Tag Archives: Mirror Neurons
Reader Question: Nothing Else Has Worked; I’m Considering Using A Shock Collar

Reader Question: Nothing Else Has Worked; I’m Considering Using A Shock Collar

I received this email from a reader who is considering using an equine shock collar on her unruly gelding as a last resort. I wrote about equine shock collars as endorsed by Julie Goodnight here.

Hi,

I was considering buying equine shock collar for my horse and came across your article. I’m keen to understand what the alternative is when you have exhausted every avenue in terms of seeing if the horse has physical pain and it seems it is purely behavioural.
My gelding is not on the extreme end of the spectrum I am sure but is at times dangerous enough to the mare he shares a paddock with and to me that I have considered selling him.
He generally bullies the mare and when she comes into season he becomes quite aggressive towards her, last time pinning her down with his teeth by her neck while trying to climb on top of her.
With me he is generally pushy and argues about anything I ask him to do, and if I am out riding and other horses are running around, he then puts on his best stallion impression, tail up, neck arched, screaming at the top of his voice while plunging and spinning around.
I have had countless people of all sorts of therapeutic disciplines look at him and almost all have concluded there is not a huge amount wrong with him. Vets too and I recently had him tested as to whether he is a rig and his testosterone levels came back as lower than a normal gelding would be.
So here I am, trying to work out what on earth I do. I have had a trainer out who has given me some great things to work on with his behaviour toward me (basically me being a stronger more consistent yet fair leader) and I can see that over time this will work.
However I am at a loss of what to do with him and the mare. I am fortunate to be on our property now so can separate them but this is obviously unnatural and not a nice long term solution for either of them. Most of the day they graze happily together and he even lets her share his food, but in the afternoon, when he is bored, he just starts pushing her around and bothering her. And as I say, when she comes into season this escalates quite dramatically to the point one or both of them are going to get seriously injured.
If you disagree with shock collars, what would you suggest I do?
Many thanks in advance for your response.

I don’t believe there is ever an end to the opportunities for change in a horse. A shock collar is not going to make a lasting difference because horses, like people and other animals, cannot learn while they are in pain or afraid. And that’s just what a shock collar produces.

Imagine being shocked by a stun gun at what you believe are random times during what you consider perfectly normal behavior. How would you make sense of what is happening to you? I think it would take a very long time and a great deal of inductive reasoning. I’m not sure horses are either capable of or willing to apply this degree of reasoning to painful, seemingly random events like those produced by a shock collar.

The fact that you have had your gelding checked out extensively is commendable. But in terms of exhausting every available avenue to improve your horse’s behavior, you may need to consider that there is more to the behavior of a horse than physical or training-based behavior. If you have tried a wide variety of training solutions that have not worked (have you given them enough time for your horse to really learn?), then perhaps what you have is a loosely related group of behavioral reactions caused by fear, anxiety, or the fear of pain. These often are principal causes of “mis”behavior in horses.

It might be helpful to list the “mis”behaviors and group them according to whether your horse is acting aggressively, defensively, overly playfully, or just blowing off steam. Which ones seem to be most prevalent? What happens before “what happens happens (so to speak)”? What happens when you try certain solutions? What works and what does not? Keeping such a log even for a week might show you useful patterns in finding a solution.

After reading your description of his antics, I am reminded of my gelding Buster, who everyone said was too much horse for me. He was. At 17hh (I’m only 5′) and absolutely loaded with personality and great gusto for causing trouble (play) and breaking stuff with his teeth [(investigation) (hence the paddock name)], Buster also enjoyed imitating stallion-like behavior when it suited him. And it suited him every time I felt less than confident in handling/riding him, which was quite often!

In fact, Buster nearly killed me one afternoon as we rode back home along a fence line of fillies and I tried, mistakenly, to rein in his airs above the ground and “look at me I’m such a stud” antics by exerting “control,” rather than just doing the sensible thing and getting off, asking him to drop his head, and working on his body in such a way that I would connect with his limbic system to engage his attention, calm him, and make the situation safe. I should have and could have accomplished this easily with Tellington TTouch© bodywork and a few maneuvers from the ground. There is so much I regret about how I handled Buster, but I did not know at the time that connecting with his emotions through his body could effect such a profound change. In the intervening years, I have seen astonishing changes in just this kind of behavior in all sorts of horses with consistent, calm, quiet work with the TTouch Method.

Reading your descriptions of your horse’s behavioral issues makes me think it won’t help at all to get into a battle of wills by asserting yourself as a consistent, firm leader. This just won’t work. In fact, it has not worked, according to your own admission. So why not try something else? Something different, that affects animals in a completely different ways through different pathways?

Here is an article my friend Caroline Larrouilh and I collaborated on to define TTouch. I hope it helps you to see the possible benefits for you and your gelding.

Alternative Definition of Tellington TTouch In Light of Recent Findings in Neuroscience
by Caroline Larrouilh and Kim Carneal

The Tellington TTouch Method® is a holistic approach to physical, mental and emotional wellness that seamlessly integrates body work and in-hand work (ridden work in the case of horses), promoting a state of homeostasis (or coherence*) in both animal and handler. Maintaining a stable physiological and emotional state under varying types of stresses is the ultimate goal of all organisms. TTouch has a direct effect on the natural physiological responses necessary to achieve homeostatic equilibrium.

TTouch is the first integrated system of touch and in-hand work to consciously and systematically recognize and honor inter-species communication, seeking to create a relationship between animal and human based not on dominance or the “alpha” model, but rather on the acknowledgement of the animal as an individual. Instead, the Tellington Method teaches the handler to lead by example: to approach and work with the animal with respect and empathy; to break information into manageable bits based on what we know about the way animals’ brains and emotions work; and to give them time and space to process what is asked, using feedback from the animal to guide the next step. The Tellington Method teaches the handler herself flexibility and open-mindedness when seeking solutions, requiring that they adapt creatively to the situation to help the animal learn new behaviors. The Tellington Method thus differs from more dogmatic, academic training approaches with circumscribed toolboxes that rely on ethology-based dominance or fear to force obedience rather than engaging the mind of the horse.

In each of its applications, the Tellington Method allows for an animal and handler to connect at a cellular level, experiencing a state of harmony characterized by a calm, focused awareness and trusting confidence in each other. Each species reaches emotional and physical homeostasis individually and as a unit.

The electromagnetic field of the heart is responsible for generating heart coherence.

Heart coherence in turn effects an empathetic experience while increasing levels of neurohormone oxytocin (calm connection through physical contact) and decreasing cortisol (stress) in both animal and handler.

This degree of calm, engaged trust in mutual homeostasis (or coherence) greatly enhances the learning capability of both animal and handler. Research has shown that new skills are more quickly and easily learned in a state of calm, and are better retained and more easily generalized, or applied over a range of different situations. New scientific research about mirror neurons† may explain in part why the Tellington Method is so effective. Its exercises are thought to awaken mirror neurons in the brains of both animals and humans through both the sense of sight and touch. The sense of touch, along with the physical proximity and handler state of mind, is thought to further enhance the capacity for cooperative learning and performance via

Mirror Neurons form a large part of how we relate to others.

Discovered by Marc Iacoboni, they are literally responsible for the old saying, “monkey see, monkey do.

A key difference between the Tellington Method and others is that many of the benefits for the animal are handler independent and reciprocal. TTouch at its foundation is not a one-way endeavor like some methods of animal training, “do it my way because I am lead mare” or massage where the recipient is passive and the massage therapist is active, but interactive because heart coherence, neurohormone levels, and mirror neurons amount to cellular coherence in both beings. TTouch works on the entire body, brain and mind of both species involved. TTouch benefits both animal and handler all the way down to the cellular level.

* coherence–consistency, cohesion. From Dictionary.com:
coherence (kō-hîr’əns, -hěr’-) A property holding for two or more waves or fields when each individual wave or field is in phase with every other one

mirror neurons–neural cells found in the premotor cortex, supplementary motor area, primary somatosensory cortex, and the inferior parietal cortex of the brains of humans. While studies have not been conducted on horses, it is believed that most mammals share both similar brain structures and the capacity for mirror neuron function. In monkeys, functioning mirror neurons have been found in the inferior frontal gyrus. See Rizzolatti, Giacomo; Craighero, Laila (2004). “The mirror-neuron system”. Annual Review of Neuroscience 27: 169–192.

First, I suggest moving the mare for the short term, for her safety. If you are not her owner, you are at risk of being held responsible for any harm that might come to her through his hijinks. I would not worry at this point about what is “natural” and not natural.

Second, how old is he and how much exercise is he getting? A young horse (like my Buster) with tons of energy and not enough exercise is somewhat like a bored kid with too much Mountain Dew in his system and no hall monitor. “Eeee! What’s next? What can I do with all this energy?”

If he is not getting consistent workouts in interesting and stimulating environments (I am NOT talking about being run in a round pen or W/T/C around, around and around in an arena or lunging) enough to tire him out, then it’s only natural that in the afternoon he would seek out his own stimulation. “Buster” busted a lot of stuff, including me, and eventually, himself. Don’t let this happen to you.

As far as escalation with mares in season, I suggest that after you take a serious look at TTouch bodywork and groundwork, and if you choose to try some out, that you ask him to lower his head and lead him past mares in season using TTouch ground work methods. If you have to stop along the fence line and get him calm, do so through the use of bodywork. It’s quick ad simple, and the calm focus it creates cannot be beat. You are not then in danger of being injured in a battle for control.

Once you have success with a fence separating the mares, try working him (use a partner to work the mare, for safety and to reduce the possibility of mayhem) with the mare that is most familiar to him. If you have even a small success, then you know you are going in the right direction. Keep it up.

What I am suggesting is a methodical examination of how, when why and where his problems occur and what you have done in response. What works, what hasn’t. Follow this by an equally systematic connection with your horse’s mind, body and spirit in a way you might not have done before.

I truly feel that you will not have to resort to a shock collar if you try out these suggestions. Please let me know what you think and if you find a solution. I wish you the best of luck and safety!

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Alternative Definition of Tellington TTouch In Light of Recent Findings in Neuroscience

Alternative Definition of Tellington TTouch In Light of Recent Findings in Neuroscience

By Kim Carneal and Caroline Larrouilh

The Tellington TTouch Method® is a holistic approach to physical, mental and emotional wellness that seamlessly integrates body work and in-hand work (ridden work in the case of horses), promoting a state of homeostasis (or coherence*) in both animal and handler.  Maintaining a stable physiological and emotional state under varying types of stresses is the ultimate goal of all organisms. TTouch has a direct effect on the natural physiological responses necessary to achieve homeostatic equilibrium.

TTouch is the first integrated system of touch and in-hand work to consciously and systematically recognize and honor inter-species communication, seeking to create a relationship between animal and human based not on dominance or the “alpha” model, but rather on the acknowledgement of the animal as an individual. Instead, the Tellington Method teaches the handler to lead by example: to approach and work with the animal with respect and empathy; to break information into manageable bits based on what we know about the way animals’ brains and emotions work; and to give them time and space to process what is asked, using feedback from the animal to guide the next step. The Tellington Method teaches the handler herself flexibility and open-mindedness when seeking solutions, requiring that they adapt creatively to the situation to help the animal learn new behaviors. The Tellington Method thus differs from more dogmatic, academic training approaches with circumscribed toolboxes that rely on ethology-based dominance or fear to force obedience rather than engaging the mind of the horse.

In each of its applications, the Tellington Method allows for an animal and handler to connect at a cellular level, experiencing a state of harmony characterized by a calm, focused awareness and trusting confidence in each other. Each species reaches emotional and physical homeostasis individually and as a unit.

the electromagnetic field of the heart is responsible for generating heart coherence

image courtesy nashvillemeditation.com. the electromagnetic field of the heart is responsible for generating heart coherence

This degree of calm, engaged trust in mutual homeostasis (or coherence) greatly enhances the learning capability of both animal and handler. Research has shown that new skills are more quickly and easily learned in a state of calm, and are better retained and more easily generalized, or applied over a range of different situations. New scientific research about mirror neurons† may explain in part why the Tellington Method is so effective. Its exercises are thought to awaken mirror neurons in the brains of both animals and humans through both the sense of sight and touch. The sense of touch, along with the physical proximity and handler state of mind, is thought to further enhance the capacity for cooperative learning and performance via heart coherence. Heart coherence in turn effects an empathetic experience while increasing levels of neurohormone oxytocin (calm connection through physical contact) and decreasing cortisol (stress) in both animal and handler.

Mirror neurons are a large part of how we relate to others

Image courtesy http://student.biology.arizona.edu. Mirror neurons form a large part of how we relate to others. Discovered by Marc Iacoboni, they are literally responsible for the old saying, "monkey see, monkey do."

A key difference between the Tellington Method and others is that many of the benefits for the animal are handler independent and reciprocal. TTouch at its foundation is not a one-way endeavor like some methods of animal training, “do it my way because I am lead mare” or massage where the recipient is passive and the massage therapist is active, but interactive because heart coherence, neurohormone levels, and mirror neurons amount to cellular coherence in both beings.   TTouch works on the entire body, brain and mind of both species involved. TTouch benefits both animal and handler all the way down to the cellular level.

••••••

* coherence–consistency, cohesion. From Dictionary.com:
coherence  (kō-hîr’əns, -hěr’-) A property holding for two or more waves or fields when each individual wave or field is in phase with every other one

mirror neurons–neural cells found in the premotor cortex, supplementary motor area, primary somatosensory cortex, and the inferior parietal cortex of the brains of humans. While studies have not been conducted on horses, it is believed that most mammals share both similar brain structures and the capacity for mirror neuron function. In monkeys, functioning mirror neurons have been found in the inferior frontal gyrus. See Rizzolatti, Giacomo; Craighero, Laila (2004). “The mirror-neuron system”. Annual Review of Neuroscience 27: 169–192.

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The Wrap Up: Questions on My Pet Issues

The Wrap Up: Questions on My Pet Issues

Wrapping up Enlightened Horsemanship Through Touch will involve the weaving of a lot of loose ends. During this three year experiment, I discovered my purpose as a writer. And I found a lot of folks out there who either share my interests or who make interesting and informed contributions to conversations about those interests. Shared biology, neurobiology, psychology, neuropsychology, sociology and equine behavior as they relate to human-equine interactions, specifically training, with a focus on the sensory system, will be my focus.

In the interest of furthering my knowledge about those topics, I’m planning on posting a series of topics and questions that I sincerely hope you all will respond to. In the eventuality that this work leads to a publication, anyone who responds here or via email will be duly credited.

Many, many thanks for reading, and/or taking the time to explore these issues with me.

On to the first question: WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE WERE THE SOCIAL AND EVOLUTIONARY BENEFITS/REWARDS OF THE DEVELOPMENT OF MIRROR NEURONS AND BODY SYNCHRONY IN HORSES AND HUMANS? WHAT ARE THE REWARDS NOW AND HOW CAN WE EXPLOIT THEM FOR MUTUAL BENEFIT?

I’m thinking about the evolutionary and biological precursors of the herd instinct. According to Frans De Waal, as a reflex, and as a biological entity, the herd instinct (and even man as a social animal) goes way back to the deepest, oldest layers of our brains. We share these layers not just with other mammals, but even with “lower” orders such as amphibians and fish. Even as humans began to hunt the savannas, we were still prey animals. Individuals hide within a larger herd to increase security from predators.* De Waal stresses security as the first and foremost reason for social life, and how predation forces individuals together, on both sides of the equation: predator and prey. Needless to say, when reading this, I thought immediately of horses and humans, and how they relate among themselves and to one another.

I am wondering about the roles of mirror neurons** and body synchrony*** in both horses and humans.

Thanks for thinking!

* Frans de Waal, The Age of Empathy, p 19.

**see also: Mirror Neurons Support the Need for Compassionate Horsemanship and
Mirror Neurons, Ownership of the Self, and Proprioception

***Body Synchrony: (whether it is via the pathway of mirror neurons is unknown) the mechanism by which animals move in coordinated movement. Think of large schools of tiny fish rapidly changing direction to avoid a shark, or thousands of wildebeest changing course upon an unseen cue, or, in a scenario more familiar to most of us, a herd of horses doing the same. Even humans make use of body synchrony in conversation, etc., and enjoy such processes as walking in step, dancing, and singing.

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Science Friday: Mirror Neurons Support Need for Compassionate Horsemanship

From the Metta Center, a statement by my favorite neuroscientist and all-around Renaissance man, V.S. Ramachandran,

There is no real independent self aloof from other human beings, inspecting the world and inspecting other people; you are in fact connected…quite literally connected by your neurons…and there is no real distinctiveness of your consciousness from someone else’s consciousness. This emerges from an understanding of basic neuroscience.

Harm or violence can be defined as “coercive action based on an illusion of separateness, or the inability to recognize oneself in the other.”

How much of horse training and horseback riding involves coercive action, albeit what we think of as kind coercion? You can’t do much with a horse without, well, getting him to do something you want him to do. Whether or not you “make it his idea,” it’s coercion. I’m not equating coercion in horsemanship with violence and harm, though it seems that way from what I’ve written thus far.

I’m trying to delineate those two ideas, if possible. Radical animal rights activists will say that no delineation is possible. these are the people who advocate not keeping pets, etc. because it’s demeaning and abusive to them and an unnatural state. I see their point, but in my humble opinion, it’s not realistic in today’s world. If you choose not to have a pet based on this assumption, that’s great. It does not solve the companion animal population crisis overnight, nor does it address the issue of where the breeds came from in the first place. They are here to stay unless there’s a mass extermination, and I don’t think they want that. I merely want to think about the ways in which we interact with these animals, and to examine the core principles that inform our common activities.

If our core value is not compassion, loving kindness, and the will to do no harm (in short–met(t)a horsemanship), then we delude ourselves. Minute failures in metta, coercion without kindness, amount to violence against our horses. When we do violence to another, we do violence to ourselves. As V.S. Ramachandran states above, there is no duality–the Golden Rule, Do Unto Others As You Would Have Others Do Unto You–is not just an aphorism, but a necessity for living as a human being. We are all one being.

To go one step further, watching another doing violence (read: in the media, TV, video games, in our family relationships and in our relations to animals), we also experience that violence ourselves. Remember how you felt the last time you witness something unpleasant occur between two beings. See what I mean? Mirror Neurons virtually guarnatee that we experience this kind of empathetic response, because violence is based on an illusion of our separateness. Itt affects us all as interconnected beings.

Unfortunately, we can raise our tolerance to violence and even our ignorance of its existence by taking more of it in. You’ve watched horse training videos or presentations in which there was great violence against the horse, cloaked in modern training-speak and perpetrated by charming media-savvy stars. I’m willing to bet that, like me, you’ve come to realize that methods you accepted in the past are not compassionate, as and such do not recognize the inherent oneness of the human and horse. You have resolved to find a better way.

Nonviolence is a force that reveals itself via an ability to see ourselves in the other, a realization of the non-separation between ourselves and those around us. Research on mirror neurons … can help us to begin to understand the science behind this interrelationship between ourselves, other beings, violence, and nonviolence. This video, and the scientific paradigm of which it is a part, is worth watching, and worth developing.

I’m curious to know what you think. What are your opinions on the subject? With posts like this, have I gone off the deep end? Addressing the foundations of horsemanship or strayed too far?

See also, Sage by Nature: Horses Drawing Out Our Goddess Force

We really are all ONE.

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Anybody Else Need A Vacation?

Anybody Else Need A Vacation?

It was a challenging summer. Right about now I could use a vacation. First choice? Miraval!

In Mirror Neurons, I wrote about Wyatt Webb and his work at Miraval Luxury Spa and Resort in Arizona.

Miraval is a luxury destination spa and resort located on 400 acres at the base of the Santa Catalina Mountains. The property is designed to create an intimate environment that nurtures every guest. I’d like one of those private casita-style rooms filled with premier amenities for the ultimate in my comfort and relaxation. And to tap into the brilliance of all those experts, just waiting to help me relax and reduce stress once I’m back to the daily grind. Miraval boasts such names as Andrew Weil, M.D., Tony Redhouse, and Mark Pirtle, along with nutritionists, trauma specialists, exercise physiologists, and more to make the experience a lasting one.

I would love to spend a luxurious week taking advantage of all Miraval has to offer. During that week, I’d definitely do the four-day intensive with Wyatt Webb. The program is designed to help people achieve greater awareness of their own communication process; a key to improving personal and professional relationships and bringing joy to their lives. Miraval even offers a special vacation package that makes visiting Miraval easier than ever.

Here are the Authentic Remedy package details (in case my fairy godmother wants to send me a gift):

$399 per night includes:
· Three gourmet meals per day
· Complimentary spa treatment* (or a round of golf)
· Full use of resort activities
· Complimentary transportation to and from Tucson Int’l Airport

*$125 limit

THE EQUINE EXPERIENCE™ INTENSIVE WITH WYATT WEB

Joy is our birthright. Yet our current stressful mode of existence takes this away from us. Working with Wyatt Webb six hours a day, three days straight, you’ll learn how to reclaim your birthright so you can gain greater self awareness and experience personal growth. Each morning you’ll work with horses, with group process in the afternoon. You’ll challenge learned behaviors, correct false beliefs and rediscover your authentic self.

Wyatt Web

Wyatt Web

About Wyatt Webb
Wyatt Webb is the founder and leader of the Equine Experience at Miraval Arizona. The Equine Experience provides profound insight into communication within relationships. Working on the ground with specially selected horses, guests begin to see patterns of learned behavior that may be working against them. Wyatt offers 4-day workshops and daily classes for anyone looking to better understand their communication process in an effort to improve personal and professional relationships and bring joy to their lives.

What began in 1991 as a facilitated experimental group with emphasis on in-depth relationship skills examination, fear reduction and values clarification, has evolved into Miraval’s signature Equine Experience. The experience is a safe and supportive setting for people to correct false belief systems about themselves and provides an empowering and creative opportunity for remembering who they truly are.

Wyatt is also the author of It’s Not About the Horse: What To Do When You Don’t Know What To Do – Common Horse Sense, and Five Steps For Overcoming Fear and Self Doubt: Journey into Present-Moment Time.

Wyatt began his career touring North America as a professional performer for 15 “grueling” years. That led him to examine life and the fears that had been getting in his way for too long. For more than 25 years he has worked with adults, adolescents, families, couples, and corporations in a therapeutic setting. Wyatt has a B.A. from West Georgia College.

For those not interested in an intensive program, Miraval also offers short equine sessions. Working with specially selected horses, people can clean a horse’s hoof, then command him to run without ever touching his body. For newbies, this is a great way to discover that horses feel our emotional energy, and learn to understand their own by observing how the horse reacts to them. A spa experience shouldn’t just be about getting pampered. It should be about being open to learning something new about yourself.

I’m ready!

NB: This is a cross between an unpaid advertisement and a blog post. Take your pick.

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