" A horse lives 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
Horse Athletes: The Physical Impact of Emotional Stress
|Posted on June 1, 2020 at 10:55 AM|
The Physical Impact of Emotional Stress
Kerry M Thomas
Stress; An Introduction
Athletes; Performance Stress & Competitive Stress
Emotional Stress; The Ultimate Chameleon
Processing Stress; Filters
Processing Stress; Vices
Emotional Stress; Physical Attrition
Closing Thoughts; Driven by Emotion
Stress; An Introduction
Few things in life are more compromising than stress, it is universally experienced, individually managed and presents itself in two basic forms, emotional stress and physical stress. Stresses that are physically emanated, especially those which are more protracted in their recovery time, can negatively affect the psyche. Depending on circumstances, where physical stress is or has been experienced, you can be hopeful that once the physical issue is remedied so is the collateral psychological anxieties that hitched a ride. You don’t get off so easy when the stress is sourced through emotion; physical stress is generally from a singular source causing pain or discomfort, but emotional stress saturates the psychology and is a shadow that can be cast with no light.
When physical stress is the source of emotional anxiety or behavior disruptions, you can expect to see these melt away once the “physical pain or discomfort”, is gone. When emotional stress is the source of physical issues, inefficiencies and even injury, you’re not going to “fix” it by trying to address them from a physical standpoint. You have to put out the fire if you want to get rid of the smoke. In order to have any chance of accomplishing that you have to unravel the onion layers and look for the source; putting a band aid on the result is often an endless stream of frustrations.
In young horses especially, the manner in which emotional stress is physically expressed can be affected by things like environment, time and seasoning, but the fact that it is being physically expressed, is not going to change. This becomes quite an important piece of the evaluation puzzle when considering young prospects for a racing program. The experience of stress cannot be avoided and in fact, in the natural environment, actually plays a significant role as part of the glue that helps bind the herd together. From a natural herd dynamic standpoint what separates an individual within a group is how stress is filtered and processed, which by proxy affects physical expression. These expressions are indicative of the horse’s visibility within the herd structure, which can either put a target upon them or camouflage them from dangerous predators or environments. By the same rules of nature, translated into our “domesticated” structured environment, how stress is filtered and processed determines whether a particular expression is purposeful or reactionary; in the purely athletic version of this, the ability to perform is subject to these interpretations.
If you’re scouting talent in any athlete where a physical reaction to emotional stress can occur, it is wise to determine to the best of your ability the degree of its influence and the manner in which it is being communicated. Some athletes while under duress will be inclined to seek refuge amongst their peers, some will recklessly abandon them altogether becoming obvious targets, and others will nearly be invisible by virtue of their effortless motion; rising above the white noise of environmental confusion allows the horse to become invisible within it. Mother Nature is a clever magician, hiding herd leaders in plain sight.
The understanding of how any species interacts with and is equipped to survive their natural environment is at the core of identifying and developing characteristics of athleticism, in ours. Understanding the parameters of emotional stress offers us a window into how effectual these characteristics can be.
Horses free to live by the rules of their nature are not devoid of the experience of stress, yet there are differences in the way horses cope with stresses that occur naturally as opposed to those that occur unnaturally. In the game of life on the stage of nature, to win means the individual survives, winning means the group is surviving. Horses have by basic instinct a built-in connection with one another, naturally occurring codependency’s specifically suited for individual survival in herd settings helping to manage every part of their lives, stresses included.
There are many differences between horses living collectively in the natural world, and a horse living collectively with us in our domesticated world, chief among these are the variations of emotional stress. Together in nature stress can be shared and filtered by and through other herd members, but when a horse is removed from its herd environment, stress becomes isolated within that individual. The naturally shared processes of managing stress are subsequently forced into an unnatural process of purely self-filtering. The resulting affect this has on the horse is totally dependent on their natural ability to internally process a wide variety of external stimulus which by proxy becomes ground-zero for a horse’s ability to actually perform and/or compete.
Stress collectively experienced by members of a herd has far less influence over an individual than it does when that individual is isolated and alone has to “deal with it”. Emotional distribution aids in keeping the individual safe from injury and from predators regardless of where he/she is on the hierarchy totem pole, redistributing the weight of the sometimes-troublesome interpretational process which could lead to reckless physical expressions that can put a horse in harms way. Harmony through emotional connection is the natural desire of a horse and in varying degrees every horse requires it in order to shrug off the burdens of stress, a very significant aspect of herd life. Not to be injured and not to be seen by a predator requires that the horse has as little individual stress to process, individually, as possible.
When we single out a horse for their apparent physical strengths and abilities, we are equally isolating both their psychological strengths and weaknesses. We must be mindful that when we ask the herd dependent horse to be an individual athlete, what we see in them physically will always be subject to who they are mentally. By disrupting the otherwise natural processes of collective stress management, the seemingly “sound” horse can manifest into something entirely different.
Where the natural process of filtering and managing stress is geared toward safety, calm and harmony, its design works incredibly well. It’s when we ask these entrenched processes to operate without peer resource for optimal athletic output, disruptions occur. We can separate the horse physically from the herd, but their psychology is not so easily departed.
Athletes; Performance Stress & Competitive Stress
The management of stress in the highest form means maintaining a sense of calm through moments of chaos; leadership is found in the ability to elicit harmony and control where others become nervous and reactive. Few things will challenge this ability more for a herd animal than being asked to perform or compete at a high level while also being isolated from the natural inclination to outsource their uncertainties.
Performance stress can be as real for the horse as it is for the human, and is among the primary dividers between preparation and execution. Being practiced and prepared doesn’t always translate to being able to execute when the time comes “for real”. How many athletes have looked great in workouts but when there is the addition of competitive stress, they begin to show the earmarks of faltering under the pressure? Stress unfiltered psychologically will suffocate competitive edge and when antagonistically expressed physically, greatly affects efficiency of motion; neither of which are performance enhancing tendencies. The truth is, there just is no way of knowing 100% how any athlete-to-be is going to handle the emotional stresses, often accumulative and protracted, of competition, but there are indeed various clues evident in the psyche.
There are two basic variations of emotional stress the horse athlete will be asked to deal with depending on the actual discipline they’re in, subsequently their management markers need to be considered accordingly. The athlete performing and being judged on time or elegance of movement is doing so in isolation from peer factors knocking on their door. Thus, their stress management style will be a different variation and capacity than the horse athlete destined to compete against peers where situational chaos from multiple sources bombards the psyche.
Identifying stress factors in performers isn’t the same as identifying stress factors in competitors, this is not a one size fits all situation, making it easily misunderstood or even overlooked altogether, which can prove to be in the end, a costly mismanagement of information. There is quite a contrast, for example, in evaluating the physical performance of “time” at a two-year-old sale and considering their ability to manage competitive stress. I always wondered, how much money has been spent and lost by investing in a horses’ performance while their ability to compete went unasked?
For the athlete that races there is both performance stress and competitive stress. Their individual performance, while certainly a factor, is itself ultimately governed by their ability to compete; the ability to compete is governed by the capacity to manage emotional stress. In order to have any hope of real success and longevity as a race horse the thoroughbred will be required to have sufficient ability in dealing with performance related stresses and an above average ability in managing stress relative to competition.
Performance stress stems from the manifestation of activities associated with isolation, from a developmental point of reference this is most often experienced during the preparatory stages; “practicing” and getting physically fit. This is of course quite important; being able to handle the emotional challenges and demands of isolative stresses incurred during the prepping stages of development are essential. For the race horse, managing peerless stresses are by and large all they have to do early on and owing to a horse’s natural resourcefulness to adapt, far more will have the ability to “prepare for” than actually “compete at”. The demands of performance once experienced and adapted to for the most part remain psychologically consistent and are repetitive, and we all know how most horses seem to love consistency in their lives. Consistency helps provide the always sought for harmony in a horse’s life. It is a road of less attrition to get better at what you practice alone than it is to execute what you have learned under the pressure of one’s peers.
However, the ultimate goal for a race horse is not as simple as looking great while standing, walking, galloping or breezing by their lonesome, it is of course to be consistently competitive against their rivals.
Once the transitional switch from singular performance to competition kicks in, any number of additional, and very often foreign stresses, bombard the psyche asking to be identified, interpreted and properly filtered. Being able to individually manage situational chaos in changing environments presents the herd animal with his/her greatest challenge, add to this the demands already adapted to in the performance stage, and it isn’t hard to see why some horses appear lost in the crowd. It’s because they are.
Unlike the generally singular aspects of performance stress, the nature of competitive stress is within its plurality. It is much easier, even for a species with the inherent ability for assimilation, to adjust to singular environmental changes than to accommodate multiple ones. In training and coaching athletes, the “one task at a time” achievable goals mantra can bring forth growth and goes a long way toward preparation to be sure. Even so, the best prepped performers often find themselves “learning on the fly” when thrust into competitive chaos for the first time.
Competing amongst ones peers requires the horse to be aware of and react to not only what they are doing and experiencing but also what other horses around them are doing and experiencing; add to this a lot of congestion and physical speed and you will understand that some athletes withdraw themselves from competing and default to performing. Nothing is more debilitating to physical talent than emotional stress, like a horse with a bad airway, emotional stress can suffocate desire. In small doses of time horses that have mastered performance can manage well enough, especially when their adversaries are of equal or lesser herd dynamic capacity. The more time of competition (longer the race) against equal or even stronger herd dynamics, the more stress management is required; when you see horses clearly losing the battle of competitive edge over time, there is a very good chance that the pressure of competition is suffocating their effort. I give this example often; there is a big difference between running and competing, moving in space and moving through it.
Performance stress, most often singularly sourced, can and does run the risk of building up over time, like a balloon filling with air slowly and steadily, but competitive stress, because it comes from multiple sources, can fill that same balloon much faster. By the same token, single sourced stresses are far easier to manage and adapt to than stress in multiplicity; repetition and consistency eases emotional stress, daily routines and familiar surroundings are the comfort foods of the emotional horse.
Time itself is an influencer upon the management of emotional stress be it incurred externally or internally. The physical speed demands of an act will require psychological interpretation to be comparatively faster by at least a 2/1 ratio to assuage a build-up in the “balloon” and allow fluency in motion. Horses often adjust their own physical speed in accordance with their innate ability to interpret what is going on around them, this is a natural pressure relief valve tendency that can be utilized when developing young athletes. Always providing a mental escape route can help soften attrition and offer air to a suffocating mind.
There are many faces of the experience that is emotional stress, manifesting from a variety of places like a shapeshifter that can be difficult to pinpoint and even more difficult to succor. Be the horse performing or ultimately competing, the nature of emotional stress can obscure and camouflage, crowding out potential.
Emotional Stress; The Ultimate Chameleon
It’s far easier to see the effects of emotional stress than to isolate their source, leaving one to often “treat the expression” because we tend to address what we see in hopes of a “quick-fix”. This may or may not prove adequate, but it certainly leaves those ghosts-in-the-closet the ability to emerge at seemingly random, unconnected times.
When I consider emotional stress, I compartmentalize it into three areas; stress that is related to the physical horse, communicated stress from the external environment and a form of psychosis where emotional stress is rooted within the associative aspect.
For obvious reasons the most direct form of emotional stress is that which comes from the physical horse, be it outright injury, underlying pain, or a heightened sensitivity to things as seemingly innocuous as equipment or as worrisome as poor footing. Anything physical that disrupts the desired harmony within the self is going to cause emotional stress in some way and the degree of impact is commonly relative to the degree of cause. In other words, the mantra that “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction” fits pretty well in the cause and effect sequence. Physical discomfort regardless of the reason is, fortunately, quite often short term and the relative stress it causes generally little more than an inconvenience. Protracted physical pain however, has more emotional impact for obvious reasons and outright injury even more so. These things often take the shape of anxiety and the hope is always that any discomfiture or injury is short term, for the longer they exist the deeper they go in the psyche, the deeper they go in the psyche the more likely they are to become seeds of future associative disorders.
Footing and the sense of “feel” connected to it can cause immediate surface related emotional stress and dramatically alter, as any racehorse would tell you if they could, the manner in which they move over it. With footing too there are varying degrees of impact from the hardly noticed and little remembered brief slip and slide sort of affair to the more consequential, where a horse is asked to run a large portion of a race competing over a surface that is causing them uncertainty. With enough time uncertainty will bleed into anxiety, anxiety feeds into fear, fear takes hold through association; association itself is a tool of the basic survival instinct. When emotional stress becomes interwoven with the survival instinct, it will not be unwound. The interesting thing about footing from a horses’ point of view is, it is all about comfort and security, not about speed and thrust. Emotional comfort and security precede physical output. Dirt or turf, deep or sticky, sloppy or firm are all things as acutely related to the psyche as they are to the physical. When someone says to me “he really moves over that surface well” that translates to “he’s quite at ease upon it”; a horse’s best surface is the one that causes them the least amount of stress. The same can be said about a horse’s best environment; the more stress free the work place, the more productive it will be.
The development of internal stresses from external sources is a prevailing demon and source of contention for the overtly herd dependent horse embarrassed by the wont of it. The capacity of the horse to communicate with their environment carries tremendous influence with their ability to navigate athletically within it.
The area of environmental communication where internal stress builds, putting that pressure in the balloon as it were, is in the interpretation of it. Every horse’s basic sensory system operates the same but not every horse has the ability to interpret the information with the same fluency. In the natural circumstance this matters less than in the unnatural circumstance because a horse is designed to live amongst horses where individual uncertainty is absorbed by committee. This works great out in the wild, but can become quite the antagonist to the competitor; the speed and efficiency of interpretation regulates the degree of emotional stress, the degree of emotional stress governs the fluency of physical motion. The weight of anxiety can smother athletic talent and compromise speed, pace, distance, competitive nature and so on. It also influences “running style” or what we at THT Bloodstock denote as the natural pattern of motion, a phrase those of you familiar with our Kentucky Derby Analysis know well.
Stress that manifests from poor environmental interpretation limits the “sweet zone” of the athlete by the placement of parameters; the horse only competes well when the environment around them molds to their capacity. Versatility in competition is psychological, the more the horse is able to communicate sudden and multiple external stimuli the less likely these are to build internal stress, allowing the horse the freedom to athletically respond. If there is a delay in this communication the stress begins to mount from the uncertainty, slowing the interpretation which compromises the filtering process creating “drag” between cause and effect as the horse becomes stuck between intention and execution. When the horse is in heated debate for position, drag from indecision can take you from 1st to wherever, in a hurry. Residual stress stifles desire, suffocating the fire of will, and brief moments of recurring hesitation could be a sign of a deeper rabbit hole.
Emotional stress affixed to experience attaches itself to learned behaviors; when emotional stress is associative in nature, the root of the cause can be quite elusive. The anticipatory response mechanism in each horse helps them to, through associative experiences, navigate their world safely. Getting the jump on a predator, for example, means knowing the difference between a sage bush blowing across the ground and a mountain lion rushing in. Anticipation with attached emotional stress from a bad experience or a perceived uncertain experience changes physiology and movement. Heart rates elevate, a horse can begin sweating for no obvious reason, physical expressions can become erratic, emotional energy needed for competition starts to be consumed long before the horse enters the gate, some “bounce” as if on a pogo stick and on and on.
Associative stress disorders, where they exist, could have been put in place long before their impact is truly seen or felt by us. From the time a horse is born the anticipatory response mechanism kicks in, essential in nature, essential to nurture; these are the building blocks of the future mental health of the horse. And again, there’s a ghostly aspect within these disorders in their seemingly random expression that happen far removed in time and space from the event that seeded them; it’s called associative stress.
Associative stress can come from anywhere and it can be as unassuming as a little worry or as consuming as completely changing patterns in behavior and is often as fleeting as it is protracted.
Any stressful event that causes an emotional response can leave a mark, and if that emotional response was in the form of anxiety, uncertainty or fear, whatever was accepted as the “cause” as well as whatever is associated with it, gets imprinted, (on the positive side, this process also imprints positive events and harmonized associations). We ourselves access this associative aspect regarding our experiences, and anticipate positively or negatively; in the name of self-preservation, what is perceived to be is as powerful as what actually is. Each of these elicits a response, one because of necessity, the other “just in case”. If a horse had a bad slip on a sloppy surface, they may very well alter their speed and gait whenever they “think” they feel the same sensation underfoot. If a horse had a frightening experience in their youth you may see the result of the perception of it carried forward years later; the associative aspect of horses is for them a version of reason.
When we transplant the herd animal into our domesticated world, we are assuming responsibly for their emotional wellbeing.
Processing Stress; Filters
Stress happens, it’s a simple fact and unavoidable byproduct of life indeed and how it is filtered and processed defines the individual.
Horses being the great “quiet communicators” they are, absorb the emotional world around them, adopting what I consider “short-term stresses” by virtue of their natural communicative process. Because horses are capable of filtering the stress from others, a part of the herd dynamic that binds them emotionally with their herd mates, it also connects them with their human counterparts. Very often you can see the “vibe” of others through the expressions of a horse; this is at its core a filtering process. The degree in which a horse is able to filter the emotional stress of others reflects the depth of their herd dynamic and their role within the herd itself.
Understanding how a horse processes and filters stress helps you understand how it is likely to be expressed in them physically as an athlete. Is the horse offloading competitive stress and seeking herd favor? Is the horse unable to process the influx of stress in the environment and defaults to withdrawing from competition? Or is the horse processing and filtering in a manner that frees them from the pinions of others? Any attempt to ascertain the ability of an athlete to compete without making an effort to understand their tendencies when under stress, is in my opinion, a flawed attempt.
Regardless of the source, the manner in which emotional stress is physically expressed plays a central role in total athleticism. Emotional stress will be filtered in some way; sometimes it is all held within and largely unseen, internally filtered, and sometimes it is physically expressed in movement, externally filtered. Each of these forms can range in degree of impact.
Internal filtering at its highest levels is the act of absorbing and processing stress with ease and no loss of body control or environmental awareness, at its lowest levels it is emotionally suffocating, marginalizes environmental awareness and is a mechanism of attrition for athletic output.
Horses who, for better or worse, are prone to process emotional stress internally, qualify themselves in two ways; highly efficient athletic psychologies shed stress with relative ease, allowing their full potential to be accessed uninterrupted, inefficient mentalities pin-ball on the stress allowing it to build pressure in the psychological balloon. When unfiltered and accumulative, internal stress is burdensome, especially when performing or competing, and a desire to outsource emerges in order to divest themselves of it. Psychological outsourcing dramatically compromises an individuals’ physical fluency, in affect separating the operating system from the machine; the definition of average. The interesting thing with these horses is that their course to outsourcing is rarely marked by “loud” physical behaviors from themselves, instead they move in unison with others, helping them stay invisible in open space. From a survival standpoint, the less attention to one’s self the better, lest they place a target upon their back; herd mates sponging up the overflow confuses the targeted focus of a predator.
In the herd environment even those who are externally filtering emotional stress, by and large, enjoy the camouflage provided by their herd mates. Their physical expressions rippling through other horses helps their personal concealment. Athletically speaking, physically filtering stress does not mean athletic fluency is automatically compromised, in fact there are cases where these expressions under stress are quite useful in combat. The key is, identifying them as such from those that are compromising. Emotional stress externally expressed has a very definitive pattern in the way and direction of exit. Each horse has unique tendencies under stress and these will either be athletic in nature or antagonistic to it, which it is depends greatly on the discipline. Regardless of the manner of expression the filtering process absolutely is a factor in optimizing talent and ability. Whatever affects the mind, can certainly affect the body.
When we isolate the horse from the herd to perform, and ask them to be individuals in crowded competition, we are subjecting the manner in which they process stress to scrutiny that in nature they are protected from. Because of this, one horse can sometimes seem to like two, what we fail to recognize in one setting, can become all too prevailing in another.
Processing Stress; Vices
Often a byproduct of psychological isolation, sequestered emotions that need soothing can manifest into vices, some of these we see, some of these we do not. The most common (but not the only) reason we see them is because they’re being expressed in a stall where everything is condensed. When we think of vices in our horses where they exist, we have to keep in mind that though they are commonly physically expressed, they are psychological in nature.
When the familiar avenues of processing stress become compromised, an occurrence more prevalent in our domesticated world, it’s perfectly normal for horses that are more dependent than others on herd outsourcing (herd-bound), or physically expressive in their filtering process, to manifest vices. Vices are tricky because they do not always reflect the severity of their source; ranging from barely noticeable habits or nuisances to downright troublesome and even destructive behaviors. Trying to remedy these altogether is often a hopeless sequence of trial and error because unless you can pinpoint the cause, treating the result usually ends up inviting a different variation of the same commentary. In most cases a physically expressed “bad habit” is the horse’s effort to self-soothe, therefore doing all you can do to keep them mentally stimulated is your best bet to harmonize them. Unless you know what the cause of their stress is and can subdue it, your next best thing is to look for a way to help them filter that stress less destructively via divergence.
Stress itself cannot be erased; whichever avenue the horse utilizes to filter it needs to be provided for. A crucial part of developing any athlete is centered up the ability to provide for their essential mental health needs, finding ways to balance these needs with the requirements requisite to become a top athlete is not the horse’s responsibility.
Just because we generally acknowledge a vice in its physical expression, common in the externally filtering horses, doesn’t mean that the horse who internalizes and seeks to offload their stress to peers for absorption do not develop them similarly. When they develop a “vice” it is expressed through a behavior pattern; these can range from sullen depression to walking the stall and a host of things in between. The difference between vices manifested from internal and external filters is found in the hole the act is intended to fill and not the act itself; when a physical act soothes and harmonizes normally, a physical act will become a substitute, when a behavioral propensity soothes and harmonizes normally, an act within behavior will develop to imitate it.
If there is a desire or a need to try and minimize a horses’ “vice”, knowing where it stems from is essential. If what the horse is doing is inhibiting their ability to be trained and coached, to perform and compete, finding ways to creatively channel that emotional extension of themselves is much better than attempting to eradicate it.
I’ve always been of the opinion that when it comes to such things, it is best to weigh the pros and cons of the circumstances before trying to “defuse” the situation. If what the horse is doing is little more than a nuisance then let it be; if it isn’t disrupting their lives and training then it is most likely actually aiding them by helping them cope with the environment. Making combat for the sake of itself can lead to more issues. Vices are normal byproducts of personality, if it isn’t in their way, don’t put it in yours.
Emotional Stress; Physical Attrition
Emotional stress and physical health, the peas and carrots of athletic longevity, and one of the most important things to consider. Emotional health is an essential part of physical health and healing and is a reflection of how stress is being managed as well as a peek into the window of the future. How stress is managed and distributed influences not only talent and ability, but longevity of mind and sustainability of body.
Injury prone or not? Subject to mental fatigue or a deep well of competitive edge? Am I an athlete or just a horse? Make no mistake about it, emotional stress can translate to and alter physical motion by contributing to the strain where issues already exist and creating issues that otherwise didn’t. Emotional stress can make a supple and fluid horse moving with purposeful action become rigid, reactionary, reckless in movement. Every horse can fall victim to injury, but any horse that cannot mentally handle the rigors and demands of becoming an athlete will be more susceptible to them.
The affect that emotional stress has on the psyche can be powerful and behavior altering, and anything that affects the operating system of the machine, affects the machine itself. Whether we’re evaluating thoroughbreds or I’m giving a sport horse clinic, one thing always rings true, if you want a supple horse that horse needs a supple mind.
There are already enough physical factors looming against the horse’s sustainable athletic health, conformation and mechanics of motion, points of pressure and acts of attrition over time, the last thing you want to add to this equation is the weight and grind of emotional stress. Anything that gnaws on the psyche puts stress on the body. A standing or walking horse dealing with building anxiety will have an elevated heart rate, can break out into a lather and all that anxious energy can make them nearly bounce out of their shoes.
When the mental mechanics are disrupted, it plays havoc on the physical mechanics and the fluency of motion. Add the lifestyle of training and competing to a psyche that has difficulty in managing stress and any physical imperfections are going to receive the brunt of attrition. How stress flows through the body is an essential piece of the athletic puzzle; the mind should complement the physical and not get in its way. A horse doesn’t need to have a “perfect” physical conformation to compete, if they are equipped with the capacity to manage competitive stress, they will optimize whatever physical talent they have without adding a stiff grind to the equation. The ability to manage emotional stress correlates to physical soundness in that the more emotionally sound the less perfectly conformed the body has to be. Obviously, there are limitations physically that cannot be overcome, but the point is if the horse isn’t adding mental stress to themselves then you can consider the physical aspects on their own merit. Some horses “take care of themselves” and some do not.
The manner in which a horse is physically expressing emotional stress should always be crosschecked with their physical conformation because psychological work load put into physical motion becomes relentless and by proxy will add an additional element to wear and tear, which eventually has a breaking point. Owing to this reality the management of stress plays an essential role in not only the ability to compete, but in affording the luxury of time it takes to prepare to compete; it matters little if the horse has the body and the pedigree to become a top athlete if they do not have the psychology, to sustain it.
Time is also a question of consideration when it comes to how injurious emotional stress can be when translated to the body in motion. Mental fatigue is not only an enemy of competitive edge when it begins to kick in, it is antagonistic to physical fluency.
Mental fatigue is the result of a buildup of internalized emotional stress that happens during protracted periods of heightened focus demands. The longer the time in motion of combat, the more mental stamina will be required; you can grind through physical fatigue when you have mental stamina but without it, well good luck. You can physically condition the horse to go 10 furlongs however if the horse experiences the onset of mental fatigue at 8, your horse transitions from competing to running. Mental fatigue constricts the horse’s environmental awareness and their ability to react to changes in it with their usual efficiency. When this happens, there is in effect a disconnect between mind and body; when mentally tired there is a loss of synchronicity putting additional pressures on any physical flaws the horse may have. This is why it is essential that if you’re dreaming of winning at 10 furlongs, you need a horse who is mentally capable to compete longer than the time it takes to complete it.
A great amount of attention and time is given, and rightfully so, to the physical horse, but emotional stress and indeed, overall mental health, play such a significant role in everything horse, not to give it just as much attention and coaching, is folly. When you walk away from the horse, they aren’t walking away from themselves, mental fatigue and psychological wear and tear isn’t reserved for just the training hours. The body needs nutrition and conditioning, and so does the mind.
Closing Thoughts: Driven by Emotion
The most difficult terrain to navigate in life is the emotional landscape both internally and externally. You cannot identify and evaluate the physical potential in an athlete without first identifying and evaluating their likely ability to manage the emotional stresses they will incur. When a cacophony of emotions drowns out the ability to discriminate between the outside and inside world, anxiety replaces reason; emotional stress can make you feel the loneliest while you’re in a crowded room.
Regardless of whether we at THT Bloodstock are looking at horses for private purchase, at auction, evaluating breeding prospects or developing a performance profile, diagnosing as many stress managing factors as we can is an essential step toward gaining an understanding of the whole horse. Identifying a horse with the herd dynamic makeup to operate independently with as much ease as when with their herd is rare, finding one that has the compliment of elite athleticism, rarer still. I’ve always believed that you are far less likely to see future greatness than you are to feel it. Determining the raw materials of the entire horse and working within their nature to cultivate it requires that emotional communication supersede physical demand. Physical ability is the vehicle through which grit, heart, and determination, are brought to bear yet just because a horse has been groomed to be a race horse, doesn’t mean they are one.
Naturally occurring tendencies of stress management dramatically impact a horses emotional and physical wellbeing, it is the core of who they are as individuals and requires as much attention and nurturing than simply physical conditioning alone. True horsemanship is an act of recognizing natural instinct and emotionally connecting to it.
Horses are, after all, athletes driven by emotion and cannot be separated from their natural instincts. In horsemanship we should not distinguish between emotion and instinct, for instincts are emotional and horsemanship is not something you see, it is something you feel. Stress happens, and herd dynamics matter.
The Horse; Herd Dynamics In-Foal
|Posted on April 26, 2020 at 12:10 AM|
Herd Dynamics In-Foal
Kerry M Thomas
Introduction; Evaluating Foals
Herd Dynamics; Ingredients Inherent
The Foal & Competitive Nature
Positioning for Launch; Growth Patterns
Closing Thoughts; Talent & Ability
Introduction; Evaluating Foals
One of the most frequent questions we get asked at THT Bloodstock is; “Can you get much herd dynamic information by evaluating a foal?” The answer to that question is a profound yes, and what we’re going to find will be woven around the loosely fitted individual psychology knitted to the core of basic instinct. A good comparison is if you think of a psychological umbilical cord; from the moment the youngster hits the ground they’re equipped with the precocial basics of instinct yet tethered to the broodmares definitive herd dynamic. As time goes on and this mental tethering begins to stretch, the initial clues to the assemblage of unique herd dynamic ingredients available, will be found within the communicated relationship between foal and mare. As this bonded relationship starts to transition toward a more independent one for the foal, the emotional tether stretches, allowing the foal to guardedly begin exploring the new world and the development of their unique herd dynamics begins. The stage for the future has been set.
Psychological growth happens in stages and begins immediately upon birth. It’s very first lesson plan comes in the form of associations; association with the mother, immediate close (introverted) environment, followed by associations with the immediate outside (slightly extroverted) environment and so on. These associations wrap the young horse in layers like a tiny onion starting to grow, experience overlaying experience. The relationship the foal has with its mother in the natural world, and both the mother and handler in the domesticated world, is influential in that these relationships help nudge the inherent behavioral genetic ingredients into motion. You can’t ensure elite herd dynamics will one day develop in these initial stages, for ultimately Mother Nature decides this, but you can help ensure they have the opportunity to manifest where they exist. Creating an environment of success starts on day one and the most effective way to do so psychologically is to nurture without getting in the way of nature.
Evaluating foals has a number of benefits. Gaining an understanding of the young horse’s natural communication ability is among the more essential pieces of the early development puzzle; understanding emergent growth patterns, identifying the core relationship between the sensory system and the interpretational ability housed in the psycho-sensory and the influence of and between purposeful and reactionary motion. These things and more are the earmarks of ability; talent without ability is a horse not an athlete.
Foal evaluations are just that, an evaluation of the foal in his or her moment in time; there is no crystal ball predicting the future but there are clues to be found in the potential trajectory of herd dynamic ability. In the emotionally charged horse everything they are and everything they can become is largely influenced by the relationships they have and develop with each other and the changing environments they experience. An understanding of these principles is your first glimpse into their future.
Herd Dynamics; Ingredients Inherent
The excitement in and for the young horse-athlete is something special, young horses are not only endearing and beautiful they are also filled with all of the ingredients of hope that are representative of ourselves in many ways.
Talent is what stands before you in the physical horse, horses are athletic; you can see this clearly in the horse as they run and play and sometimes bounce around joyfully waxing their best kangaroo impression. The ingredients of physical genetics, while important to be sure, can do little in fulfilling the hope of greatness on their own accord. The ingredients of greatness are descried through the avenue of expression; talent is physical, ability is psychological. In the foal the ingredients of their herd dynamic, though yet to be fully formed and still revolving and evolving, are present. The peculiarity in which they are expressed can, will and does change as they mature, but the basic foundation is born with them. Identifying what is available is the first part of understanding who the young horse is and through a study of expression you begin to knit together an idea of who they could become.
Tendencies in behavior begin to develop almost immediately though without definitive patterns until a foal has enough associated experience. Patterns in behavioral expression in youth, as they form, are a key element to understanding how future patterns of behavior will subsequently translate to patterns in motion; something worth knowing if you’re invested in a race horse. It is true that initially the young horse is greatly influenced by his or her relationship with their mother. It’s also true that the parameters of this relationship are crucial because aside from the physical aspect the actual bond is emotional and the mare will by proxy impart and impress upon her foal all of her emotional strengths, weaknesses and idiosyncratic nuances.
A “good mare” is one with a balanced psychology, she didn’t have to be a top athletic talent in order to have progeny that are; the real advantage in a broodmare is her degree of herd dynamic soundness, not to be confused with her level in the herd dynamic hierarchy. Again, the difference between talent and ability plays a significant role; broodmares with both physical talent and herd dynamic soundness are ideal but not necessary. How a horse does what they do, colt or filly, carries more weight when/if they become broodmares or stallions, than does what they did. If you’re main criteria for value is reflective of performance results and pedigree alone, you can find yourself quite misguided. These may be identifiable markers in the human point of reference, but in the eyes of Mother Nature, they are just an appendix. What the parents did isn’t going to be handed down the line because talent is independently expressed, but the manner in which they performed, “who” they are, flows on down the line merging together to become the available ingredients of character.
Which ingredients will become the “new” horses prevailing behavioral genetic traits and which ones will be mostly dormant is often a wait-and-see thing; I have two full brothers and though we each have similar prevailing traits we also express these in vastly different ways. The tendencies and traits that most influence me, though available to my siblings, are mostly dormant in them, and vice versa. However, we also share certain traits and tendencies equally; we are “stamped” in some aspects by our fathers and our mothers.
Every thoroughbred born has by nature some degree of physical talent inherent, and where you will often see physical stamping in horses, making certain physical characteristics easily identified, this is mostly anecdotal because ability ultimately governs how well these physical traits will actually perform. The real gold in the panning-for-gold process is identifying prevailing character traits; psychological stamping.
Herd dynamic “stamping” is a powerful marker because behavioral genetics are the ingredients that drive the emotionally aware and environmentally sensitive horse in every part of their lives; athletic performance included.
Physical stamping we see in certain body parts or proportions, head, neck, back, feet, hocks and so on. Behavioral “stamping” is expressed through individual tendencies, and tendencies under stress govern physical efficiency. No one needs to tell you how influential competitive stress can be during training and performance. Earmarking which broodmare and stallion tendencies have more influence on the young horse and evaluating how and if these influenced their performances where you can, goes far in ascertaining the degree of influence they are likely to have.
Core character traits and tendencies are drawn upon in the foal and begin to guide them, playing a vital role in their psychological development. The ground floor ingredients of mental aptitude are all available throughout the horses’ life but not all of them utilized, it’s during times of stress where you discover the true nature of behavioral stamping as they become the prevailing traits of a particular individual. These baseline markers are the footers from which the house is built; a stunning and expensive second floor layered upon an unstable foundation will look good when the environment doesn’t present any challenges but may shake or even fail, during times of stress.
The Foal & Competitive Nature
The identification of early herd dynamic markers is a key step in postulating the bigger picture, but this of and in itself does not mean a for-sure translation to athletic ability. There are a great many horses with fluid, fairly well-balanced herd dynamics and physical talent that at length are underachievers as athletes; however, “underachieving” may not be a fair label. It may well be that envisioned expectation and actual ability are often not on the same page. Something quite essential in athletics is competitive edge, that ability to optimize physical talent under stress especially when pressed and threatened by mental fatigue; dogged perseverance and grit defines competitive edge in its purest sense.
These characteristics, while obviously not fully honed in the foal, will be in the mix of mental ingredients and will show themselves in various degrees in the manner of expression. Competitive nature in its rawist form is something every horse has, it’s what they rely on during times of stress to evade danger or joust for mates and herd positioning and so on. Yet in the racehorse we are seeking a more specialized version of this natural instinct so that competitive nature affords competitive edge. When you’re breeding thoroughbreds, a breed that is “born to run”, you’d do well to consider if you’re also breeding to race. There can be a wide gap between horses running in space, and horses running through it.
The foundation of the athletic version of competitive nature that we desire can be difficult to see clearly in foals however this too has core markers that indicate its existence. When you consider the difference in horses running in or through space, what sets them apart is not what they’re doing but how they’re doing it. This same lens and point of reference can be used when studying the patterns emerging in the foal’s behavior; they’re going to be kids sure but even so the degree of either reactive or purposefulness in their expressions and movements is very telling. Peculiar slants in one direction or another begin to emerge over time and as the foal more and more stretches that emotional tether these leans start to take on a larger role for the individual herd animal.
Nothing tells you more about an evolving psychology than the emergence of assimilation and adaptability. This process, which stems directly from the interpretive aspect of the herd dynamic, plays an essential role in the way in which competitive nature is expressed. When looking for athletic “potential” in foals much can be ascertained by the study of their naturally occurring ability to interpret and adapt relative to physical action. This process is the determining factor between reactive body movement and controlled body movement.
Competitive nature funneled through a less than high functioning interpretive aspect is physical motion expressed before it’s interpreted; this reactive motion is often accompanied by a co-dependent necessity to outsource interpretation to other horses compromising its manifestation. Competitive nature funneled through a high functioning interpretive aspect becomes physical reaction after interpretation lending itself to purposeful physical motion and no required outsourcing; the ground floor from which competitive edge is realized.
Here again it is important to remember that what is done is less important than the manner in which it is done. A foal in a field showing a large degree of “independence” from mommy, for example, of and in itself doesn’t mean you have an emerging elite and independent thinker on your hands. It could mean that, but the act itself does not indicate herd dynamic potential; a careful study of the young horses’ psychological rhythms in relation to their proximity to anything, especially momma, is a better barometer. Every individual horse “personality” has what I dub a unique psychological spin-cycle, a natural rhythm to the flow of emotional energy innate making each horses baseline normal singular. This is why, from a herd dynamic standpoint, you cannot place horses in a box or typical “typing”. You have to determine what the individual’s internal rhythms are before you know what are “normal” behavior patterns. I use this analogy often; race horses are not race cars, with the horse you’re getting the car with its own unique driver. It’s a package deal, investing in only one aspect is an unwise investment strategy.
Psychological rhythm in essence is the rate at which emotional energy is distributed and the tone in which it is expressed determines the resilience of mental stamina. You can forget all about trying to figure out by the foal’s physical structure and pedigree what distances may be ideal in the future if your horse is devoid of mental stamina; the only ideal distance is the distance mental capacity can take you. Matching physical challenges to mental aptitude and physical distances to the rate of emotional energy rhythms is a far more productive way to match athlete to goal.
Individual rhythm alone is only a part of the developing minds story, how this emotional energy is distributed, accessed and utilized hinges greatly on the horse’s unique relationships between themselves and their environment. Here again we see the importance of developing adaptability as the foal stretches the tether from mom and begins to negotiate what is happening around them and what they perceive to be happening. The fabric that binds the outside world to the inside world, so to speak, is the intertwining of the physical senses funneling external information to the internal psyche for examination. Foals and yearlings can have a lot of space between these two and there will be resulting “baby bumps”, seemingly erratic physical expressions, which are both normal and healthy because the raw materials are yet to align. Emotional energy and rhythm are beautifully unmolded in foals and interpreting the world highly dependent on the broodmare; yet just as the young horse “gets their legs” they too will begin to “get their herd dynamics”.
For competitive nature to translate into competitive edge, a proper alignment between the speed of sensory identification and the speed of interpretation has to emerge. The sensory system hits the ground running; the healthy foal has the full complement of the sensory toolset available upon birth, the framework is there and soon beginning to scan the environment independently. What the horse grows into is command of competitive nature and the environmental interpretations that run through it. This happens over time as experiences begin to get absorbed and layer into the psyche; the avenue of learning.
As the horse starts to “get more confidence”, (begins to self-interpret and be less reliant on outsourcing) the emotional tether further loosens and stretches. Early in a horse’s life things we recognize as self-assurance and confidence are directly related to and channeled through the efficiency of interpretation, efficiency of interpretation allows for controlled and fluid physical motion, (As they get older confidence also manifests from associative experience). For fluid and efficient physical motion to be maintained in changing environments, the interpretational rhythm of the herd dynamic needs to be cycling faster than the physical body is moving through the environment not unlike a blocker in football clearing space for the running back. The “mind ahead of the body” applies regardless of actual physical speed and this is in place as an extension of the basic instinct for survival. Controlled motion and the conservation of emotional energy depend upon it, important factors for the athlete.
Even very young horses will begin to show emerging indicators of the efficacy of the filtering process that I call the psycho-sensory sequence; the physical senses identifying stimuli in the outside world to be funneled into the psyche for interpretation and subsequent reaction. Where the psycho-sensory sequence is less efficient outsourcing happens by default, herd animals have a back-up; if I can’t process fast enough individually, most surely another herd member will.
Built-in codependency is a highly effective way for species living in herds to sustain survival, but not so attractive for the hopeful athlete of the future who will need to be able to operate independent of these sticking points. For competitive nature to evolve into competitive edge, naturally occurring emotional rhythms have to always be a “step ahead” of the physical environment. The actual time/space required between identification and reaction to maintain athletic fluency will change from situation to situation but horses that have this ability have psychological versatility, a valued asset when negotiating situational chaos.
Positioning for Launch; Growth Patterns
To say that you can predict the future with certainty is of course not reality, there are a great many moving parts and links in the chain and anyone working with horses will tell you that it’s far more common to have something derail your goals than optimize them. However, gaining an understanding of a foal’s core herd dynamics and the affectedness with which they’re emerging helps you in recognizing the trajectory of psychological growth.
Herd dynamics, though readily present in the foal, develop and manifest over time into recognizable behavioral markers or traits, and as experience begins to layer into the horse these markers begin to repeat themselves based upon previous learned experience, becoming tendencies. Growth patterns are represented in commonly occurring tendencies in environments or experiences that are loosely related. These repetitive patterns, responding to stimulus, are hard-wired to the basic survival instinct; “if this happens, I do this and I do this even if I think it may happen by virtue of association.”
Psychological growth patterns that develop in the foal are strong indicators of how well they will adapt and react to both emotional and environmental stresses that lay ahead; this is key information not only for the coachability of the future horse, but in understanding how best to coach them. Growth patterns reveal the efficiency of and the ability for learning and the avenue from which it happens.
Physically monitoring the growth of the foal is of course important, things like nutrition and veterinary care, farrier and so on are responsible husbandry practices and assists in the development of the physical athlete. This would be sufficing if your end goal was a correct and healthy beautiful show horse, but in order for the horse to look great in the winner’s circle in a Grade 1 race, he or she has to be far more than a beautiful horse, they need to be an athlete. Monitoring the mental growth in the young horse is every bit as important to their future potential as is monitoring their physical growth. Consider what it takes for a horse to ultimately become an athlete and not just athletic; being athletic in large part is gifted by Mother Nature and with proper care and nutrition can be maintained and strengthened. Yet to develop an athlete you often have to nurture competitive nature into competitive edge; leaving this to chance can leave a lot of potential untapped. There is a significant difference between training and coaching.
In order to get an idea of what the future could potentially hold for any particular foal, with so many herd dynamic pieces of their puzzle developing and evolving, you cannot get trapped into looking so far ahead you don’t see what is in front of you. Perception and reality often have a lot of space between them, but that doesn’t mean that even in the raw materials that make up the foal, you’re unable to find markers to help peel back the veil and peek into the future. In order to get any idea of what you have, you need to know what you have available and juxtapose that with what you know it takes to succeed.
Everything builds upon the next chain link, thus evaluating foals is in part a reverse engineering project of knowing the various herd dynamic traits of high-level athletes and looking for these base markers; because even the most chiseled competitive edge hinges upon a foundation that was present when they were still tethered to mom. Having the foundation will not itself ensure future success but it gives you a baseline for the nurturing process along the horse’s journey while giving their core foundation the chance to develop in the proper direction. Not having the foundation markers as prevailing traits doesn’t mean hope is lost, it does mean that the nurturing process along the course of their lives will need to be specifically manicured in order to cultivate ability.
It is essential at every stage of individual growth that what is asked of the horse is within his or her capability; goals based in reality have a better chance of being realized. The simple fact is a large majority of horses as individuals will and do have co-dependent herd dynamic tendencies, some of these will influence athletic development and some of them will not. Knowing the building blocks of your foal helps you understand both the potential strengths and weaknesses within their herd dynamic, information that will help you monitor what begs watching and nurture what needs sculpting. Because foals are rapidly absorbing and experiencing their worlds, the environment they’re in becomes your greatest “coaching” asset.
Nothing helps steer budding competitive nature toward competitive edge like self-assurance and in order for a horse to develop the proverbial confidence, they need to develop sensory efficiency and interpretative fluency. The environment that provides discoverable stimuli for the individual within the group is a classroom well equipped. Mother nature is the foals’ best teacher because regardless of what we want for our horses and their futures, they are still horses. It is up to us to build our association with the young horse around and through their natural herd dynamic in our domesticated world. Horses at any age learn a great deal through the avenue of association and the associative learning process in foals plays a vital role in how ability develops.
Few horses have herd dynamics with no dependencies but this doesn’t mean they cannot go on to become great athletes because many indeed do. What the foal experiences as they grow becomes a layer of learned-experience, but the manner in which it has been exposed to them becomes the association and we always need to be mindful of this. How something happened and the way it was presented plays a bigger role in the psyche than what actually happened; if an experience is accompanied by emotional stress and anxiety, emotional stress and anxiety is what the experience is associated with. If an experience is accompanied by calm and comfort, then calm and comfort is what it is associated with. These are the layers of psychological growth built upon the existing foundation; layers emerge to influence tendency, tendency evolves into patterns of behavior, patterns of behavior translate to patterns in motion.
Psychological growth patterns are every bit if not more important to monitor and guide than are physical growth patterns alone because ultimately it is mental aptitude that determines the difference between horses that run and horses that race. The early environment is key to the future and knowing the pieces of the herd dynamic puzzle that is the foal helps in creating an environment for success. Being a successful athlete means the horse has gone on to capitalize on their existing physical talent and has optimized their existing ability.
Closing Thoughts; Talent & Ability
The building blocks of the future lay within the herd dynamics, all of the raw ingredients of what the horse can become are born with them and as much as it may be desired, you cannot manufacture something that isn’t there.
When it comes to evaluating foals, it is not so much about predicting the future as it is identifying the aggregation of raw materials and seeing first and foremost what identifiable ingredients are available. Physically the horse has a wonderful chance to be talented if they have the framework to stay sound going forward, yet a lot of money has been invested in talent that never comes to fruition. Talent is far more common than is the ability to optimize it; many a time talent has been overpaid for where inherent ability has been underappreciated. I have personally always viewed “talent” as secondary criteria because in athletics it has little value without ability to maximize its advantages.
Value is found between the ears regardless of the horses age, foals however, by virtue of their unrefined herd dynamic, present the unique evaluation opportunity of cataloging their unformed but functioning traits and tendencies and monitoring growth through their expressions. Horses are not machines, they are impassioned, expressive and beautifully sensitive animals that feel and experience and this part of them plays an essential role in everything they do, including train and compete.
Optimized physical talent is emotionally driven and where there are any number of ways to aid the physical machine, you cannot mechanize emotion. The horse is an instinctive animal; thus, we must view him instinctively.
*For additional information about THT Bloodstock please visit www.thtbloodstock.com, you can also connect on social media by visiting THT Bloodstock on FB and following Kerry on Twitter @thomasherding and THT Partner Pete Denk @petedenk
**Be sure and check out all of Kerry’s articles available on Past The Wire’s “Kerry’s Corner Column
Environmental Impact; The Nature of Dependency & Performance
|Posted on March 27, 2020 at 5:20 PM|
The Nature of Dependency & Performance
Kerry M Thomas
Introduction, Basic Instinct
Herd Structure, Relationships in Nature
GHD, Group Herd Dynamic
IHD, Individual Herd Dynamic
Dependencies & Performance, The Nature Of
Introduction; Basic Instinct
Few things have more influence over individual performance than interpersonal relationships socially defined. To identify and optimize potential in any individual horse a look at their emotional relationships and how they function party to these must be understood. Knowing how the individual manages outside stresses offers insight to their likely ability to manage their own, information that lends itself to helping create an environment of success. It can be difficult to truly understand and develop the individual horse without first knowing the natural dynamics involved in the herd structure.
Regardless of what we do with horses or what goals we set for them in our “domesticated” world, along for the ride throughout the horses life is the basic instinct as designed by Mother Nature, and within this design rests the key to not only understanding your horse individually, but horses collectively. The impact of basic instinct, though a part of the horse’s everyday life cycles, has profound influence on the horse during times of elevated stress. This is translated to “our world” of structured training, breeding, performing, in a wide variety of ways that can appear to us as head-scratching random. Basic instinct runs much deeper than fight or flight; it defines the relationships individual horses have with their environment, with their herd mates, with us.
At its core basic instinct is a firm foundation of sameness, yet it is often manifested and expressed in everyone a little differently owing to the necessity of herd structure. Tendencies and uniquely expressed behavioral genetics allow individuals to maneuver within the herd structure that a hierarchy of leadership is developed, sustaining the species; common basic instinct binds the horse with its environment, different expressions of it allows the horse to adapt and assimilate to the changes within it. Mother Nature is wise, she knows that without individual assimilation the herd and ultimately the species, would struggle to continue.
Basic instinct in the societal prey animal has built-in co-dependencies acting as the thread that binds the individuals, even the elite herd dynamic leaders that have few or even no individual dependencies, still have one that keeps them from floating away from the herd, harmony. Companionship and accord, comfort and calm define the greatest reward, from the bottom rung to the top, this basic instinct has maintained the herd structure through time and environment.
Herd Structure; Relationships in Nature
Horses by their very nature are a societal species and therefore subject to the physical and emotional changes within and without the family unit. Emotionally charged and expressed relationships where the goal for the horse as a species is survival, and the ultimate “win” for an individual, is harmony.
The relationships between individual members of a herd can be and often are as diversely proportioned emotionally as any other family structure, but always the common basic instincts help keep them threaded together. The hierarchy of herd structure is as much a necessity of species survival as it is a tool to help keep weaker individuals safer than they would be otherwise; herding mentality is the natural aversion to straying unless to seek or join another herd or mate.
The herd hierarchy totem-pole of leadership can have a few layers from top to bottom depending on the number of horses or whether it is a bachelor herd or a well-established family unit. Bachelor “herds” can be made up of only two horses and even when several young colts are mingling, they will quite often pair up in a shared leadership role and it’s not uncommon to see them segregate from others. The shared leadership role is uniquely suited for colts as they rough-house and trade barbs in combative play, and duke it out mentally, all the while preparing themselves for an eventual effort to take over their own breeding herd. The most essential requirement for a colt, and those who are most likely to one day take over their own family unit, is emotional intelligence. Brute force can help fight and defend in circumstances that demand it, but psychological sagacity sustains, helps avoid compromising environments and is the primary requirement for leadership.
In the natural herd dynamics, devoid of human goals associated with athletics, leadership is an expression of behavior, not of physical force.
Not all horses are created equal, and there is a reason for that, herd survival. Without built-in dependency/co-dependency principles, there could be no hierarchy, if there is no hierarchy, there can be no sustainable herd. Shared leadership is an earmark of a successful family unit, with differing slants on their roles there will be both a “lead” mare and “lead” stallion. The lead mare largely operates from within/amongst the herd members or just slightly askew but always maintaining governing contact. The lead stallion is generally operating outside the herd maintaining the perimeter, identifying threats or stragglers and cares less about the “day to day” inner workings and in fact can be “pushed out” to where “he belongs” by the lead mare. Seasoned mares are little afraid of raucous colts.
Descending the hierarchy scale a wide variety of character traits and tendencies under development can be found, here we find a large majority of those built-in co-dependencies. Community surveillance is an important aspect of the herd and each horse making up the body of the herd, plays a role. Very few horses by nature have both complete sensory and interpretational efficiency, an asset that affords them the luxury of independence and leadership. Inefficiency in these areas in some form or another is the glue of reliance and community co-dependence that allows the herd to function as a group. This creates a natural, built-in propensity to follow; Mother Nature very cleverly cloaks continuity by its manifestation of harmony, safety, comfort. This has nothing to do with who is bigger, stronger, faster, this is the emotional cord that permeates and sustains the herd. In terms of athletics, this is the root of the reality that as emotional athletes, horses are often a reflection of their environment.
Varying strengths and weaknesses are defined in the horse as tendencies, slants of character under times of stress; within a herd their effect on the individual is minimized and often unseen but in isolation, they can translate from co-dependency shouldered by another, to dependency confined within. When this happens the strengths and weakness are both exposed and the otherwise calm horse can become reactive, nervous, anxious; if they cannot internally process properly, they will seek to outsource. The desire to outsource is itself the dependency, not that which is sourced. Desire over action; in the beginning need is more powerful than the random succor.
Where communal harmony is reward, there is another very powerful byproduct of emotional stress that threads the yearning to follow, fear. The stress of fear and uncertainty is a powerful emotion and naturally applied tool of the co-dependent relationship within the heard, helping maintain order. Fear often results in willing self-subjugation to leadership, helping maintain order without force. Horses that are equipped with tendencies and traits that lend themselves to a higher degree of emotional intelligence will bubble-up over time; there is a significant difference between the perceived necessity of physical influence and often unnoticed power of emotional influence, until times of stress. In terms of athleticism, competitive edge is an emotional force.
The dynamics of the group are comprised by the dynamics of the individual members making up the group, and these have varying degrees of character “slants”. These ingredients of personality, for lack of a better term, present themselves in two forms I have long dubbed GHD (Group Herd Dynamic) and IHD (Individual Herd Dynamic). Understanding the herd unit is one thing, understanding the psychological rhythms and capacity of an individual, something else. Essential in athletics are these where the horse is required to compete in isolation; asking the herd animal to train and compete individually, going against the grain of built in co-dependency, can be a challenging task. Identifying particular traits and tendencies and working within them, while providing for the individual what the herd structure does, harmony as reward, rests within knowing the nature of their herd dynamic.
GHD; Group Herd Dynamics
From a psychological point of reference, I consider individual horses as having two aspects to their behavioral genetic; one aspect associated with their interpretation of the group, the other associated with their interpretation of self within it. These characteristics combine and mingle in varying percentage “slants” in both male and female horses. From a tendency standpoint Mother Nature provides a lean on efficiency of IHD and GHD because of the differing demands within those roles of the sexes; high level colts/stallions because of their “job description” are highly effective interpretively for example, in recognizing and interpreting singular targets and causes of stress. High level fillies/mares have the same functionality regarding multiple stimuli in their environment.
Efficiency of stress management and environmental interpretation, (emotional intelligence), is the natural separator within the hierarchy. This ability is not only functional within the natural herd dynamic, it influences the ability to learn new tasks (train) and affects physical output under stress (competing).
Group Herd Dynamic is just that; its primary function is the management of multiple stimulus provided by the group. Emotionally it’s the dynamic that allows the horse to communicate with the environment of their peers, to feel and interpret the rhythms of herd environment and allows them to quickly react to potential danger without themselves having detected it. The ripple-effect you see when one horse suddenly jumps or moves etc., and it seems to go on down the line…, this is GHD in action.
From a community point of view GHD is communicated through the co-dependency relationships between horses, regardless of the shift in the efficiency that separates them in the hierarchy. GHD is the tie that binds emotional horse to emotional horse, it is what allows them to know where others are around them whether standing, feeding or moving at a high rate of speed. Group Herd Dynamic houses a horse’s ability to realize intent before action or to swiftly respond to the intentions of the leadership above them. For an example of what this looks like, consider a large flock of birds or school of fish evading a predator.
These groups depend on a high level of communication through intent and subtle physical action for maneuverability, if not a great many birds would fall from the sky from collisions, and a great number of horses would be slamming into one another during times of chaos. This is no magic trick, it is put in place as a self-preservation tool by Mother Nature; you will not erase it, so it’s best to understand it and work with it. Communication is everything and GHD is its foundation.
Environmental communication is also essential. Psychologically Group Herd Dynamic governs the interpretation of environmental stimulus; drawing on learned experience and associations as well as drawing on the reactions of others the horse may be co-dependent upon, to determine their reaction. The manner of and the ability to, assimilate to sudden changes or new challenges, is rooted in the overall efficiency of GHD.
Group Herd Dynamic also plays a vital role in the physical sensory system owing to its interpretative aspect. Whether stimuli are moving through the various sensory aspects or multiple stimuli is all around the horse, standing or in motion, sensory lead changes take place. (See the paper Sensory Soundness & The Psychology of Motion for more). The GHD governs the efficiency of these psychological lead changes or deflects the interpretation of them by sourcing other horses or something else in the environment. By virtue of this, GHD is also the key to emotional energy and how it is distributed.
The Group Herd Dynamic is in effect the individual horse’s family dynamic tool, it has a broad brush of impact on the socially dependent horse and is the key avenue of communication, learning and placement in herd structure. It’s role in adaptability is crucial for survival, it helps define the fight or flight instinct, allows the horse to sense danger or feel harmony. Our relationship with horses is so natural because of the Group Herd Dynamic; emotional communication transcends the barrier of different species and spoken languages. (See paper Destination Hope).
IHD; Individual Herd Dynamic
Even the most tightly bonded groups are made up of unique individuals, and these individuals, though highly co-dependent on one another for survival, also have a powerful element of self; the partner to GHD, Individual Herd Dynamic.
Individual Herd Dynamic in its purest sense is, like the GHD, reflective of its namesake; the individual horse and their relationship and communication with themselves and individual stimuli in the environment. These targeted focus points can be objects within the herd structure, but more often is anything and everything outside of it where the individual horse is focused on things without the buffer of GHD’s codependency tendency.
This psychology of self is the avenue from which the individual horse sees or perceives his or her place at any given moment in the herd hierarchy and the foundation upon which the inclined individual seeks to challenge another for their link in the chain. IHD tendency by nature has more prevailing character traits expressed in the males owing to their herd dynamic role as outlined by evolution. It is what encourages them to at length seek out a bachelor herd and the tool lead stallions use to move them along. A strong and high functioning IHD allows the horse to single out individual threats, targets, mates, food and water sources, and identify as leaders. Individual Herd Dynamic is prone to more physical expression and an indication of how functional it is can be found in the manner of that expression. By themselves high level GHD nor IHD is leadership though either can be mistaken for it; true leaders have both high functioning GHD & IHD in their makeup. There is a checks and balances system in place that allows for controlled and purposeful physical expressions.
A horses Individual Herd Dynamic is rarely exposed in natural settings, it wasn’t designed to operate entirely on its own or isolated from a herd environment. Any weakness in IHD when isolated from the buffer of co-dependency is prone to develop dependencies, the isolated psychology can be suffocating for mid-level horses (most horses), these horses begin to outsource for succor. When this happens, their behavior is easily disrupted, and physical expression is more reactive than purposeful. Not only does this antagonize training and performance in our world, in the natural world it puts the horse in danger and they instinctively know this; they lose all sense of interpretative awareness as “fight or flight” takes over. Even in the high functioning horse who seems to do quite well on their own, an element of GHD should always be incorporated, if not, over time or at random the horse will “suddenly act up”; but it’s never suddenly, it's the exhaust of emotional stress.
Among the functions of the Individual Herd Dynamic is in the relationship the horse has with their physical environment. Group Herd Dynamic is largely corner stoned on emotion, but IHD is shifted toward physical reaction to targeted stimuli in the environment, it is in affect the physical feature of GHD. The psychology that governs IHD is everything that manifests the self and much of this is within learned behaviors. In isolation a horse only has themselves to rely on and they will draw upon their learned experiences and anything associated with them that have also been perceived as experience, (this is the function of the Anticipatory Response Mechanism basic instinct provides to aid self-preservation). The high functioning psychology manages stress and properly interprets environmental stimulus, maintaining controlled physical expression whether alone or in a herd, the not so high functioning psychology does not, and seeks assistance (becomes dependent and develops addictive behaviors) and has trouble controlling physical expression.
It's worth noting that Mother Nature safeguards herself from an oversaturation of mid-level horses breeding and plays by the rules inherent in the predator/prey relationship. Horses that bring attention to themselves become targets for the predator; quite cleverly Mother Nature in this manner conceals true leadership while offering sustenance. It is the only way for the species to survive.
Individual Herd Dynamic does not itself have adaptive qualities, assimilation relies upon GHD and when the horse is isolated their adaptive parameters are founded upon their learned experiences, both good and bad. Here again it rings true, when a horse is isolated so are their strengths and their weaknesses, in few ways is this more prevalent than when the individual horse is asked to assimilate to new environments or is in a situation where they’re required to adjust and adapt. Competitively speaking it’s that big difference between the horse that has no trouble running away from peers and the horse that lingers, hangs, falls back or sees herd chaos as untenable.
Operating in IHD while under emotional stress and situational chaos requires the horse to have a fast cycling sensory interpretation rhythm to maintain physical pace. Individual Herd Dynamic is not charged with sensory lead changes like Group Herd Dynamic, it is charged with focusing on individual targets identified individually in each of the sensory aspects. Sensory lead changes are only required when either the horse is moving through an environment or things in the environment are moving around or past the horse, otherwise IHD has no need to hand-off stimuli to another aspect. This is a very useful part of the IHD as it allows the horse to maintain focus even at distance, on a singular target; especially advantageous in the forward aspect for horses competing in a race, chasing off a predator or challenger to their herd.
When a stimulus is in only one aspect and it’s moving toward the horse or the horse toward it, physical fluency and controlled motion can be easily maintained. The identification and interpretation process are not overcrowded in the psyche and is less stressful. It’s during the transition from sensory aspect to sensory aspect that the IHD is required to hand off to and work with GHD, where disruptions to fluency can occur. A high functioning IHD is very useful with individual targets but does not have the capacity to interpret multiple stimulus and when asked to do so, the results can be widely random.
Dependencies & Performance; The Nature Of
Herd dynamics in a nutshell are 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. This is a constant thread regardless of whether in the “natural” setting or the environment set in place by humans. The principles inherent do not change, though the expression of them and how they’re viewed certainly can.
Dependencies and co-dependencies; where they exist in any given horse they will always exist, we cannot erase natural herd dynamic, it wasn’t designed to be erased. However, this thread of basic instinct does lend itself to assimilation and “learned patterns of behavior” can adjust to changing physical and emotional environments, positive or negative. It’s one of the things that allows inner herd relationships to fluctuate for hierarchy adjustment. Group and Individual herd dynamics are designed in such a manner that allows the body of the herd too sustain itself and is a system of symbiosis that works quite well. It’s when we pluck the herd animal from the co-dependent family structure that we can begin to see dramatic disruptions and inconsistencies in behavior. The truth is, these are not at all inconsistent behavior patterns but rather consistent in expression with a horse’s level in the herd and the degree of efficiency in GHD & IHD. Once again, we must be mindful that when we isolate the horse, we are exposing their emotional strengths and weaknesses. An operating system designed for herd living doesn’t always willingly and freely operate with the same efficiency when largely displaced from it.
How herd dynamics translates to athletics really comes down to a case by case basis. Athletic performance is physical ability optimized by mental capacity; horses are physically athletic, but not all horses are athletes. The reason for this is rooted in the efficiency of their Group Herd Dynamic and Individual Herd Dynamic and the fluency between them. Added physical and mental stress applies more pressure on the weak spots and more demands on the strong points.
The fluent relationship in the high-level herd dynamic horse who enjoys great efficiency in both GHD and IHD is very naturally athletic minded because these two aspects work seamlessly; these horses are emotionally adaptive and capable. I use a term often, panning for gold, while we’re scouting for elite talent and what that means to me is, we’re seeking to identify the rare combination of the naturally fluent herd dynamic with the body type best suited for the goal. If you find a coachable mind in a trainable body, you have yourself some serious potential.
This does not mean that horses who come with inefficiency cannot be athletes, but because GHD & IHD is the fabric that binds, it is important to know how the roles they play are translated to athletics when determining athletic potential.
In thoroughbreds I consider the primary essential to be sustainable competitive edge; nothing is more antagonistic to physical talent than mental weakness. Understanding the role the two herd dynamic aspects play in this is a vital part of prospecting; they depend on one another to perform and compete. The more a horse relies on herd co-dependency in GHD, the more likely there will be dependency in IHD isolation; this translates to less fluency between them during times of stress and compromised ability to assimilate.
Group Herd Dynamic manages the functionality and derives competitive aspect from the emotional interpretations of rapidly changing environments and multiple stimuli, helping conserve and distribute emotional energy, supporting IHD by relieving it of the necessity of interpretation. It’s an essential element that helps maintain things like pace, space awareness and optimizes emotional energy conservation with its ability to read intent before the requirement of action. This is important because when physical distance and footing are part of the equation, mental efficiency translates to mental stamina and body control; better traction for the “tires”, more power delivered to the engine. Lack of efficiency in GHD pushes the onus of performance onto the IHD which among other things, can greatly compromise distance aptitude.
Individual Herd Dynamic’s competitive aspect derives from emotionally interpreted singular points and draws upon the emotional energy sustained in GHD for its strength and tactical power. IHD power and influence, to be functional in competition, must be expressed in a controlled and purposeful manner which stems from the fluency between IHD and GHD. Emotional energy without “guardrails” is energy often wasted because only some if it seems to be aimed in the direction the horse needs it to go. A horse’s ability to adapt to the situational chaos of changing environments plays a significant role in that horse’s ability to be coached, trained and to ultimately compete.
By its very nature and purpose, Individual Herd Dynamic is where a horse’s competitive nature is housed. IHD is competitive edge in function, but its functionality is highly subject to environmental interpretations in GHD. Without these IHD can be short lived, less than versatile and have a shelf-life much shorter than is required to successfully complete a task. Horses with fluency issues, though quite capable of holding singular targets without losing purposeful body control and expression, have issue with interpreting what’s going on around them making them “jumpy” and their behaviors erratic.
A good example of functional GHD during a race is when a horse is asked to re-kick. A horse operating primarily in IHD will struggle to find a re-kick or to change gears succinctly where a horse that can rely on both GHD and IHD to thread through the environment has the luxury of versatility and conserved emotional energy from which to draw upon. Mentally speaking, any horse can run in-space, but an athlete runs through space.
The environmental impact on performance is often profound because of the very nature of dependency and co-dependency inherent in the horse. These shouldn’t be viewed entirely as negatives because they are collateral requirements of sustainable herd living, they’re part of the ingredients of the horse. Understanding and accepting them becomes a great asset in not only determining how to create an environment of success for the horse but also in selecting a horse for a certain end-goal to begin with. Simply put, fitting the right herd dynamic traits and tendencies with the proper discipline is just as essential as properly fitting body type or breed; ability must have the capacity to meet demand.
Understanding the nature of the IHD and GHD relationship and how it translates to athletic performance is a vital part in determining what is potential, what is practical, and what is unlikely. Decisions that not only have impact financially, but more importantly, for the wellbeing of the horse. Horses with herd dynamic deficiencies will put more stress upon themselves physically and thus require different management and developmental attention than those horses who are more herd dynamically equipped for the challenges. Emotional stress translates to and compounds physical stresses where a herd dynamically capable horse minimizes these stresses. A supple mind leads to a supple body.
Thank You, Kerry
Founder of THT Bloodstock
The Classic Distance Horse
|Posted on February 28, 2020 at 7:05 AM|
The Classic Distance Horse
Aptitude, the Competitors’ Edge
Kerry M Thomas
Time & Distance; Physical V/S Mental
Mental Fatigue; Physical Stress
Distance; Rhythms in Motion
Distance; Nurture & Develop
Going the Distance; Bottom Line
Distance horses, stayers, routers, whatever terms you use to denote the classic distance athlete; it cannot be denied that an elite horse competing against their peers at 10 furlongs and beyond comes with unique requirements and strategies. Competing at distance has its own set of physical demands, being competitive at distance has its own set of psychological demands; the elite classic horse embodies the convergence of both.
True classic distance horses often beat to a different drum that can be harder to recognize at an early age and even harder to develop because it can take time, and I feel that far too often shortsighted vision and/or the desire for early speed can deprive at least some horses of the opportunity to develop into classic athletes. Be it financial strain or human impatience, or both, the beauty of the classic horse in a “plain brown wrapper” is sometimes overlooked and the art of developing one can seem a rarity. But if you’re truly looking for the classic horse, there are signs.
Even at an early age there will be attributable characteristics both physically and mentally; identifying the behavioral characteristics is essential because regardless of how well the body grows, flaws in the herd dynamic will put a cap on the amount of time the horse can mentally compete, shrinking by extension the physical distance that is mentally competed for, marking the difference between horses running through space and horses running in space. Physically and mentally the young horse will have indicators that help shed light upon their likely athletic fit and then there is the paper trail behind them to also cross reference.
It is a rare thing to identify horses with the complete package in potential, mental, physical and supporting information on their page and rarer still to see the physical and mental horse reach full potential in both aspects as they grow. The fewer holes in their evaluation the better, for one negative can counter two positives, the herd dynamically sound horse can overachieve with higher frequency than the purely physical horse. When the athletes competing are physically similar in ability, by the very nature of herd dynamics those mentally strong will prey upon the mentally weak. Herd dynamic influence is often the space between success or failure, consistency and inconsistency, the ability to lead and the desire to follow. The rules of nature are emotionally charged, competitive stress, especially over a period of time in motion, has a way of settling the argument of hierarchy.
Competitive edge is found where the psychological athlete divides the physically talented; no amount of “data” can truly define what only the horse can tell you.
Time & Distance; Physical V/S Mental
To understand the cohesive, symbiotic nature of the complete classic distance horse one has to break the horse into two parts, the physical athlete and the psychological athlete. The distance horse is one aspect, the horse that competes at distance is another, thus how 10 furlongs and beyond is measured is also in two parts.
Physical distance we measure in ground coverage, psychological “distance” is measured by the duration of competitive focus. For example if you have a horse that checks all the physical boxes for running 10 furlongs and it takes, let’s just say 2 minutes to physically get that far, then you had better make sure the horse can race (mentally compete) for at minimum, 2 minutes of time just to be relevant. Because races 10 furlongs and longer often have within them many situational chaos challenges, each one altering physical pace and gnawing away at mental fortitude, your horses psychological reservoir should have much more “time” in its bank; in other words, the mental aptitude should exceed physical demands.
Distance races against high level peers is as much a battle of wills as anything else and quite often you see developing internal battles for space and position, battles that are emotionally charged and physically expressed. A horse being able to save ground and/or stay out of trouble isn’t always possible, playing it safe isn’t always an option. How a given horse reacts to sudden changes, how they handle stress, has significant influence on total performance ability. How they manage things leading up to the race is also a piece of the total performance puzzle; for this is a part of the “time” equation psychologically. Time of emotional stress is a factor above and beyond physical speed. Emotional stress gnaws away internally, affecting the horse’s ability to be independent within the herd environment lending itself to herd dependencies that subsequently create indecision and drag in moments when swift action is needed. Herd dependency and drag, (delayed responses), compromises versatility; affectively influencing space is thus transitioned to asking for permission to share a space. None of these things translate to consistently competing at classic distances. The shorter the duration of competition the easier it is to outrun one’s own flaws.
The difference between the “one-off” good distance race and the routinely competitive classic athlete is that mentally sound herd dynamic horses are competitive regardless of their herd environment; they are not dependent on it. Horses that struggle managing their emotional stress in herd environments find their performances often disrupted and inconsistent owing to that conflict of minimizing stress. Combat stress is real. Physical fluency is directly related to the herd dynamic ability to manage competitive stress; the same principles that create hierarchy in a natural herd of horses, effect the separation of horses in motion.
Competitive stress is felt regardless of the speed of motion; physical motion can often be expressions of internalized urgency making it wise to understand the natural tendencies of the horse. Physical expressions of stress athletically manifested can be useful, yet if recklessly expressed you may have a boat with no rudder and lose time and ground while control is regained. Loss of forward focus equates to loss of pace. Stress in any form is exhaustive, athletes that are able to adapt to and anticipate things such as herd rhythm changes, help deflect exhaustion and extend both their physical distance and the duration of their competitive distance.
Fatigue is the enemy of sustainability and presents itself in two ways, physical fatigue and mental fatigue; I never want to recruit an athlete who is likely to give in to mental fatigue before physical fatigue. Not only are they often underachievers but they are also far more difficult to coach and train. These horses will achieve to their physical ability, but not beyond it. Athletes that mentally fatigue easily have a shorter competitive time frame and they are left to rely on whatever they can do physically; physical talent can only outrun when it cannot out-compete. This can get you through a lot to be sure against less capable physical competitors, but against peers, over classic distances, mental fortitude (heart, grit or whatever you want to call it) splits the hairs at the top. It is wise to consider behavioral bias when handicapping, selecting horses to invest in or finding races in which to enter. Herd dynamically sound horses by their nature are able to “hold it together” over longer periods of time; extended time-in-motion extends physical distance, competitively.
The distribution of emotional energy is a major component and the clues to identifying natural time-in-motion athletes are found in their unique character traits because of the impact on performance mental fatigue has. Any horse with holes in their herd dynamic are prone to mental exhaustion when they are asked to perform/compete independently of peers, the last thing you want in a classic distance is being unable to close the deal because your horse is relying on another horse for its rhythm, but when mental fatigue kicks in the likelihood of this happening increases.
You always have to be mindful that when you isolate the horse, you’re isolating both their strengths as well as their weaknesses. Things that are less of a concern in a mad dash sprint race can become singularly important with increased time in motion demands. It is essential to consider how an individual’s psychology is likely to affect them physically in the heat of battle; being able to physically withstand the rigors of becoming an athlete is one thing, being equipped to do so mentally, is another. The whole horse is manifested in two parts, both reliant on the other to augment talent.
Mental Fatigue; Physical Stress
Lackluster performance is not the only side effect of mental fatigue, when the focus is short, scattered and withdrawing, physical efficiency is compromised. Not only does mental fatigue shorten competitive distance, it also speeds up physical exhaustion because of anxiety and emotional stresses which translate to and are expressed in, physical movement. When this happens horses are “harder on themselves” than they would be otherwise, stiffer and less fluid increasing wear and tear. Both distance and longevity are arbitrary when the psychological athlete is less than capable and requires a lot more feel and finesse along their journey to the racetrack to keep sound the “not so easy” keeper.
Psychologically sound and independently capable athletes not only give themselves the best chance to optimize their physical talents, they are also helping maintain their own physical health. Horses that “take care of themselves” preserve their bodies by virtue of mental capacity and fluency, minimizing physical wear by not adding to it with mental stress. Perfect conformation is not always easy to find and when found, can be harder to afford and though it is the ideal the reality is a great many horses have some physical concerns, risk is inevitable. Minimizing risk is always the goal and is best done by comparing the physical machine with the operating system running it; the more holes in the herd dynamic the more soundness the body will require because it will have to absorb some degree of additional stress. By the same token a sound herd dynamic allows the body to be more fluent and these horses can move through themselves without added stress from anxiety helping tremendously in optimizing physical talent; you don’t want the mind to get in the way of the body, you want the mental athlete to lead the way. You also do not want to get in the way of the horses psychology by inhibiting their growth patterns and risking further physical stress with unnecessarily applied equipment or pharmaceuticals which can compromise a horses self preservation instincts.
Physically sound horses are valuable to be sure, but true value is found within the psychological athlete; competitive nature not only optimizes individual talent, it can wear down lesser peers. Distance and longevity are tied to both physical ability and competitive nature; scouting athletes requires an evaluation of both, proper training and breeding of the equine athlete, does to.
Distance; Rhythms in Motion
I’m often asked, especially each year as the Kentucky Derby approaches and we begin work on our patterns of motion, herd dynamic analysis (reference Big Race Analysis section on THT Bloodstock website) if there is a certain style or pattern that works best for classic distance. Honestly, early on in my career and at the onset of my research into the psyche of the equine athlete, I used to think that certain patterns of motion were better suited, but once the dust settled on the studies of countless horses with different inherent patterns, it became apparent that inasmuch as patterns of motion certainly play their part, these patterns are an extension of inherently occurring rhythms within the psychology expressing themselves physically. Going further upstream to the source to consider the execution of pattern of motion, has made a profound difference in our evaluations.
Each horse’s baseline “normal” behavioral tendencies are largely individualized, horse to horse; these are varied in any number of ways making a behavior type less influential than the manner in which the tendencies are being expressed.
The key to competitive edge at classic distances is not the rhythm or what we call the “psychological spin cycle” but rather its fluency. When we at THT are evaluating horses, identifying the markers of fluency in the sensory system is an essential part of that for there is a very wide divide between performance ability and fluent or disruptive behavioral tendencies. Running style is dictated by behavioral characteristics, patterns in motion are an expression of them. If there is fluency in the psyche they will be fluently expressed allowing for physical efficiency and optimized performance, if they are not, they will be expressed in a manner that will disrupt physical efficiency, capping performance and potentially increasing harmful physical stresses.
Horses that consistently and effectively come off the pace, close, pounce, like to be up front, are comfortable emerging from the middle of the herd chaos, all have one thing in common; an efficient sensory system. The role of the sensory system as the leading edge of total fluency is vital. Clearing the environment for the body to flow through like a blocker for a running back, sensory soundness is every bit as important to optimizing talent as is physical soundness. (*see essay on Sensory Soundness for more). A sensory sound athlete does not depend on other horses for guidance, only for reference, and be they in a crowd or isolated from it, their rhythms are their own and they do not need to be hidden and carried by other horses to cover a distance of ground. Horses with sensory potholes outsource reflective to whatever degree is required to fill in the gaps, the more holes in the sensory sequence the more volatile the psychological rhythm, the more volatile the rhythm the more susceptible to things like physical inefficiency and drag between sensory and physical lead changes. Horses with herd dependencies have delayed responses and are more often chaperoned through chaos instead of leading themselves through it. All these things gnaw away at distance aptitude and are among the major differences between horses who are left to sprint and those who are more versatile with physical distances.
Herd Dynamic flaws such as holes in the sensory system also affect how emotional energy is distributed thus affecting its sustainability. The further the distance the more useful is energy conservation; saving ground physically and saving time of combat mentally are equally advantageous coming down the stretch. Physically efficient horses can better maximize physical stamina and strength, and herd dynamically sound athletes are able to maximize the stamina of their competitive nature because they can adapt seamlessly while in motion; in classic distance races assimilation can be indispensible.
Anticipate and adapt. Adaptability in nature is versatility in expression; anticipatory response is a herd dynamic game changer.
As horses grow and experience life starting with day 1, they are developing their anticipatory response mechanism via learned experiences and the accompanying associations. In place to help the horse anticipate everything from dangerous situations to what, when and where “my food source is”, anticipation during competition becomes an important component to reaction and response. The anticipatory response mechanism needs to operate with high efficiency in order for any athlete to consistently and competitively cover a distance of ground. It allows the horse to independently complete the sensory sequence of identify, interpret and process before determining response; auto-response and knee-jerk reactions are indicative of herd dependency lingering somewhere which gnaws away time-in-motion emotional energy distribution and athletic efficiency.
Of the influential things that separate individual horses within the natural herd dynamics is the degree of their herd dependency; leaders are prepared to respond after interpretation of situational chaos, follower’s auto-respond to situational chaos. High functioning anticipatory responses allow the horse to maintain speed and pace and or adjust it as needed in accordance with the herd motion without losing mental efficiency. Physical speed may be adjusted for any number of reasons like requiring a re-kick or perhaps a launch from off the pace, that extra hammer to run away from pressing competition; the ability to anticipate environmental changes allows the competitive nature to operate normally, an important virtue for “putting away” a competitor. Sustainable grit even when physically exhausted is a defining factor of greatness, being able to change mental gears without necessitating dramatic changes in physical pace and position is a power-tool in that definition.
It’s worth noting that the adaption process does not only happen in response to herd dynamic v/s herd dynamic scenarios, it also helps in physically managing environmental changes. For the race horse this means things like the cacophony of sound and visuals and smells of scenes like the Kentucky Derby and surface conditions faced during a race. Proper interpretations in these and similar circumstances are vital, pre-race the “scene” can be very stressful and taxing, drawing upon a horses emotional strength and sapping energy that would otherwise be conserved for competition. Big races with chaotic environments can have tremendous impact on overall performance and not every horse is cut out for it. Holding it together at 6 furlongs is a lot different than doing so at 10+ furlongs.
In-race conditions like weather and surface can also add another layer to the assimilation process which can affect time in motion and physical distance aptitudes. Ten furlongs at one race track and ten furlongs at another may very well be quite different and alter effectiveness from race to race because of variances in an athlete’s psychological rhythm. Knowing the total horse helps in finding spots that fit them from the handicapper looking over a card, the trainer looking for the right places to enter, right down to we as talent scouts who say “yes” or “no” to investment choices.
Distance; Nurture & Develop
I have always felt that in any sport there is a wide divide between a trainer by name and a trainer by nature; one working to develop what is, the other working to develop what could be. Data and numbers are useful reference tools, but when coaching emotionally charged athletes, instinct must guide you; nurture the horse, develop the athlete.
Physical conditioning is only part of coaching an athlete, getting a horse physically fit to get 10 furlongs or more only means they can get 10 furlongs or more, it doesn’t mean they will be competing at the wire. Running with the herd and competing against one’s peers are two different things and preparing the horse for both can take time, finesse and some outside the box thinking to exercise the mind while conditioning the body. Even horses with high functioning herd dynamics need to have them developed to hone their skills, something we often see are horses “learning on the fly” as they progress through their races. There are certain things that can only be learned through trial by fire, however competitively natured athletes benefit greatly from mental stimulus and mock challenges in “practice”. Training chisels the body for completion of a task, coaching sharpens the mind preparing it for battle.
When the psychology is left to its own devices for development the horse may or may not ever hone their competitive nature and if they do it may not be in the manner that is best suited for competing at distance. Horses left to be physical athletes first mental athletes second, if at all, give you all they can inside a box of time until physical exhaustion sets in and they literally “run out” of being competitive, where mental athletes will run into it.
Coaching up the competitive nature of the horse means expanding the duration of their competitive focus, exercising the efficiency of sensory lead changes and assimilation to environmental changes. Mental stimulus training for any discipline increases efficiency and minimizes herd dependencies; increasing the duration of focus increases distance capacity and time of performance. Distance works at varying, alternating pace not only benefit the physical stamina of the horse but also help prepare the psychological athlete for extended time in motion, and incorporating mental stimulus assists the development of the competitive nature. I am a big fan of the “long work” and trail rides through the woods, anything that increases the demands in duration of mental focus will aid in distance aptitude.
Some horses that are gifted with herd dynamics well equipped for distance can remain underdeveloped and pigeonholed as pure sprinters because their tendencies and character traits are mishandled along their journey. Horses are emotional athletes and therefore often reflect their environment, any limitations in the coaching and curriculum can greatly impact potential in the athlete; the environmental influences can be one of the greatest assets or one of the greatest antagonists.
Going the Distance; Bottom Line
Competing at classic distances is mentally and physically demanding, when physical exhaustion looms mental fortitude and “grit” makes all the difference. Nothing shortens a horse like emotional stress and exhaustion.
There are certainly many factors involved in a horses athletic journey, not emphasizing the development of their competitive nature along that journey, be it selecting a horse for purchase or coaching them up along the way, can compromise true potential. Horses love to run naturally, but not all horses are competitive in nature; herd structure has built-in co-dependencies and a majority of horses are subject to them. Whether or not dependency will be antagonistic to athletic potential and to what degree, has to be considered, physical talent without the advantage of competitive edge is a great recipe for underachieving.
There’s a difference between recruiting bodies and recruiting athletes; behavioral characteristics play such a significant role in the horse’s life, to marginalize their influence on performance is a mistake. For me the bottom line comes down to one simple analogy, the operating system runs the machine.
Thank You~ Kerry
THT Online; Services Intro & Summary
|Posted on February 11, 2020 at 9:25 AM|
Services Introduction Blog
Ever since I “officially” took the leap of faith in 2008, risking nearly everything I owned to chase the dream of taking my passion and evolving it into a business, I have kept in the back of my mind that eventually I wanted to be able to bring our unique work in Herd Dynamics to as wide an audience as possible. We have the great fortune of working on-location in many beautiful places around the world and most certainly it is always the preferred service method. That said, the gains in technology coupled with the fact that we now incorporate a great deal of it in our evaluations and consultations, a subset of services to allow more people to cost effectively access Herd Dynamic services was in order. This brief review of these is the starting point and we are planning on developing more along the way, so keep an eye out going forward on our website services section and our social media platforms.
One of my deep-rooted personal passions is researching herd dynamics and behavioral genetics; if you read the other blogs posted here or visit my Kerry’s Corner Column on the racing website Past The Wire, you will get a feel for this passion. Along with this passion is the desire to help people through coaching, innovation and education; I like to learn and I like to share with others what I have discovered and share those thoughts that in the end, may assist someone else go a step or two further in their journey. I have and do enjoy lecturing on the herd dynamics, giving clinics and seminars, for our work is most certainly horse first, discipline second. It matters not what breed or discipline, a herd dynamic evaluation is a powerful tool as is coaching to herd dynamic strengths. I enjoy very much the knowledge sharing that happens at seminars and clinics and have often been asked if we offer anything online, from personalized coaching to a tutorial or educational do-it-yourself guide for some basics to help folks. Until now, the answer was no.
THT Online from our point of reference will adopt two forms, one will be products geared toward education and herd dynamic/behavioral genetic tutorials, the other will be versions of existing on-location services that can be usefully adapted off-location to allow more people access to herd dynamics and our innovative research.
I hope you will explore and consider THT for your equestrian needs. Be it one horse or many, from beginner to professional, herd dynamics is for every horse, every discipline, everywhere.
~Kerry M Thomas, Founder
THT Online Herd Dynamics: Educational
The first herd dynamic educational product is taken from what has become THT’s most popular clinic topic, Sensory Soundness Mapping. The biggest challenge we face in herd dynamics is that there are so many interconnecting behavioral genetic pieces that there is a difficulty in isolating segments to be imparted individually. The development of sensory mapping however, in its basic yet highly informative form does lend itself to self-teaching with proper information and is also quite a fun and fascinating part of the evaluation process itself. Suitable for all disciplines and for most individuals with basic horsemanship skills, if you’re interested in receiving a summary of information about the package options and pricing, feel free to send us an email and we will be happy to send it along to you.
Other THT Online herd dynamic educational products are planned for the future; among those being considered is a Handicapping with the Herd Dynamics Tip Sheet. If we do this or any others we will surely announce it on our social media outlets.
THT Online Herd Dynamics: Service Options (suitable for all disciplines)
It is not always possible for folks to bring team THT to their location, or bring their horse or horses to a location near THT, so the following online service options are our effort to bring THT and Herd Dynamics to you as an extension of existing services in a more cost effective manner.
Sensory Soundness Mapping Assist is an extension of the above educational product and is packaged as option 3 in the mapping summary of information that is available upon request. The difference here, instead of a DIY tutorial product alone, included is video review and consultation on your horse mapping with THT Bloodstock founder, Kerry Thomas. In essence you will have the developer of sensory mapping as your tutor. Pricing and additional information are included in the mapping summary of information.
Kerry’s Herd Dynamic Coaching, initially only available to those who asked for it, now an official service, you can secure Kerry as your personal coach online (also on-location) to help you take your riding, understanding and managing of herd dynamics and performance stress to a higher level. Teaming up with your horse psychologically as you both move forward during training be it for the novice rider or high level competitor, is next level performance science. Develop not only your horse’s confidence but your own, team up with Kerry to build your mental stimulus training program, analyze video together, and put the world’s leading herd dynamic performance innovation in your back pocket as you take your equestrian experience to new heights. All ages, all disciplines, many packages available, all pricing case by case per rider goals and requests. Herd Dynamic coaching, here to help you, go next level!
Performance Profiling; for those familiar with our evaluations of the Kentucky Derby contenders (see Big Race Analysis section on the toolbar) you will get a real good feel for the type of detailed information we are able to get from analyzing video. This service is for all disciplines not just racing, and is also applicable to training video analysis. You get a written analysis and consultation to review the report. Options with this service include training recommendations based upon the report and monitoring of progress as well as ongoing support as needed. Cost for this service is on a case by case basis and estimates are free.
Pre-purchase Video Analyses, from sales to private purchase, whether to perform or breed, to cull or keep, don’t decide before you know and don’t invest before you investigate! Important information for all disciplines, no horse is free and no horse is “just a physical being”, with a horse you’re investing in both car and driver. *For Thoroughbreds, pedigree consultations are also available.* Cost for this service is on a case by case basis and free estimates are available.
Environmental Consultation; environment is either your best friend or worst enemy when it comes to your horse. Combining years of natural herd dynamic research with years of being involved in building and developing equine farms and facilities, this is your opportunity to consult with Kerry on developing or enhancing your equestrian center/farm, to better fit your horse’s naturally occurring environmental needs. With access to highly skilled builders, architects, property design and maintenance professionals, coupled with THT’s innovative research in herd dynamics and behavioral genetics, you can tap into professionals approved and sourced through THT. Consultation fees on a case by case basis, free estimates available after case review.
So there you have it, do not hesitate to reach out to us at any time and find out more about how we can help you, achieve your goals!
Destination Hope; The Human/Horse Connection
|Posted on January 10, 2020 at 9:10 AM|
The Human/Horse Connection
Kerry M Thomas
Introduction; Partnerships Through Time
The Horse; Reflections
Emotional Support; Purpose & Reason
Equine PTSD; The Human Parallel
Equine Assisted Education; Learning Is Discovery
Selecting Horses; Purposeful Partnerships
Final Thoughts; Hope Is A Destination
Introduction; Partnership Through Time
The human/horse intersection has for centuries been a partnership that has always had a stronger connection than that of purely workmates. Far from beasts of burden horses have long served in an unofficial role as our emotional partners; their natural ability to sense, feel, absorb and reflect human emotion creates a cathartic and symbiotic relationship. The human and animal interspecies relationship is both mollifying and cohesive and different animals fit into different parameters of human wellness; for example dogs are wonderful human partners to be sure, yet as predatory animals by nature their service and relationship from a companionship perspective is uniquely different than animals that are classified as a prey species.
One of the most important players in emotional wellness therapy is communication. Lack of good communication can cause a number of issues, where quality communication can remedy issues that may be lingering or eliminate them from ever existing in the first place.
Like many of us I have had a long and interesting journey of discovery in my own relationships with horses and have had the unique opportunity to create interactive wellness programs with horse partners and those living with challenges. The one thing that was always very clear to me is that the underlying connection that has assisted greatly in human progress and development is the nurturing aspect between us, serving as a natural therapeutic tonic. This unique relationship, which is certainly accompanied by the beauty and awe of the physical horse, is based upon that which is unseen. You can touch the horse physically, but you connect with the horse emotionally.
Interspecies communication is like the music beyond the words; transcending through perceived barriers, we are connected through our emotions and as we open the window into the unknown, we find our partnership with the horse.
The Horse; Reflections
“The eye of the horse is a mirror to our soul”, this was the very first thought that came to my mind many moons ago when I was asked, while involved in my first horse to human therapeutic partnership, “Why do you think this works so well?”
Why the horse?
What makes horses uniquely suited to human emotional wellness is that their herd dynamic inter-family relationship structure is based upon emotional intelligence and communication; each having their own individual strengths and weaknesses manifesting in dependency/co-dependency necessity for survival both as a “societal” group and as individuals. In many ways the natural herd structure and accord with both the environment and their interpersonal relationships as a whole, mirror our own circumstance. This unique “mirroring” has long been the underwriter of the human and horse partnership. Horses not only afford an aesthetically pleasing visual draw, their emotionally connective ability with humans living with challenges, as well as the family support system, is felt, seen, expressed and shared.
Horses can mirror us in three essential ways; firstly they’re uniquely individual, how the individual connects to and depends upon others for survival is a close second and thirdly by way of their relationship and role in perpetuating the overall herd societal structure.
Horses can “survive” physically with the proverbial food and water but suffer tremendously without quality emotional relationships; psychological isolation even in the mentally strong individual herd animal can manifest into patterns of behavior that are collaterally anti-social, narcissistic and over all difficult to manage in large doses. Even the most independent and emotionally sound horse has a natural affinity for relationships with their peers and though may seem content and “happy” on their own, can struggle to feel a sense of contentment without them.
Individually horses feel and sense many of the same things we do even if not in the same exact manner; their experiences and reactions to them are not accompanied by the gift of reason, (even though not all humans seem to employ reason before reaction). Because horses feel and experience as individuals things such as fear, anxiety, emotional trauma, loneliness as well as happiness, contentment and joy, again albeit in a different tone than we do, they are also subjected to how they fit into the herd puzzle because of these emotions.
You will note that missing from this parallel is the emotion of anger which in the horse is replaced by fear and uncertainty and can be expressed as a form of resentment or even stubbornness. Anger and animosity in the purest sense are antagonists to herd structure and would be counterproductive to their society’s survival because anger not tempered with reason and animosity without the succor of forgiveness can dismember the family structure. Without the cohesive family herd structure, the sustainable success of the species is compromised and fractured. Horses compete naturally for their place in the herd environment but Mother Nature cannot allow them to plot against one another and because of the lack of internally plotted animosities, horses become exceptional, emotionally non-threatening companions. (Competition is natural and healthy for the sustainability of the herd, allowing true leaders to emerge and emotional intelligence to prevail).
Horses reflect and mirror many of the best of our emotions without some of the worst. In light of this we not only find a likeness to the better angels of our nature reflected back to us but also an emotional absorbent of some of the things that we attempt to hide. There is safety in emotionally confiding in horses as they will not “judge” that which we deem as our own inadequacies.
In a compact scale of the herd unit, the individual horse “finding his or her place” or niche in the hierarchical structure also presents similarities to our own experience in doing the same. An extension of ourselves individually; the singular horse is a moveable puzzle piece. Based upon individual strengths and weaknesses each horse will, sometimes through attrition we see expressed physically, both carve out their place as well as seize their space and level. Their personal herd dynamic finds its way into the overall herd dynamics of the group. The primary goal is harmony and safety which leads to the much larger picture the “one small individual” plays; ultimate sustainability of the species.
There is no unimportant individual in any horse society, each cog in the wheel plays an essential role which carries with it responsibility, the smallest relationship a microcosm of the whole. Horses work together in a co-dependent manner because as a prey species the herd survival relies upon it and they are interconnected like dominoes; “your safety and harmony is ultimately in my best interest.”
To be sure, predatory animals living socially also work together and have a structured communicated arrangement. One of the most interesting things in nature I have ever studied has been the offensive and defensive relationship between prey and predator; to make a complex relationship simplified, on the one hand you have a species that “eats to survive” and on the other you have a species that “survives to eat”, so to speak. The differences between the predatory therapy animal and the prey therapy animal are as subtle as they are profound. Horses experience “reward” in the form of social harmony and comfort whereas the predator relates reward sourced through food. Thus the horse aligns with us in our search and yearning for emotional harmony, safety and comfort, making them a naturally fitted partner along the journey of human wellness.
Emotional Support; Purpose & Reason
Horses reach a broader audience than only those who ride them; indeed physical contact, though wonderful, is not required to have a relationship with a horse, the great emotional communicator. Some of the most profound human/horse relationships I ever was witness to were between horses and children living with challenges that made it impossible for them to “touch” the horses, but they were nonetheless touched by them.
Animals have been providing emotional support to humans for centuries, and it could be argued that among the greatest gifts is that very thing. The line between an animal bringing you joy as a “pet” and stability or purpose for your emotional support, is not defined by the animal itself but human need. The connotation “pet” basically means to me “an animal you can pet”, you shower them with care and kindness and enjoy the rewards that that kind of relationship brings you; you being the facilitator.
Emotional support animals play a more caregiver-like role, themselves counted on for their unending love, loyalty, affection, the human thus the recipient. Because of the range of emotions horses can sense and feel, absorb and reflect, they can individually as well as collectively have incredible purpose as emotional support animals. I know for me I have always felt much better after being with a horse or two. Horses may not seem at first glance the ideal thought of emotional support companion because of things like their size and what is required to keep them physically, but when you take a look at the beautiful complexity of their communication ability and social structure you will find a sanctuary for many human emotions.
Emotional support needs can come in a wide variety of areas but its remedy is rooted in communication, a feeling, succor for the yearning of emotional stability and balance, purpose of life. Whether the desire for an emotional support animal comes from a singular area of need or from several, horses can and do provide a source of comfort. Their natural ability to absorb human emotion provides a safe place for the insecure and uncertain, often anxiety filled human counterpart to disarm and unburden themselves of emotions they do not feel comfortable sharing with another.
The sense of requiring emotional support can stem from a collection of anxieties working in unison to make a person feel things like fear and ambiguity; horses are equipped to filter this and provide an environment of catharsis. I truly feel that the greatest therapy a horse has to offer comes from the emotional relationship we have with them. Emotional relationships are a natural desire of human nature, and so they are for the horse, yet when what is required to have a meaningful relationship of any kind is missing, communication, we tend to start projecting. Because they are a “natural absorbent”, emotional wellness therapy that includes the horse as part of it can supply profound results.
You don’t have to “need” an emotional support animal to enjoy the benefits of the relationship and that sense of fulfillment they provide, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with turning to an animal to share the load of emotional complexities we all of deal with. Horses are a great source of companionship for anyone because of their character and personality; if emotional support is what you need they can provide it, if emotional maintenance is what you need, they can provide that also.
Emotional wellness is a major component for sustained physical health and healing, and horses are a wonderful go-to for finding in them, what it is we seek in ourselves.
Equine PTSD, The Human Parallel
The feeling of stress after a traumatic emotional event is something that all sentient beings, animal or human, can and do experience. Fortunately many such experiences only affect a brief time period and are filtered, processed and moved on from. However when the impact of trauma lingers unprocessed or wholly unfiltered, especially when experienced in a life threatening manner or something similar, self preservation identifies a trigger and associates it with the event in order to add a layer of protection against its reoccurrence. Emotional experience plays a very large role in every part of a horse’s psychological life, positive and confident as well as protective and uncertain. Negative, unfiltered experiences of trauma can cause just as much distorted behavior as positive experiences can nurture harmony; it is with the horse, it is with the human.
Horses carrying around behavioral disorders from post traumatic stress can fool you; they can seem to be in perfect harmony with themselves, other horses, and in the environment as a whole. This is because the ghost that is PTSD is frequently associated with a single moment of trauma, and can be for the most part “kept in the closet of the mind” only cracking the door at seemingly unconnected times. Mother Nature’s gift of self preservation helps ensure survival and one of the instruments of its practical use comes from the anticipatory response mechanism. In order to avoid experiencing the trauma again a trigger is assigned and attached to a “memory” and by way of a warning system things in the environment, even loosely attached to the traumatic experience, become associated. (Associations are identified as triggers and anticipated in the form of anxiety). It’s worth noting that horses can also struggle with PTSD from purely emotional experiences; post traumatic stress is emotionally governed, physical trauma with no psychological trauma attached to it will not manifest into an emotional disorder. One of the keys to processing physically seeded Equine PTSD is to provide similar physical experiences with positive emotional outcomes; remedy is rather more complex however, for the emotionally rooted wound.
Trauma that is purely of an emotional aspect or physical injury that has long since healed with a heavy and lingering backdrop of unprocessed emotion still attached, can pave the way for behavioral disruptions. Sensations of fear, abandonment, loneliness or a disconnection from changes in the environment are felt when interpretation ability is compromised by an alarmist (over protective) version of the anticipatory response mechanism; this greatly affects the ability to manage even simple things in life. Psychological challenges stemming from one trigger, just one singular major event can, over time, build and manifest as other loosely associated triggers and further mentally isolate the otherwise naturally gregarious horse. Once the horse begins to feel a sense of internal isolation and isn’t able to as easily communicate themselves to and with other horses or their environment in general, normal and healthy co-dependency/co-existence begins to break down. When the normal avenue of environmental harmony is compromised, the desire for fulfillment becomes internalized and once socially processed stress is isolated, leading to aberrations in behavior patterns. These aberrations can disrupt normal behavior “out of the blue” from “nothing”, like ghosts within the psychology, opening the way for addictive, abnormal patterns within behavior. An addictive pattern within the behavior means that the overload of emotions has become overwhelming to the point that the horse’s tendencies will be to outsource toward things perceived to offer aid.
The strong desire for safety, comfort and appeasement within the growing internal maelstrom of the psyche begins to attach itself to that which gives a sense of relief; this desire is often fulfilled through attachment disorder, (addiction) and/or dangerously expressive physical processing, or both. Once learned experiences (reason) that previously governed the interpretational aspect are superseded by anxiety and anticipation, you’re left with an un-buffered equation of, anticipate and react, sustaining lingering trauma “post event”.
In dealing with and helping to process trauma deeply housed within the psyche it is essential to realize that you’re not going to erase it, it will always be there. Your goal is to soften its impact, minimize the time of its affect and use the very thing which helps trigger it in the first place against it; associations. Once there is a layered experience that manifests into learned behaviors your best opportunity to chip away at the relevancy of the association is to isolate an associated event and overlay the anticipated response with a “comfortable escape”, replacing the expected negative stress.
Compartmentalizing the psyche with closely associated positive experiences affords the opportunity for an individual to realize harmony where there was only anxiety. You’re not re-creating the psyche, you’re working to help align or reassemble the pieces of a puzzle.
Because horses can experience a full range of emotional disorders to one degree or another means they can play a vital role in the development of therapeutic assistance to humans faced with similar challenges. Reflective Learning Therapy is the term I use for this concept because horses offer a safe, non-threatening alternative for those individuals dealing with trauma internally that they do not feel comfortable discussing in detail. The horse is such a great natural emotional communicator they can help absorb, filter and thus reflect back a sense of calm.
In order for affective therapy to take place the person needs to feel they can freely release their stress and emotions without the perceived threat of ridicule or judgment; nothing will be processed without its being absorbed out of the psyche. Working with an equine partner in any number of simple to complicated tasks depending on the situation, begins to build a depth of emotional communication between the human and horse; the avenue with which emotional stress and trauma can be minimized.
Not only can the equine caregiver help therapy emotion in partnership tasks, they are excellent indicators of human emotion that isn’t necessarily and purposefully expressed. Horses are wonderful “barn barometers” and when you want to know the level of stress or anxiety in their human counterpart, all you have to do is watch closely for the subtle signs a horse is giving in reflection. This reflection of human emotion is in my opinion, an essential element for not only identifying the depth of unspoken anxiety and stress, but also the key in developing case specific therapeutic programs. The horse can indicate moments of elevated emotional stress because this is a natural herd dynamic trait that allows them to read the herd environment for signs of danger; making it a natural alarm of sorts when working a person through emotional traumas. Horses, by reflection, can indicate when to press through and when to back off, making them in my opinion a reliable option to consider along the road of wellness.
Equine Assisted Education; Learning Is Discovery
The educator seeking an avenue to enhance the delivery and impact of their curriculum would do well to consider the horse.
Environmentally based classrooms allow for discovery and help encourage self reliance, replacing a sense of outsourcing and dependency. An educational program involving horses not only changes the game from a typical teacher/student classroom perspective, it brings with it a multitude of unique teaching opportunities for students who struggle with “normal” curriculum environments.
Equine assisted education offers many exclusive benefits. Partnered with uniquely devised curriculum for students in teams, in groups, or singularly, horses can provide opportunities for discovering things yet unrealized, help develop enhanced problem solving skills and build the confidence to share thoughts, learn tasks and work with others for a common goal. True learning is poignantly found through the avenue of discovery, creating an environment of discovery is an instructors most powerful tool with which to implement a curriculum; learning “how to learn” and identifying with achievable goals is just as important as the subject matter focused on to get there.
Education presented with practical life skills in accompaniment, is education with depth and substance.
Horses present what is for many students without opportunity quite a different “animal” to learn about and from, allowing the teacher a unique opportunity to choreograph curriculum in ways a typical classroom doesn’t allow for. Yet far from purely their physical presence we once again are accessing the primary tool provided by the emotionally intelligent horse, their communication ability.
Communication skills are at the core of life itself regardless of the relationship whether personal or professional, they are also the key for education and learning. No curriculum can be successfully implemented without efficient lines of communication between those involved. The horses’ ability to assist us with our communicative processes through interaction and environmental awareness presents great opportunity for teaching and learning. Education implemented through horses helps us understand and recognize that only part of communicating is done through written or spoken word, and that learning how to recognize and understand emotional communication, how to read an environment before reacting to it, teaches personal accountability for the impact an individual has to that immediate environment.
It is always important to remember that how information is delivered greatly affects how that information is received and implemented. Emotional inflection carries weight that supersedes the message either in a positive or negative manner, something quite important to be mindful of at all times in all situations. Working with horses in various manners such as specifically designed obstacle courses, present wonderful opportunities for non-verbal, environmental awareness education.
This uncommon “classroom” experience allows the opportunity not only to enhance the student learning experience individually and collectively, it also provides a different avenue of learning, a useful strategy to help the student that views “normal” classrooms as a challenge. Change the environment, change the game.
Courses can be designed for individual skills as well as for teamwork skills, leadership skills, group cooperation, problem solving and programs designed for peer leadership development, to name but a few. The environment of learning has a lot to do with ones willingness to be taught; the more fluid and natural the environment, the more collaborative the education. When lessons learned are a byproduct of discovery and experience, the student can begin to realize that self confident, “can-do” part of them that may have been dormant. This in turn goes a long way for individuals of various backgrounds and “circles of friends” finding ways of mutual understanding and respect; a single dose of individual humanity can supersede an assumed negativity in a group demographic.
Equine assisted education has a lot more to offer than just a field trip excursion, learning to be aware of and care for more than yourself in an environment that demands your attention facilitates learning. Some of the most impactful and lasting lessons we learn are absorbed through experience; when education is built through the avenue of experience, it becomes knowledge.
Selecting Horses; Purposeful Partnerships
Selecting the right horse for any task or future goal is much like a “job interview” of sorts; your primary focus is to choose ability from a pool of character.
Because horses are social animals equipped with emotional intelligence, they are subject to the rhythms of their environment; they will have singular strengths and weaknesses psychologically that greatly affect their ability to manage stress in the environment which by turn has tremendous impact on their ability to perform physically and mentally. The very first question that needs answered is, how well does the individual processes stress? Just because horses as a species are wonderful communicators that are able to both reflect and absorb their environment and are naturally athletic does not mean that every horse as an individual is going to be a rock star. The development of their skill sets individually is incumbent upon the herd structure and where they fit.
The hierarchical structure of the natural herd dynamics are based upon emotional intelligence, this allows for a natural separation of individuals in a herd structure that lends itself to herd sustainability. Physically the horse is athletic by nature, not for the benefit of human sport mind you, but for the benefit of survival in a volatile world. Physically speaking different breeds have been and are bred for specific physical goals and by virtue of this you will increase your chances of getting a physically talented athlete by proxy of the breeding, however that horse’s ability to mentally optimize that which he/she is bred for is still bound to the psyche. This is why in athletics sustaining of high level physical ability can be very difficult and random; unless paired with a herd dynamic evaluation you’re leaving it to fate where on the herd dynamic totem pole your horse is likely to fit. Where they fit plays a major role when in competition against peers.
Matching the total horse to task or goal is essential and a wide range of herd dynamic character traits and tendencies come in to play. When it comes to athletics sure, if you invest in a horse breed dedicated to the sport you will have yourself a horse that has all the earmarks of athleticism that breed delivers, however it doesn’t mean the individual horse is going to be a super star athlete. So few are indeed, because no matter how we try to define the physical breed and lines the individual horse is still a part of Mother Nature’s design; a socially dependent herd animal.
The herd dynamic structure requires different strengths and weaknesses in the majority of horses that bind them together, dependency and codependency creates an atmosphere where individuals need one another for their own survival. This partnership in nature cannot be overruled and will not be “bred-out” of the species so it is best to embrace its existence and respect its influence. Understanding the total horse gives the opportunity to work with what nature has given the individual so that we as trainers, coaches, educators, therapists, caregivers etc., can create an environment of success and employ the advantage of selecting the individual for their own unique character traits.
Horses being contemplated for emotional support partners, wellness caregivers or education accomplices must be considered first and foremost based upon their emotional intelligence and capacity for managing emotional stress. A purposeful partnership, especially when an emotional connection is required for success, can only be fully realized by considering “who” the horse is. It is essential that the herd dynamic traits of the individual horse are suited for what is required for the task at hand or goal that is set.
In wellness therapies matching horse ability to human need is vital, not every horse or human will fit one to the other. One of the contributing factors to “burn out” for horses is being matched to humans and/or an environment they’re not naturally equipped to manage emotionally. Recruiting horses for any program is much more involved than simply taking in a horse for the program. Selecting horses isn’t like going to a car lot and picking out a car that looks good that you can afford, because your car comes with its driver and if you’re on the “previously owned” lot, the unknown history is very much a part of both the now and the future.
The right horse for the right task matched to the naturally fitted goal and or human partner is not only fulfilling for both but quite often magical. The physical horse presents us a vision of beauty, but it is the emotional horse that provides us a connection of meaning.
Final Thoughts; Hope Is A Destination
Realizing hope, embracing its possibility and potential, is a very powerful thing.
There are few things more compromising to the human psyche than forlorn hope; it degrades our potential and minimizes our self worth. Horses have a unique way of being representative of the hope we sometimes don’t sense within ourselves, and for many throughout history the draw was real; a good horse can help you get across the prairie, escape danger, hunt for food, go into battle, or survive the deafening grip of loneliness.
There is a unique connection to be had with horses that is in my opinion, quite different than that which is experienced with other animals for a multitude of reasons. Human nature in all of its many parts aligns well with those that make up the emotional horse, opening the way for a partnership that, like our own with one another, can be as beautiful as it is challenging. Other animals, dogs particularly, certainly provide esteemed and valued connective relationships and being more reasonably accessible than the upkeep and care demands of a horse, dogs are highly prized, reliable companions. I love dogs, I love all animals to be sure, and I feel that the many animal companions provide their own specialized spin on what they bring to the relationship table.
Modern times have changed the once common in everyday life human horse partnership; we have vehicles and machinery and so on, greatly subverting the physical, workman type of relationship we once depended upon as human kind marched through the ages of progress. Yet the fabric of that relationship is still alive and is still of great value and purpose, even if not as commonly accessible or known to as many.
One thing that has long connected us to the horse is hope, we project it into them and they by turn reflect it back into us. We see the hope of success when we find an athlete, we sense the hope in healing when connect in partnership, through the horse we are touched by the promise of hope, and reminded who we are when we see our reflection in their eyes. Horses have a beautiful way of reminding us that no matter what we’re going through in life, hope is a worthy destination.
~Kerry M Thomas
The Psychological Athlete; Training Through Tendencies & Stress
|Posted on December 7, 2019 at 7:25 AM|
The Psychological Athlete;
Coaching Through Tendencies & Stress
Kerry M Thomas
Introduction; Identifying Latent Talent
Merging Abilities; Coaching Athletic Tendencies
Mental Stimulation; Fortified Foundation
Analytics & Outsourcing; Data V/S Instinct
Closing Thoughts; Communication is King
Introduction; Identifying Latent Ability
There are as many ideas and theories surrounding the concept of training and developing talent as there are trainers, coaches, general managers and owners, regardless of the industry or discipline. But long before any of these concepts and theories can be put in to practice, raw talent and ability must first be scouted and assessed. If your goal is to add prospects with elite potential to your program, then an assessment of physical talent must be accompanied by an assessment of psychological ability.
When scouting athletic talent it’s important to recruit those who have self reliant tendencies and are lacking environmental dependency; outsourcing under competitive stress only streamlines the under-achiever. Being able to coach and develop an athlete through emotional demands means knowing their expression of stress is athletic in nature.
Worth and value are two things generally associated with financial cost and potential gain, yet what something costs does not always reflect its actual value when the caprice of psychology and behavior play a vital role in dictating potential and ability. The development and future success of any athlete starts long before they ever begin their physical journey and if you’re scouting physically capable athletes that are not naturally complimented by an athletic psychology you’re working with a divided partnership that is the very essence of inconsistency, mediocrity; wasted talent.
Identifying talent and identifying accessible ability can be two different things. Pure talent is of a physical nature, accessing and developing that ability relies heavily on mental aptitude. Identifying latent psychological strengths can be more difficult to do but no less important than projecting how a young horse will grow. Just as there are physical indicators or “type” that we commonly look for in the body, there are also “type” parameters that can be discovered in the developing psychology.
I have long been of the opinion that no potential recruit should be given a pass on their mental aptitude; tendencies and traits guide the horse through their growth patterns and become stronger or weaker in various aspects with maturity not unlike a horse suddenly growing “toe in”. It is essential to have a base line understanding of the psychology and its likely growth patterns, for if you hope to see your horse develop into a top athlete, you would do well to understand how to develop them physically and mentally to fit these respective areas as they mature. If you don’t, worth and value can become, and often does, grossly disconnected.
To give yourself a fighting chance at realizing value and by so doing increasing worth, you have to evaluate more than the physicality of an athlete, you have to account for and evaluate their emotional intelligence; tendency and stress are always along for the ride. You must ultimately nurture the horse, while you’re developing the athlete. Understanding and identifying latent ability helps guide you toward realistic and achievable goals; little is more frustrating for the human and more damaging to the horse than trying to fit the “square peg into a round hole” scenario. What and athlete is “bred for” or ‘build for” may or may not correspond with what an athlete can actually be expected to achieve.
Merging Abilities; Coaching Athletic Tendencies
Physical talent is trained, mental ability is coached. It is essential that you develop through and not against natural tendency, making an understanding of them paramount to success; stress happens, you must be sure it’s going to be expressed athletically. When you are coaching through inherent natural tendency you are building on existing strengths and minimizing the attrition of residual stress.
In order to ensure proper development the mind must stay ahead of the body, cycling and processing faster than the body is moving. As a coach you need to be able to foresee and anticipate any psychological demands your athlete may encounter while performing and utilize their natural tendencies to give them a pathway for success by incorporating this into the training program.
Emotional stress is a factor to be reckoned with regardless of physical ability and preparation; there’s a difference between “practice” and actual competition. Physical preparation allows you to perform; psychological ability allows you to compete. A training program should never be built solely upon the physical requirements an athlete has to have, but rather built into and merged with the psychological parameters required as well as any of the collateral demands. Physically a horse can be developed and sculpted in a more systematic manner, but psychologically things are far more random and continuous. The mental athlete lives inside its body 24/7 and processes the world on a continuous basis, therefore a great many non-controllable influences in the environment is bombarding the horse in ways often unknown to the human experience. Where humans have reason, horses have reaction and layered experiences, it is essential to be mindful of this when developing training and coaching programs. Collateral influences will either enhance or chip away at an athlete’s ability to perform under stress. The psychological athlete must be fortified in his or her everyday life in order for a horse to be fully capable of maximizing ability on a consistent basis; performance should be a natural extension of who they are.
A study of the nature of the athlete guides you; working within natural tendency, (how the horse expresses stress emotionally and physically), is far more productive than putting a horse into physically stressful circumstances and battling attrition and anxiety. Attrition and anxiety only help to streamline the risk of injury, hitting a performance plateau and “burning out” before their time. Once you understand how a horse is dealing with stress and what their tendencies of reaction to sudden environmental changes are, you can begin to design a coaching program through these avenues. Tendency and expressions of stress can be used as a positive if you work with the inherent tools provided by Mother Nature.
The smallest of details can make a huge difference in competition, for example how a horse physically reacts to a sudden and unexpected change in the environment is a clue to how they will react during like circumstances in the midst of the situational chaos of competing. Depending on the nature of what can appear to be a seemingly innocuous response, tendency and subsequently stress, may be used for or against the competitive aspect. Many things play a role in whether or not it is a pro or con regarding athleticism; from how long the stress lasts to what direction and how deep the emotional response. Just because it happens doesn’t make it a bad thing, it’s how it happens that matters. When natural expression is athletic and controlled it is a useable tendency you can build upon and coach through, if it isn’t, it will be an impediment lurking inside the behavioral genetic code.
Not only is it important to identify tendency under stress in order to know what to expect going forward, but it should be the foundation upon which you build your training program. When you work with and within the nature of your athlete, you minimize stress while maximizing athletic capacity. Being able to recognize inherent reactions in your horse to the circumstances experienced in their training regime is essential and so is not attempting to erase them. Efforts to remove or “train-over” top of tendency will only give you a ticking time-bomb of sorts; where tendency is inherent you have to feel your way through it. Never make an abrupt correction when layers of subtle maneuvering will do, for the horse can develop anxiety and associate all similar experiences with negative responses.
Tendency in motion is the cornerstone from which a successful developmental program is founded because it’s not about what you want the horse to do well; it’s about what the horse does well by nature.
Mental Stimulation; Fortified Foundation
When push comes to shove and your athlete needs another gear, needs to dig deeper to put away a competitor just when physical fatigue is threatening, mental fortitude makes all the difference.
Long before your horse ever competes, the building blocks of grit and mental fortitude are being shaped. Psychological growth is affected by the environment a great deal and contributes to the speed of interpretation which is groomed through mental stimulation; mental stimulation contributes to what amounts to life-skills within and with-out the herd influence. When an athlete is reared in a stimulating environment you not only begin to fortify their future competitive grit you also mitigate the development of bad habits.
Development of the psychologically strong and independent athlete starts in their youth, and your greatest partner is the natural environment.
Incorporating the natural environment the horse experiences on a daily basis into your “education program” allows the horse to hone their skills without them learning at a young age that they’re “working” and thus not loathing the process. Building the foundation that will become the emotionally stable future athlete in any discipline requires blending training and coaching together with common things horses do by nature when left to their own devices.
Among the roles that daily mental stimulus plays in the growth patterns is their influence on the horses’ anticipatory response mechanism. Horses learn best through experience, and through the proper layering of experiences they will begin to associate similar things and thus will develop triggers which anticipate outcome with response. This can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on your goals, be they long term or short term. But it must be remembered, horses learned “life skills” are for them long term associations, so never develop habitual routines that can in the long run undermine a horses ability to “learn a new skill”. Everything you do contributes to the horses education, your habits and patterns of behavior will often become reflected and carried forward long after the horse moves on to their next stage. When a horse has to learn new things that are closely related to but not the “same as” along their journey, they can showcase a mixed bag of results because of the idiosyncrasies inherent in their associative process. Multiple stimuli in changing environments helps balance the growth patterns in horses, growth patterns that at length translate to patterns in motion.
As they grow you’re nurturing processes layer the horse’s experiences and begins to build a depth to their emotional energy, allowing them to sustain physical effort more efficiently. This is an important step toward both sustainability and consistency as an athlete; the psychology with more staying power than is ever going to be asked for physically, is an athletic psychology that fully optimizes physical talent. In short, if you’re physically training the athlete to finish 10 furlongs, the psychological athlete should be coached and prepared to compete at many lengths of time further than that; duration of focus is your key to conditioning the athletic psychology for competition. When a horse has to finish in order to win, they need more depth of grit than their closest competitor and the sustainable fortitude to not mentally beat themselves. If you’re training for a task the athlete is not mentally equipped to handle, you may find yourself terribly disappointed in the outcome. Little brings more risk of becoming an average performer as well as an injury prone one, than does psychological weakness and fatigue.
There are two kinds of fatigue, physical and psychological; a deep well emotionally will carry the athlete when everything seems “done-in” if it is well nurtured and accounted for in the everyday environment the horse is experiencing. Little is more confining and fatiguing than a feeling of being hemmed in psychologically with no manner available for expression, and not being provided an avenue of emotional release in everyday life can lead a horse down the path of inconsistent and erratic behavior. It is also a contributing factor to a horse that is lacking in basic herd dynamic “social” skills; an inability to anticipate the motion of other horses independently means one thing, herd dependency. We must bear in mind that in many ways horses teach other horses things we can never teach them, hence the primary function in nature of the bachelor herd.
Raw and deep emotional strength in a prospect is the clay from which mental fortitude is molded, the building blocks of grit. Left to their own devices your athlete’s psychological ability may develop useful aspects when in competition, but when focused on specifically during psychological growth, they take the form of patterns of behavior and fortify the existing competitive nature of the athlete.
It’s always best to be ever mindful that the mental capacity of the equine controls the physical output of the athlete. When scouting talent at any stage, the emotional horse must be accounted for because as emotional athlete’s horses are often a reflection of their environment.
Analytics & Outsourcing; Data V/S Instinct
In today’s world an answer to nearly every question is right at our fingertips, we’re bombarded with data and analytical information to the point it seems we sometimes forget we can actually think for ourselves.
When a horse is prone to outsourcing and leans upon other horses or things in the environment to guide them because they’re not herd dynamically strong enough to be independent, these outsourcing dependencies weaken the athletic power and competitive aptitude of the horse. It also compromises the horse’s ability to learn; learning is replaced by being taught. At the core of learning is experience, being taught is getting information another has discovered; both have their advantages but learning sticks more profoundly. Often what is taught works in the moment while what is learned works for a lifetime.
The nature of outsourcing is that it lends itself to becoming habitual, one dependency two dependency three, until the horse is just another face in the herd dynamic crowd. Teaching them to rely and react to outsourced triggers is handy but inherently dependent upon the trigger. Allowing them to learn by creating an environment of experience engages their anticipatory response mechanism making them highly versatile and independent “thinkers” in competition and situational chaos. Teaching is good, learning is empowering.
There is a manual or step by step how-to guide for just about everything; this is ok if you’re fixing your washing machine or building a model, but not when you’re molding an athlete. Analytics and data are I agree, a very useful tool, they have an important part to play as a reference point, but when they are paired with athletics that are driven by emotion, they should never supersede, unchallenged, natural feel and instinct either in the manner a person learns to coach and train or in how they are coaching and training athletes. As much as it may be desired, we cannot machine away emotion.
Outsourced data mining isn’t devoid of merit and it has its strengths so long as its perceived importance doesn’t “outsource” the human for the robot. There is an obvious and very useful depth of information to be had and applied in things like pedigree, body typing, DNA, and a very good base line of information to refer to as standard protocol for physical fitness training and the list goes on and on. The value of information lies deeply in the manner with which it used. Over reliance on analytics however, puts us at risk; we can’t let what we’re told to see distort what we we’re actually seeing. It’s quite a bit harder to coach a horse through their natural tendencies when your own instinct and feel are jaded by an infusion of data and your common sense is being bombarded by outsourced studies.
Regardless of the sport, when “coaches” and trainers rely heavily on outsourcing and data to guide them it only serves to compound the attrition between talent and athlete, for there is a distinction between them. Instinct cannot and should not be replaced by “what the numbers say”. “Feel” is essential when physical talent relies on psychological aptitude and attitude. Horses react and interpret their world instinctively, thus their development must be benchmarked upon the instincts of their humans.
Among the challenges to and weaknesses of analytics as primary guide is that it cannot answer all the questions; data doesn’t teach you how to interpret in the moment emotional changes and adjust to them. You can have a game plan but your best asset is in your ability to recognize the nuance of emotion (often described as momentum-swings in many sports) and in your willingness to toss the playbook on the bench and coach from the-seat-of-your-pants.
Emotion is not a data point, in a circumstance where emotion plays no role in the outcome then data can reign king, but when paired with a sport whose athletes are affected and largely driven by their emotional fortitude, data is, albeit useful for sure, a side dish to the main. Information in aggregate plays its role, but information alone doesn’t itself necessarily translate to successful distribution, taught and applied. Like any sourced information, how it is delivered affects how it is received. If analytics were all that were needed in coaching, developing and recruiting athletes would come down to physical ability and mechanics alone. In the end you sometimes just need to forget about all the noise long enough to ask yourself “yeah but can he/she play”?
When it comes to developing athletes, knowledge without experience is learning you can’t deliver effectively.
The very best teachers and coaches I ever had in my life were highly knowledgeable in their fields but also knew instinctively how to create their curriculum based upon the individual needs in the room or on the field. My greatest lessons were those I discovered and experienced. Great coaches teach through the natural tendencies of their students and athletes, giving us individually the very best opportunity to succeed; a template little different when developing horses. We rarely recall in detail individual things unless there is an emotional aspect attached to them. Creating an emotional experience when you’re developing equine athletes is every bit as important to it’s being retained and successfully deployed when called upon, as it is for human athletes. When what you’re learning leaves an impression, it’s retained without effort.
Closing Thoughts; Communication is King
I often find myself shaking my head and asking, do we need a study for everything? We’re told how to live, how to think, what to wear, how to feel… this all translates to how we train, how we coach, how we identify talent. The number one complimentary asset to both coaching as well as learning is communication. Being able to communicate on an emotional level not only gives you an advantage in recognizing latent talent, it also provides you the avenue for which you’re coaching can become an emotional and lasting experience. Some of the most challenging terrain to ever be navigated is the landscape of changing emotions; missteps here often lead to an impasse that impedes a successful relationship.
Any number of “communication” devices is at hand but that doesn’t mean quality communication is taking place, and when we rely heavily on an emoji as our form of expressing our feelings, the receiver has little chance of truly experiencing the emotion that is behind it or being accountable to it. When it becomes easier to outsource our expressions than it is to actually feel and embrace them, we’re chipping away at what makes us whole and minimizing our individual accountability on the environment we create.
Good communication is also essential in the development of training and coaching programs that maximize an athlete’s talent and ability because you’re able to better understand how they’re expressing emotional stresses not always seen as much as they’re felt. Being able to identify how the prospect or athlete in training is communicating as well as interpreting the world around them singularly, allows you to develop all of their abilities collectively. Tapping into that powerful resource in your athletes that is their emotional depth helps to ensure that they will not mentally tire before they become physically exhausted.
Whatever your goal is for the horse you’re investing in, be it the Kentucky Derby or Grand Prix Dressage, you’d better be darn sure there’s a depth of mental fortitude capable of getting you there. Horses are beautiful creatures, emotional and powerful, and not a plug and play investment hinged upon analytics.
Too much outsourcing puts us at risk of diminishing self reliance and excusing responsibility, helping to weaken mental fortitude, toughness and grit along the way. What do we have to gain when we desire to outsource everything besides handing over accountability; coaching through tendency and stress only becomes more challenging when we try to harness and machine emotion.
In my way of thinking, a few things you should never seek to outsource are your decisions, your self-worth, your dreams, your courage, your accountability, your happiness. Starting down the path of reliance instead of accountability leads to a slippery slope of dependency; it’s quite alright to fail, so long as you remember to lift yourself back up, and not become its victim.
Kindly Yours, Kerry
Founder of THT Bloodstock
Behavioral Genetics; The Nature of Breeding
|Posted on November 5, 2019 at 8:50 AM|
Behavioral Genetics; The Nature of Breeding
Kerry M Thomas
Introduction; Rules of Nature
Behavioral Genetic Code; Prevailing Traits
Traits & Tendencies; Stress, the Great Antagonist
Traits & Tendencies; Corrective V/S Non-Corrective
Natural Laws; Sustainable Herd
Closing Thoughts; Thinking Forward
Introduction; Rules of Nature
Natural herd dynamic structure, societal and interdependent, operates successfully owing to the laws of its nature; there can be no leadership without hierarchy, there can be no authority without there being consequences from it. The only way the social animal survives successfully and sustainably is when the individuals within it work together to form an alliance of social intelligence, which itself is only possible because of the individual emotional intelligence that comprise the group. Herd leadership, which certainly can be and is emergent in physicality we can see, is inherently rooted in and initiated from, emotional intelligence. Where every horse may not be “equal”, every horse is equally important to the herd survival.
Emotional intelligence is the core of leadership; it should then also be of primary consideration in any selective breeding program. In nature, the horse as a social animal supersedes the horse as an athlete. Designed breeding programs should always be a converging of two parts; physical genetics and behavioral genetics. The psychology is the operating system that runs the physical machine; it can contribute tremendously to optimizing talent, or frustrate and pinion its development.
Planning a mating is an assemblage of ingredients. You start with an “image” or vision of the ideal horse athlete, yet long before this jigsaw puzzle of the image can be realized the pieces are loosely scattered inside the box. There are ideal physical pieces to find and fit together, and then there are psychological pieces to identify and fit together that overlay the image, giving it life. These behavioral genetic pieces have long been honed and designed by nature to manifest into a herd structure, and because roughly 85% of horses fall into the mid-level herd dynamic ranges, (horses with naturally occurring herd dependencies) sifting through these individual pieces can be a daunting task. But not sifting through them only compounds what is already seemingly a largely random endeavor.
As I say time and again, race horses are not inanimate race cars fabricated in a shop; in a horse you’re getting both car and driver. Even when you’re “investing” in one aspect, you’re actually investing in two. If there were only one, then every perfectly designed physical mating would deliver a high probability of a world class athlete, no one would have to allow for the random, and fewer horses would need to be bred to find “the one.”
Behavioral Genetic Code; Prevailing Traits
When push comes to shove in competition, when the physical athletes are evenly matched, the deciding factor quite often is described in terms such as grit, determination, heart. Whatever term you use for it, none of them are describing the physical ability of the horse, they’re all relating to the psychological athlete. Grit, determination, heart, hard-knocking, all are traits often assigned to describe the characteristics of certain family lines, when these are consistent in behavioral genetic codes, they are an example of prevailing characteristics.
Prevailing character traits take the lead in what we ascribe to certain horses or families, be they positive and useful or negative and detrimental. But the on-the-surface assumed can also veil the underlying reality; misunderstood character traits are often characterized as “that’s just the way he/she is”, and for better or worse, these prevailing traits ride along as collateral influencers when physical/paper matings are being planned. Family genetics are one thing, what’s actually manifested quite often something else completely; similar yes but vastly different in many ways more often than not. My two brothers and I have the same parents, though we collectively have similar prevailing traits, physically as well as mentally, we also are individually very different, with different prevailing skills and talents, tendencies, all forged from the same genetic code. Buying or breeding along the same family lines or even having the exact same parents, promises you nothing in duplication, it only promises you many of the similar ingredients were involved. A little less here and a little more there, and the flavors can be quite different.
Family lineage is an intelligent and useful study of prevailing similarities of character traits, and there is most certainly any number of congruencies of nature to be found; but nonetheless, each individual is unique and presents their own version of this “stamping”.
Capturing lightning in a bottle has more to do with identifying the singularly displayed prevailing character traits of an individual in the family than it does casting the net of hope over several in the family line. The sought for magic mixture of ingredients is in the smallest of details, finding them is essential if you hope to do all you can to sway the odds of chance in your favor. Consistency of traits is an essential key to maximizing breeding potential, and individually more influential than a blanket of general characteristics. Selecting a specific family member in a line you prefer based upon how they express their family characteristics is far more useful in strategy than simply breeding to that family alone.
There is another aspect to prevailing traits that has to be considered because of the rules of nature; male and female behavioral genetics. Mother Nature has given each sex a different inflection on the same behavioral genetic language. Owing to the specific herd dynamic and structural roles each is inherently equipped to play in the family unit, the expression of prevailing traits will come with a male/female slant. Because of this, the lens with which a stallion is evaluated and considered has different emphasis points than does the lens placed upon a broodmare. In nature, by and large the mares have a lot to say about whom they breed to year to year, and following this same natural pattern I feel it is wisest to first select specific mare(s) who carry the traits you desire, and seek a stallion that fits after as opposed to random selection based off general similarities; let nature guide you beyond the paper.
Selecting broodmares with the proportionally correct psychological traits for breeding can be a far more challenging task than the more often than not straight forward psychologies of the stallions. Broodmares after all not only deliver their physical and behavioral genetics, they also greatly influence the developing interpretational abilities of the foals. This point is essential; understanding how the mother will slant her imprint upon the foal. Is she prone to stress, does she overreact, does she assimilate well and so on, are highly important questions to answer and carry great influence from and within the female families.
The influence ability of a stallion should be fitted to the influence ability of the broodmare in such a way they have a chance to compliment more than they have a chance to overlap.
Mare traits can often be more slanted toward the Group Herd Dynamic because of her role in the herd structure, and the stallion because of his role, most often will have a slant to the Individual Herd Dynamic. Each of these, though not put in place instinctively for athletics, do have athletic influences; they lend themselves to a horse’s natural psychological rhythm, herd placement, ability to assimilate to rapidly changing environments and ultimately how they express themselves – how they compete. IHD and GHD, found in both male and female to varying degrees, when in the proper proportions, helps to balance the horses psychology and when that balance is proportionally correct it allows them to elevate through the herd environment to leadership roles. You want this natural ability to lead in your physically capable athlete lest they be incapable by natural law, of fulfilling their physical potential.
This does not mean you have to have a “perfectly” proportioned IHD/GHD stallion or broodmare in order to get the emotional intelligence you need to optimize ability, but it does mean these things must be considered in each that a complimentary match is made.
Much consideration is wisely and necessarily given to breeding physical strength and structure, the same should be so for herd dynamic strengths and efficiency. A friend recently sent me a picture of horse and wanted a recommendation, I told him this isn’t like auto-trader, “this car is equipped with a driver, and you’d better know as much as you can about them before you write your check”.
Traits & Tendencies; Stress, the Great Antagonist
Stress is the great antagonist. An inability to manage and filter emotional stresses not only affects athletic performance, it places more stress on the physical horse, intensifying the wear and tear and ultimately increasing the risk of injury and the shortening of a career.
Individual stress management is essential to understand for breeding purposes, not just for training and performing. When you’re considering which stallion or which broodmare for your breeding program and you’re using as part of your guide their particular racing results, you would do well to dig far deeper than just what the numbers tell you. When it comes to breeding decisions, evaluating how an athlete achieves is more important than what they achieved. Keep in mind that you’re not breeding to an accessorized horse, or a horse complimented by weak peers or interesting training methods; things like shadow rolls and blinkers for example, don’t transfer their DNA however the reasons they were needed, do.
Every sentient life experiences emotional stress it is an unavoidable circumstance of living, however not all manage it in the same manner; stress management is what separates horses in a herd and influences athletes in competition.
As an individual horse within the herd structure, there is a big difference between outsourcing to others or something in the environment (dependency) and the ability to filter emotional stress swiftly, smoothly, internally. It is the difference athletically between a horse moving with required guidance in space or moving independently through space. Something quite important to know for breeding purposes if you’re goal is to breed top level athletic potential.
Traits or inherited characteristics can be both physical as well as psychological in nature, but tendencies are purely psychological; tendencies are the expression of both traits and learned behaviors and are often the visually reflective aspect of emotional stress, filtered or unfiltered. (Both the stallion and the broodmare stand a chance to hand down many of their traits and tendencies, and as mentioned, broodmare tendencies will govern the manner in which she educates her baby.)
Because emotional stress carries with it so much influence on how a horse lives its life, within and more importantly without, the herd environment, determining how they’re dealing with and expressing it becomes one of the most important pieces of the breeding jigsaw puzzle. If you’re future progeny is to be an athlete that competes alone in an arena, your evaluation process can be more slanted on how the stallion and mare handle stress while independent of the herd. If your future prospect will be geared toward a discipline that will require them to operate amidst a herd as well as independent of it, such as racing, your evaluation necessarily involves both aspects.
How stress affects a horse’s tendencies can change from circumstance to circumstance, there are some forgivable traits and tendencies because they ultimately have little effect on the athletic goal, and there are those that simply cannot be overlooked in the equation. It is also possible that the nature of physically expressed stress can be useful even if it causes strong directional “push” or strongly expressed physical knee-jerk reaction, (some horses are what we call physical processors, and are able to use emotional stress to physical advantages) so long as it is consistently expressed in the desired direction. A race horse that is being “squeezed” between horses, for example, and needs to physically filter that moment of stress, and has the tendency to move forward as opposed to hang or drop back, has an acceptable expression of stress. That said it’s important to remember that the art of your breeding program is as much a breeding of emotional expression as it is anything physical.
Another element of the trait, tendency and stress equation is time. The influence of stress upon tendency is not always easily realized until, like a balloon filling with air over time, it builds up too much pressure and explodes. This is another piece of the puzzle worth knowing, for stress that builds over time, easy to overlook, affects the horses ability to train at length and to perform a task beyond a certain pressure-point; time-in-motion. Horses that are affected by stress built up over time have what seems to be a wide space between “calm” and “erratic” behavior, often times displaying physical disruptions out-of-nowhere. This doesn’t come from “nowhere” of course; it is an indicator of accumulated stress that impacts how the horse distributes emotional energy, which directly affects the competitive nature of the horse.
A horse-athlete not only has to be able to physically handle the demands of becoming an athlete, they must also be able to handle the psychological demands. The last thing you want heading to the wire is to have your horse succumb to the accumulation of stress, having their patterns of motion affected by a pattern in their behavior.
Internalized stress unprocessed mentally or unfiltered physically can have highly antagonistic side effects. The “calm” time in waiting prior to competing or the protracted time, often largely sedentary, during convalescing from injury, can be nearly overwhelming for a horse bred for athletics. Both of these can ultimately affect the horse negatively in a physical manner; whether needing to optimize physical ability or fully healing from injury, depending on their natural tendencies.
Tendency strung together during times of chaos and assimilation demands develop into patterns in their behavior, patterns in their behavior translates in the competitive athlete to patterns in their motion.
Natural ability to manage stress is the gateway of hope for a successful breeding. The high functioning athletic psychology stays well ahead of physical motion; interpreting, clearing space like a blocker for a running back, optimizing talent, keeping them safe; once again, it’s the difference between a horse moving in space and moving freely through it. A fluent and supple psychology paves the way for a fluent and supple physical performance.
Traits & Tendencies; Corrective V/S Non-Corrective
Emotional stress is not something that you can breed-out of a horse because it manifests externally and itself is not a trait, but you can work toward breeding strength of tendency. Before you can do that you have to consider how emotional stresses enter the psyche which in large part happens in two ways; environmental stress and perceived stress. Environmental stress is collateral to the information being brought in to the psyche through the medium of the sensory system where the senses detect something that causes interpretational anxiety. Perceived stress is anxiety that stems from learned behaviors and the pre-existing psychological triggers that are related to them accompanied with an inability to interpret or discriminate what is environmental or perceived. The common denominator is the interpretation process of either real or perceived stimulus.
An inability to interpret creates stress; stress creates internal anxiety which leads to outsourcing and dependency. For the herd animal asked to compete this means that in times of emotional stress they can become herd bound and dependent while moving, compromising speed, pace, efficiency, causing drag in the fluency of motion and so on. None of which are productive athletically.
Just because you cannot breed out the infusion of stress doesn’t mean you can’t take steps to breed out sensory disruptions that lead to psychological weakness, for there are both corrective and non-corrective traits and tendencies.
Mating “elite” physical athletes doesn’t mean you’re going to get elite progeny as a result, if that were the case every Grade 1 winner bred to a Grade 1 winner would gift you a Grade 1 winner. Life isn’t that simple, and neither are the herd dynamics. Herd animals rely on one another for their safety and survival and this means that by nature the majority of horses born will have incompletion in their psychological makeup creating dependency one to another. The law of averages is against your breeding program from the start. The question that has to be answered is what are the psychological ingredients of those rare natural herd leaders? The ability to manage stress individually starts with the ability to interpret it properly.
Horses with naturally occurring (mid-level herd dynamic) interpretational issues and outsourcing dependencies in a mating program will at a high percentage rate deliver these traits and subsequent tendencies in their progeny. Any trait or tendency that is inherently borne from the psyche is non-corrective meaning that once it is there by nature it is a behavioral genetic trait that is geared toward herd dependency. You’re not going to “train it out of them” you can only help manage it by the environment you create for them. These horses are highly subject to outsourcing and operate most efficiently when being lead by others in times of stress. These horses will also have incomplete sensory soundness preceding their inclination to outsource.
The sensory system itself is a physical aspect funneling information into the psyche for processing, making breeding for sensory soundness just as essential as breeding for a certain hip, shoulder angle, hock, and pastern and so on. It is vital to evaluate fully either your stallion or your mare and gain a detailed mapping of sorts of their sensory system and its efficiency. Once you identify the strengths and weaknesses in the sensory system you are armed with information to help you breed away from subsequent dependency of nature by finding a mate that strengthens the areas in question. Herd and environmental dependency as a tendency under stress becomes less an auto-response when the horse is equipped with a highly efficient sensory system.
Your stallion or your mare need not be perfectly efficient in every area physically or mentally, so long as their mated with a horse that compliments and strengthens; this is how you breed away from dependency.
The key is that neither mare nor stallion have too deeply set and highly erratic interpretational issues and environmental/herd dependencies. These horses are much harder to “correct” through a breeding program and is often a costly experiment in futility. Horses with sensory weaknesses that are otherwise largely devoid of herd dependencies have a much higher probability of success in a breeding program than horses with both sensory and interpretational dependency because you can intelligently match them with a mate whose traits are stronger in those areas. Trait to trait correction is far more likely than trait/tendency to trait/tendency corrective efforts.
Natural Laws; Sustainable Herd
The bottom line, according to Mother Nature; your primary consideration is to breed an emotionally intelligent and herd dynamically sound horse, your secondary consideration is a focus on the physical athlete. In truth these of course work together and both are required to optimize ability, yet physically selecting a match is less intensive than matching psychologies and perhaps too often takes the lead in the process; the driver of your machine becoming at best a conversational afterthought. In controlled breeding programs where pedigrees and physicals embody the largest part, if not the only part, of the decision making process, a wide range of behavioral genetics gets forwarded along randomly. No worse thing for an otherwise strong herd dynamic stallion or mare to be mated improperly, it can unfairly label them as “non-producers” and at length they’re sold, retired, given-up on.
In the natural herd dynamics where human caprice is not a factor, the behavioral genetic traits and tendencies are much closer together. Nature has employed natural selection to ensure the weak minded and overly dependent do not endanger the overall herd survival. There’s a reason there are two herds roaming in nature, the usually thought of family herd and a bachelor herd. Lead stallions emerge from bachelor herds and take over family groups owing to their emotional sagacity, fortitude and intelligence combined with, not because of, their physical strength and athleticism. Lower level herd dynamic horses in both herd groups are less likely to breed consistently; low level stallions rarely get the chance, and lower level mares who aren’t culled off naturally find themselves nonetheless mating with the lead stallion of her herd.
Mother Nature is ultimately quite discriminatory when it comes to her breeding program. In order to sustain herd survival a tight grip on emotional intelligence has to be embraced; too much weakness of mind waters down the gene pool, widening the breadth of behavioral traits too far from the balance intended. Inefficiency of mind leads to emotional stress, leads to loud physical expressing horses, leads to undue attention upon the herd from predators and a frailty of nature in individuals.
Closing Thoughts; Thinking Forward
Instinct drives the machine, breeding for success means breeding in strengths, breeding out weakness both physically and mentally. Among the many things to consider are breeding for sensory and psychological consistency, identifying the psychological growth patterns of both broodmare and stallion which will help you understand their emotional intelligence, and never overlooking the fact that your horses are not inanimate objects.
There are no guarantees or “can’t miss” scenarios no matter how much homework you do, but under appreciating the value of the herd dynamics in your breeding decisions and leaving it to random fate alone is unnecessary and unwise. The strongest body being operated with a weak mind and inefficient sensory system only gives you a better chance of failure or an unfortunate catastrophe in a game where the chips are already stacked against your success even when everything goes right. Utilizing herd dynamic evaluations as a part of the mating decision investment strategy helps bring clarity to your direction and to the decisions you make, like a version of “e-harmony” for horses I always say. It is just my personal opinion, but if a product isn’t standing up to normal and expected wear and tear once sold, perhaps the manufacturing of it may need a tweak or two?
If we consider the current perceived state of the sport, every bit of information that can be obtained and applied, should be. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m no leading authority on the minute details of neither pedigree nor physical conformation, but I’ve dedicated a large enough portion of my life to the study of herd dynamics and the psychology of the equine athlete to know, that the economics of behavior simply makes sense.
*Recommended Reading* "Sensory Soundness; The Psychology of Motion"
~ Kerry M Thomas
Founder of THT Bloodstock
Sensory Soundness & The Psychology of Motion
|Posted on August 26, 2019 at 4:45 PM|
The Psychology of Motion
Kerry M Thomas
The study of the herd dynamics in horses and the vital role they play in any athletic discipline is a study of the many pieces of the psychological jigsaw puzzle that make up what I call the behavioral genetic code. There are to be sure a great many singular areas of essential importance and influence, but none of the collateral pieces are as influential as the sensory system. Commonly desired in the horse-athlete, physical soundness is important, but just as essential to the optimization of talent but far too often undervalued, is sensory soundness. It’s an analogy I make all the time and worth the reminder, horses are not race cars, in a horse you’re investing in both car & driver.
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 for it communicates the external world of environment with the internal world of the psyche. The efficiency with which this information is transferred directly governs the optimization of what we identify as talent.
As with any sport, there is a fine line between being physically capable and psychological 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. The sensory system plays an integral part in the psychology of motion; the driving force behind the ability to fully realize physical talent.
The Sensory System; Soundness
There are two aspects of sensory soundness; the physical sensory system and the psycho-sensory system. One ID’s, the other interprets. No true understanding, in my opinion, of the pros and cons, or the when to and when not to… use sensory depriving or altering equipment, can be embraced without first understanding sensory soundness and the individual horse’s strengths and weaknesses within it.
The physical sensory system aids in the direction and distribution of emotional energy, assists in stress management and is responsible for funneling identified environmental information into the psycho-sensory system, (emotional intelligence). Sensory soundness is for all purposes, that which weaves together the outside world and inside world; external environment blended with internal self.
By nature, the physical aspects of the sensory system which are commonly known as sight, sound, smell and touch have another partner that comes in to play in the rear of the horse when vision offers no aid, it is for lack of a better term, the instinctive “feel” sensory aspect. Feeling that something is present or approaching and responding to it, known in our lexicon at THT Bloodstock as the Anticipatory Response Mechanism, is an instinctive sense of emotional intelligence. Herd animals that rely on things like fight or flight and social structures all are equipped naturally with this aspect of the sensory system; not only does it help them tremendously moving through the environment and through a crowd of other horses at high rates of speed, it also aids them in survival when the instinct of “move first, ask questions later” is required. The sense of ‘feel’ is a specialized form of quiet communication instinctively placed.
When it comes to a horse being considered as an athlete, knowing the physical direction of push, or tendency of motion under stress that is expressed as a result of this non-physical emotion, is a key element. You’re not going to train or coach-out the naturally expressed anticipatory response mechanism dynamics, so you’d do well to understand how your prospect is expressing them.
The primary physical senses work together to cover all areas of the environment; but sight and sound, with the accompaniment of “feel” in the blind spots, each have their primary quadrant in the circular world of the horse. In the sensory sound horse, this radar system surveying the external world communicates with one another on an as needed basis; if say a sound is such that the horse needs a visual assist they will in essence “hand-off” to vision smoothly and seamlessly without unnecessary physical movement. (Keep in mind, physical movements can bring attention to an individual otherwise blended into the herd or environment, thus making a target of oneself to the watchful eye of a predator that is often triggered by motion.) Sensory soundness allows the horse to make these “sensory-lead-changes”, the communication of stimuli from one sensory aspect to another, without unnecessary physical expression. The outside world is often in motion, yet the horse doesn’t have to be moving to match it or counter it with sensory lead changes clearing space of approaching threats, yet by the same manner when they are moving, sensory lead changes help clear space like a blocker in football opening space for the running back, taking the lead that allows for smooth, fluent physical motion.
In order for the horse to move swiftly and efficiently through the environment, (or choose to remain still and invisible) and to competitively sustain movement as an athlete, the physical “radar” system, senses locating stimuli, is not enough, the information being funneled must also be interpreted; the interchange where physical sense meets psycho-sensory.
Among the corner stone’s of an individual horses herd dynamic is that individual’s ability to interpret stimuli without the aid of other horses or “outsourcing”. Herd structure serves a great many survival purposes, the chain of command in normal herd life for the prey animal helps camouflage those individuals who are not entirely sensory sound. You will find very often a horse that appears “complete”, self assured, confident even, in the friendly confines of routine and family or buddies, but when the environment changes, or they are suddenly isolated, things aren’t so calm and confident. When you isolate the horse, you’re exposing both their strengths and their weaknesses, something of great importance to remember when you’re considering a horse as a potential athlete for your program. The ability to properly interpret the information delivered by the physical senses is the earmark of emotional intelligence, emotional intelligence is the operating system for the physical machine; extremely vital information to comprehend as part of the investment strategy. It is the difference between physical athleticism and psychologically athletic, it is, in competition, the difference between grit and deference. In the normal herd setting, it is also governor of hierarchy and fitted perfectly in the structure of the family unit where individual survival is largely dependent upon group communication. A simple “equation” to remember; the senses survey and identify, the psycho-sensory absorbs and interprets, tendency governs initial physical response.
The Sensory System; Environmental Dependencies
The reality is that by the very nature of design, very few individual herd animals are naturally equipped with complete sensory soundness. The majority of horses from a psychological standpoint find themselves with average to good sensory systems; making them the bulk of the overall family structure, say roughly 75% make up this middle ground area of the herd dynamic, 20% the lower end leaving only 5% of individuals with high level herd dynamics. From this 5% are found the natural leaders both present and future, and there are earmarks in youth housed within the sensory soundness and tendencies; patterns in behavior which translate to patterns in motion. It is important to note, emotional intelligence relative to dominance is not the same as physically dominant. Physically expressed “dominance” is often rooted in underlying stress and anxiety, being “pushy” the only way that “moment” can be properly filtered. This is not leadership as much as it is individual moments of projected dominance. This is also a natural playground style rule of expression and a “loud” horse can often indicate insecurity or lower rank; the general rule here is for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Let’s remember, bringing undue attention to oneself is an invitation to predators to target you as much as it may be bullying in the ranks; in reality Mother Nature cleverly conceals her true leadership in plain sight. True leaders while certainly allowed to be reactive and expressive, more and more over time will evolve into almost purely purposeful motion and emotional communication, having the ability to control their environment and influence everyone in it. The high ranking sensory sound horse absorbs and discerns their world while efficiently interpreting it, allowing them to lead because they are not required to outsource, greatly minimizing any dependencies on their peers.
Sensory holes or what we commonly refer to in-house as “potholes” in the sensory system, are not only commonplace but are actually required within a herd unit. Any herd structure found in nature sustains and survives as a group because they have an element of co-dependency, these create links in the chain, the fabric that binds; you have my back I have yours, alone we are vulnerable but together we have a chance. It is the basis of and between the predator/prey relationships; predators alone or in a team targeting and seeking to separate a face in the crowd or one who has isolated themselves or has been isolated from the herd because of things like age or sickness. When a herd animal that has sensory potholes is isolated from their herd, a wide range of expressions can take place depending on if they’re able to manage emotional stress and anxiety; rather an important factor to wrap yourself around if you’re scouting horse athletes.
Co-dependencies in the herd structure allow horses, who alone would have trouble doing so, the ability to feel safe and completed because their sensory equation is supported by their peer(s); the “peer” can be and often times is for many domesticated equine partners, their human. It is important for the human partner to keep in mind that unlike predators where food is a grand “reward”, for the herd prey animal, comfort is the grand reward. When training a horse with sensory potholes, an important aspect to include in your education program is an escape route to comfort out of stress. When you want to overcome anxiety in your horse and still move forward with your training, layer comfort zones within your program; physical training and psychological coaching must be blended together to optimize total horse talent.
During times of calm and quiet the herd dynamics are more relaxed and the hierarchy structure, the dependency/co-dependency relationships, more loosely knitted. It is during times of high stress and rapid, sudden environmental changes where this fabric tightens up and starts to bring order from out of panic and chaos. The longer time a horse is in motion, the more reliant on their herd position and their peers the individual horse becomes; sedentary herd dynamic structure can appear fluid, while a moving herd dynamic structure begins to transform into a firm network designed to allow the unit to evade predatory threats.
Co-Dependency and the Equine Athlete
Because the vast majority of horses come with naturally occurring sensory potholes in some form or another, necessitating reliance on environmental dependency in varying degrees, when it comes to equine athletics it is self evident that a great physical and pedigree are only two parts to the puzzle. This makes an understanding of the overall herd dynamic and degree of sensory soundness of utmost importance; nurture the horse, develop the athlete. It is the reason we at THT study and consider the symbiotic communication between behavioral and physical genetics; gaining an understanding of “who” the horse is as an individual helps you better understand their true potential and how to get them there. We must be mindful too, that for an animal equipped to see the world in basically a circle, running in a straight line efficiently and with control requires rapid sensory lead changes individually and/or outsourced guidance lest you have a high speed boat with no rudder.
Just because the horse has sensory potholes somewhere in their equation does not at all mean that they cannot and will not become fine athletes, it is not a death knell to performance. The discipline the horse is bred for or targeted for plays a large role in how much of an impediment these sensory disruptions will be and how they need to be coached to move forward. The first thing that needs to be identified is, are these sensory, thus herd dynamic, issues specifically antagonistic to the discipline or the ultimate goal?
Every discipline of athletics has at least some overlapping requirements of sensory efficiency, even when the emphasis on particular areas can change or be contrasting. For instance a race horse requires different sensory efficiency and herd dynamic demands than a jumper or dressage horse even though they share some of the same. What is an area of antagonism to one is not so impactful to another, so when you’re considering the horse you have to consider the job requirements and demands psychologically just as much as you do physically. This is why each horse’s naturally occurring strengths and weaknesses need to be identified quadrant by quadrant; for example how strong is the horse say on the left oblique as compared to the right, what is the range of binocular vision as opposed to monocular vision left side/right side, how well does the horse sensory lead change when moving through various stimulus demands and so on. These are all vital questions just as important to athletic performance and training as is say shoulder angle, hock, hip, throat, knees, and pedigree. Each discipline also has within it different levels of competition, which requires greater ability and athletic optimizing potential; in order for a horse to psychologically achieve physical potential, their environmental dependencies in key sensory areas must be at a minimum even though you can work through potholes in areas that are not so essential to a given disciplines performance.
Bridging the gap in your horse to help manage sensory and herd dynamic outsourcing and potholes starts with knowing where they are and how deep is the dependency. It is equally as important to identify the strengths in your horse, because it is those strengths that will allow you to offset any weakness as you work to develop your athlete. Keeping in mind at all times to build into your program avenues of comfort and reprieve from emotional stress is a key coaching tool; stress and anxiety just like with us, is your horse’s enemy. Horses are by nature hi-level emotional communicators and emotional communication is a herd dynamic, when you are with your horse you are responsible for the emotional environment you create. You can help absorb emotional stress and create comfort zones in chaos, or you can impart emotional stress and add to it. If your horse has any outsourcing needs for fulfillment, you want to be sure that you’re able to be that bridge in the sensory lead change sequence; not all horses are right for all people or trainers. Horses with environmental co-dependencies can still achieve great athletic feats so long as the environment created for them assists their development, which over time will allow the horse to assimilate with increasing efficiency.
Speed and efficiency are expressed in two separate ways, there is physical speed and there is psychological speed, and each of these also has elements of recklessness or control, or a mixture of each, especially during competition. The sensory system plays an essential role in governing physical speed and fluency and it is a basic instinct wrapped around self preservation; in order for the horse to move safely through space at any speed they must identify and interpret faster than the physical body is moving. The senses manage the throttle and the steering, the maneuverability and the changing of gears; the physical horse supplies the physical power. For a horse to be truly versatile in rapidly changing conditions, they must be equipped with sensory lead change ability enough that allows nearly instantaneous assimilation, or be able to rely on outsourcing to complete the sequence of adaption when needed. Again, each discipline has its own requirements of sensory speed and clearance that allow for physical fluency; the dressage horse having different requirements than the race horse, than the jumper and so on.
The speed and efficiency of the psychological athlete dictates the efficiency of speed and distance to the physical athlete; if you’re driving 55 MPH and suddenly hit thick fog you slow down to a speed that allows you enough time to interpret the road and what you’re moving into. How “fast” a horse’s psychological rhythms are, are not always reflected in their physical expression, but for an athlete you want these things to complement one another by virtue that the psyche is always cycling ahead of physical motion in a manner that is purposeful and controlled. Physical expressions under emotional stress are the tendencies in motion, tendencies in motion for the athletic horse is an earmark of how well they will optimize their latent talent, especially when time of motion is protracted. The operating system runs the machine.
There is no “normal” cookie cutter psychological rhythm, no one size fits all neatly into this discipline or that discipline, there are only ranges of behavioral genetic types and how they fit into the goals and requirements of a sport is highly individualized. And just like individual sports have varying levels of competition, varying degrees of psychological ability will also have an effect on what the achievable goals are. Some horses will look like super stars up to a certain point, and then show signs of leveling off or altogether caving in under added stress and pressure or from peers in competition. For race horses, it is the difference between horses running in space, and running through it. The horse that runs through space is making their own hole through the environment, the one running in space is outsourcing to other horses, hovering herd bound. Herd bound or what we at THT dub “buddying-up”, are horses not impressing themselves upon the environment, but subject to it.
The moment the psychological rhythm and sensory sequence becomes too slow to stay ahead of the physical motion, is the moment the isolated horse pin-balls, and is the moment the horse running with peers outsources, creating “drag” in their efficiency and assimilations. Pin-balling is when an identified stimulus is neither properly interpreted nor properly “handed-off” to another sensory aspect, and gets stuck somewhere in between for a period of time manifesting in desperate attempts to outsource or a move away from or through, increasing emotional stress. Physically this is often seen as delayed responses and changes in physical pace and or direction, hanging in mid-air so to speak for a few strides or much longer, depending on horse and circumstance, or abruptly changing directions. These inherent tendencies under stress of competition lend themselves to the running style of a horse; another example of their patterns of behavior translating to their patterns in motion. You will not erase these tendencies but when you are aware of them you can find ways to help your horse outsource through them and be effective and efficient athletes. I like to remind our clients that their horses cannot be made into something they’re not, the goal is to help them become the best version of themselves. Patience, understanding, creative thinking and innovation are often your keys to proper coaching and curriculum development for the psychological athlete, coaching the horse and training the athlete must merge in order to optimize the natural talent sometimes hidden within them.
Stress can affect the spin-cycle in various ways and this can lead to what is basically a misdiagnosis of the horse. For example, certain horse psychologies that spin fast, “hi-rev” in the THT lingo, may be equipped with high functioning and highly efficient sensory soundness but when they are not moving or are asked to be sedentary and “behave” they become agitated or bounce all over by way of expressing their distain. There is a fine line between purposeful expressions and a horse being reactionary and bumpy, they both can look very similar when observed. But a deeper study of the herd dynamics can often unveil those horses operate at optimum efficiency, mind and body symbiosis, in full motion when the body begins to catch up with the psyche. Likewise, a seemingly sluggish non-reactive psychology does not equate automatically to a sluggish, complacent performer, sometimes, attributable to purposeful motion, these horses can be the sweetheart turned into wolf in the chaos and excitement of competition. Again there is no normal or specific “type” of horse psychology to fit neatly into the discipline they’re bred for, each of these behavioral genetic traits have a range within them, a range that will be reflected in the level of their performance. Gaining an understanding of this range of ability in the horse prospect before you invest, helps greatly in making informed decisions.
Equipment; Risk V/S Reward
When it comes to finding value in your investment, the first place to look is between the ears. How your horse is distributing their emotional energy and in what manner it is being physically expressed tells you a great deal about their overall ability to optimize talent. Understanding stress management and the inherent filtering processes, be them outsource dependent or internally managed, are your guides to understanding your individual horse and to developing a proper program for them.
When it comes to the use of equipment such as blinkers, shadow rolls and so on, depending on your discipline, I personally feel that too often equipment is called upon to try and Band-Aid an issue not entirely understood, far too quickly. Each horse like each human has a different way and different rate of learning, and equipment gone to too quickly can disrupt naturally occurring growth patterns. A quick fix in anything rarely exists. These are not cars you put into the shop, adjust the carburetor or fuel filter and then toss back out on the race track, as much as the impatient ones wish they were.
Using physical sensory altering or depriving tools only alter or deprive the physical senses; regardless of how the physical sensory system is “adjusted”, the emotional aspect, the psycho-sensory, still has to properly process the information being shuttled into it. Just because you change the manner in which the environment is being surveyed doesn’t mean you’re enhancing the manner in which it is being interpreted. The difference between helping and hurting the ultimate ability of the horse varies greatly and depends on the way a horse changes their expression and emotional energy distribution. I am not at all against blinkers and shadow rolls and so on, but I am always in favor of not knee-jerk reacting before the horse is allowed to sort things out and before tweaking their curriculum in any number of ways to help them bridge their own gaps.
Natural growth patterns in young athletes allowed to develop naturally is always better than risking disruption of them; disruptions far too often lead to “bad habits” and the creation of environmental dependencies that perhaps otherwise would not at length find a foothold in the horse psyche. Unfortunately for horses that have slower emergent properties, sometimes humans are not all that patient. When the physical sensory system is functioning well in their respective quadrants and information is singularly interpreted properly, but there is an issue when a sensory lead change is required, then a piece of equipment strategically employed can become very useful and affective without any risk of creating environmental dependencies.
Misdiagnosing the cause of a “lack of focus” for example, and abruptly putting blinkers on, may help in the short term performance but ultimately put you behind the eight ball moving forward in clearing conditions, or going to the next level. A quick fix in the moment often results in a growth plateau. Other things to consider regarding equipments’ affect are the internal rhythms of the horse and their emotional energy distribution. Minimizing one physical sense puts more demand upon another, pushing additional focus and emotional energy into another sphere, this can help or this can hurt, but one thing is for certain, it will concentrate the internal energy and rhythm into a smaller area. The results can be widely varied and random from performance to performance based upon the environment and herd peers, because when you concentrate or condense the senses you’re robbing from Peter to pay Paul and challenging the assimilation-in-chaos process.
If you want to push your race horse forward, make them spin faster by using equipment, you alter the way they naturally distribute emotional energy by concentrating it into a certain area; you may make them “faster” but you also may make them “shorter”. The ability for a horse to be competitively versatile over a distance rests deeply within their inherent ability, or their learned ability, to conserve the bulk of their emotional energy reserves until it’s called upon.
Herd Dynamics, the Psychology in Motion
As an individual the herd dynamic defines who the horse is relative to their behavioral genetic sequence, and within the herd itself these dynamics carve out their placement among their peers; governing emotional intelligence managing physical movement.
“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.”
There is no getting around it, an athletic psychology is the difference maker in high level competition against physically similar ability and the rules of the herd dynamics will have their influence. If your horse isn’t able to lead for themselves, they will be left to be lead by another. It is a required element for any "society" to become knitted and sustainable that a majority of its members are codependent, an essential asset, while a scant few are not bound by its laws but are inclined by Nature and their nature, to be both independent of and party to, that herd societal structure. There is a set rule-of-thumb in the natural order that allows individually incomplete sensory soundness to be completed by the fabric of the unit, even if isn’t correspondent with the athletic goals we might have for the horse. Horses with “potholes” are thus naturally dependent, but their natural environment provides succor, masking deficiency, sustaining survival. Horses do not “think” of herd survival in a group sense, but herd survival happens as a byproduct of the basic instinct of individual survival, and this could not happen without codependency in their societal structure. Removing a horse from a herd environment can be like holding a loose wire whipping with sparks at one end while you’re trying to control it from the other; as well, you can often see the disruptive nature of the removal of this puzzle piece in the emotional and physical actions of their remaining peers. Herd dynamics matter.
When we attempt to bridge the sensory pothole gap by the use of equipment to alter the physical sensory sequence we must be careful not to enrich nor cultivate dependency by attempting to counter it with anything that itself can become prerequisite; for those with the inclination will naturally depend upon it. Substitution for is not an elixir against; better to embrace what is and work through it than to sidestep one and risk creation of another when the sensory disruption is hinged upon the interpretational aspect, the psycho-sensory. When an individual horse with dependencies is isolated from peers, equipment can aid (but never erase), allowing them to compete; this helps most when horses are competing/moving individually. However once with other horses, especially in high stress chaos like a horse race where environmental awareness is keyed by communication, equipment can add another disruption and alter physical output owing to the fact that the horse may be struggling to identify where they fit into the evolving herd structure moving in close proximity at speed. By default horses will seek corresponding communications with their peers to fill in any gaps; equipment can help keep them from so doing as urgently and free up emotional energy, or it can pinion its fluency because the sensory impediment is blocking this effort. Again, this is highly dependent upon whether the issue being “treated” by equipment stems from the emotional or the physical aspect of the sensory sequence. Knowing the difference makes all the difference, for like I always say, herd dynamics matter when you’re #Panning4Gold.
~Kerry M Thomas
Kentucky Derby 145 Analysis Intro-Piece
|Posted on May 12, 2019 at 6:50 AM|
*Each year for our annual Kentucky Derby Herd Dynamics Analysis I pen a position paper as the introduction, in an effort to help further advance an understanding of work and approach here at THT.The following is a copy of the 2019 installment as it appeared in the KY Derby 145 analysis.
The Kentucky Derby & Herd Dynamics;
The Nature of Competition
Kerry M Thomas
If you would have told me nine years ago that our dabble into providing a pattern of motion, herd dynamic analysis of the Kentucky Derby horses would slowly but surely continue to build both in depth, as our work continues to grow, and in audience for years after, I probably wouldn’t have believed you. Back then Pete and I were just starting to blend our working partnership; a serious blessing for me as he helped/helps me translate the often times raw material in my mind into practical application. Our rostrum then was Kentucky Confidential, for which I am and will always be forever grateful. Their vision in providing a platform to who was then a relative “newbie” to the derby flavors afforded a most spectacular opportunity and challenge.
Each year we do our best to provide a snapshot of the herd dynamic hierarchy and behavioral genetic profile of the field of horses going into the Kentucky Derby, splitting hairs more often than not by way of considering naturally occurring tendencies in motion and under stress. Our main goal is to provide for you a detailed conspectus of the horses individually along with a herd dynamic ranking “order” based upon all of the information we could mine from film study; any notes we have on a particular horse we had inspected at an auction will be included in their profile. This year’s top tier horses are very tightly knitted in herd dynamic strength, and coming up with an order of that strength is often by the smallest of differences. It’s racing, anything can happen, but the top tier herd dynamic horses have in my opinion the highest probability of success.
I look at the horses through the lens of my instincts first and think of them both individually and together while asking myself the question, out of ten races what is the likelihood of this horse finishing ahead of? When competition is close, when fields are large, I lean on physical ability juxtaposed with herd dynamic strengths to answer the question of probability. This is the same core approach we take when we’re asked to scout talent for private clients at sales, within an existing stable, for private purchase options or claiming opportunities. We utilize this fundamental approach when asked to assist with breeding decisions as well; behavioral economics being an important element in any investment strategy.
I say this all the time and I will say it again, race horses are not race cars; with a horse you’re investing in both car and driver, if you’re not considering the operating system of your physical machine, you’re only considering half the athlete. That can be both costly and disappointing.
I love horse racing because by nature horses love to run, and I’ve always been fascinated by the natural herd dynamics and their particular influence on races in general. The Kentucky Derby is a unique experience that presents the horse athletes a variety of challenges both physically and emotionally that draw deeply upon their inherent behavioral genetic codes; their herd dynamic.
What are the herd dynamics? Born from the ebb and flow of Mother Nature’s great storyboard, the predator/prey relationship, herd dynamics and structured hierarchy is the core of survival. They are the collection of the psychological matrix, the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle, the sequencing of the behavioral genetic code. They are often everything you don’t see and everything you feel, there influence on the horse as an individual plays a major role in leveraging horses in a herd, most especially a herd in motion.
In short, 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 environment. It is as I have previously mentioned the operating system of the physical machine.
There are many ways to apply the idiosyncrasies of the psyche when it comes to equine sports. We always start by studying the raw materials of both the physical and emotional athlete and work our way up through the details. Horses as athletes come in three basic forms; there are those that are by nature more physically athletic than they are mental giants, there are those who have far stronger athletic herd dynamics than their physical ability can optimize, and then there are those rare elite athletes that are equipped with both highly fluent physicals and highly fluent psychologies. I need to point out here the very important and influential “other” participant in this equation, the sensory system.
The sensory soundness (efficiency) of the individual has a great deal to do with the physical expression of the psychological horse. I often use the comparison of a blocker in football making a hole for the running back to move through. A high functioning sensory system identifies stimulus in the environment, is able to pass the stimuli to other senses without disruptive physical reaction, (what I call a sensory-lead-change) and funnel the outside world to the inside world for interpretation. The sensory system searches for stimulus, the psycho-sensory interprets it; the herd dynamic manages the interpretation. The horse will either affect the environment, or be affected by it.
Horses that are more reliant on their physical ability than their core herd dynamic strengths as athletes and as individuals come with naturally occurring environmental dependencies. Mid level herd dynamic strength requires outsourcing; this is the dependency/co-dependency relationship of the majority of horses in any natural herd. This is by Mother Nature’s design and highly instinctive, for the links in this chain are the social fabric of a herd.
Mid-level herd horses though physically capable, struggle to assimilate when alone and are easily influenced when under stress by stronger horses and more easily affected by sudden environmental changes. The inability to properly assimilate independently creates dependency; isolating a horse means you’re isolating both strength and weakness. Adaptability is an inherent element to overall herd dynamic strength and assimilation to situational chaos while in motion is an essential key to the optimization of ability during competition. It does not mean automatically that these horses cannot and will not become successful athletes, for they can and do. What it does mean is their management, development and placement require some additional attention. It also means to me, that if we have a like prospect before us, we need to make certain their sensory system is efficient to a level that it will not impede in any manner the physical strengths of the athlete, and even better, is high functioning in a way that will help offset any herd dynamic holes and thus help optimize raw ability.
In nature elite herd dynamics rule the day, day in and day out; measured hierarchy is how prey animals, exposed in the open with predators potentially at every turn, survive. They depend on the leaders to lead and to pass down as much of the “upper crust” behavioral genetics as they can. Emotional intelligence, adaptability and environmental awareness are all leadership qualities. Yet in sport, especially in racing, elite herd dynamics alone will not get you across the wire ahead of the more physically capable. It is the reason a strong herd dynamic may struggle to “compete” on a physical platform, yet may become quite useful in passing down their inherent strengths in a breeding program. We find horses in our scouting where we love their sensory systems and their herd dynamic, but we have to walk away from them because as physical athletes we just don’t see the horse taking our client to the promise land. I find myself telling Pete, “maybe not a physical athlete, but probably a lot of potential in a breeding program”.
Then there is the perfect storm, so to speak, where the elite psychological athlete meets the elite physical athlete. Elite potential in both of these areas is as rare as it is awe inspiring, and makes the search so exciting; it’s why I dub it, #Panning4Gold.
These elite athletes are not often found on many of the same playing fields. Among the things that make the Kentucky Derby such a special competition, as well as so challenging to diagnose, is that generally the best of the best find themselves together for the first time; bumping and grinding and gritting it out in a chaotic and excitable environment. This motley of horses coming together, head to head at a mile and a quarter, makes for a wonderfully unique and herd dynamically demanding experience.
Herd dynamic strength and power operating a capable physical machine is a force to be reckoned with and an element that should never be underappreciated be it in handicapping or purchasing. I have always felt that the true “value” to be found in the athlete is housed within their internal grit, will and determination. The psychological influence of the herd dynamic from one horse to another is not often easily noted, for there can be, and frequently are, many subtle variations of influence at play in any given moment depending on environment and circumstance. Most often the result of herd dynamic presence is seen in its ability to manipulate or disrupt physical speed or pace, control space, sense and react to approaching pressure or zero in on the true forward target or peer. It’s harder to see aspects are within the ability to manage stress, adapt in motion to rapidly changing environments, anticipate herd motion of lower ranking horses, and distribute emotional energy evenly as necessary and sustainably.
We break down the overall herd dynamic in to two collaborative but differently expressive areas, the Group Herd Dynamic and the Individual Herd Dynamic. The GHD is largely responsible for environmental interpretations, space awareness, sensory lead change ability, and emotional energy conservation; which lends itself to an efficient mental cruising gear quite well suited for in-traffic navigation. The IHD influences athletic power and expressions of grit, and is geared toward targets, combat and is what allows a horse to drop the hammer even on a “target” that is open space far out in front of them. (In the THT lexicon we denote this as DTF, Distance Target Focus). It is in this area of DTF you find the difference between horses running in space, and horses running through space.
A mixture of GHD and IHD to some degree is inherent in all horses, though horse athletes, especially thoroughbreds, will have a prevailing herd dynamic shift; some horses will be shifted more into the IHD area giving them what I refer to as a hi-rev psychological spin. Their sensory systems and sometimes even their basic character traits have a faster spin-cycle internally that veils their actual efficiency until in sustained physical motion. The GHD shifted horses have a more methodical, though no less competitive psychological spin. Their sensory system and character traits can be veiled in apparent quiet nonchalance that comes alive through the buildup of competition and the time they are in competitive motion.
Note: *IHD shifted horses can also find a mental cruising gear, though their natural rhythm cycles faster and is more directional than that of the broader based, methodically toned rhythm of the GHD horse. IHD shifted horses can at times run the risk of excessive emotional energy burn the same way the GHD based cruising rhythm can sometimes “fail to launch” into competitive IHD. When this is a question, the answer to which way they may spill under pressure is often found within the efficacy of the sensory system.*
Natural patterns of motion are reflected in these herd dynamic shifts. IHD shifted horses will have a pattern of motion generally more aggressive and expressive than those GHD slanted, sliding through space with oft times subtle alacrity. In regards to distance aptitude and being competitive at increased distances, the inherent value is found within the individual horse’s ability to properly filter stress and distribute emotional energy over time and within herd chaos. Regardless of the shift, IHD or GHD, it’s what they bring to the table when they get there. Their inherent patterns of motion through the course of a race can look very different, but in either form, head to head, it is who brings the most sustainable grit that matters; for there are two types of fatigue, physical fatigue and emotional fatigue. When physical ability and athleticism are evenly matched, determination and mental fortitude becomes the difference maker.
“Herd Dynamics; if it influences the horses daily life, it influences their competitive life.”
I’d like to express my appreciation to all of you that purchase our report. As you well know it takes a tremendous amount of time and energy to develop our Kentucky Derby Analysis. We work hard to provide you with a unique window into each horse (and into our singular way of evaluating them) that you can reference not only for the First Saturday in May, but also as these horses continue their journey. We work to provide you a perspective of where they were, where they are and where they’re likely going, founded upon who they are as individual horse athletes.
I’d also like to thank Brisnet for their ongoing support of our work and it goes without saying, this report would never come to be without the dedication, talent and hard work of Pete Denk. Pete is not only THT Bloodstock partner, but the best friend I could ever ask for.
Pete and I continue to consider the future of THT Bloodstock and where we will always welcome new clients at any level of ownership or buying interest, we are also eying up the potential for THT Thoroughbred Partnerships. If you or someone you know would like to access the advantage of our services privately or you’re interested in being kept in the loop regarding partnership opportunities, please email Pete at [email protected] or via Twitter, Pete is @Petedenk.
For additional information about our work, research and everything else THT, please allow me to invite you to visit our website www.thtbloodstock.com. There you can find position papers on the Blog and the previous Kentucky Derby archives in Big Race Analysis section among other things.
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Kerry M Thomas, Founder of THT