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Dr. Peters presents EBH at Horsemen’s Re-Union

Published: 4/12/2012
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By Maddy Butcher

Ever watch a good cook in the kitchen?

There are often no cookbooks or measuring cups. Experience, intuition, and creativity rule.

And so it is with good horsemen and women. They flow with their horses, operating on a level they often find hard to explain. They rely on cues they see easily, react to instinctively, but struggle to describe to others.

Until now.

Dr. Steve Peters delivered a list of ingredients and recipes of sorts to a large gathering of expert horsemen and regular Joes at the Horsemen’s Re-Union in Paso Robles, California. In an hour-long presentation of Evidence-Based Horsemanship, Peters described the horse’s brain development and function from foal to adult horse. He guided the audience through detailed descriptions of how it learns and matures in the hands of a good trainer. 

Or otherwise.

For as we’ve read in the new book, co-authored with Martin Black, the horse doesn’t discriminate between good and bad learning. “But if it feels good, then they’ll come back looking for that same experience the next time,” said Black, who joined in the Question & Answer session after Peters’ presentation.

Trainers Bryan Neubert, Ken May, Pat Parelli, Craig Cameron, and others had questions for Peters after his lecture. Perhaps the most inquisitive among them was Larry Mahan, who held the title of World Rodeo Champion for five consecutive years and was the subject The Great American Cowboy, an Oscar-winning documentary.
[Photo at right of Peters and Mahan, at an impromptu arena session.]

He praised Peters and Black for their collaboration, saying, “It is pure genius on the part of Martin and Dr. Peters to put together this book. It really opens up a whole new can of worms.”

Tom Saunders, a sixth generation Texas horseman and participant at the Horsemen’s Re-Union, praised Peters as well, saying, “It’s something we were seeing but we lacked the vernacular for it.”

Many listeners picked up concepts quickly and related it to what they have seen in their horse work. Peters took time to describe the increased learning potential when horses are given time to dwell and relax after an exercise. The next morning, Bryan Neubert told a story about giving his horse a break before returning to something challenging.

“Why do you think the horse needed that recess?” asked one of the emcees. “Well, if you’d listened to the doctor’s presentation last night, you’d know!” laughed Neubert.

As learning creatures, Peters suggested horses can perform best when in a natural environment, i.e., with ample, varied turnout and with other horses.

When asked about working with mustangs versus domestic horses, Peters told the audience: “You have a super bright student in the mustang. You just have to learn to communicate with it. You will succeed if you can get past the sympathetic nervous system, the reactive part of the training.”
Participant Clayton Anderson reiterated this point: “A mustang’s awareness is a lot greater than a domestic horse’s. So more time is necessary and more reinforcement is necessary.”
One attendee described her work with Bureau of Land Management mustangs and confirmed Peters’ stance as well: “Mustangs have dendrites coming out the wazoo! I don’t think any learning environment can substitute for a feral herd.”

The scheduled presentation was so well-received, additional sessions were quickly offered by the Horsemen’s Re-Union producers. The following day, Peters spoke before the crowds in the arena, answering questions from Larry Mahan and scores of spectators. On Day Four, Peters and Black met attendees again for another Q & A session.
Western Horseman videotaped an interview with Dr. Peters to be aired on its website. The magazine’s April edition features a cover article on laying down a horse in which Peters is quoted at length.
Experts and spectators seemed to agree that Evidence-Based Horsemanship provided a much-needed “missing link” between science and the sometimes-mysterious art of horse training.
“It’s so nice that science is backing up what these horsemen are doing,” observed one woman. “It’s great to see the dovetailing.”

The proof was already in the pudding. Now we know the ingredients.

Click for Horsemen's Re-Union introduction
Click for Horsemen's Re-Union review
Click for additional Horsemen's Re-Union report
Click for Horsemen's Re-Union Vendor report
Click for horsemen of the Horsemen's Re-Union
Click for EBH debut at the Horsemen's Re-Union

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4/14/2012 Sheryl Morton
Steve's discussion of the horse brain and horse behavior was so well received. It prompted so much discussion with everyone, including the horsemen working colts at the reunion. I do believe that Larry Mahan is now one of Steve's biggest fans. Great addition to the Reunion.

"Dog lovers hate to clean out kennels. Horse lovers like cleaning stables." - Monica Dickens