Allan Answers Reader Questions: “Right Brain, Left Brain Differences:

Kathy Pike asks:
Using the well-known right-brain, left-brain paradigm, can you talk about the differences between a horse’s and a human’s brain?

Dear Kathy,
The human brain is highly specialized with respect to right and left halves. For more in-depth discussion, see my Chapter Eight, “Prey, Predator, and the Rules of Learning” in Zen Mind, Zen Horse, which identifies the major differences between the two hemispheres of the human brain. In a nutshell, the left side is set up for speech and logical thinking while the right is nonverbal and devoted to more artistic and creative impulses. Incidentally, horses tend to appeal to or call upon our right-brain capacity to create an emotional connection with them.

With respect to the equine brain, the right and left cerebral hemispheres are not specialized. Both are non-verbal, and there is very little generalization or sharing of information from one side to the other. This makes it fairly easy to see the how horses actually function differently from humans. For example, having a horse is a bit like—as Clinton Anderson points out—having two horses: “Rightie” and “Leftie.” The left side of the horse’s brain can learn to approach a jump, and the horse completes it perfectly. But, now, when you approach the jump from the right side, the horse balks. What’s happening? Well, simply put, the horse’s right side has never “seen” the jump. This is why it’s so-o-o important to train your horse evenly—both sides of the horse’s brain have to get fluent. In the same way, even though we traditionally mount our horses from the left side, it’s wise to train your horse to be just as accepting about having a rider mount from the right side.

Allan Hamilton, MD

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