Communicating with and understanding your horse

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“The University of Sussex in the U.K recently released findings from an interesting study about how horses communicate with each other.  They found that, even though horses have impeccable eyesight (better than both dogs and cats), it is their ears that they rely on most when communicating with each other.

This got me thinking about how much we know about horse to human communication.  Paying attention to a horses’ ears as a means to gauge what she is thinking is a trick experienced riders have been relying on for ages.  Often new riders invest in books covering the matter or watch video after video on the internet, but they struggle to develop a similar intuition to that which old horse hands sport.  Less experienced riders also sometimes misinterpret equine communication by attributing the wrong message to their horse’s behaviour.  It’s always worth-while to be taken back to basics and recap the fundamental factors to bear in mind when trying to understand your horse better.”

1)     Do all horses communicate in the same (or a similar) manner?

Horses all communicate in a similar manner, much the same as all people communicate in a similar manner. However for those who have traveled to places where no one speaks your language, communication is oft times interesting. Yes there are universally understood signs, but often a lot is lost in translation. The same stands true when you're communicating with your horse. One needs to bear in mind when working with your horse, as with people a lot of mannerisms are learned, often people misinterpret the signals they're seeing. In the end you need to learn your horses language, and he yours. The huge challenge is how to effectively communicate with your horse, it's a daunting task, one only has to Google horse behavior to come up with thousands of pages of contrary views, along with internet chat rooms filled with people with no experience sagely handing out nonsensical pearls of wisdom. It's no wonder people are confused, never mind their poor horses.

2)     From your experience, can you give us five helpful tips when it comes to reading/understanding your horse better?

As George Morris famously said "Every second you're with your horses, you're either training or untraining" , most riders in South Africa don't have much to do with their horses in terms of working with them on a daily basis, this often results in challenges, you may instill positive behavior for the hour you send with your horse, however if it's not reinforced, it won't become a learned behavior and you will continually face the same challenges.

People need to spend time with their horses and get to know them, just because one horse behaves in a certain fashion, doesn't mean that the next horse that behaves in that fashion is doing it for the same reasons. Horses have a past just like people, often reacting as a result of past experience, riders need to bear this in mind. So often people arrive at the yard, the horse is waiting tacked up, they get on ride then hand the horse back. They have no idea what the horse is like to lead, groom or lunge. That's in the end the difference between a horseman and a rider. Horsemanship needs to be instilled at an early age, however most parents don't see the benefit of theory lessons on rainy days, or learning to muck out stables and groom on pony camp, these lessons make horsemen, and result in learning to communicate with your in a better fashion. You need to walk before you run.

One thing I've noticed is in the end, horses all become a reflection of their owners. As the old English Proverb says; "Show me your horse and I will tell you what you are".

Learn from people with experience, there is no such thing as a stupid question. If you're going on to the internet go to reputable sites. When it come to communicating with your horse nothing beats hads on experience under the watchful eye of a professional.

Horses are often unique in the way they communicate, for example, I have one horse who I compete at Advanced, with him when he's relaxed and working in a good fashion both ears are pricked forward, however with another if his ears are pricked I know he's not paying attention to me and I'm about to experience a rodeo show, instead of the harmony of classical dressage. Always remember each horse is different.

3)     What would you say is a common misconception about communicating with your horse or understanding your horse?

No matter how hard we try, a horse will never perceive us as another horse. Either mares or stallions can be "Alpha" horses in the wild, depending on the situation, the same applies domesticated horses. Horses are not dominant, contrary to popular belief.

Not all signals mean a negative nor do they mean a positive. For example a horse with his ears back can means he's grumpy or it can mean he's listening to something behind him.



The Horse...

Some horses will test you.
Some will teach you.
And some will bring out the best in you.