|Posted on August 11, 2015 at 12:05 AM|
Behavioral Economics in Investment Strategies
Position Paper By:
Kerry M Thomas
The economics of behavior is a reality in any business that involves anything more than an automated machine, and yet I have long been of the opinion that it is perhaps the least considered and at times underappreciated truth in business planning. The impact of neglecting behavior, both patterns and inclinations, can be very costly for your bank account as well as the program or business.
In any relationship, and business itself is often comprised of many relationships, there are two parts; the physical development and the emotional nurturing. Horses are not machines nor are they race cars, horses are emotional athletes, and just like us humans in any field or family, are very often reflections of their environment. When we are scouting for talent, or as I always say, ‘panning for gold’, we at THT Bloodstock seek to identify the psychology of success within the individual as a primary focus point.
Probability of success is based upon the individual’s likelihood to achieve to their physical ability; this likelihood is not housed purely in breeding, body and skill, but also in aptitude. No matter the business structure we are building, the team being assembled, or the relationships we are hoping to build in our lives in general, we must always be mindful that ultimately skill-sets are driven by personality, inclinations are governed by emotional caprice, and stress is filtered by the psycho-sensory system. The number one thing to consider in my opinion; what is the probability that the horse being scouted has the mental capacity to optimize its physical abilities and breeding. In human terms it could be compared to hiring someone based not just on “book” smarts, but “street” smarts, real life abilities; can your hire in effect, think on their feet?
The mental capacity of the equine controls the physical output of the athlete.
Any business model that does not incorporate the impact of behavioral economics is short sighted. How much time and money have been wasted away by only looking at half the picture, half the horse, and thus not completing the relationship. If the horses (or humans) we invest in for our programs were machines and their personality of zero impact, then any horse with the ‘right page’ and the ‘right body-type’ would certainly go on to find that expected success, just like every person in a room with the same degree would perform the exact same in their jobs. But this is most obviously not the case.
I feel that the very best investment strategy, the most effective use of dollars per probability, and the most responsible way to acquire, is to think of horse acquisitions as a job fair, or perhaps an NFL Combine for horse athletes. You narrow the field of applicants and hopefuls based upon physical requirements; skill and ability, and then you take this short-list of prospects and narrow this down by working to identify those with the psychologies most suited for their physical fulfillment as well as best suited for your long term goals.
I have long felt that many programs repeat their sufferings because they take the same approach each and every time, making investment choices based on only half the information that is attainable is to me a gross misappropriation of funds and irresponsible investing. Horse racing is a game inherently fraught with countless things that can go wrong even when you do everything ‘right’, and so if you can chip away the element of pure chance by adding both parts of the two part horse, mental and physical, to your scouting process, why wouldn’t you? In a world where not every investor can stock-pile in numbers to increase the chances of success, information, not numbers, is their key to success.
Another very important aspect is the fit; how will your prospective athlete or hire ‘fit’ in the environment that is your business. We must absolutely remember that environmental impacts along the way can shape-shift the emotions; how will the horse handle the unforeseen? Environment is far more than a location after all, it is an attitude. Whenever we are considering the horse, as much as possible, we also try very hard to consider what environment the horse is going to be in and how will this impact its likelihood of succeeding. No smart GM or Executive should hire any individual who they feel cannot emotionally handle the realities they will face, when you do this it is a liability. But I find in horses that quite often this very real emotional side is only slightly if at all, given the weight of consideration that it should be given.
It’s a bad investment strategy to put the wrong emotional components into the ‘right’ physical machine. A lack of flexibility in a business plan is also a bad investment strategy. Not every horse athlete should be coached the same; one must develop the athlete while nurturing the horse. It’s the ‘grooming’ of an employee to move up; this is not based purely on their physical skill but rather their personality. By the same token coaching the two part horse for physical ability without grooming their emotional strengths can lead the horse straight to a plateau of achievement that may well be below their actual level. Physical ability is achieving, mental fortitude is over-achieving. The same race car driven by two different people, one a NASCAR driver the other not, will be able to achieve for both but only over-achieve for one. To give yourself the best chance to compete, in other words, you want to consider who will be driving and how well they can optimize the ability within.
Applying behavioral economics properly also means following through once they are in the fold. When a horse is selected with the combined information of physical and mental, they should also be transitioned into a program that has the same vision. Just like it is important in any relationship emotional wellness plays a very big part in physical fulfillment and goal achievement; any owner who wants to increase their probability of success should pay close attention to the details of how the environment created translates to how the environment is interpreted. The reason that greatness can come from even the most obscure places is because it is not the actual place, but the attitudes in it. Simply because you take your child to a fancy high tech batting cage does not automatically mean that he or she will be a better hitter than the kid who had to take pitches from his mom or dad in the back yard with an old bat.
The application of behavioral economics looks beyond what is, and see’s what could be, without the prejudice of appearance based caprice.
Communication is the foundation of success, and emotional communication is the highest and purest form. In a world of emails, texting and emotionless dialogue we too often are removed from being responsible for the impact of our words. This is not a convenience with horses any more than is with any team members or in any family. Using behavioral economics in your investment strategy must come with the element of communication at its core because what is being communicated can be skewed by how it is being communicated. I am of the opinion that emotional communication is the primary form for horses just like it is with people (the proof is inherent in the human/horse relationships over all time) and body language is the by-product of “thought”, for lack of a better term. It’s about relationships every step of the way, and the strength of every relationship, and the fabric of every team, is based upon the ability to communicate. How many break-ups or disbanded programs, or unfulfilled ability, has its root and weaknesses traced to a lack of communication in some form or another.
From how you communicate your product to the market, to how a groom approaches a stall and every place in between, emotional communication is the choreographer of the “attitude of environment” regardless of the location or circumstances. You want a team around you assembled because they seek to better themselves, because it is not what someone does but how they do it, which defines them and this is a governing factor of team success.
From weanling to refined athlete there are two parts of the horse juxtaposed, one we see in action, and one we often only see in reaction. At THT Bloodstock we are motivated by a visionary framework, determined to challenge what is with what could be by focusing on the horse’s emotional strengths, sensory soundness and blending their ability to optimize their physical attributes. Making an investment with only half the information available being considered never made a lot of sense to me, especially in a business where so many things can go wrong.
Scouting talent, “panning for gold”, is more than seeking out ability, it is seeking out the emotional aspects that both sustain and fulfill that ability. Whether in a business of people or a business of horses, the economics of behavior, simply make sense.
"Innovation knows no boundaries, only vision..."
|Posted on June 30, 2015 at 4:55 PM|
Psycho-Sensory Overview: Direct Focus
The Dynamics of Comprehension & Reaction in the Equine Athlete
Kerry M Thomas
At THT we continue to work toward the advancement of our research in equine athletics and the roll the sensory system and psycho-sensory system plays on stress management and overall performance. This work has brought forth many what are for me revolutionary findings and to better describe them a new language of sorts has become the by-product, as it helps me explain the things I am finding.
Over the last year the focus, which has always been centered in the herd dynamics, has been drawn toward an effort to understand and embrace the functionality of the control center of the physical body; the psychological horse and the management of emotional stress. Born from this effort is the new term Direct Focus and it’s definition, the result of a long and ongoing sojourn into the equine psyche.
Direct Focus: The singular point of focus at any given moment upon one point of stimuli or perceived stimuli. *The equine sensory system is a complex super highway of identification, interpretation and surveillance. Focusing on singular points, everything else in the sensory field is experienced peripherally; making smooth sensory transitions important. This is vital for an animal designed to live in herds in open spaces and is a key component to becoming a herd leader and accomplished athlete. Mid level horses depend upon their peers in the herd to complete their sensory circle. One of the main reasons the herd environment offers a sense of security.
Any professional athlete and their peers know all too well the importance of and the difference between being physically prepared and mentally capable. This is an overlay that crosses boundaries between different sports and indeed, as it were, different species of athletes like the horse, at least in my opinion. Thus I sought to determine these differences; recognizing the athletes who have them is one thing, I wanted to know where they were rooted and how they translated.
Different disciplines require their own unique sensory strengths in collaboration with the specific and desired physical strengths. The benefits of sensory soundness and overall emotional wellness in the equine athlete is a thing that should never be overlooked; herd dynamics plays such an important role in the herd animals' normal life it is just as impacting when they're an athlete as not.
Whether it be Quarter Horse racing or Thoroughbred Racing, for example, one of the areas that can cause a great deal of stress for even the most talented, is in the gate; just like someone who feels anxiety right before going on stage. Understanding the stress management of the emotional horse and managing the physical development of the athlete, requires split-level thinking.
In order to understand the total horse I knew that I had to see the horse in two parts, the physical and the psychological. I have said it a thousand times and for me it is an essential reality; horses are emotional athletes and are often a reflection of their environment. When I study any individual equine psychology, I am seeking to peer deeply into that reflection. It is for me a form of reverse engineering, and I cannot peer very deeply without myself hopping on that sensory super-highway. I am a simple minded man inasmuch as when I study the horses’ reactions, whether they’re perceived to be positive or negative, I want to know the why behind the how.
Having focused what seems like endless hours of study on the equine sensory system and its cohesive manager, the psycho-sensory system (the psychological interpretation of delivered stimuli) in individual parts I began to realize I was only ‘seeing’ so much. There were still layers to the onion, and oddly enough, these only began to emerge in clarity for me when I took the individual senses and their abilities, and mixed these ingredients of the horse all together in collaborative experience.
What I found was a better understanding of those pieces when looking at their complete relationship with one another. The sensory system is an environmental intelligence gathering network; each sensory aspect working independently of but in conjunction with, their counterparts. What this does is allow the horse primary and secondary focus points. The primary focus can target specific stimuli to be identified and more intently studied, thus funneled in to the psycho-sensory for interpretation. The secondary focus defaults to the roll of periphery surveillance during the time of interpretation, and unlike the primary focus aspect which is singular in nature, hence the term Direct Focus, the surveillance team, in the high functioning horse psychology, can sift through multiple stimuli in the environment at the same time. This in affect is an alternating focus. If you are familiar with electricity, you will note the juxtaposed analogies of AC/DC, because from my point of view, the sensory system works in a similar fashion.
For a simple example of this, note the differences between an over reactive, easily startled horse and one that is not. The stress filtration system of one is far more efficient than the other.
The sensory system itself is the set of tools the horse has, but we all know that not every horse is the same, these are not race cars, they are as different as you and I more often than not. This is because in nature, the herd prey animal is a template with the same physical set of tools more or less, but unlike the individual predator with highly refined management of their tools, not all horses access their abilities in the same way.
The reason for this is based in the evolution of the species. Horses are herd animals and they have each other to depend upon, and in any efficiently functioning group there is a natural hierarchy of leadership, a system of communication, experience and ability that separates each as an individual. Not unlike the sensory system itself, where we have primary and secondary focus manifested in the whole of the environment, horses themselves have primary leaders and secondary herd horses from which to help in surveillance. This is indeed a powerful format for survival and is the reflection of the herd within the individual. When I began to embrace this, it was for me a revolutionary ‘aha’ moment.
In our work at THT Bloodstock, where our focus is first their mental aptitude, herd dynamics and sensory soundness, I had to disseminate this research into athletic applications in order to be able to identify what psycho-sensory system matched with a particular physical was going to make an effective athlete. Breaking apart the puzzle further and looking at my findings regarding herd makeup, that roughly 85% of horses are comprised of what I refer to as mid-level herd horses, I had to answer a few questions; what makes them different, what separates the hierarchy, and why aren’t siblings of same Sire and Dam, nearly exactly the same each and every time?
We look at thousands of horses a year and I myself have looked at and profiled and studied well over ten thousand individuals in places across the globe, and the one thing every horse had in common was, they looked like a horse with very few “species based” physical differences. The other thing they all have in common, each one was different in some way or other, in their unique personalities. For all intents and purposes, the same physical template housed uniquely different horses.
The differences are often esoterically hidden, housed within only one part of the two part horse; the emotional horse.
Mid Level horses’ sensory functionality has what I dub ‘potholes’ interrupting an otherwise smooth sequential transition of information across the sensory aspects before it’s funneled into the psychology for translation. Potholes become what I call sticking points and generate emotional stress in increasing amounts the longer the divide between identification and interpretation; disrupting learning, training, body control, stress management etc., and is often only filtered out by the horse with a rippling of the body, in other words loss of purposeful motion; body control, or rather, action versus reaction.
I often use when I’m afield the analogy of the rubber band to help create a visual of this happening. As a basic example, imagine rubber bands as sensory tentacles of sorts, spider webbed out in all directions surveying the environment, and as you’re moving past new stimuli you latch on to identify it. If you’re having issues interpreting what it is, you will default to another sense, especially since you’re moving, and when there are gaps in your sensory transitions, you cannot “hand-off” the stimuli fast enough to keep your mind ahead of your body, and all the while the rubber band stretches, creating emotional tension. As the stress increases, it ultimately begins to impact your efficiency of motion, your “pace”, even your direction, and certainly your speed, making you “hang” in mid-air as it were, until there is either at length a proper interpretation and you move on or, there is a violent release; the rubber band snapping back rippling the body, physically processing and relieving tension and stress.
This situation causes drag in the psycho-sensory processes, and this lag, for a horse moving through space, is like driving down the road at night and instead of the headlights pointing forward they’re inexplicably attached to an object that, through physical movement, is suddenly in a different position giving the impression of stationary objects to be in motion… attacking position perhaps… and leaving your senses behind the forward direction of your physical momentum. What would you do? You’d slow down too, and only after you satisfied yourself the object isn’t a problem, would you re-focus forward and pick up your speed again.
In the field I call this process “filtering” which I alluded to earlier; one of the most important clues I look for in any horse whether at a sale or on a race track is the speed at which the sensory system locates stimuli and subsequently how efficiently the psycho-sensory filters the information. This happens in a plethora of forms in a multiplicity of variations, and is the cornerstone of sensory soundness.
Gaps in the sensory sequence, while often paralyzing in fleeting moments and causing the horse to be “bumpy” does not automatically mean that said horse, though unlikely ever to see natural herd leadership in its future, cannot be a fine and accomplished athlete within their, what I call, performance box. Understanding your horse and how they are interpreting their world and their most likely responses to stimuli in their sensory aspects; singularly and together, will help you find achievable goals and coaching styles that fit them.
The more limited ability any horse has to mentally keep ahead of themselves physically, the more likely there is for a ceiling on their versatility and natural pattern of motion; which is inherently managed by the psycho-sensory system.
When you have horses with great physical ability but who hits bumps in the road, having sensory potholes in certain areas, you have horses that are naturally inclined to be mid level herd horses (not to be confused with middle of the road athletic abilities) and therefore they, in a natural herd dynamic, seek the assurance and leadership of their peers to fill in the gaps in the sequence. Like many parts of a machine, when all working together it is apparently seamless, but when taken in pieces quickly can be seen any limits of individuality.
This harkens back to the fact that we are dealing with two pieces of the same horse; physical and emotional. The physical horse is relative to the actual foot distance of a race, the emotional horse is relative to the Time In Motion (TIM) in seconds or minutes, required to complete a physical task. Ideally you want the emotional horse to be fresh enough to complete the physical distance with energy and grit to spare.
Some thoroughbreds, like many of the better Eventing and Dressage horses I have profiled over the years, didn’t make the races all that great because they lacked the physical speed and overall ability required for racing, yet their psychology always was ahead regardless, and thus Eventing, for example, became a perfectly natural psychological fit. I look for the same earmarks when I’m looking at or for, therapy horses.
In order to coach up an otherwise fine athlete, I personally never desire to go directly to the use of any sensory impediments like blinkers or shadow rolls etc., I’m always fearful of protracted applied “tunnel vision” being a cause of undue stress and worry and of exacerbating uncertainty in the horse, causing bad habits or sensory dependencies long term. That is not to say that under no circumstances should they be used. I have personally experienced cases where sensory impediments assist, like blinkers say, in actually removing stress. However I personally advocate a great deal of thought be put into why they are used and to what purposes, and for what result. I always have the concern, are we only putting a Band-Aid on and not addressing the real issues: Like placing a board across a stream to get across once or twice as opposed to trying to build a bridge with mental coaching and nurturing. I rather seek to build a positive psychological bridge when practicable.
If you think of these situations from a herd dynamic point of view, as care-giver and coach, it is your job to know that you’re the buffer; you’re the herd peer leading through trepidation when needed, sharing the leadership when that is best. If you work as a unit with the horse, armed with a true understanding of their psychology, you can become the trusted default leader with subtle cues any time the horse shows a little hesitation or an issue in sensory interpretation. Horses collaborate with one another, most especially those in the middle 85%, so it is best that you adopt your part of this collaborative.
The elite, high functioning psycho-sensory system is far less common and quite often is so smooth in its ability to identify, interpret, filter and respond, all while maintaining a nearly 360 degree sensory field of surveillance, that these horses are nearly invisible to the naked eye. This is not by mistake, but rather by natural design.
In working to study and dissect the intricate working nature of the herd, and get a real understanding of the functionality of the hierarchy in place, I had to also answer the question of how do these groups maintain sustainability over time when they are at least in large part, codependent on the leaders, of which there are few. How does nature offset and minimize the otherwise randomness of say a Mountain Lion stalking the herd from taking out the leader and affectively cutting off the head of the snake? The answer is simplistic in form and profound in function; Mother Nature conceals her leadership.
Elite herd dynamics, high functioning sensory systems, hi-speed filters and accurate surveyors make for a horse that very rarely over reacts and when startled recovers and filters swiftly, and learns from it. Affective emotional filtering limits the physical filtering process, which limits unnecessary or superfluous body language, which in turn helps absorb chaos in the herd and bring order, as well as re-directs any potential predatory focus from them to the less capable members, members who prolong their reactions and draw the attention and target of the Mountain Lion on the Butte eying up dinner.
Put into motion, high herd dynamic horses are almost always entirely sensory and psychologically well ahead of their bodies in all directions at the same time and seem to move through chaos and react to things even before they happen. This ability to stay on task, to interpret and delegate alternating focus on multiple stimuli under surveillance while maintaining a singular focus on a point of inquiry, juxtaposed with and allowing for physical efficiency, is the unshakable ease inherent in Direct Focus ability. It is the capacity to “slow things down” under stress, all great athletes appear to have this unique ability; they maintain and adjust with ease of body control and “re-kick” with the best while deflecting stresses in the chaos of motion.
It is important when considering a horse at sale, private purchase or breeding, that the two parts of the horse are studied individually and then together. Mid level horses can achieve to their physical abilities, elite horses can quite often achieve beyond them. The horse with psychological versatility should never be underappreciated.
|Posted on May 6, 2015 at 8:35 AM|
2015 Kentucky Derby
(The following is the introduction piece written for the KY Derby 141 Analysis)
Learning is a constant evolution by its very nature, and it is not only the cornerstone of our work and vision at THT Bloodstock but also for me as a person. Growth can only be measured by the transformation of itself from one thing to another based upon experience even if at the time those experiences are a mystery and you know not what might emerge from them. It is the mystery of the horse that drives my passion; not what has been discovered, but what is yet to be.
As we now have moved into year five of our Kentucky Derby Analysis I want to once again thank you, both the new and the returning buyer of this product, for doing so. On behalf of both Pete Denk and I, the appreciation we have for your support and interest in the efforts we make cannot be overstated. The development of these profiles for the Derby is a monumental task, but a labor of love to be sure and also a chance for us to apply more of the things we continue to learn in our endless journey studying equine psychology and the Herd Dynamics.
Kentucky Derby 141 is flush with upper level herd dynamics and anything but easy to differentiate. Our view into this inner world of the individual horse has been greatly enhanced over the last year as we collect and track our data from thousands of horses both evaluated at auction and in our work profiling performances. We continue to build this bank of knowledge and have expanded to include a growing list of Stallion Profiles we make available for breeding purposes and progeny/weanling research.
This year’s study afforded us a unique opportunity to include where possible our auction evaluation notes. There were several athletes that we evaluated in the sales environment and made our herd dynamic short list who distinguished themselves on the Derby Trail. Having had the opportunity to study these horses in depth as they mentally grow has taken our work to a new level. After several years of hard work and study we have built a growing database of ingredients to monitor how these translate to athletic ability. We continue to chisel down the primary focus points in our unique evaluation system with practical applications found both in the profiles we produce and the services we offer.
I have long held fast to the belief that patterns of behavior translate to patterns of motion, that sensory soundness and the efficiency of the psycho-sensory system, mentality, is the key to both adaptability and stress management. As emotional athletes, horses are often a reflection of their environment, and like any athlete in any sport, the ingredients of greatness lay just as much in the psychological as they do in the physical. And, just like in other professional sports, the closer the athletes become in their physical abilities, the dividing factor begins to shift to their psychological strengths; things we call, grit, will-power, class, heart.
The mental capacity of the equine controls the physical output of the athlete.
In order for a horse to move freely and efficiently into space their sensory system must first clear the path as it leads the body; the sensory super highway is the pilot steering the vessel if you will. The horse’s capacity to optimize physical ability, or even rise above it, lay within the efficiency of their psycho-sensory system. A natural pattern of motion is a physical reflection of naturally occurring psychological rhythms, this emotional energy distribution is innately even allowing for the optimization of physical ability. The sensory system must identify stimuli and then funnel the information into the psyche where that stimulus is then interpreted. Proper interpretation allows for a smooth and sequential purposeful motion. At a high rate of physical speed in the midst of herd chaos and stress, the efficiency of this rapid-fire sequence is tested and thus begins to separate the horses over a period of time-in-motion within their natural leadership roles, their herd dynamics. There’s a big difference between horses whose psycho-sensory system leads their body and of those that do not.
If the sensory system, the ‘radar-egg’ around the horse did not have influence over the physical horse, the horse then would simply be a machine of no reaction. Blinkers, shadow rolls, screens… would be sensory modifiers never developed because they would have no effect. The horse walking in a sale environment being asked to walk faster by the use of a broom would not react to it, nor would the horse respond to your intentions, your emotions, your body language, they wouldn’t show signs of stress or fear or look playful in the pasture. These are real things, they really happen, they impact the horses daily life, they impact the horses ability to perform.
I personally feel that every horse should have the opportunity to excel and grow with the full use of their natural sensory systems without inhibitors. I think once you gain a full understanding of the psychology of your athlete a coaching-up program that fits them individually offers a healthier longevity. I feel too, that because the sensory system (identifying) and psycho-sensory system (interpretational) leads the physical horse through space, mental coaching and sensory enrichment should supersede that of the physical. Let the body catch-up to the mind, not the other way around. This is the basis for the old adage, “be patient”. Like ourselves, individual horses learn, grow, and season, to the beat of their own unique drum. Nurture the horse, develop the athlete.
I adhere to a common mantra in my work, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, so if the sensory system can optimize the physical, it can also pinion it. The inability to translate information and adapt quickly to changing environments ultimately begins to chip away at any physical advantage the horse has; especially in elevated competition, most especially in classic distance races. Of course, in a horse race comprised of elite athletes anything can happen, so we must look at the body of work and at consistency of performance. Our job at THT Bloodstock is not to determine what the horse is, but to do the detective work necessary to identify who the horse is; scouting potential is about projecting the future, and because the psyche manages the growth patterns, gaining an in-depth understanding of that psyche is essential to that projection. Our work is not that of saying who will and who will not, but rather in evaluating probability by focusing on sensory soundness and mental aptitude, the command center of the athlete.
When it comes to applying the herd dynamics to handicapping, psychological versatility should not be underappreciated. As you go through the following profiles of the Derby Contenders, and as you put together the pieces of your own puzzle and plays, we work to offer you another window from which to see the race, not as a whole group, but as individuals who thus make up the whole.
When studying a horse I care less about where the horse finishes physically in a given race than I do about where they’re finishing psychologically against their peers. When you look for things that key you in on psychological growth patterns you begin to unveil the emerging character of the equine athlete’s one to the other. These growth patterns are in my opinion useful to note when handicapping a field such as the Kentucky Derby as it’s like putting together a puzzle of both athleticism and psychological versatility in varying environments. I always lean toward the horse whose psychological ‘speed’ and rhythms are the same regardless of the speed of the physical body.
Another essential ingredient lay in the area of influence. High level horses have the ability to influence other horses without themselves being influenced. The difference between elite herd dynamic athletes and their subaltern counterparts lies in the area of their ability to impress their will upon the world around them. Horses with elite minds can supersede physical expectations; mid-level horses can achieve to them.
It is vitally important to keep in mind when looking at individual profiles that a snap-shot of the physical placement of a group of horses at the end of a race does not always indicate the natural herd dynamic hierarchy of them individually. I never get too excited by ‘a’ performance, but by the aforementioned growth patterns in juxtaposed performances. Circumstances can dictate physical location; herd dynamics allows them to manage that.
This year’s Derby has in my opinion a deep collection of highly capable herd dynamics and mental profiles, leaving us much to consider in the smallest of ingredients. Separating the top tier horses in herd dynamic order is not unlike splitting hairs. For me the challenge is very exciting and as I always say, on any given day…; it is our goal with this report to offer a deeper window into the psychological and sensory aspects of the individual athletes. I look for patterns in their psychological rhythms and patterns of motion and think of these in terms of probability; how many times out of ten say, does one particular herd dynamic trump another at a mile and a quarter of time-in-motion. I have always felt that psychological versatility is made possible by sensory soundness and the lynchpin that makes a horse tactical; the ability to change gears, adapt and react to sudden changes and stresses mentally paves the way for the body to follow, taking full advantage of talent and speed.
On a personal note I have to say, looking ahead from where I now sit, I am excited and thankful, energized and tirelessly seeking to peer deeper into the window of the invisible. The growth we are experiencing and the awesome amount of detailed data we have been able to collect and track allowing us priceless research to learn from, both where we were right and where we were wrong, has us zeroing in on what I call the ingredients of greatness. This is due in large part to the tireless and dedicated efforts of Pete Denk, for whom I’m most grateful.
As a team we continue to take this work to new places and we look forward to those advancements we’ve yet to discover. Whether at a sale where the scouting process for us is not unlike an NFL Combine, or evaluating a herd of contenders seeking those who show the mental fortitude to fully optimize their athleticism, my thinking is always forward. I never look at what is, without then considering what could be, something imparted to me from my heroes, my parents, who taught their children to have fearless imaginations and to live in a forward direction.
Visit our new website THT Bloodtsock and enjoy a dig around and most certainly get in touch with us if there is anything we can do for you. In a financial game of emotionally charged athletes, the economics of behavior simply makes sense.
Thanks Pete, thanks Brisnet, and most importantly, thank you.
“Never underestimate the value of Emotional Intelligence in High Herd Dynamic athletes.”
|Posted on January 30, 2015 at 7:35 AM|
Panning For Gold
Kerry M Thomas
The thoroughbred sale is a very specific and controlled environment, for the most part, where human will creates a show of horse flesh. The business aspect of the industry is in full bloom at the auctions, and it is easy to get caught up in “the way things are done”.
Among the early challenges for me personally when I first started to get my feet wet at these sales was staying removed from the typical to best apply the natural. The auctions are filled with combustible emotions, both horse and human. Sifting through the fog to get back to the basics is for me the key to recognizing what is seen and comprehending what is felt.
Out of all the tools I draw upon when inspecting horses, instinct is the most important. For tucked away behind the dust clouds of the hustle and bustle, there is nature, represented in perhaps the most beautiful form I personally know, the horse.
This is not a car lot auction; horses are emotional athletes, if you take away ‘feel’ from your inspection process, you are in danger of inhibiting your vision of what could be. So I buckle up my tool belt of the natural herd dynamics as I have learned them, separate myself as much as possible from the human elements, and embark on the journey of discovery; the goal, to develop a new approach in finding the world’s most capable equine athletes.
It has always seemed there had to be an accessory to the primary tools used to evaluate young horses at auction – physical conformation and pedigree. For if not, the prototypes that are bred would fulfill their planned destiny each and every time as superior individuals.
Of all the unique and savvy tools Mother Nature uses to aid and ensure the propagation of a herding species, like the horse, perhaps none is more interesting to me than that of concealed leadership. One of the early questions I needed to answer during my research afield was; what is the key to survival for a group of prey animals living in plain sight; the answer to that question, ’invisible leadership.’
We use the study of herd dynamics and social structures, communication and inspection of the psycho-sensory system to determine sensory soundness at every step. And in no arena are these tools of our trade more important than at auction. An understanding of herd dynamics is at the core of the work we do at sales, and here is why.
We at THT Bloodstock are given the task for our clients of scouting the elite minded, very high herd dynamic athletes. This panning for gold oft times means after we zero in on a short list of prospects, we drill continually deeper to, in essence, see how high on the herd dynamic scale a particular horse is likely to climb once placed in a racing program. Because horses are herd animals instinctive to living in groups, the number of elite herd leaders compared to the overall number of horses in the herd, is very small. It is in nature, thus so it is, at auction.
I look at an auction much the same way I look at a basic herd afield; with the understanding that the vast majority of horses, roughly 85% in my opinion, are naturally designated as mid-level herd animals. This does not mean they can’t be athletic, but it does mean they will not be both athletic and elite minded.
Unlike loner predatory animals blessed with a full and high functioning set of skills to survive alone for most of their lives, the horse survives best when living in a group. Herd animals are generally made up of a group of average individuals, albeit each one unique and housing their own strengths and weaknesses. Alone they are vulnerable; together they are formidable. This is no accident, Mother Nature provides for the predator and prey. It is a balance in nature that prey outnumber predator. In order for this balance to exist affectively there is necessary natural culling.
In every herd there is a hierarchy, in every hierarchy there is a struggle in the ranks, within this struggle there is structure. If you are a mountain lion positioned on a butte, overlooking a herd of horses, you are drawn to what catches your attention, and what catches your attention most are infirm stragglers and those with overly expressive body language. This too, is by design.
The infirm or injured are obvious targets and moving up from that bottom are the lowest ranked in the herd hierarchy. These include the young and the “loudest talkers”, those horses struggling to move up. These insecure animals are easy to spot because they make themselves a spectacle, especially during times of stress and panic. When a pride of lions spills into herd animals, they are seeking to separate the weak links that they have spent hours zeroing in on. The lowest animals are targeted, while the higher-level animals survive to lead the masses. The higher you climb the herd hierarchy the less obvious expression you see in the individual.
Looking out into a field, just because a horse stands out or physically pushes other horses around does not automatically make them leaders.
It is with all this in mind, that we enter the thoroughbred sale environment and begin our scouting. Like the lion on the butte, we are seeking… but we are seeking that which is not so easily noted; concealed leadership.
As has been mentioned, the number of elite herd dynamic horses at any auction is naturally low, comparable in percentage to the number found in natural wild herd environments -- the same template, different environment. If say 5% of the horses inspected make the herd dynamic grade, this number shrinks even more when all of the physical requirements for racing prospects are applied.
This should not be confused with the number of actual “athletes” there are housed within any herd; be it a herd of 10 wild horses or 1,000 sale horses. By their very nature, horses are athletic, and the thoroughbred in my opinion is the most elite of all horse breeds when it comes to natural athleticism. The one thing about herd dynamics and the different individuals that make up the body of the herd itself, as heretofore mentioned, each ‘average’ horse will have their own strengths and weaknesses, housed within the study of their herd dynamic and psycho-sensory system are clues to those athletic strengths and weaknesses.
The horses that meet all the requirements and jump through all the hoops are exciting and special animals, natural leaders carrying all the hope they will be equally elite in athleticism. A horse with elite psycho-sensory and herd dynamics without accompanying physical ability is not going to be a star on the race track. But, especially for mares, these horses are not devoid of merit and can be useful in helping stamp their progeny. Behavioral genetics are just as important a part of the breeding puzzle as are physical genetics.
An efficient psycho-sensory system and corresponding high herd dynamic plays an important role in the horse athlete’s ability to adapt to new environments (ship, surface changes, rigors of training etc.,). The ability to properly manage stress without loss of physical efficiency is an essential element to longevity, versatility, and trainability.
We have to keep in mind how herd dynamics work, and how they translate to our world of racing. Animals that have certain elite characteristics but are weak in other areas may not be as versatile as some other athletes, but this does not mean they cannot be very talented athletes within the box of their skill set.
Another highly important factor of what separates the horses in herd dynamics is influence. Influence plays a major role in everything the horses do, and we measure and evaluate influence as a key ingredient to our profiling process.
High level horses have the ability to influence other horses without themselves being influenced. The difference between elite herd dynamic athletes and their subaltern counterparts lies in the area of their ability to impress their will upon the world around them. You see the effect of the mid-level mind all the time in racing -- horses hang off the hip of another, run up but fail to penetrate the space of another horse, failing to pass. Some otherwise speedy horses can seem to get lost in the crowd… they are often lost in the crowd of herd dynamics and influence.
Studying the various forms of influence one horse has over another, or many others, is an essential aspect of and clue to the competitive nature of any horse. This is not to be confused with purely physical influence; ‘loudly’ seeking to run a horse from his or her space. It has to do with the quiet and very subtle acquiescence of other horses. Reading the sensory responses of other horses offers incredible insight to the quiet but powerful influence inherently displayed. This is also very much an indicator of the tactical ability the horse has which directly relates their ability to manage and assimilate to the herd chaos of a race.
High level herd dynamic horses do not always have to be the fastest, especially when we’re looking at the classic distances. These horses have other assets that allows them to take advantage of any weaknesses their peers may have, it allows them to conserve their emotional energy and hit the gas pedal at the right times, and it allows them to influence horses around them, impacting the final outcome. The horse with this high level intent is a powerful tool in the hands of a skilled jockey.
Horses that rely more on their physical speed over herd dynamic tact can certainly be very athletic, but I call these horses “athletes in a box” because their sensory system and inability to truly influence other horses pinions their overall versatility. There is indeed a wide ranging array of athletic psychologies, many of them useful if placed in their proper boxes.
One of the more exciting things for us at THT Bloodstock is that after thousands of horses inspected and added to the data base for research, these athletic psychologies are beginning to make themselves clear. We’re beginning to zero in on key corresponding psychological/sensory strengths and their physical counterpart. In other words, we’re blending both the physical considerations with the psychological considerations to ascertain if the horse in question has enough sensory soundness to get the most from their physical abilities.
The key difference in my opinion between highly elite psycho-sensory, herd dynamic horses and their subalterns is in both stress management/assimilation ability and in that their elite psychologies allows them the opportunity to get more from their physical abilities than they could otherwise while impressing themselves upon others. You can call it class, grit, drive, pain threshold, or heart, but these concealed leaders have a unique presence about them.
Horses with elite minds can supersede physical expectations; mid-level minded horses can achieve to them.
I have long felt that the most underappreciated aspect of thoroughbred racehorses lies within their psycho-sensory system, their essential behavioral genetic sequencing. Much emphasis, for good reason, is placed on their page and their physicality, but if these were the only determining factors, then the buyers with the deepest pockets would simply get all the good horses, and the action at the track would be very much like a NASCAR race. But horses are not racecars; and as emotional athletes are often reflections of their environment.
One of the great advancements we have made at THT Bloodstock is that we have begun to zero in on the psychologies and herd dynamics that are anything but random. Just like every individual in the herd plays an important role, so does every individual have specific traits. When these match up correspondingly to physical ability, even the mid-level herd athletes can be very good race horses; ‘in their performance box’. (Knowing what these strengths and weakness are must also be applied to the development of the horse. A mental nutrition program specific to their needs is every bit as important to the outcome as is a physical and nutritional program. Feed the horse’s mind and body.)
Ability – mental & physical -- supersedes pedigree & auction price in times of stress and chaos. If a buyer is not mindful of or misunderstands the importance of the horse’s mental and behavioral traits, he or she may walk right by what could be the greatest find of his or her life. Greatness can emerge from obscurity.
|Posted on January 24, 2015 at 4:45 PM|
Psychology of Motion
Psycho-Sensory System Relative To Injury
(Part Two of the Previous Post)
Kerry M Thomas
There are always collateral pieces of information we gather along the way during our work at sales panning for gold. Something that has emerged for me personally is the reciprocity between physical stress and emotional stress. We’re always seeking to understand how well the psycho-sensory system manages the body, which is very important when coupled with the physical inspections because we’re asking the additional question; how hard will this horse be on themselves?
It is a truth at every sale, there are horses that a lot of folks will pass over because of some physical issue or another, be those major or minor issues or issues that because of individual caprice turns a buyer away. Yet down the road that very horse pops up on the radar and in spite of the physical “issues”, is racing very well.
I have come to the conclusion that when you have a horse with some minor physical flaws that has you on the fence, the consideration of the herd dynamic and psycho-sensory system plays a huge part.
Because the sensory system has direct influence over physical action/reaction and overall body control, it plays a key role in how hard a horse will be on their body; emotional stress expresses itself physically in knee jerk reactions and loss of purposeful motion, which then opens that door to injuries wider. I also feel then, the opposite is true as well; more sensory soundness, better the self preservation.
An inefficient sensory system that has trouble spots, “sticky” spots when stimulus is being transitioned through the aforementioned sequence of; identification, interpretation, physical response, is like a car hitting a pothole. The rippling and shimmy after you hit the pothole is the physical reaction coming out in not so purposeful motion, and this is the moment when you can get a flat.
When you’re considering a horse that has some minor issues physically it becomes important to investigate the sensory system for any correlating sensory potholes that might exacerbate the issue. I have come to believe, and I am determined to dig into this much deeper in the coming year, that certain sensory potholes have reciprocal physical concerns.
I also believe that even with minor physical concerns, the horse that uses themselves well is less likely to over-stress the areas of concern. Just like we always want the horse to “walk through themselves” physically, I want the horse whose sensory system allows them to “move through themselves freely.”
For example, I believe that it makes total sense that the horse with a sticking spot forward, where the body is moving faster than the psycho-sensory system is interpreting; there will be correlating stress on the body front to back physically because of the way they will react. I also feel the same correlation is true for sensory potholes on the obliques of the horse and in the rear feel of the horse. Anything that creates uncontrolled or non-purposeful physical motion lends itself to physical stress, and thus injury. These are things that I feel are true, and areas of research I intend to continue to investigate.
Going back to the concept that the sensory system leads the way for the body to move into space freely, it also tells the horse where not to go, and what to avoid. When we see horses at the sales that get chased a bit to walk better, most often I see the exact opposite happening. The sensory system, aware of the water bottle or broom in their flank or rear, creates stress in the body and the ears go back, the horse can become skittish, or want to turn or become nearly stuck to the ground… just a small example of the sensory system leading the way or moving them away from, or stopping them dead in their tracks to avoid “attack”.
I personally always ask that the handlers do not apply this sensory pressure, I want to see the natural horse without over-loaded sensory stimuli; I need to get a feel for ‘who’ the horse is to better ascertain what the athlete in them can become.
We must be mindful that unlike race cars, race horses are emotional athletes, and very often are a reflection of their environment. The tools they have to interpret that environment are essential for your chances to succeed. This makes an evaluation of them of great importance, and that is exactly the focus of our work at THT Bloodstock.
There’s always more to come, more work to do, far more research ahead than behind; for the one thing I’ve learned about horses, is that I can always learn more.
|Posted on January 19, 2015 at 11:45 AM|
Psychology of Motion
Psycho-Sensory System Relative To Speed
Kerry M Thomas
Having just returned from the 2015 Keeneland’s January Sale, we at THT Bloodstock had the enjoyable opportunity to take a couple days and visit the now two-year-olds we helped select in the fall of 2014 and observe their training as well as spend a great deal of time speaking with the trainer and team working with the horses.
Our goal is to supply any stable with high herd dynamic, competitive-minded, intelligent athletes by sifting through horses at the sales much like panning for gold. Thus, it is gratifying to see and hear just how “easy, willing, and advanced” the horses in the program are. Everyone likes coming to work, everyone likes riding them, and the team, to a person, takes an emotional interest and personal investment in the part they’re playing in the program because they have horses they love to be around. This kind of nurturing goes a long way.
Seeing the horses click through the coaching steps as if they’ve done it since birth, advancements in training and creative coaching for the individuals has more flavor and can be more easily explored. When the trainer is asked by other trainers how the new horses are doing, does he think he has any good ones who are training well early, he smiles and replies, “all of them”.
This is great news early-on for sure, but the next obvious question of importance I get is, “do high herd dynamic horses, horses with superior psycho-sensory systems, then have the ability to run faster because of it?” I answer this by saying; a sound sensory system alone will not make the horse run ‘faster’ but it will allow the horse to run more efficiently.
Among the more important questions we answer during the inspection process is, does a particular horse have the psycho-sensory system that will optimize his/her physical abilities?
There is a simple but profound three step equation to remember in the process of physical action; first there is the identification of stimulus, then there is the interpretation of those stimuli which is the one-two punch of psycho-sensory, and following that is physical action (or non-action). This process passes the outside world to the inside world of the horse on the sensory super highway in a sequence of transitions. Smooth transitions allow for smooth physical responses in chaos and times of stress. This alone cannot make your horse run faster, but it sure won’t be the reason your horse is not running as fast as its physical body is able. Many strong physical horses under-achieve because of mental issues.
Something else I consider when inspecting horses is how will the horse fit into the herd, in to the team already there, and how coachable is the horse? How will the folks who will have to work with the horse each day like them and get along with them? These may seem like small things, but just like we like to work with people we get along with, we also like to work with horses we get along with. A racing program is one big jig-saw puzzle with multiple ingredients, how those pieces fit has a profound impact on the end-picture we hope to see in the winners’ circle.
A high functioning sensory system allows for a high level of adaptability, translating to coachable athletes.
Here are, in my opinion, a few additional key areas of how sensory soundness and high herd dynamics lend themselves to the overall speed of the horse.
*The aforementioned efficient transitions allow the horse to manage stimuli in motion.
*High functioning psycho-sensory systems allow the mind of the horse to always be ahead of the body; we must keep in mind that it is the sensory system that paves the way for the body to follow. Mother Nature knew what she was doing when she put the sensory system control center in the head and not the tail!!
*High functioning psycho-sensory systems allow for proper psychological growth patterns which control the anticipatory response (see THT Glossary of Terms on website) abilities and environmental assimilation of the horse.
*High functioning psycho-sensory systems allow for controlled physical motion, this purposeful motion in turn allows the horse to fully optimize all of their versatility as well as their tactical ability.
If you consider all of the above working in synchronicity, it is clear that although none of these things will be the elixir that makes any horse physically faster, they absolutely make them more efficient, adaptable, tactical, versatile, and coachable. Like in any sport it comes down to the basics, if your horse can do the fundamentals better; they may just find themselves a few steps ahead.
|Posted on December 17, 2014 at 6:05 PM|
Psychology of Motion
“Nurture the Horse, Develop an Athlete”
Kerry M Thomas
*The following is a collection of ideas, case study details and analysis protocols, theories and what I feel are vital key ‘nuggets’ we’ve discovered along the way in a loosely knitted together fabric about some of what we do. Many points herein stem from ongoing research and cases and will be themselves their own research paper in the future. But I wanted to share this in-house collection of ideas and body of work as is, while we continue our efforts to peer within the window of the invisible.
Over the years one of the most prevailing things I began to see during the course of my study of equine psychology and behavioral genetics was the reciprocal relationship between an individual’s patterns of behavior translated to their pattern of motion. Gaining a detailed map-like comprehension of the horse’s sensory system and how he or she interprets the world around them leads one to a better understanding of the horse and projecting psychological growth patterns. For the race horse, this is vital information especially when we’re doing bloodstock work at sales.
But this is only one aspect, quite often we’re presented with cases or inquiries dealing with the horses that have ‘hit a plateau’ or seem to be ‘stuck’ and under-achievers after showing so much promise. A constant question I ask myself over and over again as a researcher at heart is, why is this so? Why or better yet, how does seemingly the same horse, in the same health and condition, on the same surface, in darn near the same company even… suddenly look like a misfire? I soon began to ascertain from these cases and after building up volume of numbers in case studies over the years, that the answer to the question is profoundly simplistic; it has to do with the Herd Dynamics of the individual, their evolving psychology of motion.
I look at my work much like a detective going into a crime scene, working to take in what is before me, and then recreating the events that lead up to the moment in time. For me, I have spent what seems like a lifetime digging into the “mind of the horse” and I am still learning every day.
But let me back up here a moment, my induction to the evolutionary process of the psychology of motion didn’t just happen, it came about after countless hours (years truthfully) of studying patterns of motion in performances for the Kentucky Derby fields and similar efforts for private clients. I’m often asked what it is that I am looking for when we’re profiling the Derby Field, and for a long time I really couldn’t answer that question concisely because I was just looking at first, to see what things began to emerge. Slowly naturally occurring patterns for each individual horse made themselves clear; stress management, sensory interpretations, environmental awareness, herd influence(s) etc., were all microcosms of the larger picture we see as herd motion, or to take the human notion, a race.
But this is merely one layer, one snapshot in time for that singular experience, each race, indeed each and every workout, is in itself an experience the horse needs to manage, and depending on many things the way they manage the seemingly common stresses of their environment is experienced and processed and shelved as a learned behavior. Now we go deeper into the rabbit hole, for once a horse is peaked physically and in great condition and physical health, we cannot assume there is synchronicity between mind and body, experience and conditioning etc. This is why I am a huge believer in an ongoing mental fitness program.
An individual’s ability to manage stress has a major impact on physical performance and overall ability, period.
The environment is fed through the sensory system, thus an investigation into this area is where we start our detective work. I need to know the sensory soundness level of the individual because this is my first clue into the enigma. A very simple example anyone can see regarding how the impact of environmental interpretations affect body control and movement, i.e. stress; observe how a broom or squirt bottle or emotional anger toward a “stubborn” (scared/uncertain) horse affects them physically. If they were mere machines, movement without emotion; no amount of stress would affect them, it wouldn’t exist, and the sensory system would not be expressive. This is an easy to embrace tangible thing, but we must remember this now is an experience, processed, and shelved as a learned behavior or learned pattern of events. You cannot allow the fact that the emotional horse proves himself to be by his reactions to ‘attack’ stimuli and not allow then that this becomes a part of their inner self, their psychology. It happens to us… it happens to them.
The aforementioned may well have zero impact on the physical growth and conditioning of the athlete, that evolution is based upon a different set of rules and tasks. However, this does impact the psychology and thus influences the growth patterns of that psychology.
An example of how learned experiences and behaviors now benched in the psyche impacts physical output, (aside from the myriad of things easily seen like not eating after a stressful experience and the like) can be found in the horse that seems to jump out of their own skin from its own shadow. To help explain this psychological and sensory aberration I will use an example that is easy to relate to from personal experience.
I think that I am all alone in the barn and I’m walking down the shed row in my own little world thinking about a task at hand and am exiting the barn when suddenly a friend jumps out and scares me. I can tell you that the very next time I’m in that situation or by association in a similar situation, I will mentally be aware and alter my physical pace or route of travel to avoid being frightened again; by association it will affect me. This being an experience processed and shelved. We must keep in mind the reason these things are called ‘learned behaviors’ is because they have been learned from experience. So therefore every experience impacts psychological growth.
When we’re studying and looking for the psychological growth patterns in horses who have raced we look at each race (when we have more than one) as an overall individual experience comprised of many smaller experiences like so many ingredients, in layers one on top of the other. When we break the ingredients down to their individuality we begin to see strengths and weaknesses emerge and begin to translate into what is then the psychology of motion. What we are thus beginning to identify are growth pattern markers. These are vitally important things to look for and monitor, not just for the mental nutrition and advancement of the race horse, but also for projection purposes of the horses ability level going forward into the next race; this is in fact among the study tools we at THT Bloodstock use when putting out our annual Kentucky Derby Report.
Knowing the horse’s psychology is important for knowing the horse; it’s important for properly training the horse forward especially once you’ve reached your physical apex. These are not machines you then just change the oil and the tires and maintain, just like the driver of that car, there is an emotional and reactive element governing performance. And there are many things that can get in the way of proper psychological evolution, or indeed, learning.
During the inspection process especially at sales, we have developed a series of sensory and psychological tests that are very subtle but highly informative. One of the areas is ascertaining the efficiency of the sensory system, which operates independently but together like a sensory chain of events, feeding the psychology with two kinds of experiences; new ones, and similarly shelved ones. Over the years I have learned to see the difference, new experiences display different physical reactions than shelved ones, and within this nano-technologically styled difference you will find assimilation ability (learning ability) or sticking points, breaks in the sequence that I call sensory potholes.
Sensory transition issues (Potholes) are their own unique beast to be sure. Sensory sticking points are growth inhibitors, these are the areas housed within the sensory system to psychological interpretation funnel that are less refined than others. As the horse grows and acquires more experiential layering, any sticking points will fail to evolve properly or at the same rate as others, widening the gap between the sequences, making the pothole longer, deeper, and the resulting ripple effect after its hit, more profound. This inhibits physical output and efficiency, and like a student who excels to 12th grade Math while still struggling with 9th grade English, the growth patterns will be offset. This is vitally important to know when one is considering the purchase of a horse, or one is training a horse and when one is handicapping a horse race.
I believe in compartmentalized mental nutrition along the way, trying to condition the entire horse without grasping the functionality level of the sensory system, the Herd Dynamic, and building a nutrition program for the individual ingredients that makes up the emotional pilot of your airplane, is to me, counter-productive and at the root of many “underachievers” or stagnant race horses. It is very often among the reasons a horse will have a great debut but ‘fizzle-out’ soon after.
When you condition just the physical part the horse, you’re training the horse for a race, but when you work to condition their psychology too, you’re training them for a career.
You cannot expect to evolve your athlete without nurturing the natural evolutionary process of psychological growth.
This is also often the reason you will have inconsistent performances and seemingly inconsistent behavior patterns. When circumstances are faced that are mostly interpreted, experienced, processed in the sensory and mental wheelhouse the world is round, but the next time out or ‘for no reason’ you get the opposite, the world is a jagged edge frustrating piece of glass.
What happens next can be the application of sensory depriving head gear or worse, mind altering pharmaceuticals and “performance” enhancers, or a gelding. But what good does it do to treat the result without first trying to understand the cause? My theory is that it’s better to question, that we then may seek to answer.
There are lots of small examples that I see as windows into a deeper reality. One simple scenario is when we’re inspecting at auction and a horse acts up and I hear someone say to me, “oh he’s feeling good today.” I smile wryly but as I study the happening I do not always see that, I often see a gap in the sensory sequence or a psychological aberration at its root.
When there are potholes encountered, there is stress, when stress is not mentally processed; we have a loss of body control in various forms from loud to subtle to swerving to standing stiff like a fawn in the woods having been startled. When this happens a horse becomes herd dependent for their next move and reaction, and this isn’t what you need in a race horse.
Does getting physical help? Unlikely to; when you have a horse with sticking points in the sensory sequence using physical force to counter or remedy is a violent act that does far more harm than good. And when we shift the talk about things like muscle memory during physical conditioning, we cannot overlook that muscle memory is only as efficient as is the psychology of the operator. Creating a physical powerhouse who is reactionary and aggressive (protective of self) from bad physical handling only develops a horse without tactical control is not unlike a freight train bouncing off the rails. Again, one must nurture the horse, while developing the athlete.
At the end of the day, as the horse grows and accumulates more and more experiences, processed, and shelved, the layering process itself is always evolving, making the decisions made in motion an evolutionary aspect. Just as the physical body changes and evolves with age and maturity, so does the equine psychology with time and learned behaviors and experiences. Because the mental capacity of the equine controls the physical output of the athlete, I feel mental enrichment and mental fitness coaching should as much as possible precede the physical. It’s better for the body to catch up to the mind than the other way around.
When you have the right sensory skill sets you have the foundation for proper psychological growth patterns, versatility and adaptability. Your best bet in cultivating this is to nurture the horse, while you develop the athlete.
|Posted on September 7, 2014 at 8:00 PM|
The Herd Dynamics and Emotional Conformation of Eblouissante
By Pete Denk and Kerry Thomas
With everyone talking about undefeated Eblouissante's second career victory, I thought it would be interesting to analyze her from the standpoint of herd dynamics and emotional conformation with help from my friend and cohort Kerry Thomas.
For those not familiar with Kerry, he is the founder of The Thomas Herding Technique (THT), author of Horse Profiling: The Secret to Motivating Equine Athletes, and a pioneering researcher in the fields of equine communication and herd dynamics, among other things. I am THT's director of equine services. Our company specializes in the study of herd motion (aka a horse race), the minds and emotions of horses, and behavioral genetics.
Kerry emphatically states Zenyatta is the highest level herd dynamic mare he has ever seen, on all levels. So when we talk about how Eblouissante lacks the vision and mental proficiency of her famous half-sister, keep in mind she has nearly impossible shoes to fill.
While no doubt there are some similarities between Zenyatta and Eblouissante, there are vast differences between them when viewed through the lens of emotional conformation herd dynamics. In fact, they are quite different horses.
When Eblouissante bounces out of the gate, she is in the individual dynamic zone. She is immediately looking for another horse to match rhythm with. This is in contrast to Zenyatta, who would break out of the gate in the group dynamic zone and immediately start sizing up the entire herd of motion.
After Eblouissante finds comfort with the nearest horse, she realizes she is in a race. A slight hesitation follows as she transitions to the group dynamic and begins to grasp the bigger picture.
But unlike Zenyatta, Eblouissante relies on the individual dynamic for most of her forward movement. Zenyatta only exerted her individual dynamic when she had to (when she encountered a talented and stubborn foe).
But most of the time, Zenyatta viewed the entire field as a unit to overcome. She could project herself to the lead horses, even when she was a dozen lengths or more behind. Eblouissante has thus far reached the desired destination in both of her starts, but she does it mentally by passing one horse at a time. She is a point-to-point mover.
Eblouissante has been outfitted with blinkers in both of her career starts. Blinkers restrict a horse's ability to take in the big picture. Throughout both of her races, Eblouissante spends a considerable amount of time trying to recognize what is behind her or to either side.
Her head movements in close proximity situations (when another horse is in her space but she cannot see it) indicate she is using her sense of feel to compensate for her restricted vision. She sometimes is confused in terms of what the other horses are doing, and where they are in her space. The result is a drag on Eblouissante's point-to-point releases and forward motion.
Watch Eblouissante's win on Thursday. It is good that she doesn't go backwards when she is unsure of a situation, but notice she idles at various points of the race because she is concerned with a horse next to her, or wonders if there is one coming from behind. Eblouissante has considerable physical ability, and she moves strongly into space when she can clearly see her targets or when she is confident where she is at. But note how she shows lateral motion almost everytime she passes a horse. It is to her credit as a physical athlete that she can overcome that inefficiency.
Now watch Zenyatta's amazing debut race. The distance of six furlongs is far too short, and she has never been in a race before, but notice how quickly she grasps the big picture and how seamless her transitions are. When the field turns for home, she is still in traffic. There are seven horses in front of her, but Zenyatta quickly zeroes in on the horse that is leading the front pack. She is unconcerned with the horses in her immediate proximity. That is the sign of a huge herd dynamic and a strong distance focus ability.
I get chills watching Zenyatta. She shows amazingly clear and smooth transitions from her very first race, and absolutely no lateral or compromised motion. She is in complete control of her environment, because she is interpreting everything perfectly. Instead of matching the rhythm of a horse in her immediate circle, she looked to match and surpass the rhythm of the horses way out in front. That allowed her to overcome huge deficits.
Eblouissante is far more affected by the rhythm of the horse that is closest to her. I asked Kerry why horses, in the wild or in a race, look to match rhythm of motion.
"Rhythm is a matter of herd movement, kind of like a flock of birds. Moving in unison with a partner makes you less likely to be an individual target for a predator. That's instinct, a naturally occurring pattern of motion in all horses. There is comfort to them in mimicking rhythm. High-level horses like Zenyatta can break free of the rhythm of the horses around them and move forward."
So what lies ahead for Eblouissante? Improvement, for one. Her delayed release points will matter less the further she runs, and Kerry thinks 1 1/16 miles is the low end of her stamina range. He profile is indicative of a sweet spot in the 9-10 furlong range.
Eblouissante is a talented athlete. She has probably run speed figures similar to what Zenyatta ran in her first two starts and has room for considerable improvement in her patterns of motion.
There is no reason she won't continue to improve. But as she faces higher dynamic horses, her inefficiencies could hurt her. Because she is an individual dynamic, point-to-point mover, she needs to be efficient in her target-and-release skills.
Eblouissante doesn't have the long-distance, forward focused vision of Zenyatta, or the amazing group dynamic. But few (if any) horses do. Zenyatta had an incredible way of seeing the entire race, knowing what every other horse was doing, and feeding off the herd.
Eblouissante is a graded stakes talent with a bright future, but she has some work to do.
Read more on BloodHorse.com: Click here.
|Posted on September 7, 2014 at 2:00 PM|
New Sire Analysis: Curlin
By Pete Denk
**Original release date: November 14th 2012**
Evaluating young sires is one of my favorite studies, both for my bloodstock work with Thomas Herding Technique (THT) and my handicapping.
Recognizing trends early is a path to value. The earlier you make an accurate read, the better. As evidence mounts, the public gradually catches on.
One of this year's more interesting first-crop sires is Curlin. A two-time Horse of the Year, Curlin won 11 of 16 starts, including the Preakness, Breeders' Cup Classic, and Dubai World Cup.
All of Curlin's wins came on dirt. He finished second to Breeders' Cup Turf winner Red Rocks (Ire) in his only grass race - the 1 3/8-mile Man O'War Stakes - and ahead of another Breeders' Cup Turf winner Better Talk Now and subsequent multiple Grade 1 turf winner Grand Couturier (GB). It was a very good performance considering it was his first turf start and only his second start back from a two-race campaign in Dubai.
In his only start on a synthetic track, Curling finished 4th behind Raven's Pass, Henrythenavigator, and Tiago in the 2008 Breeders' Cup Classic. It was the final race of his career and clearly below his best form. How much Santa Anita's synthetic track contributed to his off effort is debatable. Many dirt horses struggled on that surface, but Curlin also may have been slowing down in the latter half of his ambitious four-year-old campaign.
Curlin was so talented and gritty he probably could have been trained to run on anything, but his stride, tracking speed and powerful, sustained pace played out best on dirt. He won at distances from 7 furlongs to 1 1/4 miles. In addition to a very respectable run at 1 3/8 miles on turf, Curlin also ran admirably at 1 1/2 miles when he lost a head decision to the great filly Rags to Riches in the 2007 Belmont Stakes. Curlin (who was carrying five more pounds than the filly) ran his final quarter mile in the Belmont in about 23-4, one of the fastest in recent history.
When evaluating his progeny, keep in mind that Curlin won his debut in February of his three-year-old season. His peak performances came midway through his three-year-old year through the first half of his four-year-old campaign. Curlin's progeny should not be expected to show their best form at age two.
As of today, Curlin has 12 winners from 37 two-year-old starters. Two of those winners came in Russia.
Here are my notes on his 10 two-year-old winners from America and England:
Savanna La Mar: Filly broke her maiden going 7 furlongs on the turf at Chester. She also finished second in a stake at Sandown and 4th in a Group 3 at Newmarket.
Palace Malice: Probably Curlin's highest regarded colt, Palace Malice ran a pair of quick races last summer in New York. In his debut he finished second to Carried Interest, who came back to finish second in the G2 Futurity Stakes. When Palace Malice broke his maiden in his second start, he beat subsequent Breeders' Cup Juvenile Sprint winner Hightail back to third. No published works since the win, and I read that sore shins ended Palace Malice's juvenile campaign. He is a talented, gritty colt with a potential classic distance aptitude.
Watrugonnadorosie: Broke her maiden in her second career start going 1 1/16 miles over a sloppy sealed surface at Belmont. Note that Curlin was 2-for-2 in the slop, including his powerful 4 1/2-length win in the 2007 Breeders' Cup Classic at Monmouth.
Liberated: Debuted with a nice run going 6 1/2 furlongs in the mud at Ellis Park, then third at the same distance in a strong maiden race on Keeneland's Polytrack. I thought it looked like she didn't relish the Poly that day, although perhaps she just ran into a tough field (2nd-place finisher Flashy Gray came back to win by 10 at Churchill) Switched back to dirt and stretched out to a mile, Liberated broke her maiden nicely at Churchill Downs in her third start.
Flash Forward: Following a pair of poor performances on the turf in New York, they dropped her in for a $50,000 tag and she responded with a gutsy 3/4-length win going 7 furlongs in the slop.
Moulin de Mougin: Finished 8th in her debut on Del Mar's Polytrack, then broke her maiden going 6 1/2 furlongs on the downhill turf. She then faced males when finishing 5th (of 10) in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint Preview. I am interested to see what she can do on dirt and/or going longer.
Lady of Luck: Won her debut at Ellis Park going 5 ½ furlongs on dirt despite looking like a route horse. Under a hustling ride from the start, she settled in between horses, then produced a strong, sustained rally to win going away by 2 ½ lengths. In her second start she ran third in a nW1X going 1 1/16 miles on Keeneland's Polytrack. This was the second time at the Keeneland meet I thought a Curlin struggled a bit with the synthetic surface. Lady of Luck has some quality and she could be a bet next time on dirt.
Evolutionary: Finished a troubled, distant third sprinting 5f on Arlington's Polytrack in her debut. She came back and won going 6f on the dirt at Remington Park.
Stopshoppingdebbie: Broke her maiden by 7 lengths in her debut at Emerald Downs. Not sure if she beat anything, but she looked great. Although she won here going 5 1/2 furlongs, she didn't look like a sprinter to me. Looked like she can handle much more distance. I wouldn't be surprised if she got privately purchased off this impressive debut.
Curlamorous: Broke her maiden in her debut for a $20,000 tag at Delaware Park, then came back to run second by a nose for claiming $25,000. She was just a $14,000 purchase at the two-year-old sales, so maybe she has some issues, but she at least looks like a runner at her level, and she hasn't stretched out yet.
Conclusions: It is early, and Curlin is still developing as a sire, but several trends that mirror his profile as a racehorse already are apparent.
Curlin's progeny are winless in eight starts on synthetic surfaces. They have finished second once and third four times. There isn't enough data to stamp Curlin a negtaive influence on synthetic (or turf), but at this time I will stick with his default profile of being best on dirt.
Distance-wise, the Curlins already have won from 5 1/2 furlongs up to 1 1/16 miles. I will not hesitate to bet them going up in distance, and many times a little extra ground could be to their benefit. Curlin won with grit and sustained speed, and that profile is very apparent in his first crop. Curlin has classic distance potential as a sire.
I am viewing Curlin as a move-up sire in the slop, particularly on sloppy sealed tracks.
Considering that Curlin did not race at age two, there is a very good chance we haven't seen anything close to the best of his progeny. They should improve at age three.
Despite beginning his career with an exorbitant stud fee and the fanfare befitting of a two-time Horse of the Year, expectations have tempered from the standpoints of bloodstock and betting. Curlin's advertised stud fee will be down to $25,000 in 2013, and his yearling average dropped from $136,000 in 2011 to $78,000 in 2012. From a wagering standpoint, I don't sense people are betting his progeny on his name alone. At a minimum, Curlin will be a sire of solid rachorses. He may be approaching underrated territory.
I will close with Curlin's emotional conformation profile, which my boss at THT Kerry Thomas OK'd me to share here. For those unfamiliar with THT, think of this profile as a measurement of class, presence, temperament, and distance aptitude. Note that we have "recommended for breeding" less than 10% of the sires we have inspected.
Curlin: A very strong, well-rounded horse. Great stimulus interpretation. Reads intentions very well. Distance focus is very strong. He is in control of everything around him. Communicates with his environment very well. Slightly hotter females would be ok with him. He could stretch out more precocious mares. A mid-range focus female would be safe for him. He has a lot of overriding qualities that could pepper/strengthen his mares. Recommended for breeding.
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|Posted on September 7, 2014 at 1:35 PM|
Patterns of Behavior, Patterns of Motion
Position paper by
Kerry M Thomas/Founder of THT
Over the years I have made what I personally feel are vital discoveries. Some of the more profound things I have discovered are; that Mother Nature uses unique ways to conceal her leadership within the Herd Dynamics, patterns of behavior translate to patterns of motion, the sensory system governs efficiency of motion and that stress drastically impacts body control.
Considering the fact that a herd of horses has a hierarchy that need be kept a mystery from the predator, the higher level horses simply hide in plain sight by becoming nearly invisible. They do this through the avenue of very subtle, highly controlled movements; body language that becomes so unnoticeable to the naked eye that in reality it is merely a subtle accent to the intent of emotional communication. The lower down in the ranks a horse is, the louder they need be to be heard in the herd, if you will, and they do this with profound body-language. This profound body language also makes the underlings and the infirm a target; and makes this type of horse more reliant on their peers for actual direction and ultimately, survival.
*Keep in mind, the snap-shot we see at the finish line showing the horses right to left in descending order of physical placement, may well be vastly different than the actual psychological hierarchy, because high level horses can control others in any direction. The horse, which sees the world largely in a circle, naturally cares less about directional placement then we do.
Recently having turned my focus to the sensory system and its impact on behavioral traits / idiosyncrasies and the control it has over efficiency of motion, more interesting puzzle pieces begin to show themselves. Many horses at all levels of the herd dynamics and hierarchy can have physical ability, tactical speed and power. The horses at the higher levels, elevated there because they have the tactical psychologies that allow them to get maximum benefit from their physical abilities, oft-times supersede their physical abilities to become better than they may otherwise have been. An efficient tactical mind allows the horse to adjust more easily their in-race stride & running style to both herd chaos and track conditions. This is directly related to the efficiency of their individual sensory system.
The equine sensory system is directly related to the control of the body; whether animate or inanimate. In my ongoing study of horses in variable environments and at various ages of their lives from weanlings to aged stallions and mares, the one constant remains; the more efficient the sensory system, the more control of the body they have and the more adaptability to the environment they display. This is a direct link the elite minded horses have to their respective leadership roles in the herd itself; both in the natural and unnatural environments. This too, regardless of age, has been clearly showing itself as true. Youthful horses beginning to display emergent properties of leadership, or what I dub, Elite Potentials, begin to remove themselves from arbitrary herd activities.
Elite Potentials: Youthful horses that begin to display emergent properties of body control and leadership of peers based upon developing efficiency of their sensory system.
Psychology in motion impacts actual physical motion as seen in horses that have a tendency to be aloof mentally and or too internally focused, thus unaware of the stimuli around them at all times. The impact is on speed and pace, causing the horse to wait for, seek out, or wish to linger near other horses in motion; there is safety in numbers creating for these horses a tendency I call “flock-affect”.
Flock Affect: The naturally occurring pattern-of-motion where an individual horse (mid to lower level individuals within the herd hierarchy as well as the infirm) seeks the safety of the herd when high levels of stress and chaos are impressed upon them regardless of physical ability. This stems from the naturally occurring “safety in numbers” aspect of a social species living in a group in open space and is first introduced as a foal when encouraged to stay near the mother for safety; thus becoming a naturally imprinted behavior.
Sensory Soundness and Efficiency: Controls the mind and body in the gate, where starting from a standing position, requiring a high level of body control, demands the race horse to have synchronicity of the senses to break purposely and in control.
Sensory Soundness and Efficiency: Allows the horse self-awareness in space and body control; this is one of the clear markers for elite minded horses and natural herd leadership skills. *Loss of body control in motion has the resulting affect similar to a car hydroplaning and to regain control the pace must be slowed. This is indicative of the horse that loses a sense of self awareness in the chaos of motion.
Sensory Soundness and Efficiency: Optimum synergy and synchronicity of the sensory system allows the athlete to adapt to rapid environmental changes and chaos of motion, a requirement to compete effectively at the highest levels. (Body control also lends itself to a lessoning of injury owing to knee jerk, uncontrolled reactions to everyday stimulus.)
Let’s consider the horse that is not entirely focused while operating in the GHD (Group Herd Dynamic) who doesn’t always have control of their sensory system and often improperly interprets stimuli around them as they bounce like a pin-ball. This behavior pattern shows a gap between the mind and body, so to speak, because the mind can be in one place and the body going off in another direction as it were resulting in uncontrolled physical motion. The faster a horse moves physically the more pronounced their mental deficiencies become resulting in their being more reliant on other horses to show them “where I should be” : flock affect.
The Importance of Balance in the Sensory System cannot be overstated.
The same herd dependency can also occur for the horse that is the opposite of aloof, making them too internally focused in the IHD (Individual Herd Dynamic). When a horse is entirely focused on one stimuli or point of direction, relying on only one sensory avenue to manage motion, it is not unlike a person that is so “focused” on one task or point that the world around them is suddenly in the background. Until such moment that something, or someone, suddenly “pops” them back into “reality”, and to the world around them. It can cause a serious near panic attack until our wits are back with us and we can feel a sense of adrenaline run through us.
*Think of it this way, a horse is moving along and one of their senses identifies a stimulus as they pass, but sticks to it owing to a lag in the actual interpretation of that stimuli. It’s like a rubber band stuck and stretching, creating more and more tension and stress until it breaks or is forced free, snapping back with all the built up energy, in this case emotional energy. The resulting ‘sting’ will impact physical motion.
The transitional process operating efficiently is stimuli identification, stimuli interpretation, resulting in control of the body.
The horse who is sticky and hits psychological pot-holes in motion counters this with the need to find the safety of others until clarity of environment returns. Even for the higher level competitors this impacts speed and pace, and in racing a moment of hesitation, any pot-hole in the psychology, has a profound impact on the efficiency of that motion. These things may not show themselves in an individual performance, but will impact the collection of performances and ultimate outcome over time.
The bottom line for me is each horse can only be defined so far in physical degrees; it is the uniqueness of behavioral genetics that draws our favor and leaves us to realize that the economics of behavior simply makes sense. You may well have a physical freight train, tactical speed at your behest, but it takes a tactical mind, an efficient conductor, to truly achieve optimum performance.