Spicy and the Mounted Policy Clinic - Part 1
In early August Spicy and I partook in Bill Richey's Mounted Police Clinic. I went into it not having any goals. The last time I took Spicy off the farm was for a disastrous dressage lesson that wasn't in December 2019. I've built a lot of trust between us since then. More importantly, I've built a lot of trust and faith in myself. I know how to deescalate this horse, and how to work through 'scary' things. I have all the tools I need and it was time to start stress testing them.
Bill started off by saying the purpose of the clinic was to teach us to notice and learn how our horses spook, and provide us with tools to work through any horse spooking at anything. After completing it myself, calling it a despooking or desensitizing clinic is kind of a misnomer.
|Not related, but just because he's gorg|
The clinic begins with a lecture about Bill's history and then he delves deeply into something I actually don't know much about - how horses see. I know they have monocular vision and can't see colors like we do, but I didn't know much beyond that. Learning how horses see can really help explain a lot about their reactions, which are just reactions to how they perceive the world. A couple tidbits I found really interesting:
- Horses eyes not only see two completely different pictures on each side of their head, but that image is processed by the respective half of the brain. A horse's corpus callosum is not as developed as a human's, so the two halves of the brain don't talk to each other very much. That's why you can pass a bucket 8 times to the right but the first time you pass it to the left he's never seen it before and going to die. Because the left eye (and the left side of his brain) hasn't seen it before!
- A horse's eye actually has trifocal vision. Bifocal glasses allow a person to see up close and far away depending what part of the glasses you look through. A horse's trifocal vision means they have short, medium, and long vision based on what part of the eye they look through. The top of the eye is best for short distance sight, which is why horses sometimes lower their head allllllllll the way to the ground to look at something. The longer distance sight is at the bottom of the eye, which is why when Spicy spooks at a deer 3 miles away his head goes up like a periscope.
- Depending on where the spookable item is, as it moves in the horse's field of view it can actually change size due to light diffusion. You know how sometimes at moonrise the moon looks absolutely enormous on the horizon and then gradually gets smaller as it rises higher in the night sky? That's how light diffusion works for horses. Which means, depending on the location, an object can appear 1.5x larger than it actually is (turning, say, your neighbor walking his dog into Bigfoot with a werewolf).
|Is it turkeys or monsters? Spicy doesn't know.|
All horses - like people - have different types of eyesight. Even one horse could have two very different eyes. I started to wonder if some horses that are 'great at trail riding' or 'excel at jumping' or were 'cross country machines' actually have different eyesight. That what makes them brave or great at what they do isn't actually their brain and how they think, but their eyes ability to perceive.
We also spent a lot of time talking about a horse's hierarchy of needs, and how what we ask them to do fits into that. The horse's primary goal is to feel safe. If he's not feeling safe, he can't learn. Other needs follow, like having food, buddies, and the ability to rest, but if he doesn't feel safe, none of those other needs matter yet.
|Chainsaw murderer or deer?|
At this point my mind was kind of blown. I wasn't sure how we got horses to do anything at all, much less allow us to sit on their backs. Riding them completely contradicts their evolutionary powers even after centuries of domestication. My conclusion after the first lecture was: horses are really just good people.
Stay tuned for next time where we find out the answer to the burning question: does Spicy have what it takes to don the uniform??