#MasterclassMonday is a collaboration between Horse Network and NOELLEFLOYD.com to empower equestrians. Every Monday we’ll bring you a new lesson from a leading trainer to help you troubleshoot your training, master your mindset and up your game. This month’s instructor: Dr. Jenny Susser.

It’s no secret that horses and humans think and operate differently, but what exactly is the difference?

Horses have two layers of brain while humans have three. The neocortex, this extra layer that makes up about 40% of the brain is our blessing and curse. This is where we have the capacity to think abstractly, storytell and plan.This is important to understand because it is responsible for our ability to think ahead, plan and plot. On the flip side, our horses do not have this ability. 

Horses’ brains are far more devoted to areas such as balance, proprioception and physical memory (ex: muscle memory). When humans are faced with a threat, our fear response fires, leading us to lose up to one third of our decision making capacity.

Crazy right? All those times you’ve felt like you were “losing your mind” at a horse show—you weren’t completely wrong!

When we are triggered by something that our amygdala perceives as a threat, our survival instinct kicks in. More in depth, when the amygdala of our brain sends out a fear response, blood leaves the frontal lobe of your brain, robbing you of cognitive capacity. That blood is devoted to your muscles and the parts of your brain that are responsible for survival.

So, how does this help us to better understand and work together with our horse?

Well, the good thing to remember is that your horse cannot plot or plan against you because his brain simply does not have the capacity to do so. So all those times you’ve felt like your horse was plotting an alternative plan for your relaxing afternoon ride, think again.

Understanding this about your horse in addition to understanding your own fear response as a human being is a gamechanger in your success as a rider. Another important step in gaining control of your fear and anxiety as a rider is by having tools in place for when you feel your physical fear symptoms starting to arise. 

Want more? Check out Dr. Jenny’s masterclass on controlling fear and anxiety 

Box breathing is a great technique to help you gain control and train your brain to associate breathwork with feeling calm. Try incorporating this exercise the next time you’re feeling physical symptoms of fear and anxiety and also when you’re calm too, like when you’re on your way to the barn or in between classes at a horse show. 

Remember: practice makes perfect!

The basics are: inhale, hold, exhale, hold. Each leg is four seconds. Make sure you’re sitting square and upright. So…

  1. Inhale for four
  2. Hold for four
  3. Exhale for four
  4. Hold four

This is an excerpt from Dr. Jenny’s Equestrian Masterclass, Gaining Control of Fear and Anxiety. To access the course, as well as a full library of courses from the likes of Ian Millar, Anne Kursinski and more, go to equestrianmasterclass.com