Body language, through speed, level of aggression, intensity of movement, posture and other things we do without even knowing we’re doing them tell our horses more than we can ever understand.
As I mentioned in other articles, everything has been said when it comes to horsemanship. Lots of writers/trainers have talked about watching horses in a herd and how they are constantly communicating through their body language. Lots of us have read those articles but how many of us have actually taken the time to observe the actions within a herd.
If you take the time, a few hours, you’ll be amazed at how much you can learn by listening to the silence. Silence that may be broken by the hoof of a horse connecting with the side of another or the snap of biting teeth on the rump of a unresponsive herd member.
You will see the reaction of the herd when the dominate mare decides to move across the pasture or when a stallion rounds up his band. Not a sound is made and the entire herd moves in unison by reacting to the nod of a head, the pinning of ears, the bobbing of a nose or the circling of the band. In every case the silence must be heard because if it’s not the horse that doesn’t pay attention will pay a price for the insubordination. In every herd there’s a hierarchy and everyone knows their place. The herd determines where each horse fits in. There’s no voting, arguing, or negotiations taking place. The body language and reaction to the deliverer sets up the action and it’s sort of like dominos falling from top to bottom.
When I observe my horses I see a dominate gelding running roughshod over the other geldings and he always has his little sister with him. She is his girl, weird I know, but what can I say, they’re horses. If any of those other geldings get too close to her he runs them off. There are other geldings that seem to pair up and there’s always a loner that is almost never in the group. Then there’s Liz, one of my mules, who is always in the middle of the action. She’s aware of everything that takes place in the pasture; a watchdog of sorts, especially when someone or something enters the pasture that she thinks doesn’t belong there. No one in the herd gave her that responsibility, but she’s got it covered.
As I observe it’s easy to see that nothing is said in the pasture but it’s ALL HEARD. The silence must be heard for the herd to survive and do whatever it must do throughout its day.
Where does that leave us? We have horses and we want to communicate with them so we come up with all kinds of funky talk to tell our horse how much we love him. Or we think we can get our horse to respond better or quicker if we yell at him. Oh, he responds by silent body language all day long but if you get agitated and loud I guarantee you’ll get a response you probably don’t want. It will more than likely be what you deserve.
If you listen to the silence and pay attention to your horse’s body language you’ll become much more in tune with your horse. Get out to the pasture or barn and try to put in an entire day with your horse without saying a word. Use your hands, and body language to move your horse. Leave the halter on the hook and see how much you can do by putting a soft touch on your horse’s hip, side, chest, nose or his jaw. See if you can understand what your horse needs from you so he understands what you want him to do. You have to be patient and willing to allow your horse the time he needs to hear you through your touch and movement. If you need a halter to do this it’s ok, but don’t use the halter as a crutch.
In all herds there is a leader so it’s imperative that you find a way to establish yourself as the dominate mare or the stallion in charge. You can only do this by your actions. The way you communicate your leadership and build the trust needed can only be done by listening to the silence and answering its call.
The SILENCE MUST BE HEARD. When we understand what that means we stand a chance of becoming true horseman. “It’ll Be Fine” when we can communicate with our horses without saying a word.
Doug and Jody Lindgren own and operate Hay Creek Ranch, Nemo, SD and HCR-AZ, Oracle, AZ. Both camps focus on guests vacationing with their own horses. Doug rides year-round, training horses to be great trail horses.
Visit www.haycreekranch.net for more information about both locations.
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This article was printed in Performance Horse Digest, Volume 9, Issue 11