Training methods which are brain-compatible enhance learning
because they are based on the natural functioning of the brain.
They strengthen the connections which exist between nerve cells or 'neurons'
and they enhance the formation of new connections or 'synapses'.
Recent findings suggest that the brain has some plasticity and ability to change, and
that parts of the brain are not necessarily fixed at birth but are shaped by
experience and learning.
"There is direct
evidence that when learning occurs, neuro-chemical communication between
neurons is facilitated, and less input is required to activate established
connections over time. New evidence also indicates that learning creates
connections between not only adjacent neurons but also between distant
neurons, and that connections are made from simple circuits to complex ones
and from complex circuits to simple ones."
"What happens during a child's first three years can have a lifelong impact
on mental development. Brains of children that received little stimulation
have been found to be 20% smaller than those exposed to more stimuli.
Why? Most connections between neurons in the brain, or synapses, are made
in the first three years. Increasing the activity of a child's brain boosts
the number of synapses formed. In one study, children who received lots of
early stimulation had brains 15% more active than others."
Can this also apply to horses?
We believe so.
The brain has millions of neurons and dendrites (see image below). The more
neurons, dendrites, and synapses, the more brain power. When a horse is stimulated
through learning, the dendrites are stimulated, they grow, which facilitates learning.
In early stages of learning, neural circuits are activated at a low strength.
"With more experience, practice, and exposure, the circuits become stronger.
As exposure is repeated, less
input is needed to activate the entire network. With time, activation and
recognition are relatively automatic. This also explains why learning takes
time. Time is needed to establish new neural networks and connections
Teach a behavior without over-doing it; give the pathways a chance to establish
and grow; re-visit the behavior in a few days and the horse should catch on quicker.
The more your horse is stimulated, the more dendrites, the more brain power he has;
the faster he learns. The horse's brain starts out as a small two-way road when he
learns his first behavior which may take a while, but as his learning progresses,
his brain turns into an eight lane freeway, and he learns faster!
The brain's plasticity also means that there are times when negative
experiences or the absence of appropriate stimulation are more likely to
have serious and sustained effects.
Not only in the early years, but later on the brain has the capacity to change.
Appropriate timing also plays a part in that ability. For example, if a horse has some
problematic behaviors, the brain itself can be changed with timely and
If a positive training paradigm is offered to the horse,
new pathways will be established and the older ones will shrink. Care should be
taken not to expose the horse to previous stimulus that would reactivate the old
pathways, and the new dendrites and synapses will grow stronger.