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!