Cornbread Thinks: Trainer Brains

Trainers got brains. I am sure of it. I’ve seen a couple take them out and play with them. Otherwise, I would wonder. It is difficult to evaluate how many brains with just conversation. The first problem is many of them are stingy with words and even tighter with syllables. Secondly is the narrowness of topics. There are no IQ tests based on cows and horses. This creates a gap in levels of expertise. It is like asking a rocket scientist the best way to light your string of firecrackers.

I have watched too many cows with too many trainers to ever doubt the power of their “cowputers.” I am fascinated by how the human brain works and how a body puzzles out how to make something happen. If you wanted to build a mechanical horse, the calculations alone would need two truckloads of decimal points. You would have to cypher distances, angles and velocity for the cow, horse, herd and walls for every instant.

But how would you calculate not only predictable behavior, but also possible behavior? We already can’t do that. Then code how and when the horse would get there, while planning what to do when he got there in response to what the cow might (or even could) do. Each and every movement, right down to a foot being fully weighted or resting lightly while it’s buried in 6 inches of dirt. There are millions of possibilities. Trainers do this non-stop, all day, every day. And then you see one pushing on the pull door…

What I would dearly love to understand better is a trainer’s thought process on training a horse, especially one that is not responding to the standard methods. The one who is showing superstar potential, but it’s just not happening in a couple of places. There is no hardhead.com to go ask questions.

Do they lay awake worrying at it? Do they wake up with a plan? Do they even make a plan? Do they stick with that plan or opt off because they “felt” something? Or do they operate 100 percent intuitively? Are they even aware of how they decide it’s a problem and what they do to solve it?

There is little or no horse training skill in me, but I am a mechanic. I’m not as good as Wayland Long, the writer, but I can look at a bolt, get the right wrench in one try and turn it the correct way (most of the time). I have a well-practiced method for solving the puzzles of fixing stuff. There are two constants: bigger hammers never help; and man made it, so man can unmake it.

There are some similarities. When I get stopped and frustrated, I go back to where I started. Dan Edwards described it as going back to a “comfortable” place for the horse. The problem may be that a small thing did not happen after the comfortable spot, and before the uncomfortable spot. The little things in both are the most important. Little things are only little when done right. Dan, by the way, is one of the more articulate trainers who does a lot of pondering before acting and can tell you some “whys.”

I just talked to Gerald Alexander, a true gentleman. He is always thinking, but he generally lets the horse tell him. Sounds simple, as long as you are perceptive enough to know what the horse is saying. Great trainers feel things others don’t, like dogs hearing whistles we can’t.

I often watch trainers dry-working before being announced in, particularly the last few seconds. Many are not in that location anymore; they are “in there,” a hyper focus on the moment. Think Ed Dufurrena. Or watch their faces as they cross the timeline. It would be interesting if they had a flight recorder on their brains. If there was such a thing, Johnny Mitchell would be my first. The man is never still. Ever.

 The great challenge of our sport is this mental discipline – this turning it over to full auto, eliminating putting words and grammar and sentences and complete thoughts into what is happening. Trusting your brain like you trust your horse. I hope this is coming across because my words don’t feel good. What we love and receive from this sport is impossible to convey. We get it, but how do we get “them” to?

Cornbread Thinks: Train a brain.