Welcome to my new Monday morning edition on body language. I’m pretty excited about the idea of sharing a tidbit every week, it’s a topic dear to my heart and I have a lot say on the subject, even more so having spent the weekend with Anna Blake co-coaching a workshop on this very topic. To say I’m inspired is an understatement!
One of the most common questions that came up during the weekend was “how do I know what my horse is trying to tell me?” I think it’s a lot cleaner to keep it simple.
Keep an open mind. Pause and breathe frequently. Keep your eyes open, soft and observant.
Horses are communicating constantly and once you learn their language they will share volumes about how they feel and what they need from you. If we get too hung up on trying to apply complex meanings we miss the next sentence or the opportunity to ask a question of our own.
Following is a series of images from a conversation I had with Sundance a few years ago. Anna refers to the horse’s visual signals as calming signals and boy, Sundance has a master’s degree in communication!
Lowering his head and turning away from me. The position of his head and neck, his ears, what he’s doing with his nostrils and his eyes all tell me how he feels about my presence in this moment. What is he trying to tell me? Simple. I have anxiety about this. My answer can be equally simple. Pause. Breathe. Watch for signs from him that his anxiety has diminished before moving on to the next thing.
Another calming signal. He’s now turned his head to look at me and maybe consider taking a step. He’s letting me know that in this moment he feels better about things. He’s okay.
Check out his ear position and his eyes. He’s got tension in both and his walk has a quality to it that feels like a robot walking beside you. Message? Simple. I could say it’s anxiety, worry, concern – or we could make it even simpler. I’m not really okay with this right now. It doesn’t matter why or what the story is behind why he’s not okay. The solution is the same. Find a place to let him stop. Give him space. Breathe and watch for signs he’s okay again then ask another question. The pauses are part of the conversation so long as you keep observing his signals. His signals are him talking to you so make sure you keep listening!
What do you see here?
I think that when a horse naturally synchronizes their steps with ours that’s also a calming signal. The sideways ears, relaxed and relaxed nostrils. In this moment he’s relatively okay. And guess what? In this conversation he was alternately okay and not okay from moment to moment to moment. It’s a conversation.
Try to leave them with some space and peace to find their own internal release. It’s empowering as heck for a horse to stand in their own space and it empowers us too.