Working with Horses II
Posted by Irina Yastrebova on Sunday, December 14, 2008 12:32 PM
Body Language
After reading the previous blog you probably realize that body language is very important with horses. Hence, they cannot speak, they express themselves with movement. They read humans according to the body language: your posture, the way you move, look, speed of your movement, it's intensity. Calm, confident movement without fear or concern gives horses confidence in the handler. The worst thing you can do is being fearful, jumpy, sudden, sneaky and indecisive. I never try to fool horses. I do not hide a halter in an attempt to sneak close and catch a horse off guard. That is sure way to teach your horse you are not a trustworthy person. If he decides to leave because he sees me with a halter in my hands it's his choice. I must work more on building confidence and trust between us. Understanding your horse's body language is very important. Most people who work with horses can easily tell if a horse is scared, upset or content. However, a lot of time people do not really observe their horse and miss out on little signals that can prevent big arguments. The wonderful thing about horses that they do not hide their intentions. You can say: "Everything is written on their faces (literally)." Even though they do not talk. Many times they are easier to understand than humans.
Saving energy
Another aspect of horse's nature is preserving energy. All creatures including humans have that built-in system. In nature finding food, water and shelter takes a lot of work and wasting energy is very unwise. If you want to change your horse's behavior you do not necessarily have to teach the new one. You just need to show your horse that the unwanted behavior is a waste of his energy. For example, your horse fidgets and moves around when tied up. Every time he steps out of the place where you want him to stand you ask him to move back. If he overshoots and moves more other way ask him to move back to where you want him to stand. The only place you stop asking him to move is the middle. Trust me it does not take a long time for them to figure that out and they start standing quietly and actually content because they know their place. However, do not loose your temper, do not hurt your horse and do not change the way you ask. It requires a ton of patience and very clear mind to see what is going on. And you must remember to correct him every time he moves out of place without you asking him.
Two-way communication
One of the most critical principles to successfully work with horses is to listen to them. Never, ever use any method or instructions as a recipe. What can do wonders for one horse can be a nightmare to another. They are living creatures with temperaments, history and a few skeletons in their closets. Constantly monitor how your horse takes your requests and your leadership. You will learn so much about your horse and you will be able to see what is working and what is not. Knowing different methods of working with horses is a good idea. Gives you a variety of options. However, you will notice that you start to modify and create your own little tricks simply from every day learning from horses. Always be ready to step back, scale down and simplify things. What is a next step to learn for one horse may take 10 new steps for another. Before you decide to act on a certain behavior problem try to find out what causes it. For example, I have a horse in training that used to have a very bad saddle on his back. But it was a while ago, and his back is healed. However, every time I touched him around withers with a brush, my hand or while saddling he would pin his ears and threaten me with his teeth. From white marks left after saddle sores and very tight muscles around the base of his neck I knew there was a problem. Instead of getting after him for such aggressive behavior I would pat his head and upper neck, talk to him softly but most importantly I made sure my saddle fits him and I worked on his muscles gently massaging and mobilizing his neck. After 2 months he stopped threatening me with his teeth, generally relaxed a lot and actually he is a very interesting horse to work with: sensitive, curios and gentle.
Happy riding...
 
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My blog is about teaching, riding and training. I share what is important to me in my work with horses and riders. The writing helps me to think things over and have a better understanding of training ideas and priciples.
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