Riding becomes instinctual after a while; a good rider and his horse are a team. It's not a one-way relationship, either; it's not just the human relating to the horse and telling him what to do. Horses are super-sensitive to their riders and are constantly responding to the riders' needs even without being asked. School horses -- the horses a stable uses to teach people how to ride -- will actually stop trotting when they feel their rider start to lose his balance. That's why learning to ride a horse is completely different from learning to ride a bicycle. The horses make sure nobody gets hurt.
The love a teenager gets from a horse is good for him, and so is the teamwork. For years people always said you needed to send difficult kids to military school or the army. A lot of times that works because those places are so highly structured. But it would work a lot better if military schools still had horses.
"Animals in Translation" comes out of the forty years I've spent with animals.
It's different from any other book I've read about animals, mostly because I'm different from every other professional who works with animals. Autistic people can think the way animals think. Of course, we also think the way people think -- we aren't that different from normal humans. Autism is a kind of way station on the road from animals to humans, which puts autistic people like me in a perfect position to translate "animal talk" into English. I can tell people why their animals are doing the things they do.
I think that's why I was able to become successful in spite of being autistic. Animal behavior was the right field for me, because what I was missing in social understanding I could make up for in understanding animals. Today I've published over three hundred scientific papers, my Web site gets five thousand visitors each month, and I give thirty-five lectures on animal management a year. I give another twenty-five or so on autism, so I'm on the road most of the time. Half the cattle in the United States and Canada are handled in humane slaughter systems I've designed.
I owe a lot of this to the fact that my brain works differently.
Autism has given me another perspective on animals most professionals don't have, although a lot of regular people do, which is that animals are smarter than we think. There are plenty of pet owners and animal lovers out there who'll tell you "little Fluffy can think," but animal researchers have mostly dismissed this kind of thing as wishful thinking.
But I've come to realize that the little old ladies are right. People who love animals, and who spend a lot of time with animals, often start to feel intuitively that there's more to animals than meets the eye. They just don't know what it is, or how to describe it.
I stumbled across the answer, or what I think is part of the answer, almost by accident. Because of my own problems, I've always followed neuroscientific research on the human brain as closely as I've followed my own field. I had to; I'm always looking for answers about how to manage my own life, not just animals' lives. Following both fields at the same time led me to see a connection between human intelligence and animal intelligence the animal sciences have missed.