Sunday, July 18, 2010

Talking Horses

When my kids were toddlers they would go to the barn with me in the morning to feed the horses. My son (who is going to hate me for telling this story), although insisting on going, didn't like all the whinnying that greeted us despite my reassurances that it was happy noise. He'd cling to my leg and wail, "Mommy, horsies talk, horsies talk!"

Horses are chatty things. Bless their hearts, they don't seem to be without something to say--ever. Most of their language is body language, of course, but hey, most of ours is, too. Ninety-three percent of what we communicate is non-verbal (so I've heard). That should make it a slam-dunk to communicate with a horse, right?

Not exactly.

We don't speak the same body language, so we have to reach a compromise. That's what training is all about--teaching a language that is native to neither the horse or rider. When we ride we make use of our hands, legs, seat and voice--the natural aids--to mean specific things. Each of our aids has two functions; either work in harmony with the horse or step out of harmony. When we function in harmony with the horse we're like the "yes-man." When we use our aids out of harmony it's because something needs to be changed either by restraining or driving--our only two choices.

It seems so simple. Yet for an animal who can react when a fly lights on him, every breath the rider takes is capable of carrying meaning. That's why riding is hard. We can be communicating without even realizing it. And the horse will be commenting on what he thinks we're saying.

When they can't figure out what we want, they'll guess--some of them anyway. Others will tune us out, since it's obvious to them we have nothing important to say. Still others will overreact, bluster against us and argue.

Sounds like daily living with a completely human cast of characters, doesn't it? People and horses will tell us what they understand of the current situation by demonstrating it through their actions. Any way you cut it, it takes practice to communicate effectively.

Oh, and it doesn't bother my son anymore when horses whinny for their food. He can relate to their eagerness for a meal (and I'm going to hear about that comment, too!).


  1. My daughter is horse crazy so I have had to get used to living with horses and, yes, loving them. They definitely "talk" even to a non rider like me. And especially when they know I am the bearer of treats!

  2. And they learn who has the treats fast, don't they? :)

  3. Today I learned that an old friend of mine - a horse, of course, may be coming back home. I can't wait! He was a body language talker and I knew his signals well. I can no longer ride but we can talk over the corral fence and catch up on old times. Through no fault of his, or mine, we had to be parted but now he'll have all the treats, and all the love that I can lavish.

  4. How wonderful for you both! They have such great memories. He'll recognize you in an instant, no doubt.

  5. People who don't ride don't grasp how difficult such subtle cues are to control. It's like yoga or tai chi. And that's just for what's said from the saddle.