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Right brain, left brain and our approach to natural horsemanship

This is a discussion on Right brain, left brain and our approach to natural horsemanship within the Natural Horsemanship forums, part of the Training Horses category
  • Right or left brain test horse
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    01-06-2012, 08:18 PM
I disagree with soernjer55 here, especially with regards to "labeling." I don't think people automatically -- or subconsciously as you put it -- label one another as "left" or "right" brained. If someone cries a lot at awkward moments in public, others may think, "What a weirdo" but I doubt they will be thinking, "Wow, that dude is so right-brained."

Just to be really nitpicky and annoying (sorry, the history and social construction of psychiatry/psychology is kind of my thing), the terms "subconscious" and "unconscious" came from psychoanalytic theory in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. It was not originally intended to signify learned actions that you perform without conscious thought, like walking, driving a car, riding a horse, or playing a musical instrument, but rather things (usually socially unacceptable desires and thoughts) in your mind which you are not aware of, but which cause you to behave in certain (dysfunctional) ways. Psychoanalytic theory and its Freudian cohort, psychodynamic theory, are no longer the dominant paradigms by which people construct behaviour and the brain, although you can still find psychoanalysts out there. These days the term is pretty much avoided in science and academia, unless people mean it in a specifically psychoanalytic way.

There is quite a lot of research (that I don't know offhand because that's not really my field, but could easily look up if someone really fancied it) on learning theory and how things like playing instruments or riding or what-have-you bypass the conscious thought process and become automatic. Your brain, left, right, whatever, is very well designed to do this. No one can consciously react and think fast enough to competently ride a horse over a jump, play a fast Irish reel, hunt a wildabeast, or walk across the room.
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    01-06-2012, 08:28 PM
I don't think that we can assume the right-brain/left-brain concept is analogous to the sub-conscious/conscious mind concept. Also, everybody uses all of their brain. Some of us are more analytical and some are more creative. It takes both analysis and creativity to paint a picture. (You have to have a concept, but you also have to know how to use the paint.) It also takes both to create a new mathematical concept. Our sub-conscious minds are also running all the time. That is why we can drive a car while thinking about work.

Horses are much simpler than we are, but they are not children. An adult horse is an adult. He may not know algebra, but he is smarter than we are about how to get back home, what is safe footing, and such things as that.

By the way, when I looked at the dancer, she switched back and forth wildly from clockwise to counter-clockwise. I can't control it. She just does it. Really weird.
thesilverspear and Beling like this.
    01-06-2012, 08:55 PM
Maybe instead of 'subconscious' I ought to say 'non-conscious' thought - it isn't a word, but it might express what I mean.

The mind functions by putting things into boxes. If it didn't, we would be insane because we couldn't recognize anything around us. As an example, near the end of my military career, I took a course in target recognition systems. The Professor showed us a picture and asked what we saw. It wasn't much, but we all agreed in seconds that it was a tank of some sort in the woods. He told us we were right, but we recognized it because of our military experience. He also said there wasn't a computer in the world that could replicate what we did - not then, don't know about now.

All of our lives, our minds are assaulted with 'pixels' of light in our eyes, and sounds hitting our ears. Our mind learns to categorize them, and decide what is useful. With rare exceptions, we don't sit and try to puzzle out what we see. We see, and our minds tell us WHAT we see. That is why, for example, many people who see a plane crash will report it was on fire, when the wreckage makes it clear there was no flame. The mind sees a plane going down, compares it to TV images, and supplies the flame. There was no flame, but the witness is completely honest in saying they 'saw' flame.

Thinking analytically doesn't disable your ability to see things without consciously contemplating them, and responding accordingly. Much of horsemanship is noticing the details that most humans miss, and responding accordingly. I hire a trainer to work with my mare Mia, because she takes in Mia's body language and responds much faster and more accurately than I do. But I can ask her to explain, and she'll say something like, "Mia blinked a few times, her head lowered maybe 5 deg, and her left ear moved from the rear to me..."

I could 'see' that too, if I was paying enough attention, and understood what it meant. But she has 40+ years of living with horses, so it isn't surprising she picks up on those signals faster than I do. But I pick up far more of them than I used to, so I'm on the road to becoming a horseman.
Beling and soenjer55 like this.
    01-06-2012, 09:18 PM
Yes. And that's why eyewitness testimony is rubbish, but that of course is a whole different discussion.

The mind indeed functions by placing things in categories, but I suppose I'm interested in the underlying assumptions of types of categories which are pure social constructs, rather than things in the a priori "natural" world. A horse or a mountain exist, and are those things regardless of whether we are there to label them as a horse or a mountain, whereas something like money (the classic example of a "social kind") is only significant and only exists because society agrees that it does. If everyone more or less accepted that a 20 note is meaningless (hah... as they may well do with the euro!), it's nothing more than a bit of paper. Social kinds are often even more abstract, like "authority" or a "right-brained thinker." That's thing -- the "right" or "left" brained individual does not exist in any "natural" way but is purely a social construct. While certain parts of the brain may light up during certain types of tests and there is a degree of lateralization of brain function, the conceptual leap between that and personality traits like creativity or emotionality and the lack thereof is pretty tenuous, but makes for a good self-help book. Suggesting that a horse is right or left-brained, within the human construct of what those terms mean, is therefore nonsensical.

What bsms is talking about in the latter half of his post very much reflects how learned responses to stimuli -- the horse's body language -- become automatic or "non-conscious" (good enough term for what we mean). I've been around horses since about age 7, and to be honest, I don't have to employ that much conscious thought into reading them and to communicating with them. However, this is all very individual and if I work with a horse I don't know, I have to think more than I do with my horse who I've owned for twelve years. We have very free-flowing communication, where we don't have to think very hard about what the other wants. I love putting random friends on her because I can see the gears in her brain whirring away, saying, "Hmmm... this person is giving a slightly odd cue... what do they want? Do they want me to canter? Will I canter? Oh, they're sliding off, maybe I won't canter."
    01-06-2012, 10:09 PM
Originally Posted by Skyseternalangel    
Can I just share this fun little test with you all???

Hope this works (it keeps linking wrong to me)

The Right Brain vs Left Brain test | Perth Now

I promise she is turning clockwise to me, and if I try really hard, she spins anti-clockwise.
That is COOL! She's totally turning clockwise to me. I had to blink furiously while letting my eyes go out of focus before I could see it as anti-clockwise.
    01-06-2012, 10:15 PM
Originally Posted by ThursdayNext    
That is COOL! She's totally turning clockwise to me. I had to blink furiously while letting my eyes go out of focus before I could see it as anti-clockwise.
Yeah it's a really fun brain workout! I still can't get her to go the other way...

Also no one really answered my question..
    01-06-2012, 10:22 PM
I didn't mean to imply that the subconscious mind was not used in riding. I think that it is very much. I agree with what BSMS and silverspear are saying. We do use our subconscious mind more and more as we gain experience.

The right-brained vrs. Left-brained concept is just somewhat different in my understanding. Right-brained thinkers come up with new concepts whereas left-brain thinkers have the analytical ability to make those concepts happen.

I took a test in a class that was supposed to determine to what extent we were right or left brained in our thinking. I came up exactly 50/50. That makes the little dancer thing even more interesting because she seems to go one way and then the other. It is too weird! I also was told by an "expert" that people that have a 50/50 tended to get into a lot of trouble in life.
I better leave that one alone...............
    01-06-2012, 10:25 PM
I think that psychoanalysis is out of vogue because we now have drugs that solve our problems. (prozac)
    01-06-2012, 10:34 PM
Originally Posted by Skyseternalangel    
Yeah it's a really fun brain workout! I still can't get her to go the other way...

Also no one really answered my question..
Which question? This question?

"Well we "see" the world physically the same. But do we see the world as for the emotions and feelings and whatnot be left-brain dominant or is there a mix?"

Because if I understand the question, I think the answer is that there can be a mix. I think there is always some mix. Some are just more mixed up than others. Like me.
soenjer55 likes this.
    01-06-2012, 10:47 PM
Originally Posted by Celeste    
Which question? This question?

"Well we "see" the world physically the same. But do we see the world as for the emotions and feelings and whatnot be left-brain dominant or is there a mix?"

Because if I understand the question, I think the answer is that there can be a mix. I think there is always some mix. Some are just more mixed up than others. Like me.
Thank you! :) I agree in a mix too.. no persons are the same.. same with horses. They each have their own ways of thinking which is why one method works for one horse, and the same method might not work with another horse. Which is kind of where I think "feel" comes in.. being able to train around the characteristics of the horse.. without just clumping it all together (like most big name trainers do with their programs.) What do you think?

Yes and then I also had a response for bsms that wasn't really a question, because it didn't have a question mark but it questioned his opinion on not being an effective rider due to directed thinking (his words were different) and that we ride on a subconscious level. I'm probably not getting the message right. Let me link what I said..


See.. this is where it gets fuzzy. Personally.. I have my muscle memory. But I think about my breathing, I think about my posting, I think about what my hands are doing, where my eyes are, where my shoulders and hips are, if I'm on my left seatbone, my right.. or balanced. Whether I'm leaning.. if I'm breathing (again :P)

But watching myself ride (I'm in the process of uploading to ask for a critique and share!!) I noticed I do a lot of subconscious things too.. and I make it look nearly flawless.. which is DEFINITELY NOT the cold hard truth! Lots of flaws
in response to...bsms:

My point was that you cannot think fast enough with your conscious mind to ride a horse well. You cannot walk across the room with your conscious mind. I'm not typing on this keyboard with my conscious mind - although I did when I first started typing.

Your subconscious mind is thinking, just as your conscious mind is. Try reading a description of how to post. If you had to think your way consciously for each rise and fall, you could not do it any more than you could walk across the room that way.

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