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Understanding the Ancient Secrets of the Horse’s Mind, by Dr. Robert Miller


2013/12/04


Book Review by Leigh Ballard

Dr. Robert Miller’s Understanding the Ancient Secrets of the Horse’s Mind is a concise and succinct explanation of horse behavior, especially as it relates to horse training and the Natural Horsemanship movement. This book is available as an inexpensive paperback. I would recommend it to all horse owners, trainers, and students of the horse.

The book carefully and logically explains why horses behave the way they do. While he speaks of horses as prey animals and humans as predators, Miller speaks of these in terms of traits, instincts, and behaviors that are leftover from those days before horses were domesticated. Miller lists ten “secrets” that help humans understand the horse’s nature.

The first secret is the Secret of Flight. Horses have an instinctual need to flee from things that frighten them. This need is a survival behavior based largely on their ability to survive in their natural habitat.

The next secret is the Secret of Perception. Horses have much more acute senses (hearing, vision, smell, etc.) than humans. Horses have reactions to events or stimuli based on the superiority of their senses, and humans often don’t understand the reaction because the event was not evident.

The Secret of Response Time is vital to any animal whose survival instinct is for flight. Horses perceive and react more quickly than any other domesticated animal.

The Secret of Rapid Desensitization is a very important and interesting phenomenon. Miller explains that while “flighty,” horses also are quick to learn to ignore “frightening” things that are harmless. Otherwise, they would spend much of their time running for safety! This secret is one reason that horses are trainable.

Miller explains that the horse’s Secret of Learning is that he must learn quickly in order to survive. And what he learns, he does not forget. That is why first experiences with trailers, farriers, etc. need to be good experiences.

The Secret of Memory reveals that while horses don’t forget, they can forgive inept or improper handling. They can categorize experiences as something to ignore or something to fear. Whatever they experience can create lasting attitudes, so it is important that the handler not create bad experiences.

The Secret of Dominance Hierarchy is very important in understanding training horses. Horses are very easily dominated because as herd animals, they seek leadership. Miller explains how dominance equals leadership.
The Secret of Control of Movement is how a horse exerts dominance/leadership in a herd. This secret is the basis of all horse training.

The Secret of Body Language is part of the phenomenon of dominance and submission in horse behavior. Horse’s body language signals are very important to understand, and are key in good horse handling.

The Secret of Precocity is an important component of Dr.Miller’s internationally known method of Imprinting.  Foals are born neurologically mature and physically able to survive very soon after birth.  Because of this, attitudes, temperament and reactions are easily influenced by handling immediately after birth.

Dr. Miller devotes a full chapter to each of these Secrets, and branches into many details related to every Secret. The chapters are sprinkled with illustrative anecdotes based on his years of veterinary experience.  He makes it easy to understand how knowledge of each of these Secrets helps in shaping behavior, training, and developing a good, productive relationship with horses. The remarkable thing about this book is that Dr. Miller makes the methods of Natural Horsemanship understandable as logical and sensible, rather than just seeming like a current trend.

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