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Laws of Nature 2: Herd Psychology; Intricacies of Equine Leadership, a Precis

Updated: May 22

“Understanding what’s between the horse’s ears,

starts with expanding the learning, between ours.”



Emotional and Athletic Intelligence in Horses:

Herd leaders are Emotionally Intelligent horses whose Independent Nature is realized through a level of sensory soundness that allows them to manage commonly experienced stresses in the environment for a duration exceeding that of their peers, before capitulating to the bonds of interdependency.  

Athletically Intelligent horses are those who remain sensory sound when confronted with uncommonly experienced competitive stresses regardless of duration, expressing Independent Nature that is untouched by the capitulating quality of herd interdependency.


Instability and Accumulative Stresses:

In each case, duration-before-capitulation is the determining factor and this itself is decided by the level of sensory soundness inherent within the individual horse. The horse who leads in one herd structure may not be a herd leader in another, for leadership within unique herd structures is predicated upon the degree of sensory soundness of those horses within it.

In nature it is more common to find a high degree of sensory soundness within its leadership than it is to find the same in the construct of domestication. Horses in nature have the freedom of self-adjustment, leaders emerge through the course of natural selection where harmony and contentment is a sustained realization.  Horses in domestication are left to define leadership from those peers assembled in a controlled herd structure, that, by nature, may not have among them a peer who is a sensory sound natural leader of horses. From this a de facto leader emerges because interdependency is inherent and demands hierarchical structure in the pursuit of harmony and contentment. But it is often unstable.  

This instability is a petri dish for the breeding and accumulation of emotional stressors. These cumulative stresses are shouldered primarily by the assumed or emplaced leader. When we seek to train these horses, we are often confronted by residual trauma we do not see because their existence we do not fully comprehend. Stress turns to trauma in a horse when their disposition is isolation from herd construct, this can be removal from the family herd or bachelor herd, affecting colts and fillies differently. Trauma takes root through either the position of or perception of isolation and is subsequently housed within the associative aspect for referral in like-circumstances.


Coaching and Sensory Efficiency:

How you’re asking precedes what you’re asking. You never want to risk associations that trigger negatively stored anticipated responses, no horse can be coached forward effectively with these in tow. The only way to sustainably improve performance is to improve the rate of sensory efficiency within it, cleanly, smoothly, without interruption.

When I study the psychology of athletic performance, I follow a two-stage process to study emotional intelligence to define it manner of expression. First, I identify horses with a competitive nature, those who exhibit sufficient sensory soundness to handle common environmental stresses. Next, I distinguish the true athletes among them—those with a competitive edge; the capacity for navigating uncommon tensions. These exceptional horses maintain their performance regardless of the competitive stresses or their duration. Driven by optimal sensory efficiency, these horses deftly manage aggressive stressors without compromising their physical actions allowing them to optimize physical talent. Their minds consistently stay ahead of their movement, adapting seamlessly to changing demands and enhancing the expression of their independent nature. The communication between their IHD and GHD (Individual & Group Herd Dynamic) is so efficient they not only navigate situational chaos, but they do so without losing their athletic expression.

For the horse to maintain mind-to-body fluency their psychosensory (operating) system must clear space two times faster than they are physically moving (or two times faster than stimuli that is moving around them). To use forward motion as an example; two-times faster measured in physical distance is about four body lengths, or roughly 7 meters from any part of the body’s center when we are considering the 6 zones of sensitivity as defined on the sensory soundness map*. (As we discussed in a previously released blog here, we must remember that horses do not measure distance in feet or meters, but rather in time/duration).

Proper spacing between mind and body provides a cushion between them, a clear space in which to move freely and fluently. This cushion accommodates stresses and allows the horse to fluently respond to situational chaos. It also provides the horse with a functional degree of independence from the strong ties of interdependency common in 90% of horses.

Most horses by themselves can only sensory process 1- time faster or -.5 times faster than physical movement which means they will be outsource-dependent for the bulk of their sensory sequencing and environmental interpretations. Their response to stimuli without peer review to filter, is more knee-jerk reactive and less controlled response. This is a measurement of emotional intelligence.



I never thought it was proper to try and learn about the horse and all their idiosyncrasies of behavior and communication from our point of view. For the horse lives by the laws of its nature. Where they fit into the herd, how they interpret their world, how they learn, how they're coached, how they ultimately perform, all governed by the rules of that nature; it is wise to make an effort, to understand it.

Sensory Soundness matters why? Because the operating system runs the machine. What any horse can achieve is predicated entirely upon who that horse is.

Thanks for being here!

Your Friend, Kerry



You can download the free Glossary of Terminology and Phrases on this website.

Visit the Education Center for lesson and course information.

A Poster of the Sensory Soundness Map*, Second Edition, is available on the store.

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