Friday, January 22, 2010

Slip Slidin' Away

This morning the horses and I slipped and slid (well, I did most of that - the horses did pretty well) to the turnouts. Even where it doesn't look like ice, where the snow is packed down it's almost as slippery. If the horses are slipping, I stay well clear as I'm leading, but since they were doing pretty well, several of the horses helped me out by letting me hang on to their necks. Most of them are pretty good about helping me out when I need it.

I wanted to mention a book I'm in the middle of reading, which I highly recommend - I'll do a more thorough commentary on it in another post once I'm done. The book is by Temple Grandin (with Catherine Johnson), and is called Animals Make Us Human: Creating the Best Life For Animals. Temple Grandin is an amazing woman - she's autistic and has chronicled her story in Emergence: Labeled Autistic. She is a scientist specializing in the brain and animal behavior. Her insights into animals and how they perceive the world are very acute, and she believes that some of her insights are because she is autistic and her perceptual and emotional systems may be closer to those of animals.

As any of us know who work with animals, they do have emotions, and feelings, and the ability to think to a greater or lesser degree - and this isn't anthropomorphism at all - after all we're animals too with the same basic brain structure as all animals, with a larger pre-frontal cortex on top of it all. In my experience, people who deny that animals have emotions and feelings, and not just behaviors, need to believe that because of how they treat animals. Every great horseman and horsewoman is always asking themselves "how does the horse feel about this" as he or she does the work with the horse, and pays attention to "feel" of the horse. It isn't just about training in behaviors, or imposing one's will on the horse, it's about having the horse "with" you from the inside so that's there's a partnership in getting the work done. Anything else is just training the outside of the horse.

The book is firmly science-based, but is easy to read and completely enthralling, whether you have horses, dogs, cats or farm animals. There are separate chapters for each, with some pretty interesting facts and insights. A couple of things to whet your interest: did you know that wolves (dogs' closest relatives) do not live naturally in packs in the wild, but in small family groups, and that their relationships aren't usually about dominance? Did you know that cats can only be trained using positive reinforcement, not negative reinforcement or social reinforcement (praise) and that it's possible to train a cat using clicker training?

And The Journey is now up and running, if you're interested. Have a wonderful late January day!


  1. Kate, I have heard of Temple Grandin and read about her and some about pens for cattle. A very interesting woman. I will have to check out the book.
    Good post!

  2. Temple Grandin is one of my idols. She is truly an inspiration. I wish more people knew about her and her wonderful work, not only with animals, but also to overcome and eliminate the "labels" that so many intelligent but functionally different people struggle with. Thank you for sharing her work.

  3. Yay I love Temple Grandin! I have read both of her books on amimal behavior and really enjoyed them both. I agree that people are wrong when they do not think animals have emotion. Temple Gradin talks a lot about the subject of suffering in her book Animals in Translation and I thought that topic is very interesting. She thinks that animals do not have an emotional response to pain as we humans have. This makes sense to anyone who has ever owned animals and seen how "stoic" they can be. I had a rat as a pet that developed a tumor. We had it removed by a vet but it came back very quickly. The vet advised that we just leave it this time and euthanize the animal when ever the tumor inhibited the rat from daily functions like eating and running on her wheel. The tumor developed into this gigantic bulbus thing that weighed almost as much as she did yet she kept eating, playing, running on her wheel and cleaning herself as if the tumar did not exist. I think a human would never get to that point because we would have died from the emotional stress of having such an enormous thing! I was reading a book called when Elephants weep and I though the author made an interesting point about anthropomorphizing. We are very quick to associate negative emotions to animal but the positive ones are to "complex" for mere beasts! Like my dog hates baths, my horse is afraid of cows, that growling dog is angry etc.. but people become weird when you talk about animals feeling love for instance. I think animals having very active emotional lives makes perfect sense! Emotions are our brains way of regulating reinforces and punishers. Eating food is good for fitness are body then creates a positive emotion to associate with seeking out food.
    Oh and one more thing! Clicker training cats does work! I have done it with my two and it is great!

    Ok sorry for the ramble talking behavior gets me excited! I hope at least part of that makes sense!

  4. Sounds like a great read ,I have always wanted to read Temple Grandins work. Stay safe ,poor footing is bad news for critters and critter keepers!

  5. Thanks for the info - I'm running low on books to read, so I'll definitely check those 2 out!

    Although, with my cat, I'm a little skeptical about the clicker training! lol. I think he would have me trained faster than I could train him. He's pretty smart... :-)

  6. Kate, thank you SO much for this wonderful post. I am always saying the same thing, that animals have thoughts and feelings, and it makes me so mad when people accuse me of anthropomorphism. I hate it that people assume that just because animals can't express themselves in exactly the same way we do, that means there's nothing going on inside their heads. Did you know that up until about 60 years ago, vets assumed that animals didn't really feel pain, and any expression of pain was simply a reflex? They actually operated on animals without anesthesia, based on this (obviously faulty) assumption.

    I agree with you that many people believe animals don't have feelings because they need to in order to treat them the way they do, but I also think that a lot of it has to do with ego. Many people just can't bear to think that animals could be our equals on any level, including emotions.

    There is another book I've been meaning to read forever, about evidence of moral behavior in animals. I can't remember the title right now but I'll find it for you. I read the NPR story on it and an excerpt, and it looked fascinating.

  7. I'm also a fan of Temple Grandin - I've heard her on NPR and read Animals in Translation. It's fascinating how she's taken her own way of processing the world and discovered how it is similar to animals.

    I tend to think that understanding animals and their emotional lives is like understanding an alien culture. While so much is the same (protecting and nurturing young, self defense), the differences are where we tend to presume stupidity or lack of depth of emotion. That's more of a reflection on us than the culture/animal we're observing.

    And some conclusions are just weird. Like these people have never actually had an animal.For example, someone told me that dogs don't dream. Then who is my dog barking at in his sleep?

    Things are so rarely black and white - they are infinite shades of gray, and challenge us to unravel and match them to our own internal senses.

    Very interesting about dog / wolf packs. But domestic dogs rarely, if ever, are raised in family units. They really don't have much choice about the make up of their herds.

    Much like domesticated horses.

  8. Fascinating. I have always believed animals have emotions not so different from ours. Anyone who doesn't believe it has never shared his/her life with an animal.

    Thanks for the book recommendation. I am going to seek it out.

  9. Sounds like an excellent book. I've noticed with my animals (horses, dogs, cat) that they really do have emotional reactions to certain situations. It's intriguing. I'll have to look in to the book. Thanks!

  10. I make no apologies for saying they have feelings. They may not be capable of all we give them credit for, but they definitely have them.

    Sounds like an interesting book.

  11. Jason happens to be reading that book right now! He has all of her books.

  12. There was a pretty interesting interview with Temple Grandin a few weeks ago on "The Horse Show with Rick Lamb". I don't normally check out that website, so you're going to have to google it, then go to the archives to find the interview, but it gives some great insight into the woman and her views. And there's an HBO movie coming out that is her biography, staring Clare Daines (sp?)--Daines worked closely with Grandin to get the character right, and Grandin was quite pleased with the final product. I don't get HBO so I'm wondering how I'll be able to access it...

  13. Temple Grandin is fantastic! Glad you read her latest and turned some more people on to her. :)

  14. I will have a look out for the book!!!! Sounds like an interesting read!

  15. I love that book! Glad you are enjoying it.

    Temple Grandin is an amazing author.


  16. terri holtzclaw reiserFebruary 3, 2010 at 12:26 PM

    I cannot say enough wonderful things about Temple Grandin. I hope one day to meet her, to attend a clinic--something. Her books, her knowledge, her courage, true courage, and bold honesty about what she has overcome, her fears, her perseverance, knowing she is 'different' and not only learning to live with it all, but contributing so much to this world. If only more people were 'different' what might we accomplish on this planet??..with animals, each other, our earth, our world. She has helped me so much to understand myself, the world as I see it, my ability or lack thereof to relate to a lot of it...but animals, horses, they save me. Temple has helped their plight in the most basic way with the designs for humane processing plants not only for the animals but for the people who work in them. Her writings and her clear observations that continue to move towards giving us a gift of a more peaceful way to live is work that parallels all the great peacemakers. I am grateful to have stumbled upon her work about 10 years ago, and now am gearing up to do some art work based her.
    Also...her HBO movie debuts Feb 6th on HBO........tune in!


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