top of page

Temple Grandin

Updated: Feb 22, 2020

Last night I was honored with the chance to hear Temple Grandin speak in person. And I was blown away by her! She is hilarious and serious and a stand out in her field, most definitely. She is blunt, to-the-point and says exactly what she is thinking in such clear words that anyone can understand what she is saying. I suspect that since she sees the world in pictures, she can speak words that paint pictures as well.

I took some notes about things that stood out to me. I'll list them below with some of my thoughts:

  • Horses that buck when you change gaits do so because the saddle feels different at each gait. The reason this is significant is because Templin believes that animals think about the world in pictures. This is called a Visual Thinker. For instance, if you desensitize your horse with an umbrella and it can stand there without flinching when you open it, this does not translate to being able to flag your horse or toss a tarp at it without a reaction. Because an umbrella in no way looks like a tarp! So when your horse is used to the saddle (or harness or travois) at a walk and then you ask for a trot it is very likely they will have something to say about how different everything feels when they are trotting. THIS is why I suggest you walk,trot,canter and jump a jump with the travois attached. This is why I suggest you take the time time it takes in the travois for your horse or pony to spook and get tangled up. All these things FEEL different to the horse or pony and to help them learn to cope we need to expose them to this, in a controlled fashion.

  • Visual Thinkers often don't multi task well. Horses and ponies are visual thinkers. This explains so much!!!! One of the significant things it explains to me is why horses tend to seem calm when being flooded with stimuli. They simply can not process so many things at one time and will internalize. This also explains why they explode during such sessions as well. Maybe something to think about the next time you are tossing everything including the kitchen sink at your horse in the name of training.

  • Prey animals will cover up pain - unless they really trust the handler. This is a significant thing when dealing with cows and sheep. She said sheep are masters at this! If you see a lame sheep or cow then they are REALLY in pain and suffering. Because they will do everything in their power to hide this as it makes them the first to be picked off by a predator. I find this extremely interesting. Quite a few horses and ponies that come to live with me, shortly after getting here, fall ill or become lame or show me some other short coming. I was so frustrated by this one time and was complaining about it to my Equine Body Worker. She said that maybe I should look at it a different way. These horses and ponies come to me with an issue or pain and once they live with me for a little while they understand that if they show me the problem I WILL HELP THEM. This made me stop and think and then to appreciate the fact that they feel so comfortable with me they can show me these things. What an absolute gift that is.

  • Animals and Visual Thinkers make visual categories. For instance when dogs are on leash they are in protection mode, protect their human, protect themselves. When they are off leash they are in play mode. THIS is why I do NOT like to introduce dogs to each other when on leash. Same goes for some dogs with their car or truck. Never reach through a car window to pet a dog, even if you know the dog. This is their car and some will become quite aggressive when in it. The same dog can be the most friendly and outgoing dog outside of their vehicle!

The other way this is interesting is when a prey animal is "mistreated" by a human. For instance the antelope that Templin's team worked with always always recognized the vet that was responsible for tranquilizing them. When he was around they simply could not learn or react appropriately. The horse that is afraid of a black cowboy hat (the mustang in her example was sprayed in the eyes with alcohol by a man wearing a black cowboy hat) the horse that is afraid of a white wind breaker, the horse that doesn't like a certain build of man, the horse that doesn't like blondes, or the horse that is particularly fond of blonde women because that is someone they loved!

The take away from this particular bit of information - Make first experiences good and positive! Because they will remember them.

She talked about rubbing verses patting your horse. Can your horse become habituated to being patted? Yes. But they will always prefer being rubbed. Their mama rubbed then with her nose and licked them with her tongue. She never patted them. She did kick them when they were naughty. So try to handle them like their mama would when they do something you appreciate. Rubbing a nervous horse on the withers is very calming. This is the way I approach new-to-me horses. I allow them to sniff my hand and then I move straight to the withers. I don't stroke the neck or try to pet the face. Make your first encounter a good one!!

Something I felt was very significant that she said was:

Bad becoming normal happens very slowly.

She meant this in term of breeding for certain traits. She is very big on NOT breeding for any one trait. But I feel this is also so very true of how we handle our animals. Sloppy behavior around our horses and ponies is something we allow to creep in slowly over time. And before you know it they are standing knee deep in their manure, they have needed their feet trimmed for 3 months, they haven't been wormed for a few years, they are obese, foundered, lame, wild, the list goes on and on. Don't blame your horse or pony for these things. This is completely 100% up to you. Only you can choose to be particular and precise on a daily basis... Perfect Practice Makes Perfect!

This is not my photo but one I found online!

Temple Grandin made me laugh. She made me think and at times I swear she was speaking words she picked straight out of my own head. She made me think maybe I am Autistic! I am DEFINITELY a Visual Thinker. Things that she described about herself, what she notices when no one else does, her fears and how she excels at certain things, were like looking in a mirror. Some things come easier to her than others and some things she just won't master. But that's alright with her because she knows her worth.

She is an amazing woman who has mastered her field and is a wonderful mentor for all women that are looking to enter the agricultural world. And she is a wonderful mentor for anyone striving to have a better understanding of their dogs, cats, horses, ponies, cows, sheep, goats.... You get the picture! If you ever have the chance to see her speak in person I highly suggest you go and soak up all she has to share.


She has a fair number of books out there. I bought this one last night:

I am looking forward to diving in when I finish my current book!

Here are few more books she has written:

Thinking in Pictures: My Life With Autism - This is the next book of hers I will be buying!

Animals Make Us Human - This is another one at the top of my list!

There are so many more available on Amazon! Above are the ones that are my top favorites.

112 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page