By: Matthew M. Brendal
Being fluent in understanding a horse's body language is a fundamental of horsemanship psychology. Positive communication is the essence of training your horse and developing sound strategies in dealing with your horse.
Horses communicate almost exclusively using body language. They use very few vocal calls. If you have an equine trained eye you can see numerous conversations taking place between two horses, and a human and a horse. Horses in the wild do not like to announce their position to predators. Horses prefer silently speaking. But the horse still needs to communicate between members of the herd and/or band. Body language fills that bill perfectly.
Humans communicate everyday using body language, but we prefer to speak verbally. Humans can transmit ideas with such intricate details when writing or speaking that we have become attuned to that method. But that form of communication means very little to a horse. Horses are experts at reading body language, it doesn't matter if you are a human. If you want to talk to a horse, you must develop two skills, how to speak with your body and how to understand what your horse is telling you.
It is difficult in this limited forum to cover with great detail the nuances of reading body language or transmitting what we want to say using body language. But this general rule applies when reading a horse's body language, even most novices usually get some idea of what's on a horse's mind by watching their actions. Horses usually have no problem reading what's on your mind by watching your body language. I know you've heard the old adage; a horse can sense your fear, or other emotions. No, they don't have any magical senses; they just know how to read your body language. Remember I discussed how horses like to communicate silently between each other? Horses are flight animals and they are looking for any alarm to set them into flight. If they see other horses acting concerned or afraid, they will act the same in an instant. Remember for that horse to survive, he must only outrun the next slowest horse. The horse wants that head start if he can get it.
In any interaction or training situation we humans must communicate to the horse how we want the horse to act. An example would be something like this; a horse scares us, so we move backwards. Our body action just told the horse he is dominate and we are submissive. If we act differently and stood our ground or made the horse back away, even though we were afraid, then we have sent via our body language we are dominate in the relationship.
The concept is just the opposite when a horse we are working with we believe is afraid of us. All we have to do is send a message via our body language a simple thought from our mind for the horse to relax. We do this by relaxing our body. If we want to appear stronger we send a message via our body language by making our body look bigger. We can stand up straighter and puff out with our arms.
To most of us when we say body language, we assume it is a form of communication that is only visual. To a horse body language also includes touch. Touching certain spots on a horse can communicate information both to you, and from you. If a horse doesn't want to be touched, he is probably afraid and may not trust you. If he allows you to touch only certain spots, then he may trust you a little. The halter with a lead rope, horseman's stick and horseman's string are tools that help the human speak a little more accurately with your body language. Many times in the early stages of training you extensively use physical body language.
Your touch and how you display your body literally speak volumes to the horse. I have had numerous long conversations with a horse while several people that were standing right next to me were oblivious. So please after reading this, go home and talk to your horse. You may be surprised at what he has been trying to say to you all these years.
Fundamental Horsemanship is TLC = Trust, Leadership & Communication.