Can you hear me now?

If you’re like me, you’ve got a constant conversation running through your mind. (Please tell me it’s not just me!) From things I need to do to hoping it’s going to rain to making sure I bring a mask when I clip Laddie (yup, I’m allergic to horses…) – it’s a wonder I even have time to speak with other people, much less the mental bandwidth!

The main trouble with this is that, in being buried in our own ramblings, we sometimes don’t engage fully when we’re speaking with someone. We’ve all had times when we tune out of a conversation and start thinking about what to cook for dinner, then suddenly realize the person we’re speaking with has paused and is expecting an answer, right? Awkward!  Sometimes it works the other way, where you start a conversation only to have your mind hijacked and taken down the nearest rabbit hole, leaving the other person backing away quietly and glancing around for the nearest exit.

Now, consider your conversations with your horse. It’s likely you are doing most of the “talking”, either with words, body language, (or peppermints), but are you sure your horse is understanding? Since we’re the more highly “evolved” being (don’t get me started on why I prefer most horses to a fair amount of people…), it’s up to us to make sure we are being understood. As I mentioned in the last post, first you need to become self-aware and understand yourself before you can expect to be understood by your horse.

Listen to learn, talk to teach.

That was one of my Dad’s favorite expressions (along with “A good teacher answers the questions, a good student questions the answers.”  My Dad was brilliant.) Well, in our conversations with our horses, we need to make sure we’re listening exponentially more often than talking. He already knows how to be a horse – there’s nothing you can teach him about that; however, if you want him to learn your language, you have to learn his first. 

It can be frustrating to wait for him to understand a new exercise, and at times we may find ourselves increasing the volume and repetition of the request rather than taking a step back and figuring out why he didn’t understand it in the first place. It’s like waiting for a file to load on a computer. 

How many times do you hit the enter key (usually uttering a bit of colorful language under your breath) because it just won’t load the damn page? Here’s a hint (both for your computer and your horse) – every time you click enter (or repeat your aid to your horse), it’s like hitting the reset button. – it just keeps sending him back to the beginning of the thought process, and it can make him anxious (and sometimes a bit cranky – but, can you blame him??)

Here are a few tips on how to become a better conversationalist with your horse, which will, in turn, help you become the owner he deserves. 

  1. Ask once. Just once. Give him an opportunity to think through your request before you start asking over and over again. If it seems like his mind has wandered, ask him something simple just to get his attention back on the work at hand. It’s hard for him to focus when he’s gradually falling asleep at the end of the lead rope!
  2. Reward all tries. If you’re asking him to yield his hindquarters and he takes a step backward instead, don’t punish him – horses honestly don’t do things that frustrate us “on purpose”, it’s typically because they don’t understand our request. Spend a minute and think about your aid to the horse – if he didn’t understand, how can you present the request again in a way that’s clearer to him.
  3. Clear the static. Have you ever tried to tune in a radio station, but the connection so full of static that you could only understand every third or fourth word? Welcome to the world of how your horse can feel about your aids. I can’t tell you the number of lessons I’ve taught where a student told me that the lesson horse they’re riding is much better than he was a few weeks earlier. I’d then explain that wasn’t the horse who improved – he’d always been a good horse, it was the student being clearer with their aids that made it easier for the horse to understand them.

Give it a try! Next time you’re with your horse, and he doesn’t understand something  you ask him, follow the steps above and you might just see that he was a good horse all along.

Until next time – love your horse, love your life, and love yourself!