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Horse Brain, Human Brain: The Neuroscience of Horsemanship

Horse Brain, Human Brain: The Neuroscience of Horsemanship


Horsemanship of every kind depends on mutual interaction between equine and human brains. When we understand the function of both, we can learn to communicate with horses on their terms instead of ours. And, by meeting horses halfway, we not only save valuable training time and improve performance, we achieve other goals, too. We develop much deeper bonds with our horses; we handle them with insight and kindness instead of force or command; we comprehend their misbehavior in ways that allow solutions; and we reduce the human mistakes we often make while working with them. In this illuminating book, brain scientist and horsewoman Janet Jones describes human and equine brains working together. Using plain language, she explores the differences and similarities between equine and human ways of negotiating the world. Mental abilities—like seeing, learning, fearing, trusting, and focusing—are discussed from both human and horse perspectives. Throughout, true stories of horses and handlers attempting to understand each other—sometimes successfully, sometimes not—help to illustrate the principles.


In praise of Horse Brain, Human Brain

“Teenager Janet Jones lost consciousness in Scottsdale, Arizona, after being thrown from a horse. She had bouts of amnesia for years. Jones pulled herself up and went to school. What could have been a debilitating injury instead energized her to become a leading voice in understanding grey matter. Now, 40 years later, she has a degree in cognitive science, authored three books, and never lost her interest in horses. Finally, she has written the book the horse world has been waiting for: Horse Brain, Human Brain. It is a game changer.

Dr. Jones draws on her experience as a trainer and a scientist to share cutting-edge ideas on how to understand horses. Her book is not simply about training horses, it is about how to understand them. Jones examines all five of the horses’ senses. (Hearing, for example: horses can’t hear as low as us, but they can hear higher. Or sight: they see yellow and blue sharply, but red and green both end up sort of grey.)


"I have often thought people give horses too much credit for some things and not enough credit for others. How smart are horses? And in what ways? Jones draws on many recent studies to explain. The prefrontal cortex, for example, is a part of the brain reserved for advanced decision-making. In humans it is 33% of the brain, in monkeys it is 15%, in dogs and cats it is 5%. And the prefrontal cortex in horses? 0%. In other words, horses do not dream of winning blue ribbons, nor do they plan the evening before to step on your toes.


“Dr. Jones is a self-proclaimed horse nerd. You will be too after reading this book." —Tik Maynard, Trainer, Eventer, and Author of the Middle Are the Horsemen


"For all my equestrian life I have lived off the statement 'Know your horse,’ not only as a species but as an individual. In se Brain, Human Brain the author's understanding of this principle is abundantly clear. The last chapter of her book should be read first, last, and then read again. It’s a wonderful summary of horsemanship." —Eric Smiley, FBHS, Olympic Equestrian, FEI Judge, and Author of Two Brains, One Aim


“You need this book. Whether you have spent your entire lifetime around horses, or just patronize a local barn, or even only are curious about the horses you see standing in a field as you drive past—this authoritative and reader-friendly book will help you get to know horses. We all need this information.

“When I was a child, it was common knowledge that horses had brains ‘the size of walnuts,’ and that they were stupid and unfeeling beasts of burden. In recent years, we have come to realize that this isn’t true. Now neuroscientist Janet Jones’ myth-busting, heart-warming book delves deeply into the truth about the complexity of horses’ inner lives. Readers learn how horses experience the world in which they live—and about how we humans can, using this understanding, improve our treatment of these magnificent beings.” —Wendy Williams, Author of The Horse: The Epic History of Our Noble Companion and The Language of Butterflies: How Thieves, Hoarders, Scientists and Other Obsessives Unlocked the Secrets of the World's Favorite Insect



“Can a highly evolved predator species live in harmony with a highly evolved prey species? For the student of this human-horse relationship, there are many answers and musings and strategies to be found in Janet Jones’ intriguing Horse Brain, Human Brain. The idea that 'the burden of tolerance lies upon he who has the greater understanding' applies thoroughly to the book. There are many riders and trainers who, for all manner of reasons, try to push 'the burden of tolerance' onto the horse. Then, when the horse, with a brain that is dramatically different from ours, resists out of noncomprehension, some people crank up the pressure. It reminds me of the idea that the best way to get a point across to someone who only speaks a foreign language is to shout.

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