The Caring Heart

with Dr. Joyce

Train 'Em the Same!
The Best of the Best for Both Horses and Humans

March 2014

“Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6)

Different words are used to label and describe nurturing and training methods for both horses and human children which, underneath, mean basically the same. One popular label in the horse world is “horse whisperer.” In the human world, the current, more scientific label is “attunement.” Both labels refer to successful, repetitive, reciprocal communications, which promote well-being, good growth, and willingness to learn and cooperate. Whether used between species, as in the case of horses and humans, or within species as in the case of two humans, IT WORKS THE SAME WAY. Joy, enthusiasm, vigor, and harmony are present in abundance in back-and-forth communicating. Both horses and children need caregivers and trainers that are “crazy about them,” and that they can trust, for training and growing to be hugely successful and satisfying to all. Kindness works!!

Especially in this country, horse training was the opposite of such true partnership for many years. The ongoing regime was to break ‘em, show ‘em who is boss, beat ‘em, and let ‘em buck until they were exhausted. Monte Roberts was one of the first horsemen in this country to train in a decidedly more gentle manner. Monte spent many years schooling horses and observing them in the wild. He learned THEIR language, and developed a training method which utilized communicating with them in their language. He called his method “join up,” and maintained that anyone could learn to communicate and train horses successfully with his method. His motto was, “It isn’t the great trainer who can cause a horse to perform, it is the great trainer who can cause a horse to want to.”  Monte Roberts’ amazing horse sense allowed him to perform many training miracles with horses, and all was done with kindness, consideration, respect, successful communication, and with the consent of the horse! Horses were much more willing to accept behavioral limits on them, too. Fear was absent.

After Monte Roberts, several other renowned horsemen followed, each having his own version of horse whispering, and kind, sensitive training. A contemporary kind, incredibly skilled horseman is the Dane, Klaus Ferdinand Hempfling. He calls his method “Dancing With Horses.” Similar to Roberts, Hempfling incorporated natural laws governing horses in the wild into a progressive training program using defined and described body language, by trainers, that works with all breeds of horses. The physical and psychic well-being of the horse remains the most importance consideration in all of the work. (At present, I am impatiently waiting to get the time and the warm weather to get involved with Hampfling’s methods with my own two horses. On with our own active dialogue!!)

The similarities between “the best” horse training and “the best” child training are incredible, to say the least!  In “attunement,” the baby and the mom are “in tune” with one another, ongoing, on behavioral and deep emotional levels. The mom quickly assesses the baby’s needs and responds accordingly in a satisfying manner, time after time after time. Communication is reciprocal. The baby sends back signals to mom, in the forms of cooing vocalizations, eye contact, arm and leg waving, body molding to the mom, or crying and distress if the needs are still not met. Both the baby’s sorrow and joy are mirrored in the face of the mom, bringing peace to baby’s “guts.” The baby becomes confident that he or she can gain and maintain closeness to the mom. The baby is free to express a wide range of emotions, and will be enthusiastically accepted and comforted. As the baby is soothed, time after time after time, the baby is learning to regulate his or her own emotional systems, crucial for successful adjustment in all the rest of life. The brain is developing in appropriate, full ways. The basis for empathy is being constructed in the orbitofrontal cortex, and neural connections are being made to deep emotional centers, also crucial for lifetime  

As the child grows and expands more and more out into the world he lives in, mom’s communications keep modifying also, to keep pace with baby. Eye contact is there, as well as touch, vocalizing, and need fulfilling. Theorist Erik Erikson used the phrase “basic trust” to describe the desirable state the baby needs to attain and maintain. Attunement between the dyad is always crucial to good development – successful nurturing and training. Through thousands of back and forth interactions, their deep attachment relationship is maintained.  Similar to Monte Roberts and the horses, mom and baby are “joined up.” This first relationship becomes the foundational pattern for the child’s ability to connect and respond to relationships through all the years of life. Just as Klaus Hempfling dances with horses, so mom and baby are in harmony in a dance together, for good development ongoing.

If all goes well, and nothing unfortunately interferes, both horses and children who have been sensitively brought up by committed, engaged caregivers will almost always become healthy, valuable members of their species. My own two horses are so nice, so considerate, and so reliable to keep me safe when I’m riding them.  It has taken me years to learn to know and understand their communications. No one ever hits them or is mean to them in any way. Therefore, they can trust us, and we can trust them, too. We have close relationships based upon years of experience with one another. I’m still learning about them, and hope to keep growing even better for them.  

If members of both species – horse and human – are bought up with meanness and/or neglect, very tragic, impaired development usually follows. Both horses and humans generally become hostile, and aggressive, or inhibited, depressed, and spirit broken. Brain development, at least in humans, becomes in reality actually physically impaired, as evidenced by brain scans (brain scans show black and dead areas). Sometimes remediation of impairment is possible, other times it is not. There exist “critical periods” in brain development, one of which is in the area for the development of empathy. If empathy is not established during the correct brain growth phase, that child will inevitably get older,  the critical period will be over, and the door to developing empathy in that child will be shut forever.

Tragic, and in most cases, unnecessary. Notice, this is not something the child does to himself. He has made no decision here.  Such impairments have been done to him or her. 0Similarly, a horse who is uncooperative, hostile and dangerous, because of mean treatment, has not caused that in him or herself either. His caregivers and/or trainers have done so to the horse.  Bad attitudes or simple unwanted behaviors are not the only issue here, what IS the issue is real, physical neurological impairment, in other words, brains that don’t work right and can’t work right. Brain disabled beings that are hurtful and problematic to society and other animals are the results.  

As conscientious, caring individuals ourselves, we need to continue to explore and understand what is really going on – what is really happening, and what is causing what!! Never before has mankind known what at least a few humans now know, as to what causes maladaptive behavior. For the first time also, the causes of good development, which produce kind, reasonable, intelligent humans (and horses) has been responsibly studied and described in detail. We need to capitalize on such knowledge, massively and very quickly, for the good of all species. We need much wisdom and love.

Copyright 2014 The Caring Heart