Many, many thanks to Kimberly Cox Carneal from Enlightened Horsemanship Through Touch for information on Meg Daley Olmert. Meg is a documentary producer and the author of Made For Each Other, The Biology of the Human-Animal Bond.
Meg’s blog on Psychology Today called Made For Each Other: Exploring how people and animals bond–and why it makes you healthier and happier, is fantastic and very timely for me.
I’ve been reading a local dog magazine called The New Barker. It has a very classy cover and resembles The New Yorker. The magazine features everything you can imagine about dogs. I was literally awestruck by the love emanating from it’s pages. It seemed every breed was celebrated and the community was united in their unconditional love for all dogs.
Then I was struck by how this energy is often missing in magazines about horses. I’ve been relentlessly questioning and discussing with my friends to see why there is such a difference between canine and equine literature.
We concluded that horse folk are generally ‘breed and discipline’ specific, so specific that it reaches almost a religious adherence to following those specifics.
Also too, it seems dog folk aren’t as quick to tell someone “You’re doing it wrong.” pertaining to their dogs. I guess the consequences of doing something wrong with dog is not quite as critical as with a horse. If you do something wrong with your horse it can be monumental and costly. Feed them wrong, they can colic. Ride them wrong, you may be sporting a cast on your arm. Close the gate wrong, and a loose horse cannot be compared to a loose poodle.
By virtue of their size, horses can stir big emotions in their handlers. One key emotion, fear, I believe was the absent energy in The New Barker. None of the articles expressed concerns about the consequences of falling off of a dog, or a dog stepping on your foot, or a dog nipping you because it thinks you have treats.
Now thanks to Meg Daley Olmert I have an explanation for the difference in view points towards dogs and horses. Dogs primarily stimulate our oxytocin! Horses very often stimulate our adrenalin, or epinephrin. Oxytocin is the hormone that is released to stimulate the mothers to bond with their infants. Wikipedia says “it’s the mammalian hormone that acts primarily as a neurotransmitter in the brain.”
It’s so easy for us to love and bond with puppies, kitties and bunnies, because stroking them stimulates our oxytocin and guess what, it stimulates theirs too. It’s a win/win and feel-good scenario.
Now, here’s my epiphany. I think horses don’t always stimulate our oxytocin production, especially if we are engaged in a tussle of establishing leadership. This stimulates our adrenaline to help pump glucose throughout our body so our we’ll have a quickened heart rate and fancy footwork needed to show the horse we’re the boss or give us velcro butt when we’re high atop a spooking horse.
However, my theory is that when I use attraction-based training methods, it stimulates my oxytocin and that’s why it feels so good to me. And no doubt I’m stimulating their oxytocin production, by stroking or providing food, just like the bonding that occurs between mother and infant or mare and foal.
Now I know why, if I’m having a bad day, just two seconds brushing one of my horse’s manes, and I’m healed. Oxytocin to the rescue. Perhaps, my new delineation is that attraction-based methods stimulate oxytocin, and pressure-based stimulate adrenalin.
I think by understanding how these hormones play out in the human/horse bond, may just be yet another layer to creating that wonderful place where both horse and human feel great!
So we are SO writing a book together, OK? I’ve been working for a few months on how oxytocin works in mediating the bond between horses and humans. Given that I blog a lot about the sense of touch, that makes sense, eh? But I hadn’t yet thought about the fact that adrenaline and even vasopressin being the primary neurohormones excited in humans by the presence of horses. This can so easily be changed!
I’m looking forward to learning more about your attraction-based methods, especially as an alternative to pressure-based horsemanship that is so prevalent today.
As one of my readers said when he read one of your posts (I’d linked to it on Facebook), that’s….brilliant!
I suppose we’re already writing it in the form of comments! This is exciting stuff! Now my thoughts immediately go to the damaged/abused horses…perhaps they are so reactive because their oxytocin production is hindered and they go straight to producing adrenaline. Poor DaVinci associates touch with pain, so it’s been really difficult to create a bond through touch with him. Food, however, has been a savior, which I would imagine, in the right context (ie nursing mother) is creating the production of oxytocin. By training with food (something that feels good) has been cornerstone for his recovery. Plus, his muzzle had to touch my hand to get the food, just like foals do when they suckle. Who knows, maybe there are special sense receptors located in the muzzle of a horse that specifically relate to oxytocin…
I think the difference between training with attraction-based methods and pressure-based methods will become much clearer when we see the results of the hormone that’s activated. It’s so cool to know, if you want a scientifically true bond with your horse, it’s no further than a surge of oxytocin! So instead of physically dominating a horse to create that bond, the new catch phrase can be Hugs, not Thugs!
Hug, not Thugs! I think you have it right there. Though I doubt the likes of Clinton Anderson will appreciate being cast as Thugs. Too bad!
You have some good thoughts on receptors in the muzzle. I will have to do some research.
I am so glad Meg Olmert has started writing about this for the trade…there is another author who has done the same although from a slightly different point of view. My Kindle has gone to the hosptial, but as soon as it comes home, I am firing it up with all the works from the other writer.
I am seriously envious of the fact that you get to put this into practice everyday. All I get to touch is my Kindle. No soft arm muzzles for me. 😦
But I CAN look at my lotus blossom! 🙂
Really and truly, only our animals can truly say if their handlers are demonstrating thug-like behavior based on how they feel. Again, so for the horses that are fine with pressure, they may not view forceful communication or even being whacked with a stick as being a bad thing, whereas some horses view it as traumatic and creates intense fallout. This is why it’s up to us know our animals to determine as closely as possible how they are feeling so we can use appropriate communication techniques. I’d like to add, that just because they are obedient, doesn’t always mean they feel good about it.
Personally, the main way I use to evaluate if I’m being treated in a thug-like manner is by how I feel. Was I threatened or was guilt used to motivate me, or was I inspired or filled with enthusiasm? This also ties into Dr. Jaak Panksepp’s blue ribbon emotions, and looking at which emotion was activated to get a response.
I’m so fascinated by exploring other methods communication with horses that inspire or fill them with enthusiasm. In my pasture the difference is like night and day how they respond to attraction-based communication vs pressure-based. I think Oxytocin may play a huge part for both of us.
Meanwhile, I hope Kindle is well and enjoying perfect health.
Yes, four big arm muzzlers (horses) have so much to teach me. They are each so unique in their view of the world, that they continually reveal new insights every day… as do my dogs.
I’m so glad you’re enjoying your lotus blossom!
Thank you for your lovely comments on The New Barker. We are in our fourth year of publishing and each cover features the original artwork of a different Florida artist. I would love to connect with you and somehow incorporate your thoughts on Oxytocin (relative to dogs) into an article for The New Barker. We have wanted to do an article that features both horses and dogs for quite some time. I look forward to hearing from you.
The New Barker
I LOVE your magazine! It’s inspiring, informative and beautiful.
Along with four horses, I have four dogs and lots of free flowing oxytocin. I’d be happy to write about out experiences. In the meantime we’ve written and photographed a children’s book that you can download free that features two horses and dog here: https://paintinghorse.wordpress.com/books/
Thank you for all you do,