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The Psychology of Horses

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horsemagazine.com - Full article

By Donald McMiken, PhD

Donald McMiken has combined a passion for riding with the study of physiology and evolutionary psychology. Donald holds a masters degree and a doctorate in exercise physiology from The Universityof Texas at Austin. Dr McMiken was then invited to Sweden as director of research in equine physiology at the Swedish Veterinary University in Uppsala from 1980-1982. Donald taught for many years at Cumberland College, which is now part of Sydney University. He also worked with Professor Ruben Rose at that time in establishing an equine muscle laboratory at the veterinary school. He has taught Horse Management -including horse psychology- at TAFE colleges in Australia and at Humber College in Canada. He has published widely and has been an editor of scientific journals including the Australian Journal of Sports Medicine and the Journal of Equine Veterinary Science (USA). Donald has published many articles in equestrian magazines abroad.

He has put scientific information into practice at his Speedtest-Thoroughbreds training centre in Ontario, Canada where he trained racehorses and developed new interval-training and Fartlek methods for conditioning horses. Don has ridden in Horse Trials and other events in Canada and Australia. He was a member of the Australian Modern Pentathlon Team for many years competing at the Tokyo Olympics 1964 (where he won maximum bonus points in the cross-country riding). He also competed in the 1968 Mexico Olympics (where he won the pistol shooting event). Dr McMiken has coached several Australian teams including the 1976 Olympics in Montreal. He has travelled extensively and has lived for extended periods overseas. Recently returned to Australia Donald now lives on the Central Coast of NSW.

Like the Horse Whisperer you need to understand the psychology of horses to be able to relate to them. As a rider you need to be able to think like horses do and anticipate their reactions. To do this you must look at the world from their point of view. This is empathy, most important to horse handling. It also happens to be a particular facility of the human species-useful when hunting to anticipate prey. Empathy enables you to read the horse and anticipate his actions. To understand horses it's crucial to examine the nature of their intelligence and their natural behaviour, wrought by evolution.

Are Horses Intelligent?

The short answer is yes...

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