Buying Horses: Stress & Structure
The herd dynamics by their nature come with many parts to the whole that break down in to unique “character traits” and tendencies under stress when isolated. This is why I always advocate the nurture and develop point of reference; you develop the athlete when you nurture the horse.
When it comes to uncontrollable outside influences and situational chaos, no matter how well you’ve “nurtured and developed” coaching is still up against natural tendencies and basic instincts. It pays to know your horses’ tendencies as owner, trainer, jockey or handicapper. As we well know the Kentucky Derby is quite unlike anything these horses have experienced before, but even so they are who they are and will react using the same traits and tendencies found in their every day psychology. On a single-horse basis the herd dynamics are made up from the mixture of Individual Herd Dynamic, or IHD and Group Herd Dynamic or GHD.
High level #HerdDynamics allows the horse to shed environmental dependencies and separate from the herd, naturally; an essential ability in competition. #RecruitHigher when #Panning4Gold with #THTBloodstock pic.twitter.com/Jtl6rZjBiq
— Kerry M. Thomas, THT (@thomasherding) August 10, 2018
The IHD is the psychological aspect geared toward what can be best described as individual targets, these targets can be singular as in one other horse, or can be horses or objects grouped into an area. The IHD’s primary application in racing is its inherent competitive nature; the emotional energy is zeroed in on an object like an arrow point launching forth with the purpose of getting to or beyond a certain target. The IHD is generally more poignant in colts because of its intended natural function. In the herd structure the colt/stallion’s primary job outside of breeding is to protect the herd from predators and to keep stragglers in line and would-be suitors, out. IHD becomes more highly developed when young colts are pushed out of their family herd and form bachelor herds of one or more. When in these bachelor herds colts have a chance to sharpen their IHD by way of the natural competition between them.
However IHD alone can only get the horse so far. Focus on individual stimuli without the buffer of being able to interpret variable stimulus has a cap on focus ability as well as competitive sustainability. The more GHD a horse has the more useful and sustainable the IHD becomes.
The Group Herd Dynamic is your key to true IHD optimization over physical distance within stressful environments; if IHD is your arrow, GHD is your bow. GHD is responsible for the management of multi-stimulus in the environment and by proxy helping filter stress before it is physically expressed.
Knowing the GHD of the horse will give you a major piece of the puzzle for understanding how likely the horse will or will not be effected by the environment, especially when that environment is filled with environmental stimuli like that of the Kentucky Derby. IHD is a psychological rhythm design best expressed in motion, GHD is a psychological rhythm that can be employed with equal alacrity whether in motion or in stasis; performance anxiety, where it exists, is largely expressed through the IHD.
Where the IHD by nature has a strong shift of influence in high level colts owing to their natural role on the fringes of the herd, the GHD has a strong natural shift in high level fillies because of their role within it. Interpretation or lack of, determines action. Interpretation ability is the defining difference between a horse moving in space, or moving through space; running with the herd or psychologically out-maneuvering those within it.
— HorseE (@thehorsetechie) August 9, 2018
In general terms I have always assigned to the high level colt an IHD mixture of 70%-75% & GHD 30%-25%, but this is generic because every horse ‘personality’ like ourselves, comes with a wide array of uniqueness of character and idiosyncratic strengths and weaknesses. In competition these translate to running styles and optimum efficiency zones.
One of the most important things Pete and I look for and try to determine in our evaluations are an individual’s GHD/IHD mixture as this affords us a window into who among them are likely to conserve and optimize their depth of emotional energy. Determining who has the deepest emotional energy to draw from is one thing, determining who will use it the best, another. A deep well of energy used erratically and reactively is nothing more than wasted energy. Emotional energy conservation is squarely housed in the GHD because the GHD manages the distribution of said energy. The IHD in competitive sports is much longer lived and utilized when launched from the platform of a high functioning GHD.
The GHD also provides an essential balance between the individual and the outside world regarding fluency of movement. Many an otherwise talented horse finds their short-comings at the end of a long race in those moments before the gate ever opens. Anxiety inevitably builds up in these moments; you can see this being expressed in the post parade quite often. An efficient GHD is crucial for conserving emotional energy during this period and is also a key ingredient for any horse to find mental and physical balance enough to get out of the gate properly. *There is a difference between nervous and controlled energy expression. Horses that can ID and interpret oblique stimuli while maintaining a forward emotional ‘reach’, get out of the gate with greater consistency and fluency and are also more naturally maneuverable when dealing with herd chaos. Competitively the GHD allows the horse to anticipate the movement of other horses while the IHD allows them to act upon it. The GHD also contributes substantially to the “cruising” gear, allowing the horse to hit a psychological cruise-control at what we often call a hi-rev GHD, conserving emotional and physical fuel for a sustained IHD attack.
Breaking down the herd dynamic probability of success in this unique race is a combination of identifiable traits physically and mentally, and is not unlike splitting hairs. I always look at the probability of success based upon psychological growth patterns and herd dynamic tendencies leading into competition. We must be mindful that the reason we look for these patterns of behavior, is because they directly translate to patterns in motion.
Kerry Thomas is a pioneer of equine athletic psychological research and Herd Dynamics. He created emotional conformation profiling, which measure’s the mental and emotional capacities of the equine. Emotional Conformation Profiling is the study of Emotional Intelligence & Ability in three key areas; Trainability, Behavioral Genetic Traits, Aptitude, with Communication being the primer.
Thomas’ theories on herd dynamics and equine communication have applications on all equine disciplines, in addition to human team communication and performance. His first book Horse Profiling: The Secret to Motivating Equine Athletes was released on the international market on April 25th, 2012 and continues to grow in international favor and popularity.
Teaming up with now THT Director of Equine Services, Pete Denk, Kerry’s work has gravitated to international Bloodstock where profiling “who the horse is” and how well balanced their sensory system is, is helping THT clients hone on suitable athletes.
Thomas’ work in the field of equine behavioral genetics has pioneering applications in all the sport horse industries, but Thoroughbred Racing embraces the most of his efforts owing to his intensive study of Herd Dynamics & Behavioral Genetic Sequencing. Exciting new efforts are currently being made into the study of how emotional stress affects physical performance.
Considered by many the “Money Ball” approach for horse racing, Kerry moves forward with the belief that “the economics of behavior, simply makes sense.”
A few High-Lights:
*Kerry was featured on the front page of the Wall Street Journal Friday, May 1st 2015
*Kerry is often contacted for quotes and Derby thoughts by the LA Times etc..
*Kerry is a board member of Quest Therapeutic Services in West Chester Pa.
*Kerry help found the Octorara HS Equestrian Sports team
Latest posts by S. Jack Heffernan Ph.D (see all)
- Red Element Headlines Bloodstock Auction Sale in Australia - April 28, 2019
- Juddmonte Grand Prix de Paris at ParisLongchamp - April 22, 2019
- Australia’s Horse Racing and Breeding Industry Needs Strong Political Representation - April 13, 2019