That may sound odd - and it would be fascinating if it were possible to measure what the horse's thoughts were - but what I mean (in this instance anyway) is the effect which an owner's positive or negative thoughts and actions have on the horse he or she is taking care of.
The results were astonishing and are summarised in the Harvard magazine:
"Before and after the experiment, both groups of men took a battery of cognitive and physical tests, and after just one week, there were dramatic positive changes across the board.
Both groups were stronger and more flexible. Height, weight, gait, posture, hearing, vision—even their performance on intelligence tests had improved. Their joints were more flexible, their shoulders wider, their fingers not only more agile, but longer and less gnarled by arthritis.
But the men who had acted as if they were actually back in 1959 showed significantly more improvement. Those who had impersonated younger men seemed to have bodies that actually were younger."
Of course this study wasn't done on horses but our horses are often more in tune with us and our feelings than we may realise and this can affect their physical performance as well.
For instance, its quite common for a rehab horse to still be footy on tough, uneven surfaces even after they have been here a few weeks. Nearly always the horse is actually perfectly capable of crossing stony ground without any harm but will be more careful than a horse with a completely healthy hoof.
However, there will often be a dramatic difference in the horse's gait and demeanour depending on whether I or the owner is at the end of the lead-rope.
I never mind a horse slowing down and being cautious over a difficult surface but equally I don't ask them to work on a surface they aren't able to cope with. The result is that generally they become more confident fairly quickly and - like the group in the Harvard study - actually more capable over time.
For the owner its usually a lot more nerve-racking. For many of us, the first time we saw our horses working without shoes was a real worry. This is of course utterly natural - particularly if you've been taught all your life that horses cannot cope without shoes and that their feet are so delicate that they need constant protection from a rim of steel.
The result is that typically, the first time the owner and horse together approach a surface tougher than grass, the owner will turn towards the horse and tense up, often taking a deep breath and saying something like "Oh, poor you, are you ok?" in a voice full of concern.
For the horse, the message is immediate and clear: the owner has lost confidence and is worried - there is a problem and probably every reason for the horse to be concerned as well. Ironically, the better and stronger the relationship between horse and owner the more forceful the message will be!
Not surprisingly, once owner and horse are tense and worried then everything becomes more difficult and not only will the horse most likely find the tough surface more of a struggle than normal but both owner and horse will have reinforced in each other the belief that this really WAS a struggle.
You can see how this could easily become a vicious circle, can't you, and how it could be even worse during ridden work, when a tense rider can block the horse's movement as well?
Now, I'll make it clear that I am NOT suggesting you should drag your horse over ground he is unable to cope with - that is unfair, counter-productive and irresponsible. After all, YOU are responsible for choosing the route and terrain you and your horse are working on and so its up to you to make sure he can cope with it.
Having chosen, however, you should have the confidence that it will be beneficial, not harmful, for your horse; it will be a big help for your horse if you can convey this confidence to him via your positive attitude. It will not only make him more confident and more relaxed, it will most likely improve his way of going; working and moving well will lead to more confidence and better movement, better movement to healthier hooves.
By the same token, don't always take the easiest option because there is otherwise a good chance your horse will never be able to cope with the more difficult option. Its a balancing act that requires sensitivity as well as confidence.
Finally, here is one more example of the contrasting effects of positive and negative action.
"The rice experiment is a demonstration of the power of negative thinking (and conversely, the power of positive thinking). In this experiment, Dr Emoto placed portions of cooked rice into two containers. On one container he wrote "thank you" and on the other "you fool". He then instructed school children to say the labels on the jars out loud everyday when they passed them by. After 30 days, the rice in the container with positive thoughts had barely changed, while the other was mouldy and rotten."
It would be an interesting one to try on your horse and his hooves, don't you think?!