Anzamation and Julie
Julie and Shahska
Olympia, Washington 98508
This site and all contents © 2009 Graham Training Center
Horses communicate primarily using body language. They use this as fluently as we do the spoken word. Although their vocabulary is simple and limited it is very accurate and there are rarely misunderstandings between horse individuals. You could say horses never lie to each other, they say what they mean. Humans also use body language but we rely more on the spoken word to convey thoughts. We are the only creature on the planet that can say one thing and by our actions prove the opposite. To the horse we are real confusing.
One thing you need to overcome before developing trust with your horse is fear or apprehension on your part. Fear will cloud and confuse your body language. Instinct will tell the horse to be wary of you. Reason being the horse is a herd animal they rely on each other and their leader to keep them from harm, if one senses danger or fears they all go on alert. If they sense or smell fear in the leader they will prepare to flee when the leader jumps to preserve the herd. So, if you are on edge, so is your horse.
Your horse senses fear when it perceives the following types of body language from you: over-reacting; unpredictability; and avoidance or timidity. Over-reacting is quick, gregarious body movements and loud vocal responses. Unpredictability is by not reacting consistently to the same stimulus. Avoidance or timidity is avoiding certain tasks or not correcting your horse for fear of retaliation or confrontation.
While you are the leader, and you exhibit fear one of two results may occur. One, your horse will submit and react with as much fear as you demonstrate. Two, your horse will assume the leadership role (since you are not confidence in leading), and your horse will view you as lower in the herd hierarchy and begin to exhibit domination behavior towards you. In either case the relationship will be very trying, and possibly become dangerous, so clear your head and try to work without emotion.
Start on a level playing field. Make sure you can work in a mutually safe place, free of environmental hazards: a stall; roundpen; arena; or small paddock. Try to limit outside distractions (e.g., telephone, other animals, kids, etc., avoid distractions caused at feeding times). Firmly set in your mind what it is you want to work. Set one goal during each session, once your horse performs it correctly and consistently (at least three times) end the session.
For instance, if you want a horse to stand in an open area and let you walk up to catch it, you may need to complete a series of sessions to achieve this goal.
In the first session, start by walking up and getting as close to your horse as you can before it starts to walk away. Once the horse stops a behavior of fleeing, you then stop and look in another direction. Do not look toward the horse until it stops moving away. When the horse finally stops, try moving towards it again. If the horse moves away as you near, again stop and look away. At any point, if your horse stops and looks or moves toward you, look in another direction or at the ground. By performing this behavior, you are conveying to your horse that you are not a threat to it. Continue this exercise until you can move toward your horse without it trying to flee from you. Once you are able approach your horse and stand about arm's length away, lower your eyes and quietly give your horse affirmation. After giving your horse its "ata girl" or "ata boy," walk away, letting your horse relax for a few seconds. Then, repeat the entire exercise. After three consecutive attempts, without the horse moving away from you, you have come to the end of the first session.