I was reading an interesting article in Psychology Today (http://bit.ly/1JiBMZG) that discussed the differences between a woman's and a man's brain. The differences in how each sees the world, interacts with it and responds to illness was all mentioned. As Louann Brizendine, M.D. says, "Until recently scientists assumed we all had a unisex brain. But now we know that isn’t true.” You must keep in mind though that we are talking about averages and not absolutes. This article got me thinking about what kind of "brain" excels at training dressage horses.
I think the biggest emotional trait one can have when working with horses is empathy. Accoring to Roman Krznaric ,author of Empathy: A Handbook for Revolution, "Empathy is the art of stepping imaginatively into the shoes of another person (or animal), understanding their feelings and perspectives, and using that understanding to guide your actions". The only way to consistently train horses to perform at the top of the sport is to be able to relate to and understand them. I'm talking about horses that perform the exercises in a relaxed and honest way, and not fear-based training that is devoid of all empathy. Without empathy, there simply cannot be a harmonious partnership between horse and rider.
In Simon Baron-Cohen's book, The Essential Difference: The Truth About The Male And Female Brain, he states “The female brain is predominantly hard-wired for empathy." And according to scientists, men are predominantly hard-wired for understanding and building systems, but often lack the same levels of empathy that woman have. I think this is why you don't see "stereotypical" men participating in dressage. They don't understand, and/or can't relate to it because they lack the empathetic awareness needed to be involved in this sport. Now don't get me wrong here! If you are a tattooed, Harley riding, smoke hanging out of your mouth, mechanically inclined, greased covered man, I'm not implying you lack all empathetic abilities to excel in dressage. Again, we are speaking of averages here, and not absolutes. I'm not saying it can't happen. It's just factual that you don't see that very often in our sport. I also don't mean that "stereotypical" men don't have empathy....just that they, on average, do not demonstrate it to the same level as the average female.
I find that in most cases the men I meet who excel at dressage have a strong empathetic streak. I think regardless of gender, you need to have strong abilities to read your horses' emotional levels, kindness, softness, and if your approach isn't based mainly on empathy, then I would be surprised if you ever have much success.
According to a Scientific American article (http://bit.ly/2k43uUY) empathetic qualities are in a decline among young people. The good news is that with the discovery of mirror neurons (which allow humans to experience pain or discomfort in someone we are watching) people can actually learn to become more empathetic. Then, maybe dressage training can teach people to act with more empathy? Perhaps, more than ever, now is the time that we need more "stereotypical" men participating in dressage.
Be kind, and Happy Riding!