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Sensory Soundness & The Psychology of Motion

Posted on August 26, 2019 at 4:45 PM

Sensory Soundness

&

The Psychology of Motion

 

Position Paper

By

Kerry M Thomas


 

Introduction


The study of the herd dynamics in horses and the vital role they play in any athletic discipline is a study of the many pieces of the psychological jigsaw puzzle that make up what I call the behavioral genetic code. There are to be sure a great many singular areas of essential importance and influence, but none of the collateral pieces are as influential as the sensory system. Commonly desired in the horse-athlete, physical soundness is important, but just as essential to the optimization of talent but far too often undervalued, is sensory soundness. It’s an analogy I make all the time and worth the reminder, horses are not race cars, in a horse you’re investing in both car & driver.


Regardless of the athlete or the discipline, stress is a factor to be reckoned with, and there is both physical and emotional stress. The sensory system plays an essential role in stress management for it communicates the external world of environment with the internal world of the psyche. The efficiency with which this information is transferred directly governs the optimization of what we identify as talent.


As with any sport, there is a fine line between being physically capable and psychological able; it is not enough to consider if the horse can physically handle the rigors of life as an athlete, they must also be capable of handling the emotional demands. The sensory system plays an integral part in the psychology of motion; the driving force behind the ability to fully realize physical talent.


 

The Sensory System; Soundness


There are two aspects of sensory soundness; the physical sensory system and the psycho-sensory system. One ID’s, the other interprets. No true understanding, in my opinion, of the pros and cons, or the when to and when not to… use sensory depriving or altering equipment, can be embraced without first understanding sensory soundness and the individual horse’s strengths and weaknesses within it.


The physical sensory system aids in the direction and distribution of emotional energy, assists in stress management and is responsible for funneling identified environmental information into the psycho-sensory system, (emotional intelligence). Sensory soundness is for all purposes, that which weaves together the outside world and inside world; external environment blended with internal self.


By nature, the physical aspects of the sensory system which are commonly known as sight, sound, smell and touch have another partner that comes in to play in the rear of the horse when vision offers no aid, it is for lack of a better term, the instinctive “feel” sensory aspect. Feeling that something is present or approaching and responding to it, known in our lexicon at THT Bloodstock as the Anticipatory Response Mechanism, is an instinctive sense of emotional intelligence. Herd animals that rely on things like fight or flight and social structures all are equipped naturally with this aspect of the sensory system; not only does it help them tremendously moving through the environment and through a crowd of other horses at high rates of speed, it also aids them in survival when the instinct of “move first, ask questions later” is required. The sense of ‘feel’ is a specialized form of quiet communication instinctively placed.


When it comes to a horse being considered as an athlete, knowing the physical direction of push, or tendency of motion under stress that is expressed as a result of this non-physical emotion, is a key element. You’re not going to train or coach-out the naturally expressed anticipatory response mechanism dynamics, so you’d do well to understand how your prospect is expressing them.


The primary physical senses work together to cover all areas of the environment; but sight and sound, with the accompaniment of “feel” in the blind spots, each have their primary quadrant in the circular world of the horse. In the sensory sound horse, this radar system surveying the external world communicates with one another on an as needed basis; if say a sound is such that the horse needs a visual assist they will in essence “hand-off” to vision smoothly and seamlessly without unnecessary physical movement. (Keep in mind, physical movements can bring attention to an individual otherwise blended into the herd or environment, thus making a target of oneself to the watchful eye of a predator that is often triggered by motion.) Sensory soundness allows the horse to make these “sensory-lead-changes”, the communication of stimuli from one sensory aspect to another, without unnecessary physical expression. The outside world is often in motion, yet the horse doesn’t have to be moving to match it or counter it with sensory lead changes clearing space of approaching threats, yet by the same manner when they are moving, sensory lead changes help clear space like a blocker in football opening space for the running back, taking the lead that allows for smooth, fluent physical motion.


In order for the horse to move swiftly and efficiently through the environment, (or choose to remain still and invisible) and to competitively sustain movement as an athlete, the physical “radar” system, senses locating stimuli, is not enough, the information being funneled must also be interpreted; the interchange where physical sense meets psycho-sensory.


Among the corner stone’s of an individual horses herd dynamic is that individual’s ability to interpret stimuli without the aid of other horses or “outsourcing”. Herd structure serves a great many survival purposes, the chain of command in normal herd life for the prey animal helps camouflage those individuals who are not entirely sensory sound. You will find very often a horse that appears “complete”, self assured, confident even, in the friendly confines of routine and family or buddies, but when the environment changes, or they are suddenly isolated, things aren’t so calm and confident. When you isolate the horse, you’re exposing both their strengths and their weaknesses, something of great importance to remember when you’re considering a horse as a potential athlete for your program. The ability to properly interpret the information delivered by the physical senses is the earmark of emotional intelligence, emotional intelligence is the operating system for the physical machine; extremely vital information to comprehend as part of the investment strategy. It is the difference between physical athleticism and psychologically athletic, it is, in competition, the difference between grit and deference. In the normal herd setting, it is also governor of hierarchy and fitted perfectly in the structure of the family unit where individual survival is largely dependent upon group communication. A simple “equation” to remember; the senses survey and identify, the psycho-sensory absorbs and interprets, tendency governs initial physical response.


 

The Sensory System; Environmental Dependencies


The reality is that by the very nature of design, very few individual herd animals are naturally equipped with complete sensory soundness. The majority of horses from a psychological standpoint find themselves with average to good sensory systems; making them the bulk of the overall family structure, say roughly 75% make up this middle ground area of the herd dynamic, 20% the lower end leaving only 5% of individuals with high level herd dynamics. From this 5% are found the natural leaders both present and future, and there are earmarks in youth housed within the sensory soundness and tendencies; patterns in behavior which translate to patterns in motion. It is important to note, emotional intelligence relative to dominance is not the same as physically dominant. Physically expressed “dominance” is often rooted in underlying stress and anxiety, being “pushy” the only way that “moment” can be properly filtered. This is not leadership as much as it is individual moments of projected dominance. This is also a natural playground style rule of expression and a “loud” horse can often indicate insecurity or lower rank; the general rule here is for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Let’s remember, bringing undue attention to oneself is an invitation to predators to target you as much as it may be bullying in the ranks; in reality Mother Nature cleverly conceals her true leadership in plain sight. True leaders while certainly allowed to be reactive and expressive, more and more over time will evolve into almost purely purposeful motion and emotional communication, having the ability to control their environment and influence everyone in it. The high ranking sensory sound horse absorbs and discerns their world while efficiently interpreting it, allowing them to lead because they are not required to outsource, greatly minimizing any dependencies on their peers.


Sensory holes or what we commonly refer to in-house as “potholes” in the sensory system, are not only commonplace but are actually required within a herd unit. Any herd structure found in nature sustains and survives as a group because they have an element of co-dependency, these create links in the chain, the fabric that binds; you have my back I have yours, alone we are vulnerable but together we have a chance. It is the basis of and between the predator/prey relationships; predators alone or in a team targeting and seeking to separate a face in the crowd or one who has isolated themselves or has been isolated from the herd because of things like age or sickness. When a herd animal that has sensory potholes is isolated from their herd, a wide range of expressions can take place depending on if they’re able to manage emotional stress and anxiety; rather an important factor to wrap yourself around if you’re scouting horse athletes.


Co-dependencies in the herd structure allow horses, who alone would have trouble doing so, the ability to feel safe and completed because their sensory equation is supported by their peer(s); the “peer” can be and often times is for many domesticated equine partners, their human. It is important for the human partner to keep in mind that unlike predators where food is a grand “reward”, for the herd prey animal, comfort is the grand reward. When training a horse with sensory potholes, an important aspect to include in your education program is an escape route to comfort out of stress. When you want to overcome anxiety in your horse and still move forward with your training, layer comfort zones within your program; physical training and psychological coaching must be blended together to optimize total horse talent.


During times of calm and quiet the herd dynamics are more relaxed and the hierarchy structure, the dependency/co-dependency relationships, more loosely knitted. It is during times of high stress and rapid, sudden environmental changes where this fabric tightens up and starts to bring order from out of panic and chaos. The longer time a horse is in motion, the more reliant on their herd position and their peers the individual horse becomes; sedentary herd dynamic structure can appear fluid, while a moving herd dynamic structure begins to transform into a firm network designed to allow the unit to evade predatory threats.


 

Co-Dependency and the Equine Athlete


Because the vast majority of horses come with naturally occurring sensory potholes in some form or another, necessitating reliance on environmental dependency in varying degrees, when it comes to equine athletics it is self evident that a great physical and pedigree are only two parts to the puzzle. This makes an understanding of the overall herd dynamic and degree of sensory soundness of utmost importance; nurture the horse, develop the athlete. It is the reason we at THT study and consider the symbiotic communication between behavioral and physical genetics; gaining an understanding of “who” the horse is as an individual helps you better understand their true potential and how to get them there. We must be mindful too, that for an animal equipped to see the world in basically a circle, running in a straight line efficiently and with control requires rapid sensory lead changes individually and/or outsourced guidance lest you have a high speed boat with no rudder.


Just because the horse has sensory potholes somewhere in their equation does not at all mean that they cannot and will not become fine athletes, it is not a death knell to performance. The discipline the horse is bred for or targeted for plays a large role in how much of an impediment these sensory disruptions will be and how they need to be coached to move forward. The first thing that needs to be identified is, are these sensory, thus herd dynamic, issues specifically antagonistic to the discipline or the ultimate goal?


Every discipline of athletics has at least some overlapping requirements of sensory efficiency, even when the emphasis on particular areas can change or be contrasting. For instance a race horse requires different sensory efficiency and herd dynamic demands than a jumper or dressage horse even though they share some of the same. What is an area of antagonism to one is not so impactful to another, so when you’re considering the horse you have to consider the job requirements and demands psychologically just as much as you do physically. This is why each horse’s naturally occurring strengths and weaknesses need to be identified quadrant by quadrant; for example how strong is the horse say on the left oblique as compared to the right, what is the range of binocular vision as opposed to monocular vision left side/right side, how well does the horse sensory lead change when moving through various stimulus demands and so on. These are all vital questions just as important to athletic performance and training as is say shoulder angle, hock, hip, throat, knees, and pedigree. Each discipline also has within it different levels of competition, which requires greater ability and athletic optimizing potential; in order for a horse to psychologically achieve physical potential, their environmental dependencies in key sensory areas must be at a minimum even though you can work through potholes in areas that are not so essential to a given disciplines performance.


Bridging the gap in your horse to help manage sensory and herd dynamic outsourcing and potholes starts with knowing where they are and how deep is the dependency. It is equally as important to identify the strengths in your horse, because it is those strengths that will allow you to offset any weakness as you work to develop your athlete. Keeping in mind at all times to build into your program avenues of comfort and reprieve from emotional stress is a key coaching tool; stress and anxiety just like with us, is your horse’s enemy. Horses are by nature hi-level emotional communicators and emotional communication is a herd dynamic, when you are with your horse you are responsible for the emotional environment you create. You can help absorb emotional stress and create comfort zones in chaos, or you can impart emotional stress and add to it. If your horse has any outsourcing needs for fulfillment, you want to be sure that you’re able to be that bridge in the sensory lead change sequence; not all horses are right for all people or trainers. Horses with environmental co-dependencies can still achieve great athletic feats so long as the environment created for them assists their development, which over time will allow the horse to assimilate with increasing efficiency.


 

Psychological Rhythms


Speed and efficiency are expressed in two separate ways, there is physical speed and there is psychological speed, and each of these also has elements of recklessness or control, or a mixture of each, especially during competition. The sensory system plays an essential role in governing physical speed and fluency and it is a basic instinct wrapped around self preservation; in order for the horse to move safely through space at any speed they must identify and interpret faster than the physical body is moving. The senses manage the throttle and the steering, the maneuverability and the changing of gears; the physical horse supplies the physical power. For a horse to be truly versatile in rapidly changing conditions, they must be equipped with sensory lead change ability enough that allows nearly instantaneous assimilation, or be able to rely on outsourcing to complete the sequence of adaption when needed. Again, each discipline has its own requirements of sensory speed and clearance that allow for physical fluency; the dressage horse having different requirements than the race horse, than the jumper and so on.


The speed and efficiency of the psychological athlete dictates the efficiency of speed and distance to the physical athlete; if you’re driving 55 MPH and suddenly hit thick fog you slow down to a speed that allows you enough time to interpret the road and what you’re moving into. How “fast” a horse’s psychological rhythms are, are not always reflected in their physical expression, but for an athlete you want these things to complement one another by virtue that the psyche is always cycling ahead of physical motion in a manner that is purposeful and controlled. Physical expressions under emotional stress are the tendencies in motion, tendencies in motion for the athletic horse is an earmark of how well they will optimize their latent talent, especially when time of motion is protracted. The operating system runs the machine.


There is no “normal” cookie cutter psychological rhythm, no one size fits all neatly into this discipline or that discipline, there are only ranges of behavioral genetic types and how they fit into the goals and requirements of a sport is highly individualized. And just like individual sports have varying levels of competition, varying degrees of psychological ability will also have an effect on what the achievable goals are. Some horses will look like super stars up to a certain point, and then show signs of leveling off or altogether caving in under added stress and pressure or from peers in competition. For race horses, it is the difference between horses running in space, and running through it. The horse that runs through space is making their own hole through the environment, the one running in space is outsourcing to other horses, hovering herd bound. Herd bound or what we at THT dub “buddying-up”, are horses not impressing themselves upon the environment, but subject to it.


The moment the psychological rhythm and sensory sequence becomes too slow to stay ahead of the physical motion, is the moment the isolated horse pin-balls, and is the moment the horse running with peers outsources, creating “drag” in their efficiency and assimilations. Pin-balling is when an identified stimulus is neither properly interpreted nor properly “handed-off” to another sensory aspect, and gets stuck somewhere in between for a period of time manifesting in desperate attempts to outsource or a move away from or through, increasing emotional stress. Physically this is often seen as delayed responses and changes in physical pace and or direction, hanging in mid-air so to speak for a few strides or much longer, depending on horse and circumstance, or abruptly changing directions. These inherent tendencies under stress of competition lend themselves to the running style of a horse; another example of their patterns of behavior translating to their patterns in motion. You will not erase these tendencies but when you are aware of them you can find ways to help your horse outsource through them and be effective and efficient athletes. I like to remind our clients that their horses cannot be made into something they’re not, the goal is to help them become the best version of themselves. Patience, understanding, creative thinking and innovation are often your keys to proper coaching and curriculum development for the psychological athlete, coaching the horse and training the athlete must merge in order to optimize the natural talent sometimes hidden within them.


Stress can affect the spin-cycle in various ways and this can lead to what is basically a misdiagnosis of the horse. For example, certain horse psychologies that spin fast, “hi-rev” in the THT lingo, may be equipped with high functioning and highly efficient sensory soundness but when they are not moving or are asked to be sedentary and “behave” they become agitated or bounce all over by way of expressing their distain. There is a fine line between purposeful expressions and a horse being reactionary and bumpy, they both can look very similar when observed. But a deeper study of the herd dynamics can often unveil those horses operate at optimum efficiency, mind and body symbiosis, in full motion when the body begins to catch up with the psyche. Likewise, a seemingly sluggish non-reactive psychology does not equate automatically to a sluggish, complacent performer, sometimes, attributable to purposeful motion, these horses can be the sweetheart turned into wolf in the chaos and excitement of competition. Again there is no normal or specific “type” of horse psychology to fit neatly into the discipline they’re bred for, each of these behavioral genetic traits have a range within them, a range that will be reflected in the level of their performance. Gaining an understanding of this range of ability in the horse prospect before you invest, helps greatly in making informed decisions.


 

Equipment; Risk V/S Reward


When it comes to finding value in your investment, the first place to look is between the ears. How your horse is distributing their emotional energy and in what manner it is being physically expressed tells you a great deal about their overall ability to optimize talent. Understanding stress management and the inherent filtering processes, be them outsource dependent or internally managed, are your guides to understanding your individual horse and to developing a proper program for them.


When it comes to the use of equipment such as blinkers, shadow rolls and so on, depending on your discipline, I personally feel that too often equipment is called upon to try and Band-Aid an issue not entirely understood, far too quickly. Each horse like each human has a different way and different rate of learning, and equipment gone to too quickly can disrupt naturally occurring growth patterns. A quick fix in anything rarely exists. These are not cars you put into the shop, adjust the carburetor or fuel filter and then toss back out on the race track, as much as the impatient ones wish they were.


Using physical sensory altering or depriving tools only alter or deprive the physical senses; regardless of how the physical sensory system is “adjusted”, the emotional aspect, the psycho-sensory, still has to properly process the information being shuttled into it. Just because you change the manner in which the environment is being surveyed doesn’t mean you’re enhancing the manner in which it is being interpreted. The difference between helping and hurting the ultimate ability of the horse varies greatly and depends on the way a horse changes their expression and emotional energy distribution. I am not at all against blinkers and shadow rolls and so on, but I am always in favor of not knee-jerk reacting before the horse is allowed to sort things out and before tweaking their curriculum in any number of ways to help them bridge their own gaps.


Natural growth patterns in young athletes allowed to develop naturally is always better than risking disruption of them; disruptions far too often lead to “bad habits” and the creation of environmental dependencies that perhaps otherwise would not at length find a foothold in the horse psyche. Unfortunately for horses that have slower emergent properties, sometimes humans are not all that patient. When the physical sensory system is functioning well in their respective quadrants and information is singularly interpreted properly, but there is an issue when a sensory lead change is required, then a piece of equipment strategically employed can become very useful and affective without any risk of creating environmental dependencies.


Misdiagnosing the cause of a “lack of focus” for example, and abruptly putting blinkers on, may help in the short term performance but ultimately put you behind the eight ball moving forward in clearing conditions, or going to the next level. A quick fix in the moment often results in a growth plateau. Other things to consider regarding equipments’ affect are the internal rhythms of the horse and their emotional energy distribution. Minimizing one physical sense puts more demand upon another, pushing additional focus and emotional energy into another sphere, this can help or this can hurt, but one thing is for certain, it will concentrate the internal energy and rhythm into a smaller area. The results can be widely varied and random from performance to performance based upon the environment and herd peers, because when you concentrate or condense the senses you’re robbing from Peter to pay Paul and challenging the assimilation-in-chaos process.


If you want to push your race horse forward, make them spin faster by using equipment, you alter the way they naturally distribute emotional energy by concentrating it into a certain area; you may make them “faster” but you also may make them “shorter”. The ability for a horse to be competitively versatile over a distance rests deeply within their inherent ability, or their learned ability, to conserve the bulk of their emotional energy reserves until it’s called upon.


 

Herd Dynamics, the Psychology in Motion

Closing Thoughts


As an individual the herd dynamic defines who the horse is relative to their behavioral genetic sequence, and within the herd itself these dynamics carve out their placement among their peers; governing emotional intelligence managing physical movement.


“The herd dynamics are those naturally occurring traits, tendencies and characteristics that make up the individual psychology and where this places the horse in the hierarchy of the herd structure. It is in short, the operating system of the physical machine.”


There is no getting around it, an athletic psychology is the difference maker in high level competition against physically similar ability and the rules of the herd dynamics will have their influence. If your horse isn’t able to lead for themselves, they will be left to be lead by another. It is a required element for any "society" to become knitted and sustainable that a majority of its members are codependent, an essential asset, while a scant few are not bound by its laws but are inclined by Nature and their nature, to be both independent of and party to, that herd societal structure. There is a set rule-of-thumb in the natural order that allows individually incomplete sensory soundness to be completed by the fabric of the unit, even if isn’t correspondent with the athletic goals we might have for the horse. Horses with “potholes” are thus naturally dependent, but their natural environment provides succor, masking deficiency, sustaining survival. Horses do not “think” of herd survival in a group sense, but herd survival happens as a byproduct of the basic instinct of individual survival, and this could not happen without codependency in their societal structure. Removing a horse from a herd environment can be like holding a loose wire whipping with sparks at one end while you’re trying to control it from the other; as well, you can often see the disruptive nature of the removal of this puzzle piece in the emotional and physical actions of their remaining peers. Herd dynamics matter.


When we attempt to bridge the sensory pothole gap by the use of equipment to alter the physical sensory sequence we must be careful not to enrich nor cultivate dependency by attempting to counter it with anything that itself can become prerequisite; for those with the inclination will naturally depend upon it. Substitution for is not an elixir against; better to embrace what is and work through it than to sidestep one and risk creation of another when the sensory disruption is hinged upon the interpretational aspect, the psycho-sensory. When an individual horse with dependencies is isolated from peers, equipment can aid (but never erase), allowing them to compete; this helps most when horses are competing/moving individually. However once with other horses, especially in high stress chaos like a horse race where environmental awareness is keyed by communication, equipment can add another disruption and alter physical output owing to the fact that the horse may be struggling to identify where they fit into the evolving herd structure moving in close proximity at speed. By default horses will seek corresponding communications with their peers to fill in any gaps; equipment can help keep them from so doing as urgently and free up emotional energy, or it can pinion its fluency because the sensory impediment is blocking this effort. Again, this is highly dependent upon whether the issue being “treated” by equipment stems from the emotional or the physical aspect of the sensory sequence. Knowing the difference makes all the difference, for like I always say, herd dynamics matter when you’re #Panning4Gold.

~Kerry M Thomas

Founder #THTBloodstock

 

Kentucky Derby 145 Analysis Intro-Piece

Posted on May 12, 2019 at 6:50 AM

*Each year for our annual Kentucky Derby Herd Dynamics Analysis I pen a position paper as the introduction, in an effort to help further advance an understanding of work and approach here at THT.The following is a copy of the 2019 installment as it appeared in the KY Derby 145 analysis.



The Kentucky Derby & Herd Dynamics;

The Nature of Competition

By:

Kerry M Thomas


 

If you would have told me nine years ago that our dabble into providing a pattern of motion, herd dynamic analysis of the Kentucky Derby horses would slowly but surely continue to build both in depth, as our work continues to grow, and in audience for years after, I probably wouldn’t have believed you. Back then Pete and I were just starting to blend our working partnership; a serious blessing for me as he helped/helps me translate the often times raw material in my mind into practical application. Our rostrum then was Kentucky Confidential, for which I am and will always be forever grateful. Their vision in providing a platform to who was then a relative “newbie” to the derby flavors afforded a most spectacular opportunity and challenge.


Each year we do our best to provide a snapshot of the herd dynamic hierarchy and behavioral genetic profile of the field of horses going into the Kentucky Derby, splitting hairs more often than not by way of considering naturally occurring tendencies in motion and under stress. Our main goal is to provide for you a detailed conspectus of the horses individually along with a herd dynamic ranking “order” based upon all of the information we could mine from film study; any notes we have on a particular horse we had inspected at an auction will be included in their profile. This year’s top tier horses are very tightly knitted in herd dynamic strength, and coming up with an order of that strength is often by the smallest of differences. It’s racing, anything can happen, but the top tier herd dynamic horses have in my opinion the highest probability of success.


I look at the horses through the lens of my instincts first and think of them both individually and together while asking myself the question, out of ten races what is the likelihood of this horse finishing ahead of? When competition is close, when fields are large, I lean on physical ability juxtaposed with herd dynamic strengths to answer the question of probability. This is the same core approach we take when we’re asked to scout talent for private clients at sales, within an existing stable, for private purchase options or claiming opportunities. We utilize this fundamental approach when asked to assist with breeding decisions as well; behavioral economics being an important element in any investment strategy.


I say this all the time and I will say it again, race horses are not race cars; with a horse you’re investing in both car and driver, if you’re not considering the operating system of your physical machine, you’re only considering half the athlete. That can be both costly and disappointing.


I love horse racing because by nature horses love to run, and I’ve always been fascinated by the natural herd dynamics and their particular influence on races in general. The Kentucky Derby is a unique experience that presents the horse athletes a variety of challenges both physically and emotionally that draw deeply upon their inherent behavioral genetic codes; their herd dynamic.


What are the herd dynamics? Born from the ebb and flow of Mother Nature’s great storyboard, the predator/prey relationship, herd dynamics and structured hierarchy is the core of survival. They are the collection of the psychological matrix, the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle, the sequencing of the behavioral genetic code. They are often everything you don’t see and everything you feel, there influence on the horse as an individual plays a major role in leveraging horses in a herd, most especially a herd in motion.


In short, herd dynamics are those naturally occurring traits, tendencies and characteristics that make up the individual psychology and where this places the horse in the hierarchy of the herd environment. It is as I have previously mentioned the operating system of the physical machine.


There are many ways to apply the idiosyncrasies of the psyche when it comes to equine sports. We always start by studying the raw materials of both the physical and emotional athlete and work our way up through the details. Horses as athletes come in three basic forms; there are those that are by nature more physically athletic than they are mental giants, there are those who have far stronger athletic herd dynamics than their physical ability can optimize, and then there are those rare elite athletes that are equipped with both highly fluent physicals and highly fluent psychologies. I need to point out here the very important and influential “other” participant in this equation, the sensory system.


The sensory soundness (efficiency) of the individual has a great deal to do with the physical expression of the psychological horse. I often use the comparison of a blocker in football making a hole for the running back to move through. A high functioning sensory system identifies stimulus in the environment, is able to pass the stimuli to other senses without disruptive physical reaction, (what I call a sensory-lead-change) and funnel the outside world to the inside world for interpretation. The sensory system searches for stimulus, the psycho-sensory interprets it; the herd dynamic manages the interpretation. The horse will either affect the environment, or be affected by it.


Horses that are more reliant on their physical ability than their core herd dynamic strengths as athletes and as individuals come with naturally occurring environmental dependencies. Mid level herd dynamic strength requires outsourcing; this is the dependency/co-dependency relationship of the majority of horses in any natural herd. This is by Mother Nature’s design and highly instinctive, for the links in this chain are the social fabric of a herd.


Mid-level herd horses though physically capable, struggle to assimilate when alone and are easily influenced when under stress by stronger horses and more easily affected by sudden environmental changes. The inability to properly assimilate independently creates dependency; isolating a horse means you’re isolating both strength and weakness. Adaptability is an inherent element to overall herd dynamic strength and assimilation to situational chaos while in motion is an essential key to the optimization of ability during competition. It does not mean automatically that these horses cannot and will not become successful athletes, for they can and do. What it does mean is their management, development and placement require some additional attention. It also means to me, that if we have a like prospect before us, we need to make certain their sensory system is efficient to a level that it will not impede in any manner the physical strengths of the athlete, and even better, is high functioning in a way that will help offset any herd dynamic holes and thus help optimize raw ability.


In nature elite herd dynamics rule the day, day in and day out; measured hierarchy is how prey animals, exposed in the open with predators potentially at every turn, survive. They depend on the leaders to lead and to pass down as much of the “upper crust” behavioral genetics as they can. Emotional intelligence, adaptability and environmental awareness are all leadership qualities. Yet in sport, especially in racing, elite herd dynamics alone will not get you across the wire ahead of the more physically capable. It is the reason a strong herd dynamic may struggle to “compete” on a physical platform, yet may become quite useful in passing down their inherent strengths in a breeding program. We find horses in our scouting where we love their sensory systems and their herd dynamic, but we have to walk away from them because as physical athletes we just don’t see the horse taking our client to the promise land. I find myself telling Pete, “maybe not a physical athlete, but probably a lot of potential in a breeding program”.


Then there is the perfect storm, so to speak, where the elite psychological athlete meets the elite physical athlete. Elite potential in both of these areas is as rare as it is awe inspiring, and makes the search so exciting; it’s why I dub it, #Panning4Gold.


These elite athletes are not often found on many of the same playing fields. Among the things that make the Kentucky Derby such a special competition, as well as so challenging to diagnose, is that generally the best of the best find themselves together for the first time; bumping and grinding and gritting it out in a chaotic and excitable environment. This motley of horses coming together, head to head at a mile and a quarter, makes for a wonderfully unique and herd dynamically demanding experience.


Herd dynamic strength and power operating a capable physical machine is a force to be reckoned with and an element that should never be underappreciated be it in handicapping or purchasing. I have always felt that the true “value” to be found in the athlete is housed within their internal grit, will and determination. The psychological influence of the herd dynamic from one horse to another is not often easily noted, for there can be, and frequently are, many subtle variations of influence at play in any given moment depending on environment and circumstance. Most often the result of herd dynamic presence is seen in its ability to manipulate or disrupt physical speed or pace, control space, sense and react to approaching pressure or zero in on the true forward target or peer. It’s harder to see aspects are within the ability to manage stress, adapt in motion to rapidly changing environments, anticipate herd motion of lower ranking horses, and distribute emotional energy evenly as necessary and sustainably.


We break down the overall herd dynamic in to two collaborative but differently expressive areas, the Group Herd Dynamic and the Individual Herd Dynamic. The GHD is largely responsible for environmental interpretations, space awareness, sensory lead change ability, and emotional energy conservation; which lends itself to an efficient mental cruising gear quite well suited for in-traffic navigation. The IHD influences athletic power and expressions of grit, and is geared toward targets, combat and is what allows a horse to drop the hammer even on a “target” that is open space far out in front of them. (In the THT lexicon we denote this as DTF, Distance Target Focus). It is in this area of DTF you find the difference between horses running in space, and horses running through space.


A mixture of GHD and IHD to some degree is inherent in all horses, though horse athletes, especially thoroughbreds, will have a prevailing herd dynamic shift; some horses will be shifted more into the IHD area giving them what I refer to as a hi-rev psychological spin. Their sensory systems and sometimes even their basic character traits have a faster spin-cycle internally that veils their actual efficiency until in sustained physical motion. The GHD shifted horses have a more methodical, though no less competitive psychological spin. Their sensory system and character traits can be veiled in apparent quiet nonchalance that comes alive through the buildup of competition and the time they are in competitive motion.


Note: *IHD shifted horses can also find a mental cruising gear, though their natural rhythm cycles faster and is more directional than that of the broader based, methodically toned rhythm of the GHD horse. IHD shifted horses can at times run the risk of excessive emotional energy burn the same way the GHD based cruising rhythm can sometimes “fail to launch” into competitive IHD. When this is a question, the answer to which way they may spill under pressure is often found within the efficacy of the sensory system.*


Natural patterns of motion are reflected in these herd dynamic shifts. IHD shifted horses will have a pattern of motion generally more aggressive and expressive than those GHD slanted, sliding through space with oft times subtle alacrity. In regards to distance aptitude and being competitive at increased distances, the inherent value is found within the individual horse’s ability to properly filter stress and distribute emotional energy over time and within herd chaos. Regardless of the shift, IHD or GHD, it’s what they bring to the table when they get there. Their inherent patterns of motion through the course of a race can look very different, but in either form, head to head, it is who brings the most sustainable grit that matters; for there are two types of fatigue, physical fatigue and emotional fatigue. When physical ability and athleticism are evenly matched, determination and mental fortitude becomes the difference maker.


 

“Herd Dynamics; if it influences the horses daily life, it influences their competitive life.”

KMT

 

***


I’d like to express my appreciation to all of you that purchase our report. As you well know it takes a tremendous amount of time and energy to develop our Kentucky Derby Analysis. We work hard to provide you with a unique window into each horse (and into our singular way of evaluating them) that you can reference not only for the First Saturday in May, but also as these horses continue their journey. We work to provide you a perspective of where they were, where they are and where they’re likely going, founded upon who they are as individual horse athletes.


I’d also like to thank Brisnet for their ongoing support of our work and it goes without saying, this report would never come to be without the dedication, talent and hard work of Pete Denk. Pete is not only THT Bloodstock partner, but the best friend I could ever ask for.


Pete and I continue to consider the future of THT Bloodstock and where we will always welcome new clients at any level of ownership or buying interest, we are also eying up the potential for THT Thoroughbred Partnerships. If you or someone you know would like to access the advantage of our services privately or you’re interested in being kept in the loop regarding partnership opportunities, please email Pete at [email protected] or via Twitter, Pete is @Petedenk.


For additional information about our work, research and everything else THT, please allow me to invite you to visit our website www.thtbloodstock.com. There you can find position papers on the Blog and the previous Kentucky Derby archives in Big Race Analysis section among other things.


*Clinics, Seminars and appearances are available and if you’d like to follow me on Twitter I’m @thomasherding, you can also connect with me on FB or join THT Bloodstock FB page. Thank you again for your time and your support, you make the effort it takes, worthwhile.

Kerry M Thomas, Founder of THT

 

Identifying Performance Issues; a brief summary

Posted on September 6, 2018 at 3:40 PM

Like a missing tooth on a flywheel, gaps in the sensory sequence and/or herd dynamic dependencies manifested from them, are seemingly random though ever present hovering in the background. Talent and performance always at their mercy.


 

Over the years we have been called upon to investigate elite talents with nagging accompanying "ghostly" issues that seemed to appear from out of nowhere, only we know these things have a cause that is in most cases not physical. The psychology runs the machine, car & driver if you will, and in the cases where physical performance is disrupted from things that rank in the unexplained files, we find their root most often within one of two areas and sometimes both by proximity; a gap in the sensory sequences or an issue developed over time seeded in the associative via the horses basic instinct cornerstone of learning, the Anticipatory Response Mechanism which when negative can create stifling stress manifested in one way or another depending on the environment.


 

The over all herd dynamic of the horse is made up many parts from behavioral tendencies and traits, sensory system efficiency to environmental dependenccies (inclusive of course of the horses in their herd or horses anew, thrust together as in competition etc.,). Horses with unaccounted for random performance disruptions we see physically, like refusing to jump at random or leave the gate, are being asked to complete a task at the same moment a gap in the sensory sequence (what we like to call the 'psychological spin cycle') is occurring; when no or uncertain information is being fed to the psyche via the sensory system the physical responce can be an assortment of things including a delay. This is what we call 'drag' in the psychology.


 

The "sensory sequence" in it's basic form is: outside stimuli is identified via the sensory system, delivered to the psycho-sensory for interpretation resulting in physical response. When the sensory system is efficient a horse can both ID multiple stimuli in the environment as well as transfer one targeted stimuli from one "sense" to another without losing physical efficiency; this we call a sensory lead change. In order for horses to compete consistently at a high level sensory lead changes must be a natural tendency, which is why we focus so much on this when recruiting prospects for any discipline.


 

Breaking the horse in three parts so to speak, investigating performance issues is compartmentalised in to the sensory system, psycho-sensory (interpretive) and physical. When the physical has been cleared, we focus on the sensory soundness and then the psycho-sensory. Quite often with older horses a gap in the sensory sequence helps cultivate disruptions within the psycho-sensory interpretations over time, housing them within the anticipatory aspect which is designed to protect the horse as much as it is designed to help the horse learn. Patterns in motion stem from patterns of behavior.


 

These are vital things to consider not just for horses competing, but for horses in or headed to the breeding shed. Behavioral genetics demands her vital role be understood in order to match mental strengths or fill in mental gaps. Like trying to get more leg or bigger hip, you have to be mindful of the psychology you're breeding. Emotional intelligence influences every aspect of a horses' life both in isolation as well as in a herd environment. What is overlooked or taken for granted in "normal settings" can become glaring when in the stress of competition.


 

Performance profiling is among our most (cost) affective services for the older horse and affords a base line of information for the determination of what is going on and how to circumvent it, where profiling herd dynamic potential is our most affective service for young prospects being considered.


 

Recommended: *For more information and for reference material, visit Big Race Analysis secton on this website and read specifically the "introduction" to our 2018 Kentucky Derby Herd Dynamics report* www.thtbloodstock.com

 

Kerry M Thomas

 

Founder, THT Bloodstock

 

 

 

 

 

 

Welcome to THT...

Posted on August 16, 2018 at 9:00 AM

*THT Bloodstock had the honor of being included in Ireland based Horse Tech Conference’s recognition of innovative and pioneering equine businesses market report. The following is an excerpt of our introduction in the Psychology section.*


“When investing in inanimate objects, you can disregard taking behavioral economics into consideration; horses are not inanimate objects.” Kerry M Thomas, Founder of THT Bloodstock


Welcome to THT Bloodstock,

THT Bloodstock is the only full service bloodstock company in the world that specializes in analyzing the mind of the horse as it relates to class, distance aptitude, performance and breeding. The evaluation of emotional intelligence and herd dynamic level pulls back the veil concealing the operating system of the physical machine. Behavioral Genetics is the very definition of innovative horse technology; the study of herd dynamics and their profound impact on athletics is the core of our behavioral science research and services.


Physical efficiency and soundness in the horse is only part of the requirement to compete at the highest levels, stress management and the ability to adapt to sudden changes in the environment independently, is also essential. The psychological athlete must be efficient and sound in order to optimize physical talent.


At THT Bloodstock we offer our clients the strategic added benefit of the horse’s behavioral genetic profile; tendencies and herd dynamic juxtaposed with their physical and pedigree information. We like to say that with a horse you’re investing in both “car and driver”, the smart investor makes decisions with all of the information that can be obtained whether it be weanling, yearling, or older horse investments.


Herd Dynamic Profiling is an extremely valuable tool because the psyche plays such a major role in every aspect of the horses’ life from the natural placement in a herd of their peers to the way they will manage the emotional stresses of training and competing. Identifying character and behavior traits, strengths and weaknesses, reveals their inherent environmental dependencies where they exist. Patterns in horses natural behavior reveals the natural patterns in their movement; vital information for not only purchases but also for developing influential training programs.


Because Herd Dynamic Profiling identifies unique information about the psychology of the horse it has applications at every level and at every stage of a horse’s growth and development. Whether used in identifying likely growth patterns in the very young, matching proper character traits and stress tendencies in potential breeding mates or providing performance profiles for competing horses, herd dynamics is next level innovation.

Many areas of the horse psychology are too often underappreciated and our goal is to continue to shed light upon these. Among them is the vital importance of an efficient and high functioning sensory system. On an individual basis the sensory system leads the way in controlling physical movement and within a herd setting it is a determining factor of where the individual ranks in herd hierarchy, influencing where they “finish” when competing against their peers.


By nature 85% of horses on average will fall into the middle ranges of the herd dynamic hierarchy, meaning they have inherent inefficiencies in their psychology which translate necessarily to dependencies within the environment, namely other horses. These dependencies influence movement superseding physical aptitude; the ability to interpret stimuli precedes and dictates the resulting movement thus affecting the horse’s ability to compete on a sustainable level.


The higher you go on the herd dynamic scale the more independent the horse is psychologically, subsequently the more sensory sound and adaptable to situational chaos. Horses with hidden herd dependencies are prone to becoming “herd bound” and have difficulty in separating themselves from the herd and when they do, they have a far more difficult time sustaining this separation. Herd dependencies disrupt performance; affect distance aptitude, compromise potential and impede training. There is a major difference between a horse moving in space, and a horse moving through space.


In nature elite herd dynamic ability horses are a very low number by percentage; in natural environments you will find roughly 3% or less at this level. Matching physical potential with psychological potential in the selection process is the key to recruiting higher and finding that next-level prospect. Mother Nature conceals her leadership in those who adapt and assimilate seamlessly.


Herd dynamics by the numbers. Applying data collection and research to our constant study of the behavioral sciences in equine sport is essential. We utilize our database of unique information strategically in our services as well as in the way it guides us to further innovation.


Our data allows tracking of behavioral traits and tendencies as well as sensory system efficiency during performance which in turn helps us key-in on emotional intelligence markers inherent in the behavior patterns of young horses. Patterns of behavior not only translate to patterns in motion but are also a strong indicator of psychological growth patterns and herd dependencies or co-dependencies that may develop. Tracking herd dynamic data also aids in the matching or avoiding of physical strengths and potential weaknesses with their corresponding mental strengths or inefficiencies; the psychological athlete is the operating system of physical athleticism. When physical ability is corroborated with natural herd dynamic strengths, optimization of total ability becomes a higher probability.


Analytics and technology are useful and important tools for understanding the physical athlete, but the emotional athlete is every bit as essential. The question that must be answered when recruiting “player personnel”; will the psychological athlete be able to optimize the ability of the physical athlete?


If you want to compete at a higher level, you must recruit with a higher standard. Get an edge on your competition by incorporating THT’s groundbreaking research into your program. Visit our website www.thtbloodstock.com to learn more about how we can help you, go panning-for-gold.


 

"The Race Between the Ears"

Posted on May 13, 2018 at 7:20 AM

**NOTE** "The following is the introduction to our 2018 Kentucky Derby Herd Dynamics Analysis; left in it's original form. The information in this piece being relevant for all horses, all disciplines and breeds, for it is about the horse, the herd dynamics, the sensory system and relevancy of emotional stress" If you would like the PDF of the full report emailed to you, please contact us with your request and email address.


Performance Anxiety and the Kentucky Derby

The Race Between the Ears

Position Paper

By:

Kerry M Thomas

 

It’s hard to believe that another year has gone by and another Kentucky Derby is upon us. As I sit here putting thought to paper, the fact that this is our 8th year evaluating the contenders and presenting this report seems surreal to me in a way. Pete and I appreciate your interest and support and for both new and seasoned readers of our work, perhaps you will find new clues to handicapping with the herd dynamics along the way.


Because one of our primary focus points at THT Bloodstock, whether recruiting horse athletes for clients at sales or digging into an under-achiever, is the athletic psychology and herd dynamic of the individual horse, we’re always seeking to ID tendencies under emotional stress. Gaining an understanding of how an individual will mentally perform under the demands of stressful environments, be they physical, psychological or more often than not, both, is your window into actual performance ability.


As emotional athlete’s horses are often reflections of their environment, subject to not only the physical changes of the environment but also the mental. Performance anxiety can be a powerful inhibitor for a horse based upon many things inherent in the anticipatory response mechanism of the psyche. Anticipation of known experiences may be reflected either in the positive or negative, anticipation of the unknown can be as well, though these are based largely upon association. Regardless, the influence on performance can be profound; helping an individual rise to the occasion or fade away under the stress.


Unrealized ability is often rooted in the psyche; physical fatigue and mental fatigue are two separate, symbiotic aspects evaluated and graded separately, then considered together. No matter if you’re recruiting human or horse athletes, the question you have to answer is; will the psychology optimize or inhibit the talent of the physical athlete? Adaptability to the unknown is an essential ingredient of both stress management and performance; its core is behavioral genetic. I can think of little else more of an unknown in so many areas than the experience that is the Kentucky Derby.


The mechanics of the athlete can be studied scientifically, but the heart of the horse must be appreciated instinctively.


Stress & Herd Dynamics


Few things are more performance, health or growth inhibiting than stress, be it physical, mental or as is often the case, both. To understand performance anxiety is to embrace the notion that emotional stress can come from worry about an anticipated event based on either an experiential or associated/anticipated event or outcome. Physical discomforts associated with an experience are learned behaviors that can cause performance inhibiting emotional stress long after the physical has healed. Physical stress from attrition of effort, soreness, strains and so on are, we always hope, short term stresses. Short term stresses psychologically speaking are fleeting in-the-moment stresses; though they can sap a horse’s physical and emotional energy reserves, they generally have a minimal shelf life. An individual horse’s herd dynamic, where they fit within a herd environment, has a great deal to do with stress management and therefore, performance anxiety and their ability to optimize talent.


As a herd animal there is a natural structure to the hierarchy that is not physically based, but rooted upon sensory soundness and emotional intelligence. Roughly 85% of horses by nature fall into the middle ranges of the herd dynamic; lower middle, middle, and upper middle by shifting degrees, (which is why you may see a lot of physical ‘talk’ in your horse herds). Interaction within the herd is based upon a complex system of emotional communication.


The lower you go on the herd dynamic scale quite often the louder the horse is in reckless expression, the bully hiding the most insecurity. The higher you go the more purposeful their expression, like the quiet one in the crowd who is unassuming but clearly in full awareness of the environment and those in it. I’ve stated this many times before; one of Mother Nature’s keys to herd survival is that she hides her leadership in plain sight; high level horses can turn to ghosts. Predators see the loud talking bully or the lingering infirm, the yet unaware young, and these become targets.


Short term stress naturally occurring in the herd environment has little lasting impact but can become a highly toxic inhibitor once isolated. When you isolate the horse from the herd structure, you isolate any and all of their herd dependencies. Not that they aren’t physically capable but because on the stage alone and isolated emotional stress can be overwhelming, exposing dependencies and co-dependencies; isolation reveals strength and exposes weakness.


The majority of horses depend a great deal on one another for emotional stability, as we go higher up on the herd dynamic scale the less dependent the horse is on their peers, the highest levels being less than 3% of horses give or take. These horses are self reliant to a large degree. Their inherent emotional intelligence is extremely capable of adapting to sudden changes in the environment without exposing disruptive performance holes. High functioning sensory systems and psycho-sensory systems (which is the interpretive aspect) manage more situational chaos in isolation than most horses can in their herd. This is what nature has in place to allow natural leaders to peel off, take over a herd, and why some horses cannot handle life without their herd and never wish to leave it. When removed, we see the reflection of their insecurities in their actions.


Manifested from these behavioral genetics are two types of athletes; the physical over mental athlete and the mental over physical athlete. The physical over mental athlete will be far more dependent on other horses in a race as well as upon their environment and changes within it, less able to manage situational chaos and more prone to stress limiting their performance. In essence, they must physically out-run their psychology in order to be competitive and unless a pure physical beast, this will be talent inside a time & distance box. The longer time-in-motion the more mental attrition chews away their emotional fortitude and they will only go competitively as far as their bodies can take them. There are plenty of really good even great physical athletes, but these often come with an expiration date because the emotional rigors of training and racing gnaw away at them at a faster rate.


The physical athlete measures time as a physical distance, giving the jockey their all until physically tiring. The mental athlete measures distance only by the time it takes to get there; giving the jockey every ounce of emotional energy even when the body starts to tire. Versatility in situational chaos is inherent for the mental athlete, anticipating environmental changes even before they happen; some horses can be ridden with feel, some must be guided. The most capable are those elite athletic psychologies synchronized with elite, peaking physical talent.


Stress & Structure; IHD/GHD


The herd dynamics by their nature come with many parts to the whole that break down in to unique “character traits” and tendencies under stress when isolated. This is why I always advocate the nurture and develop point of reference; you develop the athlete when you nurture the horse.


When it comes to uncontrollable outside influences and situational chaos, no matter how well you’ve “nurtured and developed” coaching is still up against natural tendencies and basic instincts. It pays to know your horses’ tendencies as owner, trainer, jockey or handicapper. As we well know the Kentucky Derby is quite unlike anything these horses have experienced before, but even so they are who they are and will react using the same traits and tendencies found in their every day psychology. On a single-horse basis the herd dynamics are made up from the mixture of Individual Herd Dynamic, or IHD and Group Herd Dynamic or GHD.


The IHD is the psychological aspect geared toward what can be best described as individual targets, these targets can be singular as in one other horse, or can be horses or objects grouped into an area. The IHD’s primary application in racing is its inherent competitive nature; the emotional energy is zeroed in on an object like an arrow point launching forth with the purpose of getting to or beyond a certain target. The IHD is generally more poignant in colts because of its intended natural function. In the herd structure the colt/stallion’s primary job outside of breeding is to protect the herd from predators and to keep stragglers in line and would-be suitors, out. IHD becomes more highly developed when young colts are pushed out of their family herd and form bachelor herds of one or more. When in these bachelor herds colts have a chance to sharpen their IHD by way of the natural competition between them.


However IHD alone can only get the horse so far. Focus on individual stimuli without the buffer of being able to interpret variable stimulus has a cap on focus ability as well as competitive sustainability. The more GHD a horse has the more useful and sustainable the IHD becomes.


The Group Herd Dynamic is your key to true IHD optimization over physical distance within stressful environments; if IHD is your arrow, GHD is your bow. GHD is responsible for the management of multi-stimulus in the environment and by proxy helping filter stress before it is physically expressed.


Knowing the GHD of the horse will give you a major piece of the puzzle for understanding how likely the horse will or will not be effected by the environment, especially when that environment is filled with environmental stimuli like that of the Kentucky Derby. IHD is a psychological rhythm design best expressed in motion, GHD is a psychological rhythm that can be employed with equal alacrity whether in motion or in stasis; performance anxiety, where it exists, is largely expressed through the IHD.


Where the IHD by nature has a strong shift of influence in high level colts owing to their natural role on the fringes of the herd, the GHD has a strong natural shift in high level fillies because of their role within it. Interpretation or lack of, determines action. Interpretation ability is the defining difference between a horse moving in space, or moving through space; running with the herd or psychologically out-maneuvering those within it.


In general terms I have always assigned to the high level colt an IHD mixture of 70%-75% & GHD 30%-25%, but this is generic because every horse ‘personality’ like ourselves, comes with a wide array of uniqueness of character and idiosyncratic strengths and weaknesses. In competition these translate to running styles and optimum efficiency zones.


One of the most important things Pete and I look for and try to determine in our evaluations are an individual’s GHD/IHD mixture as this affords us a window into who among them are likely to conserve and optimize their depth of emotional energy. Determining who has the deepest emotional energy to draw from is one thing, determining who will use it the best, another. A deep well of energy used erratically and reactively is nothing more than wasted energy. Emotional energy conservation is squarely housed in the GHD because the GHD manages the distribution of said energy. The IHD in competitive sports is much longer lived and utilized when launched from the platform of a high functioning GHD.


The GHD also provides an essential balance between the individual and the outside world regarding fluency of movement. Many an otherwise talented horse finds their short-comings at the end of a long race in those moments before the gate ever opens. Anxiety inevitably builds up in these moments; you can see this being expressed in the post parade quite often. An efficient GHD is crucial for conserving emotional energy during this period and is also a key ingredient for any horse to find mental and physical balance enough to get out of the gate properly. *There is a difference between nervous and controlled energy expression. Horses that can ID and interpret oblique stimuli while maintaining a forward emotional ‘reach’, get out of the gate with greater consistency and fluency and are also more naturally maneuverable when dealing with herd chaos. Competitively the GHD allows the horse to anticipate the movement of other horses while the IHD allows them to act upon it. The GHD also contributes substantially to the “cruising” gear, allowing the horse to hit a psychological cruise-control at what we often call a hi-rev GHD, conserving emotional and physical fuel for a sustained IHD attack.


Breaking down the herd dynamic probability of success in this unique race is a combination of identifiable traits physically and mentally, and is not unlike splitting hairs. I always look at the probability of success based upon psychological growth patterns and herd dynamic tendencies leading into competition. We must be mindful that the reason we look for these patterns of behavior, is because they directly translate to patterns in motion.


Sensory Soundness & Emotional Stress


It is said that all things start with the horse’s feet physically, and it can also be said that all things start with the sensory system psychologically; sensory fluency precedes physical efficiency.


A physically sound horse is undeniably important, so too is a sensory sound horse. While the herd dynamics’ function is in part interpreter, the sensory system is responsible for cohesively sweeping the outside world sonar style, the equine version of sensory-location.


To gain an understanding of how athletic any horse psychology is by nature, two things must be determined; one, how efficient the sensory system is in its different aspects and two, at what speed does the psyche operate. Tracking many horses over the years one of the more profound things we’ve discovered are the varying degrees of what I dub the “psychological spin cycle”, the mental rhythm of the horse. Some psychologies operate at a high level of athletic efficiency only while in motion, and others have the versatility to adapt to changes in the environment regardless of how fast or slow the body is moving; these are your most efficient athletes. Naturally occurring rhythms in all horses are indicative of their “personality types”, as they accent and influence every part of the horse’s patterns of behavior. Performance aptitude and optimization, stress management and filtering, natural athletic ability, all are key ingredients led by the radar system. Efficiency and “soundness” here allows the horse to be competitive even during times of stress; the IHD feeding off sensory leads, the GHD providing balance through the sensory lead changes.


A “sensory lead” is a focus point. A “sensory lead change” occurs when a focus point is moved to, or through other sensory aspects be it from individual movement or objects that are moving past or around an individual, or both.


Sensory lead changes are as vital to athletic performance and efficiency as are physical lead changes; allowing the horse to move through changing environments without delayed responses or “drag”, keeping their emotional energy from being wasted, conserving their physical energy by proxy. This is the very definition of athletic fluency. To understand sensory soundness we must first understand the primary function and subsequent equation of both the individual psycho-sensory (interpretative) and the collective psycho-sensory of codependent herd members.


The senses both individually and collaboratively search and collect information from the outside world and transfer it to the inside world of the horses psyche for interpretation, followed by action or inaction according to that interpretation accented by herd members or learned experience. Stimulus alone doesn’t cause emotional stress, this happens in the psycho-sensory during interpretation directly affecting physical actions. The sensory sound individual is able to filter and process, interpret and adapt to situational changes in their environment without the help of other herd members. Again, when you isolate the horse from the herd, you are isolating them from any “second opinions” of herd mates.


In competition you want the horse that independently separates from the herd and not a horse that will be dependent upon outside influences such as other horses or equipment to find their separation. Smooth sensory lead changes, the transferring of information detected in one sensory aspect to another, allow the horse to survey and interpret stimulus in their environment regardless of the speed they are moving in any direction. This in turn translates to physical efficiency, allowing the horse the chance to fully optimize natural ability. The sensory system needs to be detecting and the psycho-sensory interpreting at a faster rate than the body is moving through a given space. Like a blocker in football, the sensory system clears space for the body to move through.


By virtue of being designed to live in a herd structure many horses have naturally incomplete sensory systems as individuals but in the group they are made whole. These are what we call “potholes” in the sensory system creating “sticky” sensory lead changes (resulting in the aforementioned physical drag). Those horse’s that hang or always have trouble out of the gate, running great sometimes and average the other; it’s these cases and many more that the culprit can often be found within. Horses whose sensory systems have too many potholes are likely to become herd-dependent, or “herd-bound” to some degree leaving you fewer tactical options. Horses that are having issues with interpretation and are asked to separate will not feel all that comfortable running at full speed much like you may not run all-out if you cannot see what you’re running over, toward or potentially into.


A horses’ ability to adapt to variable stimulus as an individual is housed within their psycho-sensory ability. From an athletic standpoint, assimilation should be an individual act and not a herd action adapted to, this will allow the horse to manage environmental changes with greater alacrity, including surfaces.


Sensory System & Equipment


Equipments’ purpose is to eliminate or inhibit one or more areas of the sensory aspect; when a horse is dealing with “radar” issues this can be useful. However when the performance is being compromised by the psycho-sensory, the interpretation process that follows, equipment can add to an issue.


Among the more common things we see in an effort to combat or assuage sensory inefficiency are blinkers and or shadow rolls. Equipment has its place in certain situations though I am far more in favor of allowing the horse every chance they can get to overcome their potholes naturally through experience. Equipment used too early or as the simple “easy-fix” from frustration, (impatience), in my personal opinion, disrupts the natural growth patterns, inhibiting associative and experiential learning. This is not to say that a horse cannot benefit athletically from equipment. Obviously there are many horses that perform very well and actually need the sensory inhibiter to be competitive. At the same time, when you alter the natural sensory fields you run the risk of losing something in another area. The odds must be weighed, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction more often than not. There is only so much air in a balloon and when you squeeze one part of it you’re pushing an overload of pressure into another. When “pressure” is applied to one area of the senses, you run the risk of unnaturally speeding up the psychological rhythms as the horse works to overcompensate, sapping emotional energy depth, and disrupting physical rhythm.


It’s very easy to over think and overload our own thought processes with analytics and the like, but in the end it’s about feel and instincts, horses are not machines. For me, accessory information, while good and useful to be sure, never supersedes my instincts or feel in life or in horses. I consider the Kentucky Derby contenders the way I do any of the horse athlete recruits we’re evaluating at auctions; I want to know how they’re likely to influence their environment, instead of worrying about how it will influence them.


The process of splitting hairs to come up with a herd dynamic power ranking for the first Saturday in May is never an easy task, this year is no exception. In racing where first and 4th are sometimes measured by head-bobs and nose hairs the order in which the horses cross the line doesn’t always indicate their actual psychological hierarchy at the moment they crossed it. For me it’s a “how many times out of ten” scenario; who is physically and psychologically peaking, who has peaked, who needs more experience. This is a Herd Dynamic synopsis of “who” the horses are from our point of reference in the spring of their 3yo year and where they may be headed. Though the race may take place on a track, it’s truly a race between the ears.


Looking Ahead


I have always strived to press the envelope personally and professionally. Not everyone gets a trophy in real life; you have to work for it. Our goal at THT Bloodstock is to offer our clients diversity in their information portfolio about horses they may purchase, or horses they have. Horses are emotional athletes so whether buying, breeding or claiming, when it comes to investing keep in mind you’re investing in both car and driver. If you hope the horses have the potential to outrun the money invested in them, you’d be wise to get as much information about the mental and physical horse, the entire athlete, as you can.


Pete and I are considering adding to our own portfolio of individual clients by offering THT Partnership opportunities in one or more areas such as yearlings and two year olds, pin-hooking. Whether you are interested as an individual owner in learning more about our services or are someone who views partnership opportunities your chance to get on board, feel free to contact Pete at [email protected]


Some other new adventures have come to fruition since last years’ derby report. I am honored to share that I have become a board member of the Non-Profit, Quest Therapeutic Services which is located in Chester County Pennsylvania. Late fall 2017 I had the pleasure of helping start a new equestrian program for my local High School and I’m also excited to share that Nature’s Way Feeds & THT Bloodstock have teamed up to offer an organic performance feed, THT Optimum Organic.


Personal Note


The one thing I have learned over the years is that the first step to realizing your dreams is believing that you can. A risk taker by nature, I have never been one to let life happen to me, when I can happen to it. Horse racing is a sport where losing is far more common than not, but where winning, even small wins in reciprocity, feels like nothing else. This journey I am on via THT Bloodstock would not be possible without business partner and best friend, confidant, Pete Denk. To say that I am thankful, appreciative, grateful, only touches the surface. I think that quality over quantity in life is what’s important and I am fortunate to have a very small circle of high quality individuals in my life.


I’d like to reach back to the beginning of our Kentucky Derby journey and thank the original platform, Kentucky Confidential, for providing us the stump to share our initial reports and for helping us find a place in the derby media confetti the year Animal Kingdom ran down the roses. I’d like to also thank Ed DeRosa and the folks at Brisnet for helping us further our audience reach through their efforts and platform.


Most of all I thank you, the folks who purchase our report, your support and interest is the reason we do this. It takes a monumental effort for Pete and I to work through, compile, organize, study and evaluate, then write it all down; each year it’s a major task that quite frankly I would not undertake if not for Pete. We truly appreciate your support and interest in how we at THT Bloodstock, go #Panning4Gold!


Follow us on Twitter: Pete @petedenk & me @thomasherding Visit: www.thtbloodstock.com for more.

~Kerry M Thomas

Founder, THT Bloodstock

 

Equine PTSD; an Emotional Reflection

Posted on November 7, 2017 at 6:40 PM

Equine PTSD; an Emotional Reflection

A Position Paper

 

I am of the opinion that any living thing that can express itself with emotion in any degree can also in the manner of those degrees experience contentment or stress. My name is Kerry Thomas and I am the founder of THT Bloodstock, and the following are my thoughts and postulations on a topic I have, like many, long been acquainted with before I realized that I was.


Having spent countless hours studying herd dynamics, stress management, communication, natural tendencies and all of the things Behavioral Genetic that relate to physical expression and performance, one of the most recurring challenges I have faced in all breeds of horses in all disciplines, was to unravel the mystery of psychosomatic disruptions. The debilitating anxiety disorder that occurs after experiencing a traumatic event, PTSD, manifests its ugly head in any number of ways and is an equal opportunity emotional virus that can affect the emotionally expressive; the higher the sophistication of the species, the more demoralizing its grasp.


During the process of profiling and evaluating horses over the years, regardless of their discipline, I have come across more behavioral disruptions “out of nowhere” than I can count. More often than not, a deeper evaluation shows sensory lead changes or “sensory transition” issues somewhere in the horses basic sensory system processes are the cause. Or there is a herd dynamic gap that isn’t being properly filled; but not in all of the cases. Bottom line, there are a great many horses suffering in silence from psychosomatic challenges that stem from emotional scars they cannot so easily communicate to us, not unless we first acknowledge that this type of affliction can be experienced by our equine comrades.


Once I realized an equine version of PTSD was not only a reality but highly disruptive to the trainability of an athlete as well as to the basic psychological growth patterns of the horse in general, I knew I had to dig deeper. Our goal in equine athletics is focused on identifying elite potential in the operating systems which in turn allow for the optimization of physical ability. There are many inroads to the psyche and their efficient translation to the physical athlete is hinged upon an individual’s ability to manage and process emotional stress. It goes deeper than that, far beyond the race track or the arena, we see its impact and residual effects on the basic quality of life long after a scaring incident occurs.

 

Equine PTSD & Psychosis; in Manifest


Far too often in my opinion are we quick to want to put a wrap or salve on a problem instead of digging in and tackling the actual causes. It is simply too easy to remedy a symptom than unravel its cause, we see this not only in medicine but also social aspects, it has become for some, the nature of things; the quick and the easy. Short term comforts for long term issues.


To truly understand how Equine PTSD happens, I think we must first ask the question, how it doesn’t happen. What filters and buffers are in place that helps assuage the manifestation of emotional stress?


At its base, environmental stimuli is filtered through two avenues in the horses world; an individual aspect and a herd aspect. The individual aspect is the core that is the sensory system super highway taking in environmental stimulus and filtering it through the lens of self; behavioral tendencies, seasoning, sensory soundness strengths or weaknesses which are thus indicative of an individual’s placement in the overall herd hierarchy. The herd aspect is the same core with the information filtered first through the herd dynamics of the family structure. This is especially important in youth while the young horse is experiencing the world through the safety net of the group. A solid family unit creates a platform for the young horse to find and define their place in the world they’re experiencing and plays a profound role in their ability to manage emotional stress and the ever changing natural environment in which they live. In essence, it is the key to learning and proper psychological growth patterns. As the young horse communicates with the environment they have the communication with the herd to buffer, filter, protect. As their bodies grow, their minds can develop a few steps ahead, helping to keep them safe from injury.


Because the family unit plays a major role in the individual’s ability to manage and filter emotional stresses, removal from this too young and/or tossed into an artificial and incomplete herd structure at a young age, opens the door for gaps in the natural development of the psyche. When the at large family structure is not available the herd craving horse has part of the education system removed and is by default reliant then upon their own often underdeveloped psychologies. The basic instincts of survival lose their buffer of the herd and can become over reactive in their nature, further interrupting psychological growth patterns.


The disruption of the family unit too young without proper surrogate does not of course always produce anxieties and interrupted growth patterns to the point where all horses will suffer from emotional stresses they cannot filter, but it is often a contributing factor especially in the middle to lower herd dynamic. As a herd animal where a system of hierarchy and communication through the ranks is essential for unit survival, the majority of animals, roughly 85%, will necessarily fall into the upper middle to lower herd dynamic ranks. From a purely herd dynamic standpoint, this hierarchy has very little to do with physicality and everything to do with psychology.


To understand how psychosis gets in and what we can do to help assuage its impact (for I do not believe we can erratic it, only soften or hope to circumvent its impact) we must understand the psychology of the herd dynamics. Because the way in, is also the way out.


The higher we travel up the herd dynamic scale the more complete the individual horse psychology, upper level and lead horses have fewer gaps in the sensory sequences and therefore less development of environmental dependencies. These horses have the fewest interruptions in their psychological growth patterns and thus have a better aptitude for processing emotional stresses themselves; when it comes to athletics, sensory soundness is the first step to optimizing physical ability. That is not to say that a less than complete sensory system and herd dynamic is equal to the inability of physical optimization but it does mean there are going to be more obstacles along the way, more emotional dependencies mean more struggles with emotional stress processing. Emotional wellness is directly related to physical health and convalescence, stress management, performance and on and on. There are few things more demoralizing than psychological shackles.


The sensory system is the surveillance system for the environment, feeding information into the psyche for interpretation which is based upon a mixture of basic instincts, learned experience and social structure to determine a reaction both emotionally and physically. Just like we talk about a horse making proper “lead changes” physically to manifest efficient physical motion, the sensory system too must have proper and efficient “lead changes” in order to maximize emotional intelligence. The more gaps in this sequence, the less efficient, the less efficient, the more dependencies can develop, especially under stress.


In a normal herd setting and by its very nature, the development of codependency is normal and essential to the group survival as is the reliance on herd mates to fill in the gaps so to speak. The role of the underling horses is to help sustain the group by proxy; masking the true leadership from predators. The only way a herd of animals can sustain itself in open space is if the leadership is concealed, and part of this concealment strategy by Mother Nature is to create more mid and lower level members who, because of their dependent psychologies, have more reactive physical responses to stress and hierarchy struggles. Which by turn brings attention focused upon them by the predator; the herd has a better chance to survive when the leaders are not obvious targets.


To protect themselves when they can’t “check in with their herd mates” mid level horses under stress often revert back to a key basic instinct dynamic, one that plays a major role in the psychological growth patterns of the horse; the anticipatory response mechanism or ARM as I call it.


Anticipatory responses in youth are little more than knee jerk physical responses, reaction/non-actions, that take place prior to the buffer of experience. In other words, a weanling (you will see fawns do this often too) that stands perfectly still in the face of supposed danger or runs frightfully away from it, sometimes into a fence or a car. There are yet too little learned behaviors and experience from which to assist in the interpretation processes, so what we have is purely reactive. Over time and experience environmental stimuli is, in associated circumstances, anticipated and interpreted cohesively allowing a higher level of body control and physical reaction/non-action accordingly. This is the core of adaptability, stress management and psychological growth patterns; how horses learn. In a normal herd setting horses will also depend on those around them to help determine a safe course of action. Ever see a group of horses near one another, one horse jump or start and like domino’s several other horses do the same or similar? This is the anticipatory response mechanism in living color. You can begin to see where on the herd dynamic scale a horse is and how efficient their sensory soundness is, by the length of time it takes for them to regain invisible-in-open-space status and controlled physical movement. The longer it takes, the more “at-risk” the horse is for psychosomatic issues to develop and the more dependencies on things other than self the horse is for stress filtration.


Again, in a normal herd setting these puzzle pieces fit together and support one another, codependent as they are, and for the most part emotional wellness and harmony is all you can see. Remove the horse from these naturally occurring dependencies, put them alone, or with other horses with just as many sensory and herd dynamic gaps, or with human counterparts insensitive to herd dynamic needs, anxiety, stress trauma, begin to leave their mark. Processing is everything, high level horses process better and have less outside dependencies than do their lower level (the majority), herd mates.


When a race horse has visual interpretative issues affecting physical performance trainers can use blinkers, but what if the physical disruptions are not physically related?


Unprocessed trauma, regardless of how or when it occurs, can leave an emotional scar that even though cannot be seen, can run very deep and cause quality of life disruptions. Equine PTSD is an emotional response to actual or anticipated stimuli of a former experience that was not, or could not be properly interpreted and filtered. There are numerous sources and potential sources in which to lay blame, from inward to outward, neither lessen the anxiety disorder.


Trauma unfiltered for whatever reason becomes a learned negative experience, a layer that by virtue of the basic survival instinct, is housed within the anticipatory response mechanism for safe keeping, ready at a moment’s notice to “protect the self” by anticipating the same or similar experience purely by association. Horses can learn and excel through the process of anticipation and association, when the experience is positive. But when the experience changes to a negative, the same learning tools turn from growing the horse to protecting the horse; this is naturally occurring, it is nature’s way of adapting to changing environments. For example, the horse by this process learns not to run from a blowing sage bush, yet to run from an attacking mountain lion the same way you may have learned you could slip on ice or any similar slippery or potentially slippery surface. You adjust, they adjust; self preservation.


The same process that opens the way for positive triggers and growth after an experience also can lead to negative triggers and behavioral disruptions; Equine PTSD. Make no mistake, horses on any position of the herd dynamic hierarchy can suffer from this emotional scarring, the differences here are found in the degrees of expression as well their therapeutic process.


Post traumatic stress can be subtle and passing or it can be loud and crippling. It can be triggered by the same or similar stimuli or, thanks to the anticipatory response mechanism; it can be triggered from stimuli remotely associated with the actual cause, making getting to the bottom of it in your horse, more than a little challenging.


 

Remedy; the Only Way Out, Is Through


Processing emotional scar tissue has to come from the avenue from which it came, this is not an easy assignment nor is there a snap your fingers methodology. Understanding the nature of the apparition is the first step to identifying the likely cause. Because negative triggers can happen from associated anticipations, so can positive associations; you do not have to nor are you ever likely to remove the actual cause, for you cannot erase an experience, but you can use associative positive triggers to chip away at the impact.


The anticipatory response mechanism is your key.


A personal understanding of how an actual experience becomes an anticipated experience is important because the principle is the same for us as well. Once as a child I sat down at the dinner table and my mother had prepared vegetable soup, after taking one spoonful I got sick. To this day I cannot eat vegetable soup even though I know full well it wasn’t the soup that made me sick, I was already ill at that time. But it doesn’t matter, I love every ingredient by itself in vegetable soup, but my negative trigger by association keeps me away from it. This is an isolated example, an isolated trigger with a direct but clear affect without accompanying associations because I can eat all other soups. The remedy here is as simple as avoiding the trigger altogether.


Other forms of associative negative triggers are far more physically expressive and far reaching. There are traumatic experiences which are parlayed to similar environments, triggering a negative memory thus a negative response even when far removed from the original cause in time and space. The higher degree of trauma the deeper the scar, the deeper the scar the harder to manage; in these situations we have to use the same avenue that let it in, to process it out. The only way out is through.


Emotional trauma is a troubling experience; a singular experience of high emotional impact is marked in the psyche as a negative trigger, negative triggers are anticipated along with much of the associative environment. This happens because this is how the horse learns, survives, self preserves. If you’re ambushed at a watering hole, and survive, you will never forget that and may never use that same watering hole or if you do your environmental awareness is far more acute. Its part of the survival process and why young horses can be aloof when older horses are aware.


The remedy for softening the psychosomatic responses from traumatic experience is the process of layering positive associative experience that also will become anticipated. Processing Equine PTSD when we have no real way of understanding what the actual cause was can only be done in stages, these stages are layered experiences. The key to success is to create positive experience that can be anticipated in similar but different environments, and you should not start by trying to meet the demon head on, you must circumvent. By so doing you are creating an emotional comfort zone for the horse to escape into instead of the recurring nightmare of anxiety and fear and tapping into another basic instinct, the natural tendency of adaptability.


Let’s be clear that comfort and “reward” for a horse, a prey animal, is not based upon a physical thing like treats but by emotional calm and stability. As emotional animals horses are a reflection of their environment, not just the physical environment but the emotional environment. You reward your horse with calm and emotional safety and you therapy the horse patient with the same; you become the sponge for emotional stress by countering it with calm quiet matter-of-fact presence.


What do I mean by circumventing by association that allows the anticipatory response mechanism to trigger from positive experience? As an example I’ll use a case I was involved in regarding a horse that was essentially sensory sound after evaluation that also occasionally spooked from out of nowhere, spooking from ghosts as the client told me. The horse would show signs of anxiety in particular environments and sometimes this would erupt physically, and I found that certain environmental stimuli caused the stiffening anxiety and others caused the physical eruption, and I knew we had varying degrees of association. Some triggers were loosely associated and some were more closely related to a past trauma.


I began to realize that the horse would show signs of anxiety and stress when walking out of the barn, onto a trailer, or around a corner etc., and he was telling me these were similar to him and he was associating them, thus anticipating “something” negative. A closer study revealed that physical speed of approach and physical space from the “perceived trigger point” could manipulate the degree higher or lower, the emotional impact which by proxy becomes the vehicle for manipulation of the event. Once you have established this kind of soft skill manipulation of the negative anticipation you have established more maneuverability; influencing the outcome or resulting emotion by controlling the perceived environment. There are for the ill and struggling two environments; one of them the actual and the other the perceived and anticipated. Therapy requires the therapist to blend them together while manipulating the outcome by the “safe out” comfort zone.


In this particular case I manipulated the interpretation process by altering the physical condition of speed and space in similar environments over time, slowly working through the processing in accordion-like layers until the negative trigger points were less prevalent. I never knew what traumatic event was associated with or was the actual cause of the anxiety disorder regarding the horse, there was no bowl of soup at the root to blame directly. In situations like these with so many unknowns the only option is to circumvent by association. Unfortunately there is no one size fits all step by step process when it comes to Equine PTSD of this nature, there is no timetable and there are no guarantees. Because so many things play a role in the inception of psychosis, sensory soundness, naturally occurring tendencies, overall herd dynamic and so on, therapeutic measures must be hinged upon the basic individual psychology to be affective. If not, you risk causing the horse more problems.

 

Reflective Learning Therapy; the Human, Horse Connection


Emotional communication, it is the highest and purest form of communicating. Emotional communication transcends spoken language and supersedes in impression physical expression. If you think of language in the context of song, we can appreciate and be affected by the music even if we cannot understand the words.


Horses are excellent emotional communicators and they are natural sponges absorbing the emotional vibe of their environment; it allows them to communicate in quiet subtlety with one another, it allows them to reflect the emotions of humans. This unique emotional connection with the horse is what makes the horse not just a wonderful human partner, but also a highly sensitive and fine tuned vehicle for emotional wellness therapies.


Having had the pleasure to help develop horse based therapies for people of all ages with physical and emotional challenges, one of the consistent go-to indicators in helping develop individual therapies is the horses ability to reflect human emotion. High level herd dynamic communicators can anticipate human anxiety and stress and are capable of giving subtle cues before there is a physical disruption. Having worked with those who have a difficult time “talking about it” or who simply cannot speak, the horse became both absorber and translator. I have long felt that within this relationship could be found a key to innovative emotional wellness therapies. In a carefully created environment, the person and their horse therapist create a unique partnership with the horse helping process the personal emotional stress and anxiety. Most especially individuals who carry their emotions and their own PTSD and other struggles very close and buried deep, the horse in partnership by a natural connection becomes the emotional processor.


When the right horse, emotionally, is partnered with the individual of certain emotional needs, the connective relationship and unspoken communication creates a comfort zone and within this relationship disruptive human emotion has a place to be filtered. An essential aspect of this is accessing the ‘right’ horse for this process to be fully affective. The ideal horse psychology for this is the adjunct horse within a natural herd dynamic. The adjunct horse in a herd structure is an upper level herd member that acts as the go between from leadership to underling in times of high stress and normal herd motion alike. Very often mistaken for the lead horse, this high level communicator acts much like the emotional buffer between and within the ranks, further protecting the actual leadership from predator targeting. These horses have a natural shared leadership essence and are sensory sound with nurturing tendencies. Ideal for the nurturing task required.


One of the very unique and exciting things I am eager to continue to explore is utilizing the horse to reflect human stress and anxiety caused by an environmental trigger, actual or in association, before said trigger has its full impact. By so doing, I believe we can begin to identify associative triggers of PTSD and psychosomatic illness and use this information to create new and innovative emotional wellness therapies. Using the same template of base understanding regarding the anticipatory response mechanism which mechanically creates negative triggers after trauma, we can, through the human horse relationship, manipulate the environment in a therapeutic manner.


I am anxious for the potential in Reflective Learning Therapy and excited to continue to expand upon its potential in helping those in need. Stay Tuned…


Sincerely,

Kerry M Thomas

Founder of THT Bloodstock Twitter = @Thomasherding / FB = THT Bloodstock

*For additional information on Behavioral Tendencies and Sensory Soundness I recommend reading the introduction section to both the 2017 & 2016 Kentucky Derby Analysis found at www.thtbloodstock.com Big Race Analysis section.

**Clinics and lectures are available upon request

 

“The first step to achieving your goals, is believing that you can.” KMT

 

Equine PTSD; an Emotional Reflection

Posted on November 7, 2017 at 6:35 PM

Equine PTSD; an Emotional Reflection

A Position Paper

 

I am of the opinion that any living thing that can express itself with emotion in any degree can also in the manner of those degrees experience contentment or stress. My name is Kerry Thomas and I am the founder of THT Bloodstock, and the following are my thoughts and postulations on a topic I have, like many, long been acquainted with before I realized that I was.


Having spent countless hours studying herd dynamics, stress management, communication, natural tendencies and all of the things Behavioral Genetic that relate to physical expression and performance, one of the most recurring challenges I have faced in all breeds of horses in all disciplines, was to unravel the mystery of psychosomatic disruptions. The debilitating anxiety disorder that occurs after experiencing a traumatic event, PTSD, manifests its ugly head in any number of ways and is an equal opportunity emotional virus that can affect the emotionally expressive; the higher the sophistication of the species, the more demoralizing its grasp.


During the process of profiling and evaluating horses over the years, regardless of their discipline, I have come across more behavioral disruptions “out of nowhere” than I can count. More often than not, a deeper evaluation shows sensory lead changes or “sensory transition” issues somewhere in the horses basic sensory system processes are the cause. Or there is a herd dynamic gap that isn’t being properly filled; but not in all of the cases. Bottom line, there are a great many horses suffering in silence from psychosomatic challenges that stem from emotional scars they cannot so easily communicate to us, not unless we first acknowledge that this type of affliction can be experienced by our equine comrades.


Once I realized an equine version of PTSD was not only a reality but highly disruptive to the trainability of an athlete as well as to the basic psychological growth patterns of the horse in general, I knew I had to dig deeper. Our goal in equine athletics is focused on identifying elite potential in the operating systems which in turn allow for the optimization of physical ability. There are many inroads to the psyche and their efficient translation to the physical athlete is hinged upon an individual’s ability to manage and process emotional stress. It goes deeper than that, far beyond the race track or the arena, we see its impact and residual effects on the basic quality of life long after a scaring incident occurs.


 

Equine PTSD & Psychosis; in Manifest


Far too often in my opinion are we quick to want to put a wrap or salve on a problem instead of digging in and tackling the actual causes. It is simply too easy to remedy a symptom than unravel its cause, we see this not only in medicine but also social aspects, it has become for some, the nature of things; the quick and the easy. Short term comforts for long term issues.


To truly understand how Equine PTSD happens, I think we must first ask the question, how it doesn’t happen. What filters and buffers are in place that helps assuage the manifestation of emotional stress?


At its base, environmental stimuli is filtered through two avenues in the horses world; an individual aspect and a herd aspect. The individual aspect is the core that is the sensory system super highway taking in environmental stimulus and filtering it through the lens of self; behavioral tendencies, seasoning, sensory soundness strengths or weaknesses which are thus indicative of an individual’s placement in the overall herd hierarchy. The herd aspect is the same core with the information filtered first through the herd dynamics of the family structure. This is especially important in youth while the young horse is experiencing the world through the safety net of the group. A solid family unit creates a platform for the young horse to find and define their place in the world they’re experiencing and plays a profound role in their ability to manage emotional stress and the ever changing natural environment in which they live. In essence, it is the key to learning and proper psychological growth patterns. As the young horse communicates with the environment they have the communication with the herd to buffer, filter, protect. As their bodies grow, their minds can develop a few steps ahead, helping to keep them safe from injury.


Because the family unit plays a major role in the individual’s ability to manage and filter emotional stresses, removal from this too young and/or tossed into an artificial and incomplete herd structure at a young age, opens the door for gaps in the natural development of the psyche. When the at large family structure is not available the herd craving horse has part of the education system removed and is by default reliant then upon their own often underdeveloped psychologies. The basic instincts of survival lose their buffer of the herd and can become over reactive in their nature, further interrupting psychological growth patterns.


The disruption of the family unit too young without proper surrogate does not of course always produce anxieties and interrupted growth patterns to the point where all horses will suffer from emotional stresses they cannot filter, but it is often a contributing factor especially in the middle to lower herd dynamic. As a herd animal where a system of hierarchy and communication through the ranks is essential for unit survival, the majority of animals, roughly 85%, will necessarily fall into the upper middle to lower herd dynamic ranks. From a purely herd dynamic standpoint, this hierarchy has very little to do with physicality and everything to do with psychology.


To understand how psychosis gets in and what we can do to help assuage its impact (for I do not believe we can erratic it, only soften or hope to circumvent its impact) we must understand the psychology of the herd dynamics. Because the way in, is also the way out.


The higher we travel up the herd dynamic scale the more complete the individual horse psychology, upper level and lead horses have fewer gaps in the sensory sequences and therefore less development of environmental dependencies. These horses have the fewest interruptions in their psychological growth patterns and thus have a better aptitude for processing emotional stresses themselves; when it comes to athletics, sensory soundness is the first step to optimizing physical ability. That is not to say that a less than complete sensory system and herd dynamic is equal to the inability of physical optimization but it does mean there are going to be more obstacles along the way, more emotional dependencies mean more struggles with emotional stress processing. Emotional wellness is directly related to physical health and convalescence, stress management, performance and on and on. There are few things more demoralizing than psychological shackles.


The sensory system is the surveillance system for the environment, feeding information into the psyche for interpretation which is based upon a mixture of basic instincts, learned experience and social structure to determine a reaction both emotionally and physically. Just like we talk about a horse making proper “lead changes” physically to manifest efficient physical motion, the sensory system too must have proper and efficient “lead changes” in order to maximize emotional intelligence. The more gaps in this sequence, the less efficient, the less efficient, the more dependencies can develop, especially under stress.


In a normal herd setting and by its very nature, the development of codependency is normal and essential to the group survival as is the reliance on herd mates to fill in the gaps so to speak. The role of the underling horses is to help sustain the group by proxy; masking the true leadership from predators. The only way a herd of animals can sustain itself in open space is if the leadership is concealed, and part of this concealment strategy by Mother Nature is to create more mid and lower level members who, because of their dependent psychologies, have more reactive physical responses to stress and hierarchy struggles. Which by turn brings attention focused upon them by the predator; the herd has a better chance to survive when the leaders are not obvious targets.


To protect themselves when they can’t “check in with their herd mates” mid level horses under stress often revert back to a key basic instinct dynamic, one that plays a major role in the psychological growth patterns of the horse; the anticipatory response mechanism or ARM as I call it.


Anticipatory responses in youth are little more than knee jerk physical responses, reaction/non-actions, that take place prior to the buffer of experience. In other words, a weanling (you will see fawns do this often too) that stands perfectly still in the face of supposed danger or runs frightfully away from it, sometimes into a fence or a car. There are yet too little learned behaviors and experience from which to assist in the interpretation processes, so what we have is purely reactive. Over time and experience environmental stimuli is, in associated circumstances, anticipated and interpreted cohesively allowing a higher level of body control and physical reaction/non-action accordingly. This is the core of adaptability, stress management and psychological growth patterns; how horses learn. In a normal herd setting horses will also depend on those around them to help determine a safe course of action. Ever see a group of horses near one another, one horse jump or start and like domino’s several other horses do the same or similar? This is the anticipatory response mechanism in living color. You can begin to see where on the herd dynamic scale a horse is and how efficient their sensory soundness is, by the length of time it takes for them to regain invisible-in-open-space status and controlled physical movement. The longer it takes, the more “at-risk” the horse is for psychosomatic issues to develop and the more dependencies on things other than self the horse is for stress filtration.


Again, in a normal herd setting these puzzle pieces fit together and support one another, codependent as they are, and for the most part emotional wellness and harmony is all you can see. Remove the horse from these naturally occurring dependencies, put them alone, or with other horses with just as many sensory and herd dynamic gaps, or with human counterparts insensitive to herd dynamic needs, anxiety, stress trauma, begin to leave their mark. Processing is everything, high level horses process better and have less outside dependencies than do their lower level (the majority), herd mates.


When a race horse has visual interpretative issues affecting physical performance trainers can use blinkers, but what if the physical disruptions are not physically related?


Unprocessed trauma, regardless of how or when it occurs, can leave an emotional scar that even though cannot be seen, can run very deep and cause quality of life disruptions. Equine PTSD is an emotional response to actual or anticipated stimuli of a former experience that was not, or could not be properly interpreted and filtered. There are numerous sources and potential sources in which to lay blame, from inward to outward, neither lessen the anxiety disorder.


Trauma unfiltered for whatever reason becomes a learned negative experience, a layer that by virtue of the basic survival instinct, is housed within the anticipatory response mechanism for safe keeping, ready at a moment’s notice to “protect the self” by anticipating the same or similar experience purely by association. Horses can learn and excel through the process of anticipation and association, when the experience is positive. But when the experience changes to a negative, the same learning tools turn from growing the horse to protecting the horse; this is naturally occurring, it is nature’s way of adapting to changing environments. For example, the horse by this process learns not to run from a blowing sage bush, yet to run from an attacking mountain lion the same way you may have learned you could slip on ice or any similar slippery or potentially slippery surface. You adjust, they adjust; self preservation.


The same process that opens the way for positive triggers and growth after an experience also can lead to negative triggers and behavioral disruptions; Equine PTSD. Make no mistake, horses on any position of the herd dynamic hierarchy can suffer from this emotional scarring, the differences here are found in the degrees of expression as well their therapeutic process.


Post traumatic stress can be subtle and passing or it can be loud and crippling. It can be triggered by the same or similar stimuli or, thanks to the anticipatory response mechanism; it can be triggered from stimuli remotely associated with the actual cause, making getting to the bottom of it in your horse, more than a little challenging.


 

Remedy; the Only Way Out, Is Through


Processing emotional scar tissue has to come from the avenue from which it came, this is not an easy assignment nor is there a snap your fingers methodology. Understanding the nature of the apparition is the first step to identifying the likely cause. Because negative triggers can happen from associated anticipations, so can positive associations; you do not have to nor are you ever likely to remove the actual cause, for you cannot erase an experience, but you can use associative positive triggers to chip away at the impact.


The anticipatory response mechanism is your key.


A personal understanding of how an actual experience becomes an anticipated experience is important because the principle is the same for us as well. Once as a child I sat down at the dinner table and my mother had prepared vegetable soup, after taking one spoonful I got sick. To this day I cannot eat vegetable soup even though I know full well it wasn’t the soup that made me sick, I was already ill at that time. But it doesn’t matter, I love every ingredient by itself in vegetable soup, but my negative trigger by association keeps me away from it. This is an isolated example, an isolated trigger with a direct but clear affect without accompanying associations because I can eat all other soups. The remedy here is as simple as avoiding the trigger altogether.


Other forms of associative negative triggers are far more physically expressive and far reaching. There are traumatic experiences which are parlayed to similar environments, triggering a negative memory thus a negative response even when far removed from the original cause in time and space. The higher degree of trauma the deeper the scar, the deeper the scar the harder to manage; in these situations we have to use the same avenue that let it in, to process it out. The only way out is through.


Emotional trauma is a troubling experience; a singular experience of high emotional impact is marked in the psyche as a negative trigger, negative triggers are anticipated along with much of the associative environment. This happens because this is how the horse learns, survives, self preserves. If you’re ambushed at a watering hole, and survive, you will never forget that and may never use that same watering hole or if you do your environmental awareness is far more acute. Its part of the survival process and why young horses can be aloof when older horses are aware.


The remedy for softening the psychosomatic responses from traumatic experience is the process of layering positive associative experience that also will become anticipated. Processing Equine PTSD when we have no real way of understanding what the actual cause was can only be done in stages, these stages are layered experiences. The key to success is to create positive experience that can be anticipated in similar but different environments, and you should not start by trying to meet the demon head on, you must circumvent. By so doing you are creating an emotional comfort zone for the horse to escape into instead of the recurring nightmare of anxiety and fear and tapping into another basic instinct, the natural tendency of adaptability.


Let’s be clear that comfort and “reward” for a horse, a prey animal, is not based upon a physical thing like treats but by emotional calm and stability. As emotional animals horses are a reflection of their environment, not just the physical environment but the emotional environment. You reward your horse with calm and emotional safety and you therapy the horse patient with the same; you become the sponge for emotional stress by countering it with calm quiet matter-of-fact presence.


What do I mean by circumventing by association that allows the anticipatory response mechanism to trigger from positive experience? As an example I’ll use a case I was involved in regarding a horse that was essentially sensory sound after evaluation that also occasionally spooked from out of nowhere, spooking from ghosts as the client told me. The horse would show signs of anxiety in particular environments and sometimes this would erupt physically, and I found that certain environmental stimuli caused the stiffening anxiety and others caused the physical eruption, and I knew we had varying degrees of association. Some triggers were loosely associated and some were more closely related to a past trauma.


I began to realize that the horse would show signs of anxiety and stress when walking out of the barn, onto a trailer, or around a corner etc., and he was telling me these were similar to him and he was associating them, thus anticipating “something” negative. A closer study revealed that physical speed of approach and physical space from the “perceived trigger point” could manipulate the degree higher or lower, the emotional impact which by proxy becomes the vehicle for manipulation of the event. Once you have established this kind of soft skill manipulation of the negative anticipation you have established more maneuverability; influencing the outcome or resulting emotion by controlling the perceived environment. There are for the ill and struggling two environments; one of them the actual and the other the perceived and anticipated. Therapy requires the therapist to blend them together while manipulating the outcome by the “safe out” comfort zone.


In this particular case I manipulated the interpretation process by altering the physical condition of speed and space in similar environments over time, slowly working through the processing in accordion-like layers until the negative trigger points were less prevalent. I never knew what traumatic event was associated with or was the actual cause of the anxiety disorder regarding the horse, there was no bowl of soup at the root to blame directly. In situations like these with so many unknowns the only option is to circumvent by association. Unfortunately there is no one size fits all step by step process when it comes to Equine PTSD of this nature, there is no timetable and there are no guarantees. Because so many things play a role in the inception of psychosis, sensory soundness, naturally occurring tendencies, overall herd dynamic and so on, therapeutic measures must be hinged upon the basic individual psychology to be affective. If not, you risk causing the horse more problems.


 

Reflective Learning Therapy; the Human, Horse Connection


Emotional communication, it is the highest and purest form of communicating. Emotional communication transcends spoken language and supersedes in impression physical expression. If you think of language in the context of song, we can appreciate and be affected by the music even if we cannot understand the words.


Horses are excellent emotional communicators and they are natural sponges absorbing the emotional vibe of their environment; it allows them to communicate in quiet subtlety with one another, it allows them to reflect the emotions of humans. This unique emotional connection with the horse is what makes the horse not just a wonderful human partner, but also a highly sensitive and fine tuned vehicle for emotional wellness therapies.


Having had the pleasure to help develop horse based therapies for people of all ages with physical and emotional challenges, one of the consistent go-to indicators in helping develop individual therapies is the horses ability to reflect human emotion. High level herd dynamic communicators can anticipate human anxiety and stress and are capable of giving subtle cues before there is a physical disruption. Having worked with those who have a difficult time “talking about it” or who simply cannot speak, the horse became both absorber and translator. I have long felt that within this relationship could be found a key to innovative emotional wellness therapies. In a carefully created environment, the person and their horse therapist create a unique partnership with the horse helping process the personal emotional stress and anxiety. Most especially individuals who carry their emotions and their own PTSD and other struggles very close and buried deep, the horse in partnership by a natural connection becomes the emotional processor.


When the right horse, emotionally, is partnered with the individual of certain emotional needs, the connective relationship and unspoken communication creates a comfort zone and within this relationship disruptive human emotion has a place to be filtered. An essential aspect of this is accessing the ‘right’ horse for this process to be fully affective. The ideal horse psychology for this is the adjunct horse within a natural herd dynamic. The adjunct horse in a herd structure is an upper level herd member that acts as the go between from leadership to underling in times of high stress and normal herd motion alike. Very often mistaken for the lead horse, this high level communicator acts much like the emotional buffer between and within the ranks, further protecting the actual leadership from predator targeting. These horses have a natural shared leadership essence and are sensory sound with nurturing tendencies. Ideal for the nurturing task required.


One of the very unique and exciting things I am eager to continue to explore is utilizing the horse to reflect human stress and anxiety caused by an environmental trigger, actual or in association, before said trigger has its full impact. By so doing, I believe we can begin to identify associative triggers of PTSD and psychosomatic illness and use this information to create new and innovative emotional wellness therapies. Using the same template of base understanding regarding the anticipatory response mechanism which mechanically creates negative triggers after trauma, we can, through the human horse relationship, manipulate the environment in a therapeutic manner.


I am anxious for the potential in Reflective Learning Therapy and excited to continue to expand upon its potential in helping those in need. Stay Tuned…


Sincerely,

Kerry M Thomas

Founder of THT Bloodstock Twitter = @Thomasherding / FB = THT Bloodstock

*For additional information on Behavioral Tendencies and Sensory Soundness I recommend reading the introduction section to both the 2017 & 2016 Kentucky Derby Analysis found at www.thtbloodstock.com Big Race Analysis section.

**Clinics and lectures are available upon request

 

“The first step to achieving your goals, is believing that you can.” KMT

 

At The Top; Longevity "The Herd Dynamics of Colts in Nature"

Posted on August 7, 2017 at 1:30 PM

At The Top; Longevity

The Herd Dynamics of Colts in Nature

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Opinion Piece By:

Kerry M Thomas

Founder:

THT Bloodstock

 

One of the questions that arise along the way in the world of racing is "why did this elite athlete suddenly look quite beatable?" It’s a question with many possible answers and when put to me, as has been recently regarding Arrogate I said, “Probably nothing but nature.” This may or may not have satisfactorily answered the question, but for me it created a reflection of the true nature of the Herd Dynamics, and Mother Nature’s rules as played out in a sport of our creation.


It is my personal opinion that Mother Nature’s basic and comprehensive design will always, in the end, govern the principles of the species regardless of the humans who infringe upon them their will. The very many intricate parts that make up the natural herd structure are sex dependent because of their individual characteristics, and group sustainable because of their cohesive, codependent nature.


The overall herd structure is, like any good relationship, a cooperative of different dynamics all working toward a common goal. For any social group to be sustained and survive in changing environments there has to be two things; a hierarchy of leadership which allow for different roles within the group, and interchangeable characters rising up within that group to allow new leadership to develop and adapt to these changing environments.


Roughly 75% of the herd pool is made up of Mid-Level-HD (Herd Dynamics), horses that have herd dependencies relevant for their individual survival. This level is also the spawning ground for greatness as young horses with the least herd and environmental dependencies (rooted in their natural tendencies under stress and their overall sensory soundness; psycho-sensory interpretations at this level are the building blocks of psychological growth patterns). Fifteen percent of horses never reach mid level status; these are the infirm, the overly herd/environmentally dependent, the very young, the highly deficient sensory sound and so on. These horses represent the greatest risk of being targeted by predators so they often struggle for position in the “loudest” physical actions which only serves to further their being targets. In this way nature helps ensure predators nearly always select from this lower rank. Likewise, the higher a horse elevates, the less noticeable is the individual within the crowd thus the less likely to be selected as a target; Mother Nature craftily conceals her true leadership in plain sight. About 10% of any given herd has individuals who will have the natural ability to move up above the mid level range, the “prepping” ground for true leadership, and 3% to 5% of those will actually achieve it.


The bigger herd picture is then broken down yet again within the sexes. Mares/Fillies are roughly psychologically made up of 75% Group Herd Dynamic (GHD), (*See our website’s Glossary of Terms*) which means in short that by their nature they are more inclined to overall herd sustainment by awareness of multiple members and multiple environmental stimuli. This is because their required job is to maintain inner family continuity and structure. Colt psychology is the counterpoint with 75% Individual Herd Dynamic (IHD) which essentially means their propensity is toward singular members and singular stimuli in the environment because of their natural job. As herd protector the lead colt operates on the fringes of the family unit more often than not, with a focus on individual targets.


An example of this in operation can be found in the fact that in nature there are bachelor herds roaming about; often a random mixture of loosely affiliated colts both young and old who are likely to band up with just one other peer within this loosely organized herd structure. A high level Colt/Stallion only needs one comrade for companionship, a high level Filly/Mare often prefers the company of more than one subordinate in her environment and when she doesn’t have that, emotional stress and miscreant behaviors can develop. As well, especially as a colt matures into a lead herd dynamic stallion, too many targets in a defined area can often result in erratic behaviors and emotional stresses.


The part of the Bachelor Herd in nature is an essential piece of the sustainable herd structure, playing a key role in the bubble-up of herd leadership and the development of future challengers of herd dominion. Taking the fabric of the actual herd structure in consideration we see Mother Nature puts restrictions in place that allow for new blood to be, through the course of time, injected into the family unit so that a micro-evolution is always happening. This safeguard for “over-interbreeding” comes with a time limit for the male leadership. Females can stay within the same family unit for most if not all of their lives, but males must come and go over periods of time for the health of the herd. In short, to ensure that the very best males are breeding at any given time, the lead, high level herd dynamic stallion is tirelessly challenged for his position. In descending fashion, the up and coming hopefuls are always vying for position in some manner whether successful or not. The successful climb to the next rung, the unsuccessful continue to be boxing partners who prepare them.


Among the most difficult things for a colt to do is to hang on to his elite herd dynamic position. Therein can be found, in my opinion, the very nature of 'why', when asked about an apparent dominant male athlete who suddenly appears beatable and average.


There is any number of examples from which to draw when it comes to colts that appear simply untouchable, like Arrogate, who shatter our fragile image of greatness with an injection of mediocrity. The disappointment and finger pointing of humans notwithstanding, quite often the real culprit that should be charged, is Mother Nature herself. What appears as a moment of weakness in the face of competition may very well be little more than a natural progression within the herd dynamics.


There is no time table that governs with exactness just how long any individual colt that rises to the elite levels of the herd dynamics will stay there; it can be as random as pin-pointing where lightning may strike. Part of the survival strategy in nature is the fact that along with the potential for a more sustained leadership role, moment to moment leadership exchanges often happen and this also serves a purpose; it allows for a random injection of new blood into the family units. This leader one day, adjunct the next reality serves a greater purpose in aiding in the evolution of a sustainable herd over time.


A myriad of factors play their critical part in this overall equation from the obvious physical health of the horse to their continued ability to manage the emotional stress within an environment of leadership. The elite stallion of the herd is not the part to be played by an individual horse but rather it is a herd position to be filled by whoever is elite and earns the position; new leadership roles are always available to any would-be competitor. The longer period of time any given stallion maintains his position, the more impressive he is as an individual embodiment of elite IHD and by virtue the longer he has to inject the family unit with his genes. This too plays a role as it helps to ensure both the physical and behavioral genetic health of the herd. Short term leader’s help by mixing in some random genes from time to time, long term leaders help build a base of herd dynamic strengths; together they help keep a healthy mixture of different but similar individuals.


If we take this template and translate it to competitive sports, especially a herd motion sport like racing, and we allow ourselves to think of this herd motion as basically combat for leadership both mentally and physically, we can see just how challenging it is. When a colt is able to string together a number of wins at the highest levels of combat I sit back in admiration and awe, because from where I sit, it is by nature one of the most difficult things to do. Sometimes human caprice doesn’t let us fully appreciate achievements because we begin to idolize achievement for the greatness it is, but then we allow one sign of a chink in that armor to water down the previous until it is a quagmire of “used to be”.


When we view elite athletes we must understand the reasons behind the true rarity with which they are found to fully appreciate their existence in the first place. When we consider that the normal herd environment will see roughly that 3% to 5% of its members elevating high enough to become true leaders, this has little to do with their physical ability and more to do with their emotional intelligence. Mother Nature already has developed the body, so it becomes the operating system of the vessel that defines leadership.


In racing we must take it to another level where both physical and mental in an efficient cooperative of the Big 3, natural tendency, sensory soundness and physical ability, (*see 2017 Kentucky Derby Analysis Introduction on THT Bloodstock website Big Race Analysis section) must come together in a perfect storm of optimization. While short-listing those elite herd dynamic markers from the top prospects pool for our clients, we have found that only 1 or 2 percent from this pool will grow both physically and mentally elite. Factor in the human influence good and bad, freakish accidents and injuries etc., it’s nearly a miracle when any horse continues to thrive and elevate. Considering that there is no defined time table for natural leadership, which is often brief, we should not fret but marvel at the rarity of both physical and mental greatness, regardless of how long we see it, that the truly elite horse athlete embodies.


Stripping it down into the purest and simplest form of herd dynamics, I marvel at the achievements of elite athletes like American Pharoah, Always Dreaming, Arrogate, Nyquist and on and on through history. In their natural moment of time, they were the leaders of the day. These “once elite” horses on the stage will always carry within them elite characteristics whether they rebound or not. When pure and true and not influenced by human hands, elite herd dynamics once established and developed, do not in themselves disappear just because in practice their influence seems to be less affective amongst their peers. Former leaders naturally give way to new ones and there is no shame in this. Physical and emotional wear and tear have been an antagonist to the horse we see, long before we see them. An appreciation of the horse we see in a given moment should be coupled with an appreciation of the journey taken to be seen.


The revolving door of leadership is, as we have established, always open for audition to new character actors who seek to fill the role. In the business of horses, timing is everything for the capitalization of return on investment; but it is true that the way a horse is publicly viewed at any given time doesn’t necessarily represent the true nature of the actual horse.


When we take the overall template Mother Nature has employed for herd survival and we extract from it that section that is competitive and place it in a sport like racing, we magnify it. When we magnify it we expose many of the average herd dynamic traits, but then every so often, we get a glimpse of the astonishing grace and beauty of a truly elite horse. Beauty can be fleeting or it can be lasting, but regardless of how long we are privileged to experience it, we should treasure that it exists and that we saw it, and not loathe its passing as if it becomes less beautiful because it has come to pass.


Racing isn’t about the horse in the winner’s circle; it is about the journey of the horse.

Kerry M Thomas

 

American Cleopatra as a weanling

Posted on August 1, 2016 at 4:40 PM



Another interesting result has rolled in from our weanling study from the summer of 2014, when we were commissioned to observe young horses at the farm in a herd structure.


Our goal was to see what kind of traits we could identify at such an early age and try to pick out the future star athletes.


When we were watching one of the big herds out at Taylor Made Farm in Nicholasville, Kentucky, on July 26, 2014, the pedigree of the filly by Pioneerof the Nile out of Litteprincessemma, by Yankee Gentleman, meant nothing to us. Her full sibling – now known as 2015 U.S. Triple Crown winner American Pharoah -- had not yet made his racetrack debut (he would finish 5th in a maiden race at Del Mar on August 9, 2014).


But the filly stood out to us, and we gave her a ‘B’ grade – a good grade on our scale, especially for a weanling. We have only given one weanling an ‘A’, and he was the subject of a previous blog you can read here


(Update: the Tapit colt has been named Tapit High. He was in training at GoldMark Farm in Ocala as of his last recorded workout and being aimed for a possible start at Saratoga. Though now, he shows a gap in his reported works. That could be a result of travel and settling in, or it could signal a physical setback.)


As a weanling, American Cleopatra already showed a defined tilt toward the Individual Herd Dynamic (IHD). That is a competitive mindset more common in male horses and a potentially good sign for a race filly when paired with the right behavioral traits and physical talent.


Moving around through the field she showed good forward extension of her sensory system. She was interpreting stimulus very accurately out in front of her body and had a generally forward mentality. She appeared to have the ingredients of an efficient, competitive-minded racehorse.


One thing that we have learned is that there is a connection between certain Herd Dynamic profiles and the horse’s preferred pattern of motion on the racetrack. IHD slanted fillies with forward sensory systems very often want to be frontrunners on the track. That is exactly the pattern of motion American Cleopatra used in her debut victory for owner Zayat Stables and trainer Bob Baffert at Del Mar on July 31.


Follow the link to view the replay, courtesy of Del Mar Racetrack. (She is #5 in the turquoise and yellow silks.)   https://twitter.com/DelMarRacing/status/759878759596040192


The Herd Dynamic of the Keeneland September Sale Topper

Posted on July 31, 2016 at 12:40 AM



Sometimes sale toppers turn out to be worth the gaudy price tag. Sometimes they are never heard from again. Often times the result is somewhere in between.  But it has been relatively rare that we at THT Bloodstock think the sale topper actually was the best horse in the sale.


This year’s September sale was the exception. We thought the gray Tapit colt that sold for $2.1-million to top the 2015 Keeneland September yearling sale quite possibly was the best horse on the grounds.  We say that not only because he tested as a beautiful physical specimen with elite mental and behavioral traits. We had some history with this horse.


More than a year ago, in the summer of 2014, one of THT’s clients commissioned us to study weanlings in the herd setting, to try to pick out elite herd dynamic animals at a young age.  We visited some of the top farms in the Bluegrass such as Airdrie Stud, Denali Stud, Taylormade Farm, and the farm that bred and raised this year’s sale topper – Gainesway.


We reported back to our client with a list of foals and weanlings that demonstrated above average sensory skills and signs of an elite herd dynamic. Out of the 200+ horses we saw, one stood far above the rest on our Herd Dynamic rating – the 2014 almost silver colored colt by Tapit, out of Silver Colors (a daughter of 1988 Kentucky Derby winner Winning Colors).  He was by far the highest rated weanling we saw and the first and only weanling have ever given an ‘A’ grade to.


The Silver Colors colt had an amazing environmental awareness for a weanling. He showed leadership traits far beyond his age. The other weanlings would move at the flick of his ear or a subtle change in his posture.  He showed an ability to survey far and near stimulus while absorbing the world around him. His sensory transitions were seamless and eloquent. He could read the intent of humans and horses at a high level.  Watching him lead the herd around the giant paddock at Gainesway was a beautiful thing and a sight we will never forget.


So while we didn’t have a client with the resources to purchase the Tapit colt, we felt a sense of pride seeing how he had developed a year later and became one of the headline horses at the biggest yearling sale in the world.




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