Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The Benefits of Thinking Like a Horse

by Lisa Wysocky

Predator/prey differences aside, there are many differences between horses and humans. Horses hear higher and lower sound frequencies than humans do, and they can hear sounds that generate up to half a mile away. People, however, can better isolate where those sounds are coming from.

Humans have eight to ten thousand taste buds, while horses have up to twenty-five thousand, to better differentiate safe plants from those that are toxic. A horse can smell his owner up to three hundred feet away, and if the temperature and wind are right, from much farther away than that. Other than food, humans are lucky to smell something that is thirty feet away.

As humans, we try to impose our human experiences onto horses, and that is an impossible task. From the way horses process thought, to how they see, even to how they process touch, theirs is a world apart from the human experience. We then, have to become more horse-like. We have to step up to try to understand the horse’s experience from his or her viewpoint. Horse spook at a plastic bag one hundred yards away? It helps to know that horses cannot judge distance as well as people can. When we start thinking like a horse, our reactions––such as praise, reassurance, or discipline––to their behavior then becomes more appropriate. 

 I find it is the same when I am writing. When I write, I try to think like my readers. How will an average reader interpret a scene, or a character’s line? Will my description of a round pen, for example, make sense to a person who does not know about horses, yet not be too elementary for those who do? As a reader, I would much rather have the comfort of a concise, accurate, and thorough description of an object or a process, than have the “Huh?” experience. So, that's what I try to write.

I have been very fortunate to have my nonfiction books about horses and horse training diligently edited by people who are seasoned horse people, because people who are serious about their equine friends are the ones who will be interested in those books. On the other hand, I am equally as fortunate to have a woman who knows little to nothing about horses edit my Cat Enright mystery series. Even though I try to think like my readers when I write, I sometimes forget that not everyone knows what a fetlock is, or why a character might pull up on a saddle pad so it does not lay down hard and flat across a horse’s withers.

As readers and writers, and as people in general, it probably is a good idea to consider the end user. Whether it is a conversation with a teenager, a report sent in to a supervisor, or a trail ride with your favorite horse, considering their experiences, thoughts, behaviors, and emotions, will always make your life experience easier, and more fulfilling.

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