I would like to define the difference between intellect and instinct.
There is new research claiming that our gut is like a second brain. Our gut holds over 100 millions neurons. The centre of human intelligence is not only in our pre-frontal cortex but it is in our whole body.
Further reading on the subject
Have you ever met someone and though everything appears to be normal; they smile, speak well, knowledgeable, presenting as trustworthy, but while they speak to you, or moments after they leave you, there is an uneasy feeling in your stomach? A clenching, a churning, and jolt of discomfort in your mid-section that radiates down your body to your feet, causing you to feel less grounded here and now?
That feeling is not to be ignored.
Have you ever gone to a riding lesson, or a trail riding centre, and presented with a horse that for whatever reason, gives you that same uneasy feeling? A mild but unavoidable surge of adrenaline, like you might have to fight for your life at any moment, or that there was potential that this horse was too much for your right now.
That feeling is not to be ignored.
Have you ever come to your own horse, and had a feeling that something was not right? They were standing, breathing, eating, blinking, but something in your gut told you something was wrong.
Never ignore that feeling.
It is that internal red flag. That little jolt of genius to your nervous system that attempts to alert your brain to impending threat, or danger. A red flag is nothing else but a red flag… it does not mean anything else, except a red flag. The problem is when we try to be clever, our intellect attempts to beat down our instincts. Fact, traditional education is wholly designed to disconnect a teenager from their childlike instinct and connect them with intellect- to make us more clever but less ‘feeling’. Neck down dead adults. Our bodies mere vehicles to take our brains to a meeting.
What your intellect will tell your instincts about that ‘red flag person’:
“ Oh no you are mistaken. Mr. So and So worked with this person many times and swears by them. They have thousands of fans on their Facebook fan page so they must be wonderful. Their mentor is a successful person and they have many clients. Look how they are smiling at you? Look what nice words they employ, of course they can be trusted! “
What your intellect will tell your instincts about that ‘red flag horse’:
“ Listen, you have paid your money and ticked the box ‘Experienced rider’ on your disclaimer. You want to embarrass yourself and ask for a different horse? Don’t let your fear or primitive urges make you look like an amateur to other people. Shut up, smile, tell everyone how pretty the horse is and get in the saddle. Just hold them on a strong rein contact and don’t lose control…’
What your intellect will tell your instincts about your ‘red flag signal’ from your horse:
“Don’t be dramatic. Do you want other people at your stable to think you are an hysteric horse owner? Your horse is fine. See, he is doing everything you want. No, ignore that tail swish he is just being naughty. Remember that instructor you had when you were 10 who told you to use a stick on a ‘naughty’ horse. Use your stick. Do it.”
In my personal experience; That person turned out to be a traitor, a backstabber and a narcissist. That horse turned out to uncontrollable at best and dangerous to you at worst. And my horse had been bitten by a hornet on his sheath which had swollen to twice it’s healthy size. Had I listened to my gut I might have avoided a bit of trouble.
Listening to your gut is so important when you work with horses. Not only is it the key to avoiding danger, but if you found a way to actively harness your instincts it can lead you to positive growth and successes that your intellect can only dream about.
I have met many people who were super clever and well educated, but looking past their nice words their horses were standing in a filthy paddock, nearly floating in mud, ribs showing and nose dripping with green gunk. I have met seemingly ‘ignorant’ horse people whose horses gleamed in the dull light of a cold day, and called to them when they saw their human from across the farm.
Your instincts are the seeds of your talent. Not education. Education can certainly bolster your instinctive talents, and educating yourself is a vital part of any skill acquisition. But education and skill acquisition alone is not enough to reach your full potential. It won’t lead you to answers out in the real world when you a presented with a real challenge you have not rehearsed for.
There are thousands of methods when it comes to horses. Monty Roberts, Pat Parelli, Vaquero in the Dorrance tradition, classical dressage, Art 2 Ride dressage, straightness training, pair bond training, natural horsemanships and its hundred of counterparts, western, english, baroque, cavalry, liberty, R+ and R-, jumping, eventing, biomechanics, Academic art of riding I mean I could go on and on.
But if you found yourself in a real world situation, for which you did not rehearse for, it is not your intellect that will save you and your horse. It is your emotional control, your gut instinct the ability to problem solve and think on your feet. It is your gut which can think creatively and establish a resolution and an answer to the situation at hand. Your second brain can do this in a fraction of a second. It can respond instantly, because it is paired with the nervous system. Your cleverness is sluggish in comparison.
Here is an analogy I have used at a few trainings recently.
You put a metal pot on the stove, to boil. The hot becomes quickly very hot. Your hand accidentally touches the hottest part of the metal. Here are two responses based upon situations I see in many horse-human interactions.
The horse person operating from micro-managed, highly educated, clever, the ‘instructed’, and ‘I-Follow-this-technique’, response:
Hmm. Something does not feel right. That pot is hot. Let me ask my instructor if it is correct that I assume that the pot is hot. Yes they said the pot is hot. Let me think what I can do to fix this. If I remain with my hand in contact with this pot, my hand will surely burn, perhaps even second or third degree burns if I do not change my position. Gee that is now painful. Ok. Let me now contract my left bicep muscle, at the same time I will take a half-halt on my wrist, no not like that, a correct half halt with excellent use of my core muscles, let me engage my thighs first… there, that is the half halt my wrist needs right now. Ok now bending to the left to safely avoid the danger, I shall now elevate my right shoulder, engage my diaphragm at the right moment together with opening my left hip to co-ordinate with my left hand so that my body may open away from this mistake I have made and I may then resume the contact once a free and willing openness is in front of me…..
You get the point
The horse person operating with a healthy gut instinct;
Automatically snatches hand off the hot pot before any conscious thought has time to emerge. No thought given to quality of the movement. A natural response to a real situation.
This example might seem silly but honestly, I am really not exaggerating, the first example is truly how I see so many people riding their horses. They work very, very hard to truly disconnect their instincts and talent from their technique and then years later desperately try to reconnect the two! But the very journey they took to technical mastery is the same journey that precludes them from awareness of their instincts.
This is where the ‘natural’ comes into play for me. Those against natural horsemanship as a term will say there is nothing natural about riding a horse and I may or may not agree with them depending on the perspective they are speaking from. But for me natural is about interacting with horses in a way in which does NOT pervert the natural instinctive responses in both the horse AND the human. I try to work with a horse and riders nervous system, not against it. I try to reunite a horse person with their innate potential, and help them develop that and flesh it out, rather than dictate a specific method to them, whether it is suitable for them or not, and expect them to master it.
How many dressage horses have you seen that struggle to walk in a straight line unless they have a rider apply about 15 different aids on them and carry a dressage stick- sometimes two!?
How many jumping horses have you seen that can clear 150cm in their sleep but when with the same rider, they absolutely refuse to walk past a trash can that is sitting 2 meters out of place of its regular placement.
You cannot rehearse life. You cannot rehearse talent. You can develop and strengthen it. But you cannot practise it.
That is not to say that I think someone can do something difficult the first time perfectly, if their instinctive talent allows it. That is not the case. One needs experience.
EXPERIENCE. So different to rehearsal.
If I compare it to my life as a dancer. Rehearsal would be the morning training or the rehearsals that proceeded. And Experience would be the actual performances we had to perform.
I was able to do things on stage in performance that I could never do in rehearsal. One of my last performances as a dancer I performed a perfect quadruple pirouette, finishing on balance on stage during a show, whereas in the studio when rehearsing the same moment the most I ever did was a double.
Instinct is more than just that primal urge which helps you avoid danger, though that is also really important. It is also the key to your success. It is the concentrated form of your essence as a living creature.
Try turning off your brain next time you are with your horse and stop being so clever. Go deeper, do a deep dive with your feelings. There might be answers there that will surprise you and surprise your horse!