Good horse people have mastered communication with horses and have been talking with them and hearing what they say for thousands of years. However, recently with the “Horse Whispering” wave, we are re-acknowledging our deep and sometimes unspoken relationship with horses.

Relationships between horses and people can vary depending upon the horse and human and what each wants to gain. At the heart of horse-human relationship are the individual personalities and horsenalities coming together for a reason. The reason may be as simple as fun exercise together or as complex as a deep interactive friendship, where both excel beyond their individual capabilities. Regardless of your level or reason for interacting with horses, when you have a better understanding of how they think and feel, you’ll take your relationship to a new level.

Many people who intimately communicate with horses cannot articulate their communication and hence, it is considered “magic.” The reality is that anyone who truly understands horses and thinks and feels with horses has the ability to communicate openly.

I’ve been studying human animal interactions and healing for over 25 years, first as an undergraduate wildlife and range ecology student and then later focusing my graduate work in this field, but I’ll never forget one of my first encounters of a relationship at work. When I transferred from the University of California to the University of Wyoming, I took my junior jumper champion with me. I was delighted to have my best friend to share my dreams of riding the open range. I was intently interested in the cognitive ethology (animal awareness) of animals and eager to begin my research so when one of the first “cowboys” I met offered to take me out on the range, I eagerly accepted.

The cowboy showed up in a pickup truck with a stock rack on it and said, “Let’s go.” I asked where his trailer was and he replied, “I thought you had a jumping horse.” I was a little stunned that he expected my horse to jump into the back end of his truck through the metal stock gate. He casually walked away, whistled for his horse to come out of pasture, which he did, and then saddled it. I stood in awe, as his horse just as casually jumped into the back end of the truck, managing to duck and not get the horn of the saddle stuck on the top bar. I asked him how he trained his horse to do this impressive feat. With a puzzled look, he replied, “I didn’t. He just wants to go to work.”

I realized there were many “special” horse people out there. Some had no idea how they communicated with their horses, because they had always done it and therefore, it was an innate part of them, not something they had learned. However, I wondered if there was a similarity to our methods or if everyone was doing it differently? After several years of research, I was able to identify some common similarities among people who seemed to have special relationships with horses. These people are able to:

1. Think and feel “with” the animal instead of just looking “at” the animal. Science teaches us how to be good objective observers, which means we often distance ourselves from the animal and analyze what is wrong instead of using feeling. Very few animals analyze; most just feel. If we can learn to feel with the animals without letting our own issues and projections get in the way, we will open a pathway for greater understanding.

2. Understand and use body language appropriately so the animal can understand it. They also read the animal’s body language accurately. Again, thinking and feeling with the animal, you are less likely to mistake body language signals. For instance, while a person looking “at” an animal may interpret certain behavior as “aggressive”, a person who thinks and feels “with” the animal sees as an expression of fear.

3. Withhold “judgment” of the animal until they’ve developed a good working relationship. Then they can identify the animal’s personality. Each animal is an individual. Just when you think you know a lot, you will get an animal that tells you that “you know nothing about me.”

4. Stay focused with the animal. Most people cannot hold their focus with anything for more than four seconds, and yet we expect animals to stay focused on us for much longer. Learn to keep your awareness with the animal and not be distracted by others, no matter what is going on around you. You must learn to stay present in the moment with the animal.

5. Match frequencies. Animals are talking all of the time on their frequencies, but most people miss the unspoken language, because their thoughts are too busy racing around in a million different directions on human frequencies. Often, slowing down our own frequencies and asking our minds and bodies to “match” frequencies with other animals opens up the door to clearer communication.

6. Enjoy “being” with the animal. In my studies, it was obvious that both the person and animal were enjoying the communication or relationship of working together. The relationship was not built on dominance or the animal giving in to the human’s desires, but rather a respectful acknowledgement which builds trust between the two beings.

Later, these observations developed into the O.F.F.E.R. Techniques, which have been published and shared with thousands of people to help them learn to “share awareness” with other species. The Open-Friendly-Focused-Empathetic- Respectful Techniques follow and can be used to develop a closer and more loving and open relationship with any other species. Horse charming is the real magic of inter-species communication, where horse and human reach a common ground of understanding. Although it may appear that few people have this ability, it is there for all to embrace. By opening yourself to the possibilities and following the steps above, you can achieve a deeper, more mutually beneficial relationship with your equine partner.

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Mary Ann is an equine behaviorist, human-animal therapist, business coach and holistic health consultant. Obtaining degrees in wildlife biology and range management, she later received her masters in interdisciplinary consciousness studies with emphasis in human-animal interactions. For over 30 years she has studied and taught horse behavior and natural health care, integrating this knowledge into her enlightened horsemanship and enchanted riding programs. She conducts clinics and consultation and has released a book on herbs for horses, a video on herbs and aromatherapy for horses and her popular DVD Think Like a horse.