08 Jul 2022

The JenkuMethod: Understanding the Importance of Monocular vision in Horses

By understanding the concept of monocular vision in horses, riders can help their horses to perform better by training them to become more ambidextrous. 

One Horse, Two Brains

When you observe horses, you’ll notice that their ears work independently of one another, a phenomenon called ear radar. This fundamentally means that wherever the left ear is pointing to is where the left eye is looking, and wherever the right ear is pointing to, is where the right eye is looking.

A horse is capable of looking at things coming up ahead with their right eye and right ear, and at the same time look back with their left eye and left ear and vice versa. They can pretty much process the information that comes from the two sides of their body independently because the two brain halves work independently from one another.

Monocular Vision in Horses vs. Binocular Vision

Horses use two-forms of vision, monocular and binocular. Monocular vision allows the horse to see on both sides of his head, meaning the left eye and the right eye work independently and see different views. Binocular vision allows the horse to use both eyes together to see directly ahead.

Humans rely on binocular vision only which means that the brain automatically combines the two images that we see into one image and that’s what gives humans very good depth perception.

We automatically assume that whatever is done on the left-hand side of the body, will be familiar and non-threatening when being done on the right-hand side. 

This assumption does not stretch into working with horses.

Practical Example

You may be clipping your horse on the left-hand side or touching him with a foreign object on the left-hand side, and he would be perfectly fine, but when you start clipping on the right-hand side or touching him with a foreign object on the right-hand side, he may suddenly become anxious, try to run away, or start walking around in a circle indicating his nervous tension.

To put it into a human perspective: Imagine if you are right-handed, like 90% of society, and you are handed a pen in your left hand and asked to write a paragraph with your left hand in your very best handwriting.

Since you are right-handed, you may not be very keen to display your left hand’s poor penmanship, but if you are offered £100 to take up the challenge, you may be willing to give it a good go! (We’ll be dealing with rewards a bit later on in this series.)

What is interesting is that the ability may be there, but it will most definitely not be as legible and tidy as when writing with your dominant hand.

The moral of the story is, if you really want to learn to write as well with the one hand as with the other, you actually have to go back to the beginning.

Drawing from human experience

In school, you were asked to draw a circle, then draw a straight line.  Draw a circle, then draw a straight line. Eventually that circle and straight line becomes an ‘a’ or a ‘b’ or a ‘c’ or a ‘d’, and so on.  Only when combining the training, a recognisable pattern emerges.

The brain is contralateral. For humans (and for horses), whatever happens on the left half of the body, gets registered in the right brain hemisphere and whatever happens on the right side of the body, gets registered in the left brain hemisphere. We therefore must educate both hemispheres and both body halves independently before we can combine.

Training application

We tend to handle horses a lot on the left-hand side, but when we go to the right-hand side, we automatically assume that they must just know the work, be able to fundamentally ride just as well with their right-hand side and cope as well with whatever is happening on the right-hand side of their body as how they cope with things on their left-hand side.

When you are on the ground and you are leading on the left or you are leading on the right, you can only be on one side of your horse’s body at any given time.

When you get on the horse however, you are now on both sides of the horse’s body at the same time. Your left hand, left leg, and left half of your body is giving your horse input on the left-hand side, and the same happens on the horse’s right hand side.

We communicate with our legs, our seat, and our hands, so your horse is actually being forced to ride with both hands simultaneously.   We expect them to be ambidextrous and we expect them to ride equally well with both hands.

Even though we may not spend the same amount of time on the right-hand side, educating them and training them.

Takeaway Message

It’s vitally important to spend time, extra time, on the right-hand side to help your horse to catch up, because most people, until the horse is ready to be backed, do not do very much on the horse’s right-hand side.  Resulting in very few horses that can be lead on the right-hand side, and very few horses that can be mounted from the right-hand side.

Educating your horse to be ambidextrous is key and means that the rider has to practice how to do this.

Going Back to Basics

You don’t have to go and learn to write with your left hand per se, but you definitely need to spend time training your horse in-hand, leading on both reins. 

Most people lunge on both reins, but they tend to have a bit of difficulty trying to lunge horses on the right, because they haven’t given the horse a foundation where they first train them to lead on the right.  They automatically assume that if they can lead them on the left, and take them into lunging, that the horse must be able to lunge on both sides of their body, both sides of their brain.

More often than not, when there’s difficulties with lunging, it’s because the horse has never been taught the fundamentals or basics in leading.

A simple way to overcome it is just to start leading your horse on the right and literally going back to square one, like when you were first asked to draw circles and straight lines.

Next week in The JenkuMethod: Relaxation before Collection

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