A man on a horse looks different than a man standing on the ground
Temple Grandin
By Stephanie Henry
November 17, 2016
Recently, ACES alum, Dr. Temple Grandin, was back on campus and spoke to a few classes and presented a seminar for the Animal Sciences department.  Dr. Grandin is well-known as both a consultant to the livestock industry on animal behavior and as a world-renowned autism spokesperson, speaking candidly about her own experiences with autism.

She is a passionate speaker on both of those topics and it was great to hear from her in person.

I have been mulling over one of Dr. Grandin’s word pictures she used in her seminar that day. She was talking about the importance of keeping animals calm while working with them, especially in handling cows. Part of that, she explained, is considering what they see in their surroundings and being aware of what might frighten, surprise, or distract them.  And then she said this:

“To a cow, a man on horse looks a lot different than a man standing on the ground.”

For the next few days, I found that idea coming back to mind over and over.  Aren’t people the same way? Don’t we need time to acclimate to new situations, new ideas, and new surroundings? We need to take things in and decide if they are true and safe.  We need time to deal with change.

As I prepared for an interview that week for a story I was writing to highlight the great work being done in The Autism Program (TAP) in ACES, I again kept thinking of that phrase about the man on the horse vs. the man on the ground.  I talked with a parent of a 16-year-old boy who has autism. She told me that her son, who now towers over her in height, thinks and relates to others at the level of a 5- or 6-year-old child.  With assistance from programs such as TAP, that mom told me that the family has learned to help him by better understanding the way he sees things.

That mom’s words rang so true with what I had heard Dr. Grandin say.  To be able to see things from someone else’s perspective and to understand what frightens them or what motivates them, is so important in being able to connect or communicate with someone.  

I will probably never let this idea—that a man on a horse looks different than a man on the ground—leave my thinking, especially as I raise my kids, meet new people, or communicate with the media and public in my job as a writer for the College of ACES. Sometimes we just need to see things from others’ perspectives, and give each other the time and space to find truth and a sense of safety and hope in what we are offering.

I am grateful for the words and work of Dr. Temple Grandin.