I have some very interesting conversations with my Bestie, Denise, one was about how some animals seem more communicative and interactive than others, and she wondered at the cause. I think some horses are “with you and connected” while others are not. All horses are of equal worth, but I do not sense them all as I do Pippi. Sure, the reason might be that I think I feel Pippi, because of my own emotional attachment, but in my opinion it goes deeper than that.
I am a social worker, and human behaviors are quite interesting to me. After many years, of working with the generationally poor I could tell you some stories that would have you gasping and/or rolling with laughter. But mostly it makes me sad. The kids I meet are often very different than my kids’ friends, as they are raised very differently, and have a very different culture. Many of them lack a certain maturity and understanding. The idea of planning and consequences are often not understood, and they seem to confuse it with dreaming. Step by step planning for success seems to be a concept that is hard for them to grasp.
As you can read in the pic, this is an image of two three year old brains, and the differences are astonishing. There have been extensive studies done on the orphaned children of Romania, that have clearly shown what neglect, abuse and sensory deprivation does to brains. If interested you can read a pretty good article by The Daily Mail.
Babies are born with brain functions, synapses, that govern essential body functions, such as breathing, swallowing, rudimentary movement, etc. The development, and strengthening, of synapses beyond that is highly influenced by outside forces. In other words, intelligence is learned and developed by sensory stimulation, and interactions.
On the right is a healthy brain, and on the left an abused brain. “Abuse” in this instance would be like that of a neglected brain. One is clearly “brighter” than the other. Isn’t it odd that the word “bright” is what we use to signify intelligence?
So, what we know is that children’s brains are very much influenced by their social interactions. (if your kids are bright, pat yourself on the back NOW, and if you are bright this would be a good time to call mom and dad and say “thank you”) It is not a stretch to assume that this is also true for the other mammals we share this earth with. I have many times stood in front a vacant muzzle, and wondered if “anyone was home.” If you communicate and interact with your horse, the synapses will develop and strengthen and that horse will communicate back. They will learn and develop an intelligence beyond what is needed for hay, water, poop, spook and lay down. We know this to be true, because we see it every day. Crinkle the plastic on a peppermint, lift the lid of your treat box, wrap the legs of your horse, and you see behaviors that correspond. Pippi knows that wrapped legs means we are trucking somewhere, and she knows that western saddle means trail ride as opposed to jumping lesson. She also knows to paw her right hoof for a treat when asked, she knows to nod up and down to get her feed, and she moves sideways to give me room with the wheelbarrow when she is in the aisle. None of that came pre-programmmed.
Now, where some people may think I am taking a leap is whether we humans can sense the “brightness.” I totally and unapologetically say “Hell to the YES!!” Look at the pic above, of course we can sense that kind of electric brain function. And we can sense the lack of it. Probably through a lot of non verbal communications, and lack of it, but also just the actual firing of neurons and electricity surging through the brain. I trust my sense of presence when I meet a new horse, dog, or person. And I will adapt my behavior accordingly.
So, as I told Denise, I think animals are as much a product of their environment as any child. Pippi has been treated as though she can communicate, and we have expectations that she meets in that regard. It works for her to try, and the more she tries to better she gets at it. Studies show that the brain changes and develops throughout the lifespan, and so it’s never too late which is just fantastic. Anyone with a mare will tell you that they have a facial expression that will let you know right off what kind of day you are about to have at the barn. Pippi sure knows how to give me the “Yeah, I don’t think so” face.