When clarity and compassion replace fear and frustration, you will be able to better communicate with your horse and form a deeper bond.
When we work with our horses, we often make decisions based on our own human perspective. But if we take a moment to look through our horses’ eyes, we will gain a new and intimate viewpoint. We will come to understand more about the way they see the world, which will ultimately improve the connection we share with them and how we communicate.
Through improved communication, connection and collaboration, we can transform our less-than-effective leadership and invite our horses to be more responsive to what we’re asking of them. Here’s how to make it happen.
1. Recognize his gestures
Your horse communicates through body language. The gestures he makes are nearly undetectable and require a keen eye to be noticed, but even the slightest movements – a subtle shift in weight distribution, the look in his eye, the direction of his ears – are his way of creating a dialogue. Do your best to pick up on his signals and respond to them.
2. Familiarize yourself with his culture
Horses work together in a herd hierarchy, where each individual has a place and purpose. They come together to achieve mutual goals and gain strength in their community. For instance, certain rituals have lasted for centuries, such as gathering at the waterhole, sharing protective spaces, and eating as a group. By paying closer attention to these herd dynamics, you can gain a greater understanding of your horse’s needs.
3. Ground yourself
Next time you’re with your horse, take a moment to let the stresses of your day dissolve. Take some deep breaths, and allow the flow of your breathing to release any tension you might be carrying. Envision love flowing through your heart into your hands, then bring that energy and intention to the horse during your session. When your horse senses your attitude is positive, his will be too!
4. Achieve your goals organically
This happens naturally as your partnership evolves. Keep your intentions pure, and focus on taking your training one step at a time. Every horse learns at his own pace, so patience is key.
5. Celebrate every success
When you communicate with your horse, praise him in the manner he understands and embraces. He may appreciate a light touch, a rub on the neck or shoulder, or a short break. Remember to breathe and smile as you acknowledge his attempts, and never punish his failures.
6. Encourage your horse’s individual character
Let his personality develop and shine through. If your horse feels as though he has a voice and can communicate with you, he’ll be more motivated to do right by you. Eventually, this will translate into a well-behaved partner who picks up on what you want him to do even before you ask, and vice versa.
7. Be driven by exploration and creativity
When you’re task-oriented, it’s easy to become dominant. Make your training sessions and everyday engagement more interactive and playful, and watch how quickly you and your horse begin to bond.
8. Take note of his learning style
Figure out the length of lesson he appreciates, and plan your sessions at the right time of day. You might have a busy schedule, but working with your horse when he’s most focused will allow him to process and retain the information much more effectively.
9. Keep variety in your sessions
Training shouldn’t be a chore. Your horse should look forward to spending time with you, and that means making sessions as positive as possible! Pay attention to his signals and use that awareness to create a productive learning environment. Repeat aspects of your repertoire when necessary, and know when enough is enough. Working in reciprocity will always yield better results than imposing your will on him.
10. Put yourself in his shoes
When you consider things from your horse’ perspective, his resistance won’t be so perplexing. For example, if your horse is responding negatively to his halter, it might be that a history of abuse taught him to protect his head from handling. As a prey animal, it is natural for your horse to be driven by fear – to hide, disassociate, flee or fight. Before you blame him for his behavior, put yourself in his shoes, and give him the compassion he deserves.
Learning to speak your horse’s language is, without a doubt, a difficult journey. It can be more challenging than simply demanding that he meet you where you are, or forcing him to abide by a systemized approach. But if you expect him to always try his best, you must do the same for him! Replace force, dominance and compliance with compassion, communication and collaboration – and your bond will automatically deepen.