The Horse Brain: The Function, Size and Structure!

As a rule, usually only veterinarians, scientists or psychologists are interested in the internal nature or structure of an animal. Is that always the case? No. Especially as a rider or owner of a horse, you are certainly interested in deeper information about the “inner life” of your favorite. It is well known that horse and rider have a very special relationship.

In order to understand more precisely how your horse behaves in certain situations or what it wants to express with its individual behavior, it makes sense to take a closer look at its brain. How is it structured, how does it work? Out of love for your horse you are inquisitive and would like you to understand each other better and communicate “at eye level”? Then some explanations to this topic are surely interesting for you.

Cerebellum, cerebrum etc. – also complex in the horse.

This excerpt from the book “Horse Brain, Human Brain” by Janet L. Jones illustrates the importance of understanding the behavior of the horse, for you as a horse person. In the truest sense of the word. Because almost every person who is enthusiastic about riding has already asked himself during a ride, training in the indoor arena, lunging in the roundpen or during ground work, why does my horse react like this and not differently. Now something about the structure of the horse brain. As in humans, although somewhat smaller in size, the horse has a cerebellum and a cerebrum. The cerebellum can be called a “coordination center”. The cerebrum, on the other hand, acts as a “reception hall for the senses.” This means that the cerebrum is used to control the “higher sense organs.” These are the eyes, the ears as well as nostrils, as well as some regions of the tongue. The nostrils and tongue are the starting point for your horse’s breathing as well as digestive system. The sensory organs of the horse not only have the task of perceiving stimuli in the environment around as well as in time. The eyes, ears and also parts of the mouth are to be regarded as decisive signal transmitters. They are important also for the communication of horses among themselves.

Development before birth

Similar to humans, the maturation of organs in horses takes place before birth. As a result, the horse’s brain undergoes the greatest development process in the womb. The horse brain has its position behind the facial skull. Roughly speaking, the horse skull is divided into the so-called brain skull and the facial skull. The brain skull is formed by the brain capsule. The facial skull of your horse consists of the nasal capsule, the mandible and the hyoid bone. Your horse’s brain is not very big – even though, as you know, he is really smart. His brain skull is, compared to the face skull, very small. The horse’s brain weighs between 400.0 and 700.0 grams. That is only about 0.1 percent of the complete body mass of the horse! Or to put it another way: This corresponds to only about one eighth of the size of the human brain.

How smart are horses?

This question has probably been asked not only by horse lovers. Horses have brains – in the truest sense of the word. Social intelligence and co. are keywords that are also expressed in your darling. Your horse is not stupid. It just acts a little differently than we humans do. The information it processes in its brain is processed with a different objective. Horses learn things and store them. Since they are flight animals, this information can be retrieved when necessary and – if an apparently dangerous situation threatens them – they can take flight.

Learn, learn, learn… Training is good for the (horse’s) brain.

The mental ability of the horse is not small, but manifold. This has already been scientifically proven. Your horse learns a lot through observing behavior. Once from his herd members as well as from the people who interact with him. A good example of this behavior: You can teach your horse to open a locking bolt in front of the stall. Or opening a feed box – this is also possible. Try it once as an exercise with your horse; you will be amazed how well this will work with a little patience. These mental abilities have been researched and confirmed by Prof. Dr. Konstanze Krüger. She does research at the University of Applied Sciences in Nürtingen-Geislingen, Baden-Württemberg. If a horse is presented with many cognitive stimuli; it learns all the better and faster. In practice, this means: Train your horse a lot. For example ground work – there your darling must distinguish many things for itself. So it must “remember” different aids; and this often in short time intervals. For example, the horse learns to distinguish between the rider’s forward driving and restraining legs. If you regularly do different exercises like this with your horse – and you reward him for “correctly” completed tasks (i.e. distinctions) – you also encourage motivating behavior. Of course, it is important to give the reward directly after the exercise has been completed. This way your horse can “memorize” the connection between successful training session and reward.

Clever horse – Exercises makes it possible

This already shows that your horse belongs to the intelligent animals. Exercises, (behavior) training and reward – here a direct connection becomes clear. With this, real successes can be achieved. And the best thing about it: You and your horse get closer and closer to each other. That means; mutual understanding is promoted, your trust relationship grows. Rewarding desired actions thus promotes the horse’s cognitive ability. As a (long-term) result you will achieve a great partnership relationship between your horse and you. Of course, there are almost no limits for such cognitive exercises. Challenge yourself and your horse – you will get to know each other better and better. You will understand more consciously how your horse concentrates, when he needs a break and finally – how he “ticks”.

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