The American Heritage Stedman’s Medical Dictionary defines synapse as “the junction across which a nerve impulse passes from an axon terminal to a neuron, a muscle cell or a gland cell.”
“Interesting!” you might say (or might not), “but what on earth does that have to do with riding?”
“Good question!” I say.
Understanding the concept of a synapse, in structure and function, can help us understand how horses (especially green horses) process the aids. When we understand the way in which our horses understand, we can more effectively apply our aids.
When we apply an aid, there is a delay from the time we apply it to the time the horse is able to respond. That delay — the synapse of the aids — doesn’t mean that nothing is happening. It means only that the horse is processing our request and then coordinating his or her body to comply with that request.
Even a highly trained horse must still physically recognize our aid and translate that aid mentally into a physical reaction. The more highly trained the horse, the smaller the synapse. The greener the horse, the larger the synapse.
With the highly trained horse, the synapse may be so small that we don’t perceive it. The time it takes for the impulse to travel across the synapse may be a fraction of a second. With a green horse, it may take a second or two seconds or more.