A Student of the Horse

Among the students at this weekend’s Evidence-Based Horsemanship seminar was 20-year old college student, Fred Holcomb.

Holcomb doesn’t just have a passing interest in horsemanship and equine science. The Davidson College junior is one of the few to pair his passion for horses with an equally keen drive for applying objective, science-based rigor to fred1his work.

Dr. Steve Peters said Holcomb may likely be “one of the future flag bearers for this kind of study.”

Read more about Evidence-Based Horsemanship.

As a boy, Holcomb sought riding opportunities wherever and whenever he could.

“It must have been a surprise to my parents,” said Holcomb from the Davidson campus in Davidson, North Carolina. “Neither are horsey at all. We grew up in the suburbs. But from Day One, I’ve always wanted to ride.”

At home in Virginia, he took English lessons.

In Idaho, where his family spent summer vacations, he rode Western.
He’s worked for seven summers at Elk Creek Ranch in Cody, Wyoming. There, he started his first colts and led pack trips.

His prized possession?
Not an iphone or a car. It’s the McCall 98 wade saddle he received as a high school graduation present.

At Davidson, Holcomb is pursuing a degree in psychology with a concentration in neuroscience. This year, he is working to develop his senior thesis on equine cognition.
Psychology professor, Dr. Kristi Multhaup, is working with Holcomb to hone his interest and shape this summer’s research project. His senior year will be spent evaluating and defending that research.

Multhaup adds:

fred2“One of the joys of being a professor at a liberal arts college is helping talented students make connections across traditional boundaries.

In Fred’s case, the boundary between academic study and horse training skills is being bridged with his thesis.
I fully expect Fred to use his thesis as a starting point for a career that increases communication between academic research teams and horse trainers, to the benefit of both groups.  I am lucky to play a small role in launching what promises to be a productive career.”

Holcomb shared this outlook:

“I’ve come to recognize the need for some objectivity within the training world. There’re a lot of opinions out there. That’s where I think Steve and Martin’s work has been awesome. It’s really affected the academic path that I’ve chosen in college.

The need to balance the experience and vision of the horseman with the academic experience and credentials of the scientist is important… I’d like to reach a certain level of competence with both ends of the spectrum – in the scientific world and the training world.”

We’ll be rooting for you, Fred.

When Grazing Doesn’t Come Naturally

I reached a new milestone with the mule yesterday.
It had nothing to do with riding or saddling or lateral flexion, although we’ve made great strides in those areas.

At first glance, this milestone might be considered a non-event in comparison.

It involved the simple act of grazing while on a lead line.

Jolene came to me two months ago as a very nervous molly. Characteristically, when she stands around humans, her muscles are bound tight as snare drums.
Licking and chewing, the typical signs of a horse moving from a stressed to relaxed state, come only with great encouragement and patience.
Lowering her head while around us (another sign of moving from stress to comfort) is equally painstaking for her.
But yesterday, she relaxed enough to partake in mouthfuls of grass while I stood nearby, gently holding her line.

It’s something I’d always taken for granted with my equines. Only when it happened did I realized she’d never done it.

Baby steps.

Read more about Jolene and mules in general.
Read more about the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems.

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