Horse Head: Brain Science and Other Insights


A TPH Book Review by Annie Birmingham

Horse Head: Brain Science and Other Insights
by Maddy Butcher with Dr. Steve Peters

Horse Head: Brain Science and Other Insights is the latest work of Maddy Butcher, a Wall Street Journal reporter, with assistance from Dr. Steve Peters, an equine neuroscientist with a focus in psychology. The book is the second included in a trio of equine publications released from Cayuse Communications. Together, the pair delves into the complex minds of our equine counterparts, explaining to the everyday equestrian how and why our horses react (or don’t react!) to what we ask of them on a daily basis.

Butcher’s first chapter explains an interesting dichotomy—while horses do have feelings, they are much more simplistic than those of humans. Horses just want to move, to eat, to sleep, and to socialize (so, no, your horse doesn’t love those specific gourmet treats—he just likes to eat!). The majority of their memory is stored in the cerebellum, where they keep all of their knowledge and muscle memory, from how to stand up properly to how to execute the perfect flying change. This means that a lot of their training requires their rider staying out of their way. Butcher describes this as remembering to stay off the reins, let the horse balance themselves, and so on. Furthermore, contrary to people, horses’ brains lack a large frontal lobe, which makes plans and forms strategies. So, no, your horse wasn’t planning to spook at the first fence on course just for fun. He couldn’t plan to, even if he wanted to!

Butcher and Dr. Peters’ argument is that understanding the thought process of your horse helps you to best accommodate their needs both in and out of the saddle. By analyzing your horse’s behavior in a variety of different situations, you can better understand what they are communicating to you. Doing so allows you to develop a deeper bond and understanding of one another, as well as to help solve any potential issues that can arise, from poor saddle fit to the need for dental and body work.

This book is an engaging, thought-provoking read that explains horses’ responses, both mentally and physically, through scientific research in a simple-to-understand narrative for all to enjoy. The concise chapters make it easy to reference back for any future problems that may arise. This is an important read for any rider in order to best understand how and why our horses behave in the ways that they do, so we can help them to live their most comfortable lives.

Horse Head is available for purchase at

Originally from the September 2020 issue.