Tuesday, March 22, 2011

What Is Intelligence?

Simply put, intelligence is the ability to solve a problem.  What is a problem?  Well, that depends on perspective.  It's subjective.  If problems are subjective, so is intelligence. 

I used to teach freshman level biology for a university.  Every year, I would have a new crop of naive former high school students.  They thought they were pretty smart.  But college is a different game from high school.  Inevitably many would get their very first bad grade ever in my class, and they would show up in my office completely distraught over how "dumb" they thought they were.   And I would laugh, then ask if they thought I was dumb.  "Of course not!", they'd say "You teach the class".  Then I'd ask if they could guess what my GPA was as an undergrad.  It was a 2.0.  For those unfamiliar with the American system of Grade Point Average (GPA), a 2.0 is a "C" average, or 70%.  It's the absolute bare minimum for not being kicked out of the University, and also the bare minimum to graduate. 

And now you know what a complete slacker I am.  I'm not advocating that as a good way to get through college.  But, that story serves to illustrate my point.  I wasn't too dumb to do the work, I just didn't see bad grades as a "problem".   If I liked a course, I did well.  If I didn't like a course, I put in just enough work to pass.  Is that attitude any different from your horse's?

I see this quite a bit in riders,  I am guilty of it myself:  the rider is asking the horse to do something, the horse isn't responding, the rider keeps doing the same thing over and over again, the horse keeps noodling around, the rider throws up their hands and exclaims "Why doesn't he get it?".  The rider is giving a cue, but the horse doesn't care about the rider's cue.  It's not his problem.

A horse isn't dumb.  Horses are pretty good at solving problems.  They just don't see things the same way we do.  A horse's "problem" is much different from a human's.  For instance, for dressage we know that the best way for a horse to go is round and forward, but the horse can't see that.  The horse feels the weight of a rider on his back and thinks "Ugh, this is hard!  I'll just pull myself around on my forehand with my head in the air. That's much easier."  We need to convince him otherwise.   In order to tap into a horse's intelligence, you've got to make sure he recognizes the problem.   Obviously, we aren't going to be able to show him all the studies proving that correctly trained horses suffer less injuries.  The horse's point of view is much simpler than that.  The horse needs to think "Hey, I get a reward when I do this." or, "She stops doing that annoying thing with her leg when I do this. "  He needs to think of how to solve his problem, whether his problem is "I want my reward" or "Stop doing that annoying thing".  And once he has been presented with a problem to solve, he needs to be allowed to figure out the solution.  This is the "feel" that is talked about in correct training. 

It doesn't mean that we sit there like sacks in our perfect dressage show position and wait for the horse to "get it".  It means that we get proactive in our aids so that the horse can understand what we want from him.  We stop the evasions immediately, anticipate the problems and instantly reward the desired behaviors.  


  1. I love this post! Excellent writing and thought-provoking.

  2. A nice, perceptive post. As a teacher, I can well relate. With my horses, I will generally shift tactics if one approach does not work.

    BUT, the problem is that too many riders do not have the benefits of hundreds of hours with exceptional riding teachers that I've had. So they do not have a big enough "bag of tricks" to draw on when the going gets tough.

    That's where knowing the way the horse's body works or understanding the theory of a certain exercise can help. If you, for example, realize that in order to get a response you need to somehow have to activate one leg or control the shoulder, etc. you can use that understanding to invent exercises to fix a problem and get the results you want. That way, you can create your own bag of tricks to use when you need them.

    It's one more way we can use our brains to ride instead of using rote repetition based on "Only one way to ride" philosophies.

  3. Great post and comments!

    Shannon - you sound exactly like my trainer in my last lesson. Thanks for the reminders! :)

  4. Thank you, loved that....I have been that rider a lot lately and it has been very much my problem and the horses have not been bothering about my slipping grades!

  5. I love it too! My biggest problem sitting up there wanting somthing to happen but not thinking what I should do to get what I want. Instead all I think about is what he is doing wrong. I can easily overcome physical issues with time and practice it is the mental issues that get me frustrated.

  6. HAHAHA I had to laught about: Obviously, we aren't going to be able to show him all the studies proving that correctly trained horses suffer less injuries.

    It is exactly my problem with Teena, I must insist she moves properly for good of her hocks. She REALLY does not see it that way. O_o

    I am learning to stay emotionally detached, it is HER problem if she resists, I carry on working until she yields, then I lavishly reward/ praise etc... a lot. the reward is proportional to the resistance. Big resisatnce grand reward when she yields, small resistance a caress on the neck and we keep going ^-^

  7. Great post. I have a horse who really forces me to think / ride this way, maybe because he is still young. And me training a horse for the first time? I really need remember it and remind myself frequently. It's why our training takes so long at times :)

  8. Thank you. I can related on so many levels. My teenage son wants to skate through classes with "danger of failure" reports coming back and in my lessons I'm now expected to "think". The horror of it all. :)

  9. Excellent post. I hate to admit I was the same as you in school so I can relate to what you are saying about the horse. We need to work it out and see how we can "convince" them to go correctly. Like Jean said, we need a bag of tricks to rely on for fixing problems.


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