Tradition and Science Collide
Response to the waspish ghosts of theological thinking.
"Tradition and Science Collide"
Ghosts of the equestrian world have found the ultimate protection on the Internet: disagree with their point of view and be deleted. If we could make real life that simple horses would be equipped with a delete button. Delete decades and centuries of old ideas that so many people cannot seem to discard despite current proof that such ideas damage our horses over and over again. Instead the internet provides a venue of revolving masters of equestrian knowledge that need only a computer and several fingers in order to claim their place in the long line of experts. Most of these so-called experts are trying to sell you some gizmo or gadget and most can’t get themselves out of their own loop-holes.
Science provides the answer and in all realms, creates the ability to face the present with an eye on the future, whereas tradition remains steeped in the, often erroneous, lessons of the past. As it applies to equestrian schooling, in a world, where the practical application of advanced research studies allows our horses to, in fact, learn the body coordination that suppresses kinematics abnormalities and the consequent lameness created by such, there can be no argument that a scientific approach, when available, is correct. In a world where a horse can, again, learn to become sound through correct motion guided by a thoughtful and educated rider tradition has no place other than to fill the shelves of an equestrian museum. Such research and practical application changes rapidly. What was relevant even one year ago is no longer. Decades of experienced and supposed correct methodology are negated within the discovery of scientific equine studies. As a rider, dedicated to what is best for your horse, you must relentlessly pursue those instructors that keep up to date with their own education, in order to best serve your horses’ schooling needs.
The old adage “use it or lose it” is true for our brain function as much as it is for our physical bodies. So too it is for horses. In respect of the way that human brains process, Joel Voss and his collaborators demonstrated that brain structures, that are typically seen as passive participants in memory encoding, the hippocampus for example, are actually part of an active network that controls behavior dynamically as it unfolds. (1) In relation to the equine physiology, Christopher S. Chen and Donald E. Ingber wrote in 1999, “The existence of discrete networks within discrete networks in bones, cartilages, tendons and ligaments optimizes their structural efficiency as well as energy absorption.” (2) In respect of neuro-physiology, Sten Grillner wrote, “Movements are generated by dedicated networks of nerve cells that contain the information that is necessary to activate motor neurons in the appropriate sequence and intensity to generate motor patterns. Such networks are referred to as CENTRAL PATTERNS GENERATORs, (CPGs). The most basic CPGs coordinate protective reflexes such as swallowing or coughing. At the next level are those that generate rhythmic movements. Some, such as respiratory CPGs, are active throughout the lifetime, but are modulated with changing metabolic demands. Others such as locomotor CPGs, are inactive at rest but can be turned on by signals from command centers.” (3)
It has been asked of me if average students can learn the nuances in muscle tone that come from the study of Science Of Motion. My reply is that anyone that dedicates her/himself to the study of the correct position can learn to influence the horse in a biomechanically correct way. Of course the horse has an active role in such education. It has been shown that horses learn actively (volitional learning) ten times faster and more productively than through traditional education, which generally amounts to obedience and submission. Research has shown that they are capable of so much more.
Recently an interesting experience occurred. Here is the story. The horse in question is a good horse but he is not Grand Prix level. He had great acuity with the flying change and in six months of training, he was capable of learning the series of tempi changes down to tempi one. It is not uncommon that a horse does have some talent for one specific movement without having the athleticism to master all of the movements. The horse in question was supposed to do a public in hand presentation at the end of the month. The horse knew the work in hand but only at medium level. I did not have the opportunity to teach him the canter departure in hand. I was therefore planning a routine in hand at the walk and trot. As we were practicing half pass at the trot, the horse picked up the canter just as he reached the rail. I did not ask for the canter and I was taken by surprise. There was a brief instance where our eyes met. It was an intense regard. The horse looked at me as if he was expecting a signal of confirmation. I did not give the signal and he came back to the trot.
I was intrigued by the clarity of his regarding look and started to think that if I knew what cue the horse was expecting, he would have continued at the canter. Out of curiosity I experimented with a few cues as he was now picking up the canter at the same spot after the half pass. As I studied what created this phenomenon I noticed that I made a small gesture of my upper body, which the horse apparently regarded as a rational cue. From that day forward he picked up the canter anywhere I asked him to do it in response to this cue.
I was amused by the fact that in less than a week, the horse was capable of presenting some canter work for the planned in hand presentation. As we progressed and a few days later, the horse created a situation that made me think about the flying change. When you have taught the flying change to many horses, you know by experience that some horses are willing to give the change in response to a light hand action only or to a slight leg action only. The horse in question was comfortable executing the flying change under saddle by simply changing the position of the poll. The idea crossed my mind that as he was well balanced and comfortable at the canter, I could ask him for the flying change placing his poll for the new lead in hand as well. The horse passed the flying change in hand without difficulties. I was now really amused by the situation. In a week, the horse became capable of presenting a routine in hand which included canter departure and flying change.
However the real interest of the story is the learning process. There was no submission, no repetition, no reflex conditioning. The horse learned at a much more intelligent level. The horse understood in his mind. There was no need of drilling. He learned the move in one tentative instance because he was “thinking” and I supported his thought process. Of course there will be those that doubt the validity of this story. They will minimize or disregard the importance of the lesson taught to me by this horse. They will instead jump to and promote their own agenda, their own teaching methods or they will tell you that they do the same thing everyday. Truly, it does not matter as there will always be those that refuse to accept new research and advance their own education. But where it does matter is with the horse. The horse deserves the best that we have to offer and if science can aid us in determining what, indeed, is the best then we must pay attention. For those willing to advance with the support of scientific proof, the above experiment and resulting success has been recorded on video and it will serve as the introduction of the second month’s video of our In Hand Therapy Course – now available through Science of Motion.
Jean Luc Cornille
References (1) (Hippocampa; brain-network coordination during volitional exploratory behavior enhances learning. Joel L Voss, Brian D Gonsalves, Kara D Federmeier, Daniel Tranel and Neal Cohen. 2010) (2) (Christopher S. Chen and Donald E. Ingber. Tensegrity and mechanoregulation: from skeleton to cytoskeleton, 1999) (3) (Sten Grillner, The Motor Infrastructure From Ion Channels To Neuronal Network.)
In Hand Therapy Course