Sensory soundness is not merely an accessory to the life of the horse nor is the importance of your understanding of it an accessory of your horsemanship; ultimately, it defines it.
Sensory efficiency is the story board upon which the horse’s life is manifest, everything the horse is and all the that the horse can become, wholly dependent upon it. The sensory system is not a subsidiary mechanism but rather the operating system running the machine; knitting the emotional horse with their physical environment.
We speak often, and rightly so, about a horse's "balance", and we do various things for the horse relative to this physical balance. In my many years of selecting yearling thoroughbreds for flat racing, the experts in physical conformation with whom were my peers out at the sale grounds surely focused their keen eyes upon the horses shoulder angle, hip, pastern angle, heart girth and even the cowlick swirls upon their foreheads had meaning to many. In all parts of the world where I have had the pleasure of evaluating these beautiful animals, the common thread talked about was, balance. I certainly agree of course, from an athletic point of view the physical mechanics and build, scope, stride, pedigree and so on, all play a significant role. But... but I asked, it seems a little shortsighted does it not, to put so much effort, time and money into a physical evaluation when any true optimization of physical talent a horse has will ultimately realize is predicated not on the physical horse alone. The question I went into, and go in to every pre-purchase evaluation scenario be it for multi-million dollar thoroughbreds or your back yard pony for pleasure riding; "does this horse have the emotional balance and stability to psychologically handle the demands of the physical goals ahead of them? Is this horse sensory sound enough to mitigate the stress of the environments they're headed for?"
I can tell you that, especially in the elevated emotional and physical intensity demands of elite athletics, there are more horses that have natural physical talent to achieve the goals of their owners than are those who have the emotional capacity to fulfill it. My primary job in these circumstances of evaluating talent is to evaluate the whole horse. I can tell you for 100% fact that it is essential for the horses wellbeing to know "who" they are before you start making plans for "what" they can become. Who the horse is, how sensory efficient they are and how herd dynamically balanced they are plays a primary role in everything from what environment they have the best chance to excel in to what forms of training and enrichment protocols need to be in place to bridge any sensory and emotional outsourcing needs they have. (for Bridge defined, see the Glossary on the Resources page). I have evaluated more thousands of horses over the years than I can remember, and I have had the good fortune of discovering some of the worlds finest athletes for private clients and programs around the world. The common factors between all of these horses were two things; one is that they had a strong enough herd dynamic and sensory soundness capacity to optimize their physical talent, and two, they all had codependency underwritten somewhere within their sensory sequence.
The simple fact is, an extremely low percentage of horses by natures' law have complete sensory soundness. Take this low % out of the natural and into the domestic environment and ask the horse to be a great athlete where you're hoping to match physical talent with mental ability, and these percentages get even lower. We must remember, when we isolate the herd-wired animal, we are isolating their singular strengths as well as their herd-dependent weaknesses. When we remove the horse from their instinctively natural environment, we are placing far more pressure upon and indeed, ourselves are more dependent upon, the horse's individual sensory system. As you will see and learn a great deal about if you opt in for my forthcoming Sensory Soundness & Mapping Course, (I'm about 2/3rds through developing Lesson One of Twelve for this online course), and/or you are coming to one of the Applied Sensory Soundness Seminars, the 6-Step Sequence that defines Sensory Soundness in the horse is a complex sequence that is as magical as it is beautifully synchronized along the journey that intertwines the physical world with the emotional horse. The only way, I knew, for me to identify the characteristics of greatness in the "would-be" future stars was to identify the individual ingredients that mechanized the machine. I pride myself on removing far more horses from the short-list of prospects than I accept. If you had 100 horses in the hopper of potential, it would be common after the herd dynamic and sensory soundness sweep-through, for that number to drop to 20, then to 10, then to 5. Was I ever wrong? Well of course I was and of course I will be again and yes I have missed on some horses, but the number you can save from future frustration and trauma related to the effort to "get them there", substantially out-values the ones you miss. I'll risk being wrong, if I have any doubts that I'm not right.
Value is not defined by how much you pay for a horse, nor is it defined by the pedigree or even their physicality, value is defined by measuring the mental capacity to optimize physical talent. Nearly every horse is athletic, but not all horses are athletes.
There are quite a few unique ways to assess and determine sensory efficiency and over the last roughly 30 years of my life (OMG! Did I just say that lol) I have developed an array of techniques. There are some key areas to evaluate and ways in which to do it that are the foundation data points for sensory mapping, we will unveil these in great detail in both the seminars and the course so that you have these tools in your pocket. There are sustainable and consistent identifiers of psychology that I have been able to mark that I will teach you; these are common ingredients of nature and I have found them time and again to be substantial in the thousands of horses I've evaluated from the Olympic hopefuls to the Kentucky Derby contenders, to your Grand Prix athlete. I'm going to close Lesson One of the 12 lesson Sensory Soundness & Mapping Course with some practical exercises that you can do, without a horse, that will bring a unique sense of clarity to the world view the horse has through your own experience. I want to share with you a mini-bit of that here before I go back to course writing.
Ever in search of avenues to both deepen and personalize my understanding of sensory soundness in horses, I began to develop ways to assess and practice it, in myself. I'm an avid outdoorsmen, Daphne and I love to hike and I love to just go out and take long walks. I spend many hours a day as caregiver for my elderly mother, and I often find myself with "down-time" between her needs and it is not unusual for those in our countryside community in which I live, to see me out walking. I like to get in 5 to 10 miles, I do a lot of work mentally on horse materials and innovative ideas while I'm out, and among these is allowing myself to heighten my emotional sensitivities and awareness of my physical senses. I call this "taking a view from the hoof". The next time you're able, or as a part of your daily exercise routine which I strongly encourage, head out for a walk alone (in a safe place please), and allow yourself to ease away from any deep thoughts, don't listen to music or otherwise invite distraction; in order to become your horse, you have to be one with the environment.
I walk trails and back country roads, I immerse myself mentally in the environment without necessarily physically focusing on anything in particular save for where I'm walking of course, and give myself and senses up to the world around me. Don't direct your focus, we want to practice the first step in the sensory sequence and as you make your way forward, (don't pay attention to your physical pace in this exercise, just go casually/normal), which is Survey. Your environmental surveillance will naturally want to be linear, because our eyes are placed like those of a predator. So you will have to be mindful that to begin to have any concept of your horse's world-view, your surveillance too needs to be circular. In order to walk a straight line while maintaining total environmental awareness without the aid or benefit of someone walking with you, your total senses available will need to communicate with one another efficiently.
I find the most interesting challenge while I'm walking on the country roads to be when I hear a vehicle approaching from the rear. Instead of giving in and turning around to orient myself, I use my hearing and sense of "feel" in the blind spot to judge the speed and distance. Ascertaining the orientation of a moving target as it approaches your rear sensory field is quite interesting, and not only pay attention to it's location relative to you physically, but how the approach changes your emotional impulse to maneuver your body, change your pace, your position, your posture... Small things, big impacts; a mini-sample of how the operating system, runs the machine.
Before I close this out, I wanted to thank those of you who have found me here and for those of you who are joining or becoming website members. I admittedly am still learning about that feature of this website but I went in to check emails and discovered that there were now folks becoming website members, signing up for course update option "in the know" and sharing this website with others. I really appreciate that. It takes time to develop quality material to add to the website, to write a blog post that has something interesting to say, and of course the creating of the course materials which is something I'm working on steadily now. If you haven't noticed, aside from the forthcoming educational materials we have updated the Services section by adding a new Consulting With Kerry option. I certainly realize that for many this whole herd dynamic and sensory soundness thing is new, and though I want to help all horses and all people, not everyone can commit to a full on behavioral profile. So the consultation option was incorporated in order for me to offer you an option to get your feet wet that is less costly for you and time consuming for me than a full profile.
Thank you for your time, thank you for your support, thank you for being here with me. Tell a friend, share the website, reach out to me anytime! ~Your Friend, Kerry