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How horses make emotional assessments

Emotional assessment in horses


If the information coming in resembles a NEGATIVE emotional experience from the PAST, it can trigger a stress response (flight / fight / freeze) and the negative emotions associated with that past experience.  This seems irrational when we consider it objectively.  But in this situation, the horse is UNABLE to consider anything objectively, because the brain's rational centre, the cortex, has not been involved.


Take the example given here of the two different horses receiving the same sensory input.  The sensory input is coming from a tractor that the horse has encountered, seconds ago.  The dressage horse (slow track assessment) is working in an arena, next to a field where the tractor is ploughing furrows, up and down, fairly close to the arena railings.  This horse isn’t bothered by the tractor, it is focussed on its rider and continues to perform piaffe without being distracted.


In contrast, the other horse, (fast-track assessment) hacking out alone down a quiet country lane, goes around a corner and comes face to face with a tractor 20 yards away.  It instantly goes into panic mode, rears up, spins around and the rider is unseated and falling to the ground, before she has even had chance to work out what is happening.


Why the difference in behaviour of the two horses, when confronted by what appear to be the same stimuli?


The dressage horse was born and raised on a stud farm, where tractors were an everyday occurrence round and about.  It has no reason to be frightened of them since it has never had a bad experience with one.  The hacking horse was bought from a dealer’s yard a few weeks before. Its early history is largely unknown, but it was described as being suitable to ‘hack out alone or in company’.  Which it will, but what the new owner didn’t know is that it is terrified of tractors, due to an accident with one five years ago.


This horse – exhibiting such a strong reaction on the fast track emotional assessment is NOT naughty, stupid or silly, IT CAN’T HELP IT – any more than you could help running away if confronted by a perceived danger, like a madman with an axe approaching you.  


Hence the importance of gradual DESENSITISATION to potentially frightening things when a horse is young, so there are as few NEGATIVE emotional experiences in the memory banks as possible.  Otherwise, you may end up with a horse (and this is particularly true of the more sensitive types who have a lower threshold for sympathetic nervous system arousal) that is carrying traumas which significantly affect its behaviour and working ability.


Energy Psychology, particularly EFT, applied correctly, in combination with Animal Communication, can reduce or eliminate these traumas and their effects.  


Dr. Elaine Atkins, Energy Psychology Healing for Horse and Human

Sight, sound, smell, touch, taste, and environmental vibratory changes are all forms of sensory input that may reach a horse’s brain when the horse encounters any given situation.


There are two tracks by which a horse’s brain makes emotional assessments from sensory input it receives:


1.The slow track  (thalamus to cortex to amygdala)


2. The fast track  (thalamus to amygdala; by-passing the        cortex).


The cortex is the conscious, decision-making area of the brain.  It taps into pre-existing beliefs and attitudes to decide what to do; but before it can determine an appropriate response, the information travelling on the fast track can reach the amygdala first.  


The amygdala is where emotional memories are processed.  It compares input from the senses and input from the heart, with information stored in the emotional memory banks – ie it scans for patterns that match previous experiences.

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