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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!


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2 comments


  • Excellent article. On point and very informative. There is no doubt that it takes a certain personality to own, care for and ride horses. As a male equestrian that owns horses as a hobby and rides Dressage and trail rides, I have never found another guy that even liked horses let alone even understood what Dressage was. I know personally that I am more empathetic and I am well aware of utilizing both my left and right side of my brain in riding Dressage than any other guy I have ever known. But that is what I and all other horse people are like for everything in life not just in horses and riding Dressage. Horse people are, more patient, empathetic, nurturing, closer to God, not afraid of work and commitment than non-horse people. I have found that non-horse females are more open minded and curious of horses and riding than non-horse men. But you have to understand what Dressage is. Both the definition of the word, the history of Dressage and what Dressage means as related to riding horses today. Men also want instant gratification and do not want to do repetitious and boring work related to riding Dressage. Also they are scared to death of wearing the riding attire associated with riding Dressage or any English riding discipline. Horses are work both on and off the animal regardless of what discipline you ride. Above all you have to not be afraid of what society says men and women should do and not do. Most men today are girly-men. Afraid of commitment, have no patience or empathy for anything and are for the most part sexually confused. They would rather watch a bunch of men in tights run around the field playing grab-ass in football or have a very low I.Q and participate in sports like golf than to participate in or even take interest in a real manly sport as Dressage. Oh, lastly, General George Patton had empathy for horses and was an avid Dressage rider and excellent Three Day Eventer.

    Bob on

  • There is so much fling B.S out there … what about reining…You are only areal man when you are bull riding; or calf roping…???

    Andre on

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