Understanding Horse Performance – Brain, Pain or Training?
By Sue Palmer
In Sue Palmer’s ‘Understanding Horse Performance – brain, pain or training’, she contends that we can make the most of our time time with our horses by improving their welfare, safety and enjoyment through educating ourselves. Throughout her insightful and very thought provoking manual, Palmer explores whether a particular “misbehaviour” or “lack of performance” is a result of “brain, pain or training”. She defines the terms ‘brain’, ‘pain’ and ‘training’ in a detailed yet comprehensible manner, whereby she highlights the problem that causes each factor that leads to an undesirable behaviour and lists a variety of possible solutions that can be utilised to extinguish that behaviour. To expand her explanations of the three factors that may result in “bad behaviour”, Palmer employs expert opinions from various vets, equine behaviourists and horse trainers who share their personal experiences of working with horses in their respective fields in a generalised fashion. Palmer also presents a series of case studies of different horse who exhibit a variety “misbehaviours”. She uses these case studies to demonstrate how to choose which particular road to follow when addressing an unwanted behaviour (ie. how to identify which of the three factor causes the behaviour – ‘brain’, ‘pain’ or ‘training’) and how to apply her suggested training exercises and concepts (for both yourself as a handler and/or rider and for your horse), and methods for resolving pain-related problems (which includes both simple things like regularly grooming and massaging your horse and employing professional help). Palmer concludes her manual by leaving us with the food for thought that horses can only communicate their pain, lack of understanding and lack of respect through their behaviour and/or performance, which I think perfectly encompasses Palmer’s notion that we, as handlers and riders, are responsible for doing our best to correctly interpret what our horses are trying to tell us and then acting accordingly.