Your Horse, Part I"
If you can
learn to read a horse, nothing he does will ever surprise you again.
You’ll be able to predict how a horse is going to react, when
and why. Reading a horse’s body language can help you understand
his mind. The information conveyed through a horse’s body language
can unlock the mystery of horses and enable you to recognize when
a horse might run off, run over you, buck, kick, strike, get worried,
frightened, defensive, bad tempered, or bored.
and human worlds confront one another and one seems to have nothing
in common with the other. If we don’t want to force these two
worlds together, what other choice is there? Could there be an important
link missing? I believe that link is body language.
language you should do as little as possible, but be precise and deliberate
with every motion. Everything you do means something and the horse
is always reacting to your body language- what he can see and what
he can sense.
horse’s body language is a critically important skill to develop.
It will keep you safer because you will know the horse’s tendencies
and intentions and you’ll achieve better results because you
will have a more sensitive approach and better timing. In order to
make improvements in your horse’s performance you must be able
to notice when your horse has made a small change or given you the
response you desired whether mentally, emotionally or physically.
horses cannot speak or write they do have a language. Because body
language is their primary means of communication they develop the
ability to express and interpret body language on a highly sophisticated
level. We will probably never be able to achieve the intricate details
and subtle nuances of posture, expression and movement that horses
use to communicate with each other but with careful observation we
can begin to understand and use some of their very basic fundamental
“words” in order to build a bridge of communication between
human and horse.
Do you remember
when you first got into horses? Someone probably told you to watch
out if the horse put his ears back because it meant he might kick
or bite you. This is the extent of many horse owners’ knowledge
of reading their horse’s body language, yet horses are very
expressive. You can determine their intention, emotional state and
attitude if you know what signs to look for.
the horse’s body language the greatest misunderstanding occurs
in the confusion of aggression and fear. What is often interpreted
as aggression is actually fear. Unless you see his body telling you
what his motivations are, then you both lose. If you only see his
resistance, then you won’t be able to help him overcome his
anxiety and fears, thus leading to aggressive and disrespectful behavior.
You must have a receptive and understanding method of approach, being
able to correctly interpret his reactions which will earn his respect
and trust, build his confidence and alleviate his fears.
A good starting
place is to learn to determine whether a horse is operating from his
left-brain or right-brain. Right-brain behavior is instinctive reaction.
When a horse is operating from his right-brain you can count on anything
and everything happening at once. He is in survival mode and may lash
out without thinking. You may not even be the target; you may have
just been in the way when he got scared.
behavior is responsive, calm and thinking. He is confident, unafraid
and deliberate in his actions, whether they are perceived to be positive
or negative by you. He is capable of the same actions as left or right-brained.
For example, he can bite, kick, buck or rear up out of fear as a right-brain
reaction or out of disrespect as a left-brain response.
So how do
you tell the difference? “When he’s blinking he’s
thinking, when he’s not he’s hot.” A right-brained
horse is tense, scared and ready to run away. He’ll have wide-eyes
and nostrils, a high head, a tense jaw, neck, flanks, back and tail.
He won’t keep his attention on you and will be looking for escape
eight times faster than humans, so when he blows up you may not even
know what hit you. He feels that his life is being threatened and
will do anything to survive. Never forget that inside every gentle
horse is a wild horse.
horse will have a more relaxed posture with his head level, with his
withers, no muscle tension and a soft but alert eye that is blinking.
When a horse makes the transition from fear back to confidence (from
right-brain to left-brain) he may do any or all of the following:
blink his eyes, wiggle his ears, lower his head or lick his lips.
blame a scared horse for acting like a prey animal. Learn to identify
it and to help him become calmer and braver. Just trying to calm him
down and then trying to avoid anything that might cause him to get
scared or nervous is not effective. That’s like living with
a time bomb.
that a great majority of horse-related accidents are due to the human
misreading or not reading at all, not being aware of signals from
the horse and not knowing horses well enough to anticipate what might
It is your
responsibility to help your horse become calmer, smarter and braver.
You can do this by developing awareness, skills and knowledge and
by being mentally and emotionally prepared to do the right thing at
the right time.
are unpredictable and undependable. One day he’s great, the
next day he acts like a nut. He may be a trail horse who spooks at
the same stump he has often passed or a performance horse that refuses
a jump he has taken many times. He may blow up in the middle of a
dressage test he has practiced perfectly or a barrel horse that refuses
to enter the arena.
There is a
direct connection between dependability and confidence in a horse.
In the previous examples, these horses may just be going through the
motions, doing what they have been “trained” to do, but
without confidence. Therefore, they come unglued as soon as things
are a little different such as the weather, the location, other horses,
etc. They are emotionally fragile and don’t do well under pressure.
plenty of things you can do with your horse day by day to help him
increase his self-confidence, his trust in you and his ability to
remain calm in a scary or confusing situation.
The Six Keys
to Harmony ground exercises we do with our horses present tasks to
challenge them mentally and physically. When they are performing the
six exercises well, with lightness and respect for the human, they
will become more willing and confident to try other new things.
I have observed
that many people do not ask very much of their horses. In fact, some
owners tend to make an effort to avoid anything that could possibly
upset their horse or prove difficult. They begin to accept their horse’s
poor behavior as normal and the human becomes willing to do whatever
it takes to just get along with their horse. This results in the human
constantly dealing with control, resistance and safety issues. When
a horse owner begins to ask their horse to perform these six exercises
they may expose some resistance areas they have avoided or didn’t
even know existed. Discovering and exposing harbored pockets of opposition
gives the owner opportunities to resolve these problems at the root.
If a horse
performs a task or exercise in a right-brain, reactive mode he will
have a high head, staring eyes, tight tail, and will often rush and
stumble. In order to bring about a significant mental and emotional
change and help him overcome his fear and uncertainty, the task or
exercise must be repeated until the horse can perform it calmly, willingly
and without hesitation.
When a horse
performs the exercises from a left-brain, thinking mode he will be
alert but not tense, athletic, coordinated, deliberate and fluid.
He will be visibly relaxed and confident.
Many people would call this a well trained horse; however, this is
more about confidence than training. It is about building the horse’s
confidence in himself and in the human as his leader. Through the
use of The Six Keys to Harmony exercises, both on the ground and in
the saddle, your horse will gain confidence in your leadership through
your clear direction. He will be able to comprehend the task you are
asking him to perform and thus be able to respond positively, establishing
a comfortable, confident and understanding relationship between horse
and rider. You will be able to interpret your horses’ behavior
and give the needed response and he will comprehend your requests
and follow them with confidence.
this is accomplished, the horse will be able to perform many new and
challenging tasks with enthusiasm and courage whether on the ground
or with a rider, establishing the foundation for a long and enjoyable