Horses are intelligent, sentient beings. You’re probably thinking that goes without saying, but have you ever thought about what that means in terms of how we interact with them, and especially how we train them?
What it means to me is, I have to acknowledge that my horse knows I’m not another horse. He doesn’t expect me to treat him like another horse would treat him, and I don’t expect him to treat me like he would treat another horse. In fact I hope he doesn’t! My human body can’t hold up to the way they play with each other or move each other around!
And yet, how many training methods hinge on the premise of interacting with a horse the way another horse would interact with them? Because ‘that’s the language they understand’.
What if I told you, the language horses speak is far more sophisticated and subtle than you can imagine? And that, unlike most humans, horses still live out in the environment with all of their senses engaged. When it comes to reading body language, emotions, facial expressions and intention horses have us beat hands down.
The language horses understand instinctively is body language.
The language horses use to communicate with us is also body language. I’m not talking about the body language I learned about when I was a kid – pinned ears, swishing tails and kicking out. I’m talking about tiny gestures, facial expressions, changes in posture and breathing. The things that happen long before they pin their ears or swish their tail – which really constitute a horse’s version of shouting.
My goal is to up my game. I want to engage in a non-verbal conversation with my horses based in body language that at least comes closer to the sophistication and subtlety they use when they are not annoyed with each other, playing with each other or arguing over piles of food.
What you’ll see here is a 5 minute video of me haltering Kastani. Since I started teaching some workshops with Anna Blake last fall I’ve become endlessly fascinated by how much my horses have to say about being haltered! The conversation starts the moment he becomes aware of my presence.
What fascinates me most is that each and every horse expresses a desire for me to slow down. They have a lot to say on the subject. Man, we mostly never let them get a word in edgewise!
To my great delight, the more I allow them to contribute their thoughts and feelings about what I have in mind, the more they are interested in joining me in conversations about doing things together. I’ve yet to have a horse say no. They may ask me to give them a moment or to please slow down, but they have yet to tell me to go away.
What’s required to have my horses willingly join me is subtle stuff. No meeting elbows with noses to teach them to respect my space, no jerking them off their feet when they get distracted. No chasing them if they walk away from me. No need for whips to encourage them to speed up. No wildly energetic silly walks. They are so much smarter and so much more perceptive than all the crazy stuff we come up with.
Here is a 5 minute video clip. It’s an excerpt from my online class where we are currently discussing body language fundamentals. Meaning, what we are communicating to our horses via our body language. How I go about haltering sets the tone for the rest of our interaction. It’s so important. Link to the video on Youtube.
I’ve been told by many that what I’m teaching is too subtle for most people to see. I think we just haven’t been trained to perceive subtlety. The only way to learn is to start to look for it. How many gestures and body language signals does Kastani employ during this short video? You don’t have to know what he’s saying to begin to observe that he’s saying something!
If you’d like to learn more about this way of interacting with horses there are opportunities to learn on line and in person:
Conversations that Restore: a two day clinic with Anna Blake and Andrea Datz June 2, 3 2018 in Fruita Colorado. There is space for auditors.
2018 Online Class: Communication through Movement is underway but you can jump in any time.
If you’d like to host a clinic with me or come spend a weekend or a week here at the ranch with the herd and I contact me for more information.