Brain Scientist Janet Jones on Unplanned Dismounts, Chatting with Secretariat, and the Horse’s Double Sense of Smell

Photo by The Untamed Image

In June of 2020, TSB released a book that, as lifelong horse people, we feel is a game-changer. In HORSE BRAIN, HUMAN BRAIN, brain scientist and horsewoman Janet Jones uses plain language to explore the differences and similarities between equine and human ways of negotiating the world. Mental abilities—like seeing, learning, fearing, trusting, and focusing—are discussed from both human and horse perspectives. Things you might have intuitively understood about your horse, like the fact that he’ll spook at a garden hose (as one example), are now examined through the lens of how the equine brain functions. Other things you might have long puzzled over, like why he spooks at the same garden hose every time he sees it, are finally broken down into understandable reasons for behavior you can address in fair and safe ways.

HORSE BRAIN, HUMAN BRAIN is changing horsemanship, worldwide. Rights have already been sold to Germany, Japan, and Poland, as more people are hearing about the knowledge of brain science that can be easily applied to their equine activities, immensely improving their handling, training, and riding, whatever their skill level, whatever their discipline.

“The book the horse world has been waiting for.”
TIK MAYNARD, author of In the Middle Are the Horsemen

We recently caught up with author Janet Jones and asked her a little about her book, as well as what she hopes equestrians will gain from it.

Photo by The Untamed Image.

TSB: Your book HORSE BRAIN, HUMAN BRAIN uses plain language to explain the differences in how the horse’s brain functions versus the human brain. When did it become clear to you that understanding equine perception and brain function was integral to sound horsemanship?


JJ: It became most clear during the unplanned dismounts, especially in that moment between leaving the saddle and hitting the ground.

TSB: You relate a story of a fall as a teenage rider that resulted in bouts of amnesia that lasted for years, noting that this experience is what led you to the world of brain science. What was it about that period following the fall that made you want to know more, so much so that you eventually taught the subject at the collegiate level?

JJ: Wow, I must have banged my head really hard to have set brain science as my teenage goal.

TSB: You share many eye-opening realities related to the horse’s senses in your book. Which is the one that you or your horsemanship was most changed by once you had learned it?


JJ: The horse’s amazing double-sense of smell, which we humans tend to ignore completely because we don’t have one.

Photo courtesy of Janet Jones.


TSB: You speak convincingly of what the term “horsemanship” should mean in your book. It has long been called “the art of horsemanship,” and many would argue or acknowledge that emotion and intuition play a significant role in our day-to-day dealings with our horses. How should this traditional view of horsemanship be changed by the science you explore?

JJ: Emotion and intuition are still very important; we just need to add brain science to them. Science helps to drive the desire to put the horse first, which is my definition of true horsemanship. Once we realize the huge differences in how horses and humans experience the world, we can feel empathy for our animals and try to help them understand how the human world works.


TSB: What is one lesson you hope readers will take away from your book?

JJ: Don’t poke the bear!


TSB: Just before your book was published, you acquired a three-year-old Dutch Warmblood, who you are starting using brain-based training methods (and blogging about on your website). What inspired you to starting a young horse now, and what are your goals with this new and exciting project?


JJ: Working with young green horses is my version of taking a nap on a rainy day; it’s pure pleasure. I’m fascinated by the way they think. My primary goals are to 1) stay on, 2) avoid spins, bolts, and bucks, 3) earn the horse’s trust, and 4) did I mention stay on?


TSB: If you were trapped on a desert island with a horse and a book, what breed of horse would it be and which book would you choose?


JJ: Oh, such a hard question! If forced, I guess I’d have to choose a tall hot leggy Thoroughbred and a blank book so I could write about him in it.


TSB: If you could do one thing on horseback that you haven’t yet done, what would it be?


JJ: Find the invisible “Perfect” button.

Photo courtesy of Janet Jones.

TSB: What is the quality you most like in a friend?

JJ: Openness.

TSB: What is the quality you most like in a horse?

JJ: Honesty.

TSB: What is your greatest fear?

JJ: That someone will make me choose only one horse and one book on a desert island.

TSB: What is your greatest extravagance?

JJ: That’s easy: $$$horses$$$. Books are a close second, but they cost less to feed.

TSB: If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

JJ: I’m full of faults and flaws, but I am me. For that reason only, I wouldn’t change a thing.

TSB: What’s in your refrigerator at all times?

JJ: Ice wraps.

TSB: What is your idea of perfect happiness?

JJ: To be with the people and animals who love me and whom I love. Also, not to have to decide between “who” and “whom.”

TSB: If you could have a conversation with one famous person, alive or dead, who would it be?

JJ: Secretariat. Okay, he’s not a person, but what a story he could tell.

TSB: If you could go back to December 2019 and go one place anywhere in the world with as many or as few people as you would like, where would you go, who would you bring, and what would you do?

JJ: I would go to a warm ocean with my best friend. We would ride beautiful horses and swim the waves every morning, laugh all afternoon (between reading and naps), and enjoy good dinners together every evening. After a week of that, I’d be ready to go home and write more books.

TSB: What is your motto?

JJ: If your Nerve deny you—
Go above your Nerve—”
(Emily Dickinson, 1862)

HORSE BRAIN, HUMAN BRAIN is available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE for more information or to order now.

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and videos, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont.

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