Connected Horsemanship
            at Valkyrie Ranch

Connecting horse and human in
relationship and communication

Articles & Case Studies

Your Horse Gets A Say!

Posted by Lauren on December 10, 2012 at 3:35 AM


      Most often the questions that come from horse owners and handlers one way or another trace’sback to how to communicate something to their horse. Everyone wants to learn how to make their horse better understand what it is they are asking of them. Few people ever turn that around and ask “what is my horse trying to tell me?”or “how does my horse tell me what they want?” The difference between communicating something to your horse and communicating with your horse is an understanding that is mutual.The definition to me of a mutual relationship is one where the horse freely chooses you; even with all the ropes, fences and equipment taken away your horse still has a desire to be with you and to participate in what you are doing. But there is a catch, a relationship where the horse freely chooses to be with you can never be forced, taught or coerced. The bottom line is that your horse gets to have a say! If you want your relationship with your horse to move past slave and master into an equal friendship then you must accept that the horse has a right to an opinion and must be allowed to freely express it. This does not, however, mean that your horse has the right to whatever it wants, to be without any respect or discipline and to walk all over you or abuse you. You also have the right to your space which you must protect. An example of this lived out would be that your horse may freely express its anger but it may not take its anger out on you.

      One of the hurdles on the way to this kind of relationship is the ridicule or well-intended “help” of others…”you’re not going to allow him to behave that way are you?!” “Look at how disrespectful she is being! My horse knows better than to balk when she’s told to do something.” Don’t listen to your barn friends…your relationship with your horse and their emotional wellbeing must be more important in your mind then what others think or say.  Again this does not mean that your horse can do or not do whatever it likes, what it means is that you never assume that your horse is just being naughty. If your horse balks at something stop and think, is it possible that you have not properly prepared them for that exercise and need to slow things down? If your horse kicks is it possible that they are in pain? If your horse is nervous or spooky could they be trying to tell you that their need for a strong, confident leader has not been met? Ifyour horse doesn’t stop acting up from the time you get it out till after you’ve gotten on is it possible that they are trying to tell you that they do not want you to ride them because they hate their job? If your horse paws constantly while tied could it perhaps be that they are just full of energy and would like to play, stretch and roll before being asked to concentrate or work? If your horse is hard to catch might it be because they actually don’t like you? In order to build a mutual relationship with your horse they must have the freedom to express themselves without fear of reprimand. When your horse is presenting undesirable behavior stop and ask yourself “why?” There may, however, be times when you never find out why. You must be willing to accept that. You may never know why your horse hates to jump or why they refuse to go into that particular trailer or why they always act up when that other horse or person is around but I’d bet you that they have a good reason for it. Now it’s up to you, are you going to cause your horse continued emotional and possibly physical pain by forcing the issue which will only lead to a loss of trust and their resentment towards you; or are you going to allow your horse a say and listen more then you talk? Your horse will only love you more for it. It may be a very bumpy road at first but as your horse begins to express itself and you begin to listen and understand, your relationship will grow exponentially! When you have a real, mutual friendship then you can always assume that your horse will do everything you request as long as you asked properly, your horse is well prepared and has the physical capability to do it. When you can assume that your horse always wants to follow you within this criteria then you can take any signs of displeasure, anger, depression or irritation as your horse trying to communicate something specific to you. You may also be surprised that the more you allow your horse a chance to express itself the more animated they become. As time goes on and you dedicate yourself to always listening you will be able to easily decode your horse’s signals. There is of course a universal type of horse language that you will pick up on and then there will also be little things that will become unique signals between you and your horse. For example I can always tell when Cheyenne does not want to be ridden that day; now sometimes that may mean I turn right around and leave her alone but often times we may do body work to see if she’s ‘off’ physically, or maybe she has felt like there has been too much work and not enough play and so we may just have some good quality bonding time and play without me really asking anything of her. After an adjustment or some fun, together time she may change her mind and be up for a ride… or she may not. But there is always tomorrow; and a stronger bond with a happier horse is well worth giving up a day of riding. 

    You will find that in allowing your horse the chance to express himself you will get a happier, healthier and more willing partner. Your horse will no longer be filled with pent up frustration, depression or anger and will be so much more in tune to what you are doing together. The partnership will be that much more beautiful and the dance will be honest and graceful. As Xenephon said in The Art ofHorsemanship “For what a horse does under constraint…he does without understanding and with no more grace then a dancer would show if he was whipped and goaded. Under such treatment horse and man alike will do much more that is ugly than graceful. No, the horse must make the most graceful and brilliant appearance in all respects of his own will with the help of aids.” One of the worst fallacies that plague the horse industry is the idea that you must always win, once you start something you cannot walk away until your horse has done what you want. No matter how long it takes and by whatever means necessary you must win! To ‘win’ is really just a code name for dominating. Sure your horse may respect you more, they may obey you more but you have crushed their spirit and shattered any love or trust that may have existed between you. Is it worth it? As you bend their will to yours through domination you remove from them the very thing that makes horses magical to us.Their freedom, grace, strength and beauty will be replaced by shallow,untrusting eyes. Real, genuine respect must be earned not forced. You must seek not to create obedience from your horse through domination but instead to inspire willingness and trust in your horse because you have honestly earned their love and respect. If you are truly, honestly seeking a better relationship with your horse then you must allow your horse a say and you must focus more on what they are trying to tell you then on what you want to ask of them.



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