast-moving traffic. High emotional energy that is fast paced is streamlined and linear, you’re not coaching versatility where it doesn’t already exist, the fast rhythmed herd dynamic is a “from here to there” mindset that learns to adapt in motion to what is expected to happen better than what might happen.

Taking the same template but inserting the methodically rhythmed herd dynamic horse, the information you’re coaching is merging onto a highway that is less frantic and more an even hum. In this scenario instead of rapid-fire trigger points tightly cropped to aid the associative aspect, you have to exercise patience. Coaching this rhythm can be a protracted process, you have to give space between inserted stimuli and be certain any commands in motion have been fully interpreted before inserting another. What happens with these horses when given ques on top of one another is that they skim through the psyche without being interpreted, mentally skipped over they never are learned but they do disrupt the learning process. These shuffled through triggers are often expressed by further slowing down the already methodical mind, adding emotional weight to the athlete. These horses are not “slow learners” but the manner in which they learn is at a slowed pace. The space between trigger identification and interpretation has more time involved, they need more ground to cover than fast rhythmed horses to fully execute their athletic expression. These horses can be coached to adapt to and anticipate environmental changes, however if the discipline requires a high rate of physical speed in a minimal amount of time, they’re less likely to fully realize their potential.

Moderate herd dynamic rhythms are by nature highly versatile and adaptive making them the most universally coachable. Able to discriminate between and respond to both the tightly cropped triggers and those with more space between them, these horses enjoy the advantage of being able to associate and anticipate situational chaos in a variety of environments. The challenge here is not in merging stimuli into their lane in a way that blends with their herd dynamic pace where anticipatory response picks up and runs with it, but in trying to merge before they anticipate your intention. So environmentally aware is this herd dynamic cycle these horses are equipped with the primary leadership tool of communication, the reading of intent. Because of this, the emotional timbre of what you’re coaching and training is what is being interpreted be it in a purposeful or accidental learning environment. If it’s being interpreted it’s also being associated, if it’s being associated, it’s soon to be anticipated. If the intent of the action you’re trying to teach becomes the trigger, their physical expression is the result of your emotional inflection.

Moderate herd dynamic rhythms functioning at a high level represent in the horse’s world herd leadership, emotional intelligence starts and ends with one’s ability to communicate. The majority of the time these horses advance their ability to anticipate during competitive stress with little to no human interference, the key in coaching them is in creating an environment where purposeful learning is cloaked in the guise of the accidental. When you insert elements of situational chaos into a controlled environment, you are both masking your intentions from them and challenging their skill of adapting to sudden changes. If you want them to up their game, you have to up yours.



Closing Thoughts


Teaching is coaching, and coaching the communally based animal on an individual level requires that you identify both their respective strengths and herd-based dependencies. Co-dependency is the fabric that binds, keeping a group of individuals knitted together to form a functioning herd. Because of this natural give and take the avenues of how any horse learns runs through both individual and shared experience. When you’re coaching a horse, you have to be mindful that purposeful stimulus represents self-learning, accidental stimulus represents communal-learning. Both have tremendous relevance in the way athletic expression is executed, regardless of the HD Rhythm of the athlete, the incorporation of each is essential.

There is a big difference between memorizing and learning, memorizing is reactive response to associated and assumed triggers, learning is controlled response from associative and interpretive. When you employ both purposeful and accidental coaching techniques you are nurturing and developing the psychological athlete through the parameters set-up by nature. These two things counterbalance each other as they meet in the psyche. Though entering in slightly different manners, they mingle within the associative aspect to be governed by the anticipatory response mechanism. The A.R.M. distributes emotional energy through the physical body where we see either purposeful and controlled movements or those that are erratic and reactive. Manifestation of talent and ability is a process that runs mind to body, you’re not training the body to coach the mind where execution of talent is determined through mental ability. You train the physical athlete in such a manner that it is able to sustain and respond to that which you are coaching, not the other way around.

Every program for any sport where emotions drive the athlete should be built upon a mind-to-body experience.

One of the most important characteristics we look for at THT Bloodstock are those that indicate where the tendency lean is going to be under stress; is it fear and anxiety or confidence and fortitude? There are base fundamentals that lead down the path of each in every horse’s herd dynamic. As a coach, knowing how the athlete learns helps you when developing their program, and as an owner it helps in selecting a program that compliments the athlete within.

Ultimately the learning process will only be as successful as the relationship built between teacher and student, no one should expect to be understood if they’re not willing to first be understanding. The rules of accord are clear, when one is giving 80% of effort 100% of the time, the relationship doesn’t work.


~ Kerry


Further Related Reading Suggestions:

Horses, The Athletes Within Part 1, Herd Dynamic Rhythm

Sensory Soundness and The Psychology of Motion


Horses, The Athletes Within

Posted on April 15, 2021 at 11:15 AM

Horses; The Athletes Within

Part 1

Herd Dynamic Rhythm


Position Paper


Kerry M Thomas





Nothing inhibits physical talent more than the lack of psychological ability; function and execution, when measured through the lens of competitive stress, can become two different things. Horses are themselves athletic, but it is the athlete within, that divides them.

Early on in my research efforts to identify the “ideal personality type” that was the equine athlete, I mistakenly tried to match peculiar types with particular styles and distances; what I dubbed psychological spin-cycles I tried to translate to output. However, this was not the full story as I began to realize when we continued to compile and track data. It became quite evident that athleticism is not found in a “type” of psychology but rather it is found within the manner of its expression. This fits the natural herd dynamic inasmuch as any group of physical horses are separated in hierarchy by their psychologies; for example, their innate ability to manage stress is an expression of “who” they are and where they rank regardless of their personality typing or physical abilities.

Horses are anything but a one-size-fits-all species when it comes to their varied “personality types” expressed through what I categorize as three main psychological spin-cycles; fast, moderate, methodical. The cycle assigned to a particular horse is based upon a study of their naturally occurring psychological rhythms but does not itself ascribe to them an assumed performance style, distance aptitude nor competitive nature; the manner of expression of the three elements that matter most is where the evaluation of ability takes place and is what brings latent physical talent to life. It must be remembered that any horse that has to “outrun” or “outperform” themselves first are only achieving as far as their physical talent will take them.

Style of performance is housed within natural tendencies under stress, the characteristics of this expression are found in what we identify as natural patterns of motion in the herd environment. Left to his or her own devices, it answers the question of what the horse is inclined to do in the chaos of natural herd motion and common stresses; not to be confused with competitive nature. Closely related cousins if you will, competitive nature is revealed during times of elevated stress and situational chaos in rapidly moving/changing environments. The ability for a horse not only to react appropriately during these moments but also to control themselves and influence others within it, is what defines “competitive edge”. The ability for any horse’s competitive nature to transcend into a useful competitive edge is reliant on its being sustainable. We at THT Bloodstock often talk about Time-In-Motion or T.I.M.; Time-In-Motion is the duration that the psychology is able to maintain competitive edge i.e., “mental stamina”. (To be optimized this must be at minimal, correlated with the horses’ physical stamina/distance ability). Each cycles relationship to distance is both separated by and merged through physical and mental stamina capacities to determine “competitive distance” but is not predicated upon the speed of cycle. Each necessarily being measured differently as fatigue brings the risk of both physical injury as well as a gnawing away of competitive edge.

There are many other factors at play in these equations, such as “equine erudition”.

The manner in which an individual horse expresses themselves plays an essential role in their ability to learn, while the “speed” of their mental rhythm determines the best manner by which they should be taught. Coaching and training and overall preparedness, in order to be affective “when it counts”, must adhere to and align with the individuals’ natural herd dynamic. (More about this subject in Part 2).

Where the rate of spin itself is not solely responsible for the athletic expression, the physical construct of the horse must match the intensity level inherent in it for expression to be athletic; in short, the pieces must fit. Body type has to be complimentary to rate of spin in order for athletic expression to manifest in its full capacity.

There are a great many moving parts that all need to work together in order for the horse to sustain their performance, their stamina and manifest their competitive edge; the complex nature of the herd dynamics can give the impression of confusion and chaos, but when separated into their individual roles we find there is enough complexity in the herd dynamic to explain the diversity of its expression.


Category 1


Fast psychological rhythms in a race horse may at face value seem to be the perfect fit for the tasks at hand, but that of an itself is not indicative of true athletic output. The wrong thing to assume is that a fast mental rhythm will translate to a fast, efficient, physical turn of foot. When putting together the entire athletic puzzle and to help ascertain the risk/reward potential you have to look at the pieces, mentally and physically, and determine what is complimentary and what is not. Yet this relationship only actually matters after you have found the requisite athletic characteristics in the expressions of the herd dynamic rhythm. The building blocks matter; you probably wouldn’t shop for a Ferrari in a tractor shop.

The faster the psychological rhythm, the more elevated the intensity, the greater the pressure on the accuracy of interpretations of environmental stimulus, which translates to expression. When we’re evaluating horses, I always make a note that indicates whether the mind is ahead of the body, or the body ahead of the mind leaving the horse needing to catch up with his/herself. The road between psychological rhythm and subsequent expression runs through the sensory system where the complex nature of interpretation births the characteristics of its expressed diversity.

It may appear at face-value that rapid mental cycles translate to rapid sensory system transitions and response times, and ultimately rapid physical reaction. But the athletic value is found not in the rapidity of response/reaction, but in the efficiency of it; if there is a disconnect anywhere along the line you have gaps gnawing away at athletic output. Horses with naturally brisk mental rhythms are an investment in a volatile market inasmuch as yes, you can realize great gains if everything aligns just right, but you also can find yourself at the bottom of the market looking up. If you’re investing in an athlete with identified fast herd dynamic rhythms, you have to weigh heavily the pros & cons of what these horses represent in your portfolio. They can most certainly be extremely affective athletes but their margin of error is razor thin.

Of the many things to consider, you have to start with the understanding that these “hi-rev” spin cycles are inherently harder on their bodies than otherwise. A byproduct of these cycles is very often added quick and reactive physical movement; emotional stresses have less time to filter and subsequently are exhausted through the body gaining the THT Bloodstock sobriquet “physical filter”. This doesn’t itself pull us off a prospect but it does lend itself to consider the physical athlete from a different viewpoint. There are often correlating emotional to physical stress points that need to be looked at making wear and tear, always part of the equation, even more so. You’d do well to be mindful of this if you’re considering buying at a two-year old sale, for example, where the hi-rev mentality can look impressive for that one breeze; evaluating the manner in which they’re filtering stress should never be overlooked. Afterall, you’re paying for that moment but investing in the future.

Fast cycled herd dynamics need the physical construct to support any added emotional stresses along with the body type that lends itself to true talent. It’s fairly straight forward this spin-cycle to body equation, but the way this herd dynamic rhythm translates to expression of athletic output, (ability), can be as impressive as it is uncertain. The reason for this is that these horses place almost all of their emotional energy into singular focus points or actions often bypassing or leapfrogging the buffer of interpretation. The efficacy of interpretation of stimulus is an essential part of the herd dynamic picture, it is the fabric that binds and blends the external environment with the internal horse, managing stress and action both mentally and physically. Hi-rev psychologies have a habit of going from A to C with little attention to B, and the process of reading the emotional terrain before reacting to it or acting within it is minimal. Their natural pattern of motion, performance style, adheres to and relies heavily upon one dimensional, singular focus points, going through the environment point to point, target to target, often with an all or nothing gusto. Try as you might, you will not nor should not try to “train it out of them”, doing so will not assuage but only deepen their stress levels.

The fine line between great athletic expression and chaotic disappointment is highly dependent upon the environment for fast cycling mentalities. When things line up just right hi-rev horses can offer impressive performances, emit powerful competitive nature and effective competitive edge, and appear to have endless mental and physical stamina. At the same time, they can be hard to manage, overreactive and seemingly “temperamental” and difficult to coach and train because they’re so “head-strong”. But there is a difference between headstrong/gritty and headstrong/reactive and if you’re considering one of these psychologies to become part of your team, you need to take the temperature of their expressions. Headstrong and gritty is the fast-cycling herd dynamic that, despite their inherent cycles, is able to maintain an athletic expression through all of their tendencies. What they lack in mental versatility they can make up for in having the determination to stay the course, power through, stay focused regardless of the changes in the environment around them where the reactive version (more common), has the tendency to bounce mentally from stimulus to stimulus and get “bumpy” when trying to transition competitive nature to competitive edge. Because of this their movement can become a little reckless, reactions that leave them open to injury at a higher probability than others.

Fast cycling herd dynamics run the risk of being the kind of athletes that run hard in spots but are always on the precipice of burn-out; the ability to maintain their level of intensity over protracted Time-In-Motion is always a point of question. In order for any horse to fully maximize both talent and ability there has to be a compatible merger between who they are and what they’re capable of doing. The alignment of these two determine competitive distance. There are fast rhythmed horses that can run competitively for 10F and there are those that are pure sprinters, but because these types of psychologies run through and over their interpretative aspect, they are much more dependent upon the environment they’re in.

Fast rhythmed herd dynamics can become elite athletes and there have been several, however the rhythm inherently struggles against sustainability and consistency. Higher intensity, higher stress, the greater the demand for purity in their athletic expression lest you invest in an athlete with a shorter than desired career.


Category 2


Where fast rhythmed horses distribute their emotional energy like an arrow piercing through the environment, often skipping past anything that isn’t a designated target, the methodically rhythmed horses sweep through their environment with a wide net of environmental awareness, their designated target not always so clearly engaged. Fast rhythms are inclined to deflect, methodical rhythms are inclined to absorb.

Herd dynamics with an even hum about them are predisposed to process stress internally and go through their sensory sequences in entirety before response. Their interpretational process benefits them greatly in the herd environment, allowing them to operate consistently and evenly in the normal chaos of motion either alone or within the herd. Because of this they are at lower risk of emotional fatigue and burnout over protracted periods of time and by proxy put less stress upon themselves physically. Taking the time to assess and in essence, evaluate the emotional terrain around them prior to action, their performance patterns are subsequently based upon interpretation. This allows the horse to move within herd motion with accurate space awareness and to chew up a lot of physical ground with minimal emotional stress, ideal for energy conservation.

Methodically rhythmed herd dynamics, for all of their performance consistencies, can be rather tricky to train. They often take to the entire process with ease, never turn a hair and assimilate to their environments smoothly, doing “everything right” during this performance conditioning process. However, the great antagonist for these herd dynamic rhythms comes in the drag between transitions and in compromised competitive versatility. That even hum in the barn and in the mornings doesn’t always translate to a concise competitive nature, that all important predecessor to competitive edge. It is common in these psychologies for the competitive nature, where it exists, to never fully develop into an athletic expression on its own. Even further, if the horse is only conditioned physically but not coached in a competitive manner, they’re even less likely to find a sustainable “combat zone”. What you may well end up with is a horse that mentally can cruise along for any distance their bodies can take them, without ever really sustaining competitive distance.

Horses such as these who may not be tactical benefit greatly when the environment is used tactically. When there is less fire in competitive nature than you’d like, but the horse you’re investing in has the physicality to move freely and a body type lending itself to distance, their methodical rhythm can realize benefit over longer periods of Time-In-Motion. Your core advantages come in two forms; their emotional energy distribution is rarely wasted and mental fatigue is uncommon to happen before physical fatigue. These characteristics go a long way both literally and figuratively and inserted into the right competitive environment can allow the horse to methodically grind away at their competition.

It's important that every horse’s herd dynamic is aligned with and complimented by their physicals in order to realize true athleticism, and where the methodical cycles are not entirely devoid of mental agility, their processes can be expressed with greater efficiency through a lighter, agile body. The methodical emotional energy can be what we at THT Bloodstock term, “heavy”, and is more athletically expressed through a lithe body.


Category 3


Versatility is the name of the game. The ability to adapt to situational chaos as it manifests into the choreography of combat, is sourced through mental agility and its fluency of expression through the vessel. The moderately rhythmed herd dynamic psychology affords the greatest opportunity for this and is the apogee of athleticism.

In Mother Nature’s handbook, moderately rhythmed psychologies make up the lowest percentage of individuals and the highest percentage of natural herd leaders. The key to sustainable herds is that the leadership is concealed from the eyes of the predator, singularly adept at maneuvering through the often volatile and demanding changes in the environment; these horses protect themselves not by turn-of-foot, but by mental acumen. Where the fast rhythmed is prone to react before assessment, where the methodically rhythmed are prone to react after delayed assessment, the moderately rhythmed can evaluate the emotional terrain and react based upon circumstance; before, during, after, affording them optimum control of motion.

When it comes to being an athlete in the structured world of the human, optimum output on the track or in the show ring is hinged upon the ability to manage stress, adapt, anticipate and distribute emotional energy in properly placed proportions. None of which start in the physical horse; the road to success is a mind-to-body highway.

The first thing I think of when #Panning4Gold is “versatility of mind”, this is the key that unlocks athletic expression and is found at a higher rate in the moderately rhythmed herd dynamic. The key to versatility, (the predecessor to being tactical), is housed within the efficiency of interpretation of the world, inside and outside. Knowing how and when to react without having to outsource to other horses (or humans) both enhances the rate of efficient physical action and minimizes the waste of residual overreactions. Their tendencies translated to performance allows them to assimilate and adapt smoothly much like the methodical herd dynamic, while their individual recognition of situational chaos allows them to switch gears into a much higher rev commonly seen in fast rhythms. The difference being, moderate psychologies are far more adept at doing what is required without unnecessary overkill, picking their spots and duration; hovering in competitive nature and quickly transitioning into competitive edge at will. This elevated degree of athletic expression is made possible because moderate rhythms have greater efficiency in their anticipatory response’s; the psychological mechanism that allows elite herd dynamics the luxury of identifying the intent of lesser minded horses around them. From a herd dynamic standpoint in athletic terms, there is no higher compliment to physical talent than this.

Because moderate herd dynamic rhythms operate at a higher tone level, their existence in the natural herd environment is a notch or two above their peers. Their minimal herd dependencies elevate them and in the language of sport, this means these horses are more often looked upon by their peers to help guide them through uncertain environments. This may seem at first to be a small point but it has powerful implications on the racetrack. As horses begin competing, especially in larger fields, the aforementioned “choreography of combat” inevitably builds up stress in an environment open to sudden and unexpected changes. During these moments the individuals in the field who outsource will seek to do so with the closest peer “next up” whenever possible. This plays out visually in horses that “hang” or show “drag” between their transitions, making them reliant upon their physical ability and momentum to outrun themselves, in effect, to overcome this psychological impediment.

The bottom line is simple, horses with more herd dependencies realize their tendencies of performance through the leadership of horses with fewer, a co-dependent relationship which is the fabric by which the individual connects to his/her self and manifests as the very fiber of the herd whether through “buddying-up” with one or total herd dependency. By contrast, a singular horse with minimal dependencies can influence the environment of many.

Another inherent asset to moderate rhythms expressed athletically can be found in the fact that they swiftly and smoothly transition from their competitive nature into competitive edge on an as needed basis. Able to hit mental cruise control for protracted periods of Time-In-Motion, they easily drop the clutch when required. From a herd dynamic standpoint, elite athletic expression in these psychological athletes comes with a deep well of mental stamina; grit, heart, relentless tenacity. They have both the mental ability to achieve above physical talent, and the environmental awareness that enhances physical preservation.

Owing to their overall versatility of mind moderately rhythmed horses will have a variation to their cycles; some will lean toward a fast cycle and some will lean toward methodical, but all can tap into what they need when they need it. It becomes important to identify which lean there is if any when cross checking their herd dynamic with their body type to avoid a mismatch as best you can.




Closing Thoughts


Where a horse is athletic, only their mind can make them athletes; for what defines the nature of athleticism is the manner in which it is naturally expressed.

You cannot nor should not remove the intangible of emotion. I think too often analytics and the crunching of numbers is allowed to snuff out the intrinsic beauty and appeal of emotionally driven sports. The emotional aspect is not just “along for the ride” but is indeed a driving force behind the journey. I have always found the variations of expression in the herd dynamics a fascinating study and where nature has a common template, she allows for flexibility within it. This is where inner-species evolution occurs, and where we as horse lovers, handicappers, owners and fans etcetera, evolve our understanding of them.

All three herd dynamic rhythms have within them flexibility though the space between there variations differ, and subsequently so does their manner of expression. Fast cycles and methodical cycles each have within them disparity of rhythm, however they are more tightly cropped and knitted, where moderate cycles are less confined allowing for greater flexibility as they weave there way seamlessly through the environment.

The natural cycles of individual horses are the symphonic rhythm of herd life, the hierarchy both separated and connected by them, and must be a consideration when placed within our world of sport and structure. These rhythms are the story of “who” and is the avenue from which all must travel from determining their probability of success at a yearling sale to developing a training program that fits their physicals and a coaching program built around their inherent strengths and weaknesses.

Psychological rhythm, emotional expression and physical capacity all have to be contiguous and complimentary in order to realize potential; the athletes we see, are a product of the athlete, within.



Founder of THT Bloodstock


Herd Dynamic Nicking

Posted on November 4, 2020 at 12:00 AM

Herd Dynamic Nicking



Kerry M Thomas


THT Bloodstock



Introduction; the Herd Dynamic


The herd dynamics and their primary function is the cornerstone from which THT Bloodstock has been built, studying them and identifying their inherent nature, my passion.

I define the herd dynamic as those naturally occurring traits, tendencies and characteristics that make up the individual psychology and where they place the horse in the hierarchy of the herd environment. In short, it is the operating system of the physical machine.

The evolution of herd dynamic profiling has been and will at length always be, a journey of discovery; learning to discriminate between that which is perceived to be and that which is, relies heavily on both experience and instinct. The science of herd dynamics is based more upon what you feel than what you see in many ways, for what you see can wear many cloaks. The horse is their herd dynamic, the horse athlete is their herd dynamics’ relationship with physical talent; it is folly to consider one without the other, and a mistake to underappreciate talents’ dependency upon ability.

Any horses particular herd dynamic makeup is their representative psychology and the efficiency with which it functions; key in evaluating this is in determining just how “individual” the herd animal is. It is a simple but extremely important virtue in athletics that a horse, though instinctively attached to the herd environment, be as detached from it as possible. Horse racing isn’t a team sport, horses are competing against, not with, one another, which is by its very nature counterintuitive. The very first order of business in the evaluation process for determining ability is identifying how self-reliant the horse is. Physical expression runs through the herd dynamic; talent is within the manner of that expression. If you’re adding a horse to your team, you’d do well to realize that value is found between the ears, pedigree and physicality pinioned by herd dependency does not an athlete make. Identifying the degree of an individuals’ herd dependence or independence is vital, for this ultimately determines what type of athlete the horse actually is and how well they will optimize talent under competitive stress.

The herd dynamic of an individual horse tells you a great deal about that horse and his or her singular strengths and weaknesses, clues you in on things like trainability and how they are likely to handle competitive stresses and environmental chaos. In competition, horses that are closely aligned in HD strength can easily take turns trading victories over time. Where the herd dynamic tells you who the horse is, their behavioral genetics help you understand the collection of their puzzle pieces; not just physically but also mentally, what has been imparted from the progenitors, influences the trajectory of their progeny.

Behavioral Genetics; Ingredients of Success


Determining true potential runs much deeper than just what is found standing before you in the young horse. Athletic by nature, the potential of that talent can be surmised by the physical foundation of the horse; a certain hip, shoulder angle, top line and so on, clues you in on physical efficiency in motion. The physical horse is representative of the self, the psychological horse running through that body is the representation of many herd dynamic ingredients combed into one; the behavioral genetic sequence.

Behavioral genetics matter because ultimately, it is the psychological athlete that determines the physical athlete; the optimization of talent is predicated on ability. The study of behavioral genetics on both sides of the family tree, Herd Dynamic Nicking, helps to shed light into the shadowy room of speculation and hope. The identification of traits, tendencies and characteristics within the family lines are only one part of the process, identifying which among them are being competitively expressed, is another. Because of the natural structure of the herd unit, colts and fillies playing different roles in the family structure, the manner in which the imparted behavioral genetics are expressed stand to be different.

The psychological make up of fillies/mares is designed by nature to fill their respective role in the herd, in their purest sense they will often have a shifted slant toward the Group Herd Dynamic. Cohesively and by design, colts/stallions play a different role in the natural herd structure, and they are most often slanted toward the Individual Herd Dynamic. It is true that every horse has a combination of each, and the ratio of these, unique to the individual, is dependent upon the prevailing traits, tendencies and characteristics, of their parents. It is a certainty, herd dynamic stamping happens, and the influence of the stallion is often thought of as the primary source to look at, but never underestimate the power and influence of the broodmare. In fact, because of her role in nature, the broodmare’s behavioral genetic influence often has more potency and consistency than may be expected. Not only is she imparting her characteristics, she is also helping to form how both hers and the stallions are being expressed through the weaning process. The emotionally charged horse at once absorbs and reflects their environment.

There are any number of varying traits in each horse that are seemingly unimportant to the competitive nature of that horse, things that are “overlooked” because they don’t seem essential, but everything is important. The difference between competitive nature and competitive edge is centered around the ability to manage stress, and the ability too manage stress is comprised of psychological characterisics. Emotional stress is the great antagonist to athletic performance and stress unfiltered in a horse’s daily life is going to be carried forward. Training, coaching, performing, are not dismissed from the equation of life; I always remind myself when evaluating prospects that a supple mind allows for a supple horse.

The HD Nick is the result of the study of as many closely related individuals’ herd dynamics as can be got, with a special emphasis on the broodmare and any of her progeny, in order to identify common and consistent dominating traits. Once these are identified in more than one horse a picture of prevailing characteristics begins to take shape; this is at length behavioral genetic sequencing. When the behavioral genetics come into view, the study of their expression can begin.

There are a multitude of indicators to identify and sift through to be sure, each one connected to the other within the psyche, in the end however, what you really want to know is “what is the level of herd dependency and what is the nature of their competitive expression.”

You always have to keep in mind that as herd animals by their nature, very few horses born will have the inherent ability to lead their peers without being in some way dependent upon them. Identifying a horse who is entirely devoid of dependency is rare, finding that “special” horse that also happens to have top rate physical talent, rarer still. With some degree of dependency naturally occurring in most horses (in my experience roughly 95% of horses I’ve evaluated in my lifetime so far) what becomes more important is to determine how these are influencing the horse athletically and among the chief places to look is within the horses’ sensory system.

An efficient sensory system is the lead blocker that allows the physical horse to maneuver through their environment regardless of the speed of motion, it controls versatility and plays a significant role in managing competitive stress. The manner in which a horse is communicating with their environment matters a great deal, how something was done is a more honest representation of the horse than what they did, to overlook this is to dismiss what is in my opinion the most influential part of any equine athlete, their herd dynamic.

Defining the efficiency of the sensory system, or as I say, the degree of their sensory soundness, is found within the interpretative aspect; how capable are they at interpreting the information that is funneled in? This becomes quite important when you consider that when you isolate the herd animal by asking him/her to operate independently, you’re exposing existing individual strengths as well as weaknesses. How much outsourcing is required to complete a task, be it through other horses or equipment, needs to be answered because if not, your base information becomes tainted. Outsourcing is not rooted in a disfunction of the physical senses, it is squarely placed within the psyche (interpretative) and a natural webbing that helps bind herd members together.

Where it is true that each horse comes with fundamental ingredients, the manner in which they express and distribute their emotional energy has to be considered through the lens of either IHD or GHD, male to female. By nature, females will be equipped with a higher percentage of GHD and males a higher percentage of IHD in their respective mental make ups. Both the distribution and functionality of these dynamic “leans” can be closely related or widely separated, athletically it isn’t the actual degree of either that matters, it is how it is being translated through the body. It isn’t a given that a fillies’ GHD is higher functioning than a colt or that the colts IHD is more functional than a filly, what is a given is that one or both aspects can be an asset or an antagonist to the competitive attitude.

There will be dominating characteristics within this kaleidoscope view and your attention must be on how they are being expressed. The collection of information will offer up prevailing tendencies and traits as well as characteristics that play a lesser role in the individuals’ competitive nature. Recognizing and understanding these markers within the behavioral genetic sequence affords you deeper understanding and recognition of the individual’s herd dynamic.



HD Nicking Applications; Scouting Talent


Scouting talent is the art of envisioning potential where it has yet to manifest. Aside from horses already on the track where you have some information of “what” they’re doing and you’re profiling to learn “who” they are, the evaluation of weanlings, yearlings and two-year old’s in training is the process of determining “who” they are that you can postulate “what” they’re likely able to do. Your best advantage in this effort is to establish who is going to be driving the race car.

There is no specific herd dynamic “type” that makes a horse a competitive athlete, for there are all sorts of variations and herd dynamic combinations, however there are key markers that consistently align with competitive edge. Looking for these innate markers in behavior is the first step in scouting potential. Where it is true that the younger the horse being evaluated the less defined and refined are the key markers, it is also true that the base value of them are present. The psychological foundation, those prevailing traits imparted, are accessible and yes most certainly “prepping” has its influence, however you can only paint upon the canvas that is present. The evaluation process is one of peeling back the layers in an effort to bring clarity to the idiosyncrasies of that canvas.

Once we have established there are key markers evident, and the horse passes the physical requirements, the next phase of the evaluation process begins. There are many horses that have elements of athleticism that never see them come to fruition and many reasons play a part in this. It simply isn’t enough to have the key markers, they must be consistent, distributed properly and compliment the physical horse, to be useful. A discombobulated assortment of ingredients is as meaningless as are a few key elements of greatness comingled with a variety of below average ones. Fools gold sweeps away the dreamer more often than not.

Digging into the behavioral genetic sequence whenever possible is an important step toward discovering who the horse is; HD Nicking in this manner helps to understand not only through whom the prevailing characteristics come from but how dominating traits are likely to be distributed during times of competitive stress. Again, these may be in the form of GHD or IHD propensities and thus their representation, though predominant, can very well be different in the colt or filly on your short-list. For example, a dominant trait in the broodmare and/or stallion can manifest quite differently between colts and fillies, not to mention how it is represented from body-type to body-type. The distribution of emotional energy plays a significant role in things such as mental and physical fatigue, trainability and duration of focus.

Part of HD Nicking is establishing the relative rate of psychological cycles or “spin” through GHD and IHD aspects and its compatibility with the prospect you’re scouting. What “spin cycle” means to us at THT is a terminology which is indicative of the internal rhythms of the horse. Each individual personality has an internal rhythm to their behavioral genetic; “this is a hot horse” is a common phrase for example. This rhythm itself does not determine ability but it does determine the duration of that ability via its efficacy. Clues of which are found throughout the HD Nicking process. This matters a great deal in the investigative equation because if an athlete’s internal clock runs out before physical fatigue, your prospect is more physically athletic than he/she is a psychological athlete. You need to know this before you invest that not only your goals are realistic but that your horse enters a program that is compatible.

How any horse communicates with their environment matters, and you absolutely cannot underestimate the crucial role that environment plays in the developmental process. Among the most important factors in gathering information throughout lineage when available is within the environmental aspect; were the horses moving in the environment or were they moving through it? This is the space between a herd horse and a competitive horse athlete.

The process of identifying a horses HD Nick that is already on the track is the same with the added caveat that you have additional information provided by their performance(s). There is a great deal of valuable information that can be applied in isolating hidden, yet to be revealed ability where it exists. Finding claims or scooping up the athlete at a HORA sale can be a very savvy investment strategy as part of the overall vision of the stable. Both the individuals’ herd dynamic and their HD Nick can help reveal untapped potential; the value in these horses is not in what they have done, it is within what they may be able to do.

The tradeoff is, wherever there is more information available there can be more risk. Whether horses on the track or horses at a two-year old in training sale, where you get to see how they move and/or are competing, and you have additional information to add to their profile about stress management and the like, you also have to be mindful to consider any possible wear and tear. Not all horses mentally or physically mature at the same rate nor do these two aspects mature at the same time.



HD Nicking Applications; Breeding


I’ve always felt that perhaps the most underutilized area of herd dynamic profiling and HD Nicking in general, is when it comes to matings. Most certainly there is valuable information to be considered in pedigree research and body-type, but the fact remains that the psychological pedigree should be of equally strong, if not the spearhead, of the decision-making process. Behavioral characteristics are more than just an anecdotal side effect; herd dynamic stamping carries a higher degree of amassed influence over potential than does physical talent alone.

Whether you have a stallion and you’re considering a mare, or you have a mare and you’re considering the best stallion, detailing the behavioral genetics so they have a chance to fit and not be antagonistic to one another is as vital to outcome as any focus on specific body typing. HD Nicking of the male and female families through the lens of GHD & IHD aspects allows you to note behavioral stamping, how dominant traits are being consistently expressed and goes a long way in identifying compatible ingredients. In order to avoid diluting your chances in an already uphill battle, you have to be sure you’re mating has been selected in such a manner that you’re avoiding a weakening of the horse. A strong body with a troubled mind affords but little hope.

There are many things to look at when it comes to working through the assemblage of psychological factors, and here again it is paramount to remember that you’re breeding who the horses are, not what they have done. Breeding horses would be quite simpler if all there were in the equation was the physical horse and their performance records, but “how” carries over, creating a disclaimer. Horses don’t go to the shed with blinkers and shadow rolls for example, but the reasons they required them (or not), do; psychological soundness should be high on the list of your breeding goals.

Mental stamping happens independently of physical stamping, and the reason some seem to produce better fillies than colts for example, is in the way the stamping of dominate traits are expressed in the GHD/IHD ratio. Things such as sensory soundness, the ability to manage stress, areas of herd dependency and so on, should always be represented in the process. The herd dynamic puzzle has many pieces available from the behavioral genetic sequences assembled in the room, and where there is no way of knowing exactly which of them will be personified in the horse, you can stack the deck in your favor.

The competitive athlete being comprised of both physical talent and mental ability, it is wise to be mindful that a targeted body type benefits from a compatible psychology; an Indy 500 driver may get pretty bored and restless if he’s driving a tractor. The speed of the psychological spin is not itself indicative of how fast or far a horse can run, it is the efficiency with which the horse is cycling that matters. Rhythm plays a significant role in the distribution of emotional energy as well as the pattern of motion during a race (or while performing if you’re in a sport horse discipline), for it is directly related to how much time-in-motion (duration of competitive activity) a horse has in their internal clock before mental fatigue sets in. This also directly relates to body-type in that a classic distance frame has its best chance of being optimized when the driver has a compatible rhythm. If mental fatigue from things like stress, sensory inefficiencies and herd outsourcing are minimizing the horse’s optimum efficiency zone, (the duration of time-in-motion where ability is optimizing talent) and yet your horse is built for distance, you are dealing with a mismatch that can be very difficult to smooth out. Try as you may to bring the two halves together by tweaking distance or adding or taking away equipment, you’re working against nature thus finding consistency is always a struggle. I will add here, that your best chance to find common ground and bring the two halves closer together is found within imaginative coaching.

The importance of working toward breeding psychological soundness cannot be overstated, for the emotionally driven horse athlete this is the foundation from which a race horse is built. Sustained competitive edge becomes even more elusive without an infrastructure; what we refer to as “grit” and “heart”, are not references to the physical horse. It does you little good if the horse cannot mentally handle the rigors and demands along the way. How many horses with great pages and really nice physicals find themselves not up to the emotional demands of the careers chosen for them? I’ve always believed that if we want to breed strong and competitive athletes and not just runway models, behavioral genetics must spearhead that effort. The value found in any horse is within their ability to optimize talent.


Closing Thoughts; Thinking Forward


I’ve always viewed the strengthening of the athlete in two collaborative ways, enrichening the emotional while developing the physical. Whether you’re Nicking with the Herd Dynamics or trying to assemble the ideal physical horse, addressing and minimizing areas of stress should be a focus point. From a behavioral genetic and Nicking view, sifting through the ingredients and culling out areas of emotional weakness and dependency is addition by subtraction.

There is no way to erase what Mother Nature has written. The horse is a herd animal, and where they are athletic by nature, we are asking them to perform and compete and live a lifestyle they were not specifically designed for; in nature the athleticism of the horse is what allows them to maneuver swiftly through the uncertainty of environment when needed. Their adaptive qualities assist them in the transition and they adjust and even thrive, but the inherent instincts are yet prevalent. The herd animal who spends the majority of their time isolated from herd structure, is prone to feeling emotional stresses they would otherwise never feel, and display behaviors that can make them seem recalcitrant, defensive, withdrawn, hard to handle, difficult to train. Emotional health supersedes physical performance, and that can only be understood through their herd dynamic and accurately addressed through their behavioral genetics.

You can’t properly train unless you can properly coach, for the optimization of physical talent is dependent upon the psychological athlete and that which can detract, can also add. The horse’s behavioral patterns, tendencies and traits can be and should be cultivated as a powerful ally. Instead of working against these character traits, embrace them, for they’re not going anywhere, you can’t erase them and to try to cover them up or minimize their exposure is in my opinion, counter-productive.

I have always felt that the more things I’m “protected” from, the weaker I become, mental and physical preparation for a task should supersede (obviously within reason) what is likely to be required to complete the task. In this way, you are properly rehearsed for the unexpected situational chaos the environment may throw at you. Common sense safeguards absolutely, but bubble wrapping a football player, for example, in minimized (not too tough now) contact or too hard a practice (goodbye two-a-days, don’t yell at me it’s not fair) while trying to prepare for a sport that demands mental and physical toughness, lends itself to both underperforming and injury when the rubber meets the road. How quick or fast the athlete is having far more to offer the competitor when they are built upon a foundation of stamina.

I’ve always personally believed that focusing only on “putting speed into the horse” can be reckless without endurance which is essential to sustain it safely, mentally and physically. Taking time to build tolerance, strengthening the horse long before you worry about speed, allows you the opportunity to layer sustainability to that speed when the time comes and by proxy assists in lowering the risk that mental burnout and/or physical immaturity abbreviates the lifespan of the athlete.

The discipline of sport, in order to be advanced, should embrace two main things; exercise science and instinctive coaching. The way I see it the science of exercise is the combination of mental and physical athletics, coaching & training; and although exercise science for humans is many years of study ahead, equine exercise science and its value shouldn’t be underappreciated, it should be advanced. Correctly applied, mental aptitude nurtured forward lays the groundwork for the physical athlete to train into. Preparation requires attention to detail and the patience to see it through in a time frame adaptive to the nature of the athlete; the tempo of any successful program moves to the rhythms of the athletes they’re coaching.

Elite competitors, mentally tough and physically sound, are not manufactured, they are painstakingly nurtured and developed; allowed to be horses, asked to be athletes.


Thank You~



Handicapping with the Herd Dynamics

Posted on August 11, 2020 at 7:25 AM

Handicapping with the Herd Dynamics


Kerry M Thomas






Ever since I turned my passion for horse racing and the study of how the psychological athlete impacts physical performance, I started getting asked about handicapping races. There is an absolute correlation between scouting herd dynamic characteristics, the depth of their athletic psychology as prospects, and scouting the same in the horses in the starting gate as you plan your plays as a handicapper. The irony for me has always been, I don’t gamble, I’ve never handicapped a race for the purpose of placing a financial wager; I leave that to THT Bloodstock business partner Pete Denk who is quite skilled in this department. The fact that I don’t bet is just a personal choice, I am certainly not opposed to it and totally understand the thrill of it, yet I have been to Vegas on more than a few occasions and never once had the urge to drop a buck on a table or throw a quarter into a slot machine.

That said, in truth we do utilize herd dynamic profiling and patterns of motion analysis to “handicap” perhaps the biggest race of the year and we have done so now for 9 years, 2020 marking our 10th Kentucky Derby. Though I may not slide my dollars across the ticket window, the very difficult task of developing a herd dynamic hierarchy and an “order of finish” based upon it, is indeed handicapping with the herd dynamics. The manner in which we do it, the process and the consideration of many variables such as combining physical data cross-checked with what we’re seeing and more importantly what we’re feeling, is for me keystone information I would use every time I wanted to make an investment toward outcome.

There are a multitude of factors to consider and seemingly innumerable hard-data access points; “hard data” without a doubt has its place, but I have always believed that too many numbers on paper clutters natural feel and instinct. You can overanalyze and out-think yourself. I don’t fuss too much over the herd dynamic hierarchy order of the Kentucky Derby field once we’ve done all of our work to compare horse to horse and horse to environment. When our evaluations are complete, I trust in how it feels and let instinct take the wheel. Horses are not machines nor data points; they are emotionally driven athletes guided by instinct. Numbers can be important collateral information but ultimately, I put more trust in what it is I see and feel about each horse.

From a herd dynamic standpoint, handicapping a field of horses like those in the Kentucky Derby short-lists down to tiers of probability. I always ask myself where would a given horse be likely to consistently finish amongst his or her peer group if they raced ten times. After considering all of the information and comparing herd dynamic strengths and weaknesses, it often comes down to tendencies and how they’re prone to playing out.

In truth, we aren’t handicapping the race, we are handicapping the individual horses in it. In order to truly get a feel for the entire field, you have to compartmentalize the study of the participants. Gaining an understanding of the horse both mentally and physically helps to better understand how they’re likely to perform in certain conditions, against certain company, and within certain environments. I’m of the opinion that in order to strategically increase your chances of success, it’s better to determine how the herd dynamics of the horse fit the race, than to try and fit the horse into the conditions of a race.

Over many years of study, I’ve learned there are a great number of pieces to the herd dynamic puzzle, and rest assured we’re still learning new things that continue to drive my passion. The search for an “edge” is ever-present and it is my hope that in writing this paper I’m able to share with you some of the fascinating characteristics of herd dynamics. There are hidden opportunities to be found within the horses’ psyche; herd dynamics are a valuable tool when filtering out the weak and dependent from the confident and capable.



Versatility; Bet on It


Versatility of and in itself is reliant upon the culmination of several herd dynamic traits, diversity of layers coming together for a singular result.

I always feel that one of the best ways to help offset risk is for our clients to consider a diversified investment strategy, and the same is also true with handicapping regarding the information you’re collecting. Don’t let the numbers guide you to the horse, let the horse guide you to their numbers; it isn’t what was done but rather how it was done, that matters.

Because a race can be filled with everything from a great deal of situational chaos to completely smooth sailing, and everything in between, psychological versatility should be among the essential criteria you require in the horse(s) you’re playing. Never forget that it is the operating system that is running the machine, and the more psychological versatility the better.

The mentally versatile athlete has the ability to seamlessly adjust on the move, both adapt to and recover from sudden environmental changes and herd motion disruptions, and recover their mental momentum. These horses rarely lose their mental focus and forward reach even when they have to physically alter pace or position. Regardless of how many horses you’re betting on or using in a race, unless a first-time starter, paying attention to how they adapted and to what in any previous performances, will help you get a feel for how they will assimilate going forward. This is an important factor at every point in the race from gate position, track conditions, right down to the running styles of the competition.

The natural ability to accommodate situational chaos minimizes the risk that your horse will succumb to it in such a manner that they are unable to recover quick enough and lose too much ground, or not recover at all and fold their cards. Adaption on the move can be spotted in many scenarios. If the horse gets bumped what is the reaction, if the horse gets squeezed does it matter, can they finish from off the pace or hold on to forward space when pressed, slip through an opening or hug the rail?

Identifying herd dynamic versality in your athlete is especially telling when horses are shipping to new environments and/or facing next level of competition. You want to be as sure as you can that the environment itself will not be an antagonist to performance; the environment plays a major role and should never be overlooked as part of the equation.

My late father was a very good pitcher and when we were growing up and playing ball, he would always tell us to keep “our heads dishrag loose and you will adjust on the fly”; a supple mind translates to a supple body. If you’re playing horses that are rigid mentally and only run great if “the race shapes up right”, you’re taking on additional risk.


Identifying Stress; Expressions & Body Language


Stress, it is an unavoidable experience for any sentient being and can play a significant role in the ability to perform. Stress on its own isn’t always antagonistic to performance, how stress is mentally filtered and physically expressed however, quite often is. Part of the handicapping process is in trying to determine if the stresses incurred are interfering with performance or in fact are even true expressions of stress in the first place; stress can be an exaggeration of body language, a random knee-jerk reaction, or its presence camouflaged by a shut down of any expressions whatsoever.

There are few things more misleading in the dialogue of horses than the assumptions that come with their body language. Like any language, the inflection of it tells you far more about what is being said and about the horse (or human) than does the vehicle of articulation. I have always made a distinction between expression and body language; expression being a result of unprocessed stress and body language a purposeful communication of personality. Expression is generally random, where body language is far more consistent; either may, but do not automatically interfere, with athletic performance. Knowing the difference can give you great advantage in your horse selection strategy.

Any opportunity to study horses for consistencies in their behavior patterns is time well spent and will help you see the athlete with added clarity. Not all stress is created equally, and thus not every expression of it directly interferes with performance; it is possible for an anxious and lathered horse to go on and run their eyeballs out. What falls in the range of “normal” can be very different horse to horse; there are horses with what we refer to as fast spinning mental cycles and there are some with slower, more methodical rhythms. Stress will affect each horse differently and the time it takes to filter it matters a great deal, you have to balance how long it takes before building stress is filtered with how much time (distance) is going to be required to finish the task at hand.

The fact of the matter is, any stress gnaws away at the depth of emotional energy and therefore your betting angle on using a stress-prone horse should always be hinged upon the distance. Don’t worry about the competition until you determine if the horse is going to have energy enough to competitively complete the task in the first place. If you think they will, then consider the competition, keeping in mind that stronger herd dynamics may be in the mix meaning your horse will ultimately be more reliant on their physical talent than their mental ability.

Think of distance not in furlongs but in duration; psychological time in competitive motion and not physical distance, is the enemy of emotionally stressed horses.

Where to look for signs of stress? The first obvious place is pre-race but it is far from the only place. In fact, you’re more likely to see a combination of purposeful body language and expressions of stress in pre-race activity in the majority of horses, potentially clouding your interpretations of what you’re seeing.

Body language is resultant of temperament, traits and tendencies of character and this aspect can tell you a lot about the horse as a “horse”, though by its nature will shed but little light on actual performance ability against horses of similar demeanor. Because herd dynamic strength and physical talent merge in competition, the higher HD doesn’t always finish physically first.

I remember being in California and watching Zenyatta paw at the ground, it was really cool body language that by itself neither enhanced nor inhibited her performance on the track. It was a window into her herd dynamic confidence and these things are absolutely communicated to other horses; however, the subsequent effect on their performances is incumbent upon the respective herd dynamics in the field. The point is, don’t get so focused on one horse you fail to spot potential rivals that may carry themselves differently. Your clue is in watching for the ripple effect, peers who either react to or absorb incoming stimulus. Confident absorbers always being a notch above.

All things considered, consistent and purposeful body language is a tell-tale clue of “who” the horse is yes, but during competition “body language” is replaced by body movement, and the potential opening of a doorway for expressions of stress.

For the horse athlete those stresses that are expressed within the body of competition is what we call “competitive stress” and though this can mingle with body language pre-race, it’s in the gate and the moment the gate opens that clues you in on how much stress had built up. Gate stress can make the horse mentally rigid and “tight”, as if ready to burst, they may stand as if stuck to the ground or be as fidgety as a child in anticipation; coming out of the gate is often more “falling” out of the gate or drifting left or right before finding their feet.

The body of the race also affords ample opportunity to study if residual stress is harnessing ability or if sudden changes in motion are causing anxiety. If competitive stress is compromising the horse in motion, they will withdraw their hand from the fire, mentally they will not extend thus compromising their mental to physical efficiency. Physically this is expressed in horses that shorten their stride and seem to be more up-n-down than reaching out; psychological extension allows the horse to physically extend.

The gallop-out is also a key place to observe any lingering or ongoing filtering of stress though can be a bit tricky to identify because as the horse slows, their expressions begin once again to mingle with body language. Be sure to note the signs of their emotional energy at this time. Is it being distributed evenly and still plentiful? Is there an even and controlled deceleration or has the mind checked out whilst the body is still easing out of momentum? The separation of mind and body results in the loss of fluid, purposeful motion.

The depth of mental stamina is a key. An individual’s ability to compete at any distance is determined by their mental stamina. It is not impossible or even uncommon for a horse to “win” a race but lose the herd dynamic battle, having gotten mentally banged up so to speak. This may well affect the horse next time out and helps you measure whether they have more distance and tougher competition in them, or has a plateau been reached?


Sensory Soundness


What is “sensory soundness”? In its simplest form it is the ability to detect and interpret multiple stimulus without herd dependency. For the horse athlete, sensory soundness also relates to the ratio between interpretation and rate of motion. In order for a horse to move freely through space or stay calm in surrounding chaos, they need to identify and interpret stimulus at minimum two times faster than the relative rate of motion. The faster the sensory processing the better for the athlete.

The sensory system is the fabric that binds the psychology with the environment and ranks among the most influential parts of the equine athlete. For the race horse, his or her radar system acts as the “lead-blocker” clearing the way as they move through space, is the alarm bell when another horse is approaching from the rear, and provides a sense of space awareness in jumbled herd motion.

The senses are as important to herd dynamic fluency as physical soundness is to physical fluency. Navigation of and through environmental changes, the execution of sudden “asks” by the jockey, the ability to react purposefully, all hinges upon the sensory soundness of the horse. The degree of sensory soundness, (fluency), is based upon the speed and efficiency with which the horse can interpret the environmental stimulus, which governs body control and pace; fluency of sequence is what allows the horse to move through space and not just move in space.

Identifying the degree of sensory soundness is an essential factor to consider in any athlete. There are a great many nuances within it to look for throughout the body of a race, any inefficiencies that can derail total performance even situationally, should be weighed strongly. The biggest of differences can come in the smallest of ingredients.

The most obvious thing you will note that there “may” be something amiss with a horse’s sensory efficiency is the application of equipment. I say “may” because the use of equipment to “keep the horse focused” on their task isn’t always warranted by the horse as much as it is a comfort tool for the trainer. Don’t assume automatically that a horse with equipment has troubles with interpretation without taking the time to study past performances whenever possible. The use of equipment, especially blinkers, can do a number of things to a horse’s basic sensory rhythms. Whether positive or negative, emotional energy is being condensed and this changes the way a horse distributes that emotional energy. Determining if the equipment is shortening or lengthening the psychology of the athlete is your primary concern. Any negative disruptions in the natural distribution of emotional energy and/or the fluency of the sensory system will result in delayed responses, or “drag.”

Drag may or may not be a serious issue depending on where it is stemming from. If you have a front runner by nature that shows drag in the rear aspect, and you have a stalker that likes to pounce and is very efficient and fluent into forward space, the lead horse can be compromised. However, if the drag is in the rear aspect of an off the pace competitor, you have more levity to work with. Determining if drag is or isn’t going to be a major issue in a race would be an easier read if the horse only had one transitional sensory aspect, but there are six.

These connective sensory aspects are, binocular forward, monocular left side right side, right and left oblique eye to ear transition, and rear feel. (The sense of smell being non-transitional, doesn’t share its information, though it can provide both initial and secondary/supportive intelligence.)

Horses have very keen sensory ability in all ways and the upper level herd dynamic horses have the natural capacity to manage multiple stimulus effortlessly. Their ability to transfer stimuli from sensory aspect to sensory aspect without any hesitation between them, sets them apart. The transfer of stimulus in this manner is a sensory lead change, and it is essential in order for a horse to navigate herd chaos effectively, independently and without compromising physical pace. Where drag or hesitation antagonizes talent, and lends itself to a horse requiring herd assistance during chaos, smooth sensory lead changes, (which are essential to physical lead changes), promotes herd independence.

Nothing is more demoralizing than having your horse “hang” and hand over the wire. Studying the horse and taking note of the strengths and weaknesses in their individual sensory fields will help you avoid things such as betting on that front runner that has no clue what’s behind him, inviting the stalker to pounce.

Stress and versatility are also closely related to and dependent upon sensory efficiency, so it pays to have keen observations. The cohesive nature of the herd dynamic translates to a horse’s patterns in motion.



Patterns of Motion


As mentioned in the introduction, the 2020 Kentucky Derby will mark for us at THT Bloodstock our 10th year of analyzing the field and developing our herd dynamic Patterns of Motion report, (archived on our website), which is the culmination of countless hours of studying individual patterns “in” motion.

To understand and strategically access the information revealed in both the patterns of and the patterns in motion we have to consider them for what they are. Patterns in motion are relative to the individual horse’s unique running style when left to their own devices, in other words, what comes naturally without outside influences. Patterns of motion are individual running styles adjusted or adjusting one to another; two or more horses hooking up over a period of time in motion can often cruise along together, each one nearly matching the rhythms of the other, however the movement is dictated by the dominant herd dynamic. When one horse “buddy’s-up” with another in this manner, they’ve essentially formed their own independent herd motion.

Depending on field size and distance etc., there can be more than a mini-herd or two linked up and the horses you want to key on are those who have consistently shown that they cut the cord first. These horses have the ability to hit what we term a psychological cruising gear, conserving their emotional energy while covering ground in company then seamlessly freeing themselves, hitting another gear. This is often a herd dynamic strength that develops over time and you can often see this emerging in a horse from race to race as seasoning and experience arm them with the ability to anticipate the motion of lesser peers. Identify these emergent properties of style and you put a useful key in your handicapping pocket.

Any given horse’s running style is an extension of their psychological slant, IHD or GHD, and where both of these can be athletically effective, it pays to know the propensity of the horse you’re betting. IHD & GHD behavioral genetics are comprised of many parts. In short, the horse with a lean toward the Individual Herd Dynamic is the horse whose competitive nature feeds off singular stimuli as primary and multiple stimuli as supportive information. Group Herd Dynamic horses feed their competitive nature through multiple stimulus and use that to build mental momentum and balance when asked or required to focus on tasks or targets. IHD & GHD horses can run effectively in various positions; there are GHD front runners and IHD stalkers as often as there are the opposite.

Don’t let a horse’s herd positioning be your only guide to their strength or style, what you see isn’t always what you get. You could find yourself betting the wrong style at the wrong track in the wrong company; it must always be remembered that physical position doesn’t necessarily correlate to herd dynamic strength.

The idiosyncrasies of IHD & GHD slanted horses is important betting information from the environmental standpoint. A tracks design, weather and surface conditions, one turn mile or sprint, tight turns or not, field size and so on, all share their favors respectively. Group Herd Dynamic horses as a general rule of thumb often do well with more time in motion to build into their competitive nature, this can be in the form of more distance or slower pace, or even lesser herd dynamic peers who have slower psychological rhythms. Individual Herd Dynamic horses by their nature, require less time in motion to funnel their competitive edge and tend to comfortably focus on one point for extended periods of time. Every horse has elements of both GHD & IHD in their behavioral genetics, and this mixing of ingredients are represented in their dominant slant of expression.

Each style slant can be as athletic and as powerful as the other on an individual basis, but needs to be taken into context and compared with environmental conditions as well as their herd peers when being used for handicapping.

Whether you’re keying IHD or GHD prone athletes, you have to be sure that the horse’s physical talent is able to support it. Does the GHD horse have enough physical stamina to realize their advantage? Does the IHD horse have the turn of foot to sustain their advantage? Regardless of IHD or GHD, the sweet zone of any horse is when their physical talent supports their mental ability and perhaps there is no more important question to ask than, does the horse have grit?

In the bigger picture, how the athlete does what they do can be more important than what they did, in other words, it’s not always where they finish but how they handled adversity within the body of the race. Your primary tool for scouting horses to key on should be the eye test, forget the order of finish long enough to focus on the race and you may well find hidden instances of true grit. There is no better asset to build upon than natural determination; key on that and you’ve taken a big step toward cashing your ticket. There are many questions you can ask, and when you’re laying down your money it pays to ask many.



Closing Thoughts; Horses & Handicapping


I’ve always felt that if the data associated with the horse represents their science, the herd dynamic represents their artistry. The artistry that defines the horse is the magic that makes the show possible, and from a handicapping perspective offers those inclined to study it, an edge. The numbers are most certainly useful and important tools of information and help tell you what the horse has done, but only the horse can tell you who they are. The herd dynamics bring life to those numbers.

It’s not about trying to win, everyone is trying to win whether you’re handicapping a race or we’re evaluating horses at auction, it’s about using every piece of available information you can to minimize risk; herd dynamics is at the leading edge of that strategy. Being physically able and mentally capable are two separate things, and the difference lay between the ears. Talent without execution is meaningless in the grips of competition, and it is within the horse’s herd dynamic that the true nature of the athlete is found. You increase your opportunity for success when you unclutter the field of prospects by culling out the weaker minded athletes. Horses by nature seek to align themselves in hierarchy, the herd dynamic is your window in to their world.

My view of herd dynamic profiling is that it is the blending of art and science. When you study things such as versatility, ability to manage stress, the efficiency of their sensory system, ability to adapt and so on, you’re gaining an understanding of the athlete far and above what the data alone can tell.

My bottom-line advice; may the horses you bet always have the mental fortitude to outrun physical fatigue.

Yet herd dynamics runs much deeper than that. Where herd dynamics brings the numbers to life, they also can breathe life into the industry, for the horses themselves are the greatest ambassadors we have. The horse has a story to tell, and we should let them tell it.

I have received many emails and notes over the years from folks who have never picked up a form or studied a race card, but have found themselves fascinated and immersed in reading our derby horse evaluations. I am of course proud of the horses we have identified, but I am most proud of the fact that herd dynamics has introduced a wide variety of animal lovers to the racehorse in a new way and thus their view of racing was seen from a different light. Sharing an understanding of the inherent athletic nature of the horse can go far in enhancing the industry.

The horses are our true industry representatives and I’m sure there are far more horse lovers than racing fans and handicappers and though I’ve never been asked for my opinion, I believe we can we reach them. I love racing, I know from having dedicated a large portion of my life to researching and studying herd dynamics that horses love to run and competing is a natural part of their lives. It is true that not every horse has the psychology to be a high-level athlete, but it is also true that horses are naturally athletic. Making information available on what herd dynamics are and how they work is important to me, because it is through education that appreciation comes, and my goal is to continue to showcase the artistry of the horse and the inherent nature of their athleticism.

If you or perhaps anyone you know may be interested in learning more details about the topics touched upon in this opinion piece, please enjoy the articles archived here on the blog, and learn about us and our services here on the website.

Thank You,



Nurture The Horse, Develop The Athlete

Posted on July 9, 2020 at 11:10 AM

Nurture the Horse, Develop the Athlete


Position Paper


Kerry M Thomas


THT Bloodstock







Mind Ahead


Communication is King


To Nurture is to Equip


Closing Thoughts










When you nurture the horse, you’re developing the athlete. It’s a statement I use all the time to describe from a herd dynamic point of reference what I feel is the best approach for blending together ultimate ability with ultimate talent. In essence it is an appreciation for and an understanding of the two parts that make up the horse; the psychological and the physical. As emotional athletes, horses are often a reflection of their environment which begs for both coaching as well as training; you coach the mind, you train the body.

Further up stream this is no less important a consideration. Prospects at the sale or on the farm being scouted for potential should have, as part of that evaluation process, their “mind-set” be a large portion of the decision-making process. The bottom line is, obvious physical talent is only as useful as the innate ability to get the advantage of it. The question that must be asked is, how likely are both the physical and mental parts of the horse to evolve athletically, allowing full potential to be realized? The operating system conducts the machine if you will, and that controlled space between mind and body where talent meets ability, is where “potential” is found.

Understanding the horses’ herd dynamic makeup and paying close attention to its progression and its needs for progressing athletically, will by proxy make developing the physical horse more efficient. A mentally prepared athlete completes physical tasks with more ease and thus benefit, than one that is ill prepared. When the mind is ahead of the body the athletic horse becomes an athlete, and the very best way to ensure this has a chance to happen is to always be mindful that you’re coaching and nurturing the horses’ psyche for its eventual merger in performance or competition with their physical talent. The most productive way to have athletes in your program capable of this eventual merger is by compartmentalizing the evaluation process into those individual parts which make them whole.

The environment any horse is in will have an influence on the nurturing process, but especially that of the young athlete. We have to keep in mind that as the adaptive-horse absorbs and reflects their circumstances, we as humans equally reflect who we are into the environment; the emotional terrain the horse is in is just as important to their evolution as is the physical environment created. The horse psychology is both mirror and sponge; everything the horse has experienced, is experiencing, and will experience, affects the manner in which they express themselves.


Mind Ahead


The ground floor of everything the horse is and will become runs through the basic instinct; basic instinct is not a physical act but rather an action of emotion. This action follows the core laws of nature and though we remove the physical horse from their natural environment, we are not segregating the functionality of the basic instinct away from its nature, we’re asking it to fit into, a new, domesticated climate. In order to capitalize on raw instincts and how they dictate tendencies and reactions, we have to nurture them along. This process is keyed within the associative aspect of basic instinct which itself is subject to the efficiency of the various compartments of the herd dynamic.

To optimize athleticism or have the potential to do so the horse has to, independently, have at minimum a 2/1 ratio between environmental interpretation and reaction in order to physically move through space freely, fluently and uncompromised. What this means in essence is that the horse can identify and interpret the environment 2 times faster than they are physically moving. Depending on a discipline’s requirements, ideally, you’d like to have the base athlete ratio be at 3/1 or 4/1; increased physical acceleration requires increased psychological speed in order to clear the space. It’s important to keep in mind that the closer the ratio the more opportunity there is for “drag” between sensory recognition and physical reaction. The delay between “ask & do” increases in likelihood when duration and or speed is required and from any incurred emotional stress.

When we’re scouting talent for clients, one of the primary notes we make is M/B or B/M; what this means to us is either the horse is clearing space smoothly before and or while moving through it, or they are not. Mind ahead of Body or Body ahead of Mind. If you do not have independence before you, you have dependency and you’re going to run into a lot of frustration trying to nurture a dependent laden psyche to become its opposite. Talent is the expression of a capable mind; purposeful movement by nature can be coached through the horse, reactive motion dictated by the environment, can only be managed environmentally.

It is essential to coach through the basic instinct of a horse in order to nurture them forward and not be antagonistic to it; the basic instinct is the chalkboard upon which lessons are written and learned. A moving body operated by a sedentary mind does not a competitor make.

Nurturing the horse with the core ability to interpret their world effectively is done through the associative aspect, this is how they learn and begin to knit together their experiences with the fabric of who they are. Augmenting existing ratio efficiency is done by creating what amount to exercises in interpretation of environmental stimuli. The goal is to sharpen the ability of interpretational skills to make them faster and nurture versatility of mind by the layering of associative stimuli; i.e., stimulus that is associated with but not directly related to the completion of a physical task. Horses are what I call “linear-learners”, which to me represents the basic nature of the anticipatory response mechanism and its symbiotic function with adaptability- (associative).

From the moment a horse is born he or she begins to take in the world one singular experience at a time like a dotted line: - - - -, each dash representing an experience. Individual experiences begin to get knitted together by what is associated with them represented by the underscore: -_-_-_-, task then is equal to experience or dash mark, and you coach by nurturing the associations that are connected to it, the underscore. By compartmentalizing the accumulation of the tasks required to achieve a goal you’re able to at once knit together commonly encountered experiences to increase ratio and expand psychological versatility for uncommonly encountered experiences, while creating various stimuli that remains associated with the task. When you have layered the desired associations of task or goal, the horses’ basic instinct has been stimulated to anticipate and respond which both speeds up the psychology as well as expands its versatility; you have nurtured the horse.

Enhancing the horses speed ratio helps them become more efficient and psychologically versatile, but isn’t the only part of the psyche that should be considered. Another key factor to athleticism is mental stamina and it should never be overlooked or underappreciated. The fact that a horse can do something fast and efficient is only as useful athletically as their ability to sustain. Speed, efficiency of ratio and duration of focus, i.e. mental stamina, though closely related, do not always work hand-in-hand; having one does not automatically mean you have the other. Many horses can do many things well but only for a certain amount of time, some horses can do one thing well for a very long time. To be able to perform and compete at the highest levels, you’re looking for or seeking to cultivate the herd dynamic that is high functioning over protracted periods of time.

In order to be proportionately distributed in competition, mental stamina needs to be exercised uniformly; proper distribution is a tremendous compliment to the athlete with natural determination. Where neither mental stamina nor “grit” can be manufactured, emotional energy distribution can be exercised and improved upon, further sustaining inherent competitive edge.

Mental fatigue is an enemy of athleticism. Nurturing a horse’s mental stamina is a process of extending the duration of focus by coaching the horse in a manner that requires or asks them to maintain a concentrated psychological rhythm. Long slow time-in-motion curriculums I have always been a fan of, regardless of the discipline, for their naturally occurring side effect of extending mental stamina. The only way to nurture mental stamina is to challenge it with achievable goals that inch the horse mentally forward; it is not about the time the body is moving but rather the time the psyche is concentrated. The long slow “work” for example, without a target or moving targets, becomes mentally mundane and more just a physical activity, yet with targets and challenges intermingled it suddenly becomes a strong mental exercise. Stimulus that the horse has to move toward over a period of time, or stimulus that is itself moving within the horse’s sphere over a period of time, is an example of protracting focus. The layered additions of multiple stimuli over the course of these exercises helps to develop a mental stimulus program that affords great benefits on multiple levels of the herd dynamic.

Extended time-in-motion work isn’t the only exercise that can be designed to help condition mental stamina, obstacles such as health and location that inhibit protracted time-in-motion call for creative curriculum. If the horse or environment has limitations and you cannot bring the horse to the classroom, you bring the classroom to the horse. Circumstances peculiar to limited space or ability such as when convalescing etc., and the horse is unable to do much exercising physically, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t exercise their minds and continue to sharpen their senses and interpretations or protract and nurture their mental stamina.

Mental enrichment is the area of coaching that can help take average talent to better than average results, an “overachiever” is the athlete mentally prepared to get the advantage of their competitors’ weaknesses. The well-groomed athlete maintains environmental awareness, is able to anticipate situational chaos, respond to it in a controlled, purposeful manner and not be subject to it. Task and duration must pragmatically align with talent and ability every step of the way in order to nurture the horse forward, if not, you’re working against basic instinct.


Communication is King


To truly communicate you have to connect emotionally, and where you can communicate, you can achieve.

Communication, perhaps the most influential tool at our fingertips, is one often wielded in a cavalier manner; poor communication can cause tremendous strife where good communication can harmonize. First about listening and second about expressing, communicating is less about words and more about instinctive feel; you won’t find “instinctive feel” in a letter, a word, or an emoji. Emotional communication is communion in its purest form and the currency of life, for you do not need to understand the words of the song, to be moved by its music. It is impossible to effectively nurture nor teach and share, without it.

Horses are steeped with emotional communication skills, they “feel” their way through the environment with more purpose than they “see” or “hear” their way through it. The physical senses act as supporting cast to emotion; response to stimulus is a physical reaction initiated by the psyche, by emotion. Horses communicate with their environment and one another in order to survive and navigate, therefore you must always be mindful that you too are communicating in, out and through that environment just as much as you are directly with the horse. Your emotions set the tone of connection one to one as well as setting the tone in the environment you create; regardless of your message, how that information is delivered affects how that information is received. If you want your pupil to learn, both the classroom and the teacher need emit “agreeable environments”, a good message in an emotionally stressful atmosphere is tainted because of the associative aspect, a poorly delivered message in a comfortable atmosphere is often misinterpreted and less likely to “stick”. The bottom line, there needs to be a compatible relationship in order for it to become a viable one.

I always feel that if you wish to be understood, you must first be understanding. You cannot know the best approach to coaching the individual nor the best delivery of your message without first being able to understand the manner in which your horse (or student for that matter), is communicating with and through their environment. A large part of nurturing the horse forward will take place through their anticipatory responses, making the associative aspect your key to their learning. Taking the time to identify your horse’s reactions and expressions to various stimuli goes a long way in helping you understand them and one of the core aspects of a herd dynamic profile, for this is their emotional communication eliciting reaction. Training helps the horse execute physical response, coaching helps the horse properly interpret the preceding message.

From a communicative standpoint it is essential to understand how the horse is emotionally connecting themselves to the environment they’re in so that you can begin to help them communicate better in areas they need help, and strengthen the areas they are naturally good at. This is coaching 101, good communication skills precede and allow the affective sharing of knowledge and experience.

As the horse grows and is exposed to more and differing environments, their natural seasoning requires that the lesson plan change with it. Physical fitness training is often a collection of similarities and sameness from a certain age onward, however it is often a frustrating mistake to assume you can hit the cruise-control button on their psyche as well. Often amiss, hitting a mental plateau happens, and too often is “remedied” with equipment because of it, further frustrating herd dynamic progress.

While the horse continues to adapt and associate so does their communicated expressions and left stagnant and unchallenged their anticipatory response mechanism, keyed from basic instinct, filters similar stimuli similarly; the reading of intent becoming tone-deaf. What this means is, you have to maintain the introduction of mental challenges to keep your horse sharp, focused, moving forward. Coaching a 2yo’s mind to achieve a goal is rather different than coaching a 5yo’s mind for the same. Though the goal may well be the same indeed, your manner of coaching must adhere and adapt to the changes that happen from emotional growth on a horse to horse basis. The method of communication has to align with the ability to comprehend, (read intent), or the horse will “fall forward” in their own way instead of being coached up to forge ahead.

Another vital consideration are personality markers; behavioral traits and tendencies related to communication play a significant role when considering both coach & athlete. The “type” of communicators involved in any relationship matter; some communicators are out first in second, earnestly expressing themselves prior to making any attempt of absorbing what is communicated to them, and others are absorbers first and expressive second. If you have only expressive first communicators the risk of friction runs high, and the static is always only one “wrong remark” or perceived intention away from a spark. The successful relationship that sees more harmony than abrasion, is equipped with at least one absorbing personality. In horses we find the absorbers to be deeply welled in the Group Herd Dynamic; adept environmental awareness its cornerstone. Communication dynamics are among the reasons some folks do better with “certain types of horses” and some horses respond well to “certain types of folks” or experience noted improvement with the proverbial “change of scenery”.

There are many important reasons to match communicative styles that are not antagonistic to one another when considering what horse to send to what environment, for two sparks can make a fire, so to speak, interrupting the education process. If one gets frustrated with the other, education is stalled. Diversity in horse psychology may well require diversifying where they’re sent and under whose tutelage. Emotionally driven athletes need emotionally sound and sensitive environments befitting them and that communicate well with them in order to flourish. Whatever we as humans bring emotionally with us to the horse is bound to be conveyed to them and affect the dialogue with its accent; the horse feels you first, sees you second.

Words, though used to communicate, rely upon emotion to be communicative, for communication is an art.


To Nurture is to Equip


To nurture and develop takes time and tact, how much of either depends largely on the parties involved and their ability to deliver and comprehend what is shared between them. The nurturing process may not always be the time-friendly option in a hurried, instant gratification, results oriented human world where return on investment is the underwriter of dreams. However, Mother Nature doesn’t beat to our drum or always align with our vision.

To nurture is to assist and streamline how and what the horse is learning through and with their inherent nature, giving the horse the opportunity to become the very best at who they are and not what we or their pedigree or even body type, says they should be. It’s great when what they are aligns with who they are, but we have to allow that this is not always the case and be flexible in adjusting to achievable goals. In those instances where athletes hit psychological plateaus and seem to neither move back nor move forward, it’s time to get very creative in your coaching to see if you can find that edge or discover if you have indeed reached as deep into the athletic psyche as you can. There are times too, after all else has failed, when the application of sensory altering equipment is a viable option. For example, some horses truly excel say with half-cup blinkers and a shadow roll. Used correctly equipment can make the horse more fluent and responsive, used incorrectly equipment will only get in the way, disrupting natural growth patterns and contribute to dependency.

To help or to hinder? I’ve long been of the opinion that equipment should not replace education and coaching because it’s easier and a quick-fix option, and should be reserved for cases where the horses’ sensory system needs tweaking to smooth out interpretational potholes.

Proper use of equipment is using it for what it is designed for, assisting the horse in their sensory aspect prior to stimulus interpretation. If the athlete has a strong herd dynamic, efficient interpretive ability and purposeful motion, yet has a disruptive gap in the sensory system and they struggle with drag during sensory lead changes, equipment can become essential. It can help smooth out or minimize the sensory field, funneling emotional energy properly and enhance the efficiency of environmental interpretations. Equipment can bridge a gap and free the horse, becoming an asset to the nurturing process itself when it has become clear a sensory soundness issue is impeding progress.

Where proper use is an asset to the nurturing process, improper use is its adversary. The application of equipment during a time when the horse is yet in the early stages of psychological growth, when their associative aspect is still evolving through experience, alters anticipatory responses. Instead of learning to associate various changes in the environment with one outcome, which allows the horse to grow their versatility and confidence, this process is abbreviated, dramatically minimizing versatility. When that happens, the young mind is at risk of becoming more dependent on their equipment and less reliant on associative experience, thus less able to manage sudden changes in their environment. One thing sure, a versatile mind is a great asset during the random chaos of high-level competition.

Deciding on when and how to use equipment should always be based upon the herd dynamic profile and a sensory soundness evaluation, and not knee-jerk go-to reaction. There is a fine line between equipping through nurturing, and preparing with equipment; the natural growth process will be aided by the allowance of one and compromised by the application of the other. Ultimately it is always better for the athlete to rely on their own ability to navigate rather than be dependent on something else to navigate for them.


Closing Thoughts


All horses by nature share the same core basic instincts, that said, the individual expressions of them are uniquely singular. Because of this, especially from an athletic point of view, the criteria for which they’re selected to become athletes, and their subsequent preparation, demands that both the mental and physical horse is catered to. Stacking the deck in your favor by recruiting ability & talent into your program to help offset natural attrition is always a good investment strategy.

Advancing the physical athlete can be more clear-cut and even routine compared to evolving the psychological athlete; you can see one in a picture, but you have to feel the other. For sure, developing a physical athlete takes a lot of effort, skill and attention to detail, there is no denying that, and by the same token, nurturing the athletic psychology requires at minimum, equal attention. The nurturing process is instinctive horsemanship where what you feel can be more trustworthy than what you see and you have to be flexible as well as creative to match the needs of enrichment. Avoiding the pitfalls of mundane predictability as best you can along the way helps to maintain an edge, keeps the ratio from becoming stagnant, expands versatility, protracts mental stamina and sustains competitive edge.

You cannot manufacture competitive nature nor mechanize competitive edge, but, with the herd dynamic profile as your guide, you can hone, build upon and maximize inherent ability. It’s a symbiotic relationship; when you nurture the horse, you’re developing the athlete.