Horses are a physical, emotional, and spiritual being just like humans. We simply approach things differently which can create challenges to clear communication between horse and human. The human tendency is a direct approach to accomplishing a task—it is just how we are hard wired. A horse’s instincts are to be more cautious—they need time to process and understand what they are being asked to do, and determine whether or not it’s something that may harm them. Humans know that a tarp blowing in the wind or a truck driving down the road in the distance are not a threat, whereas a horse does not. It is amazing what the horse will offer when given the time, calm and steady guidance, and lots of reassurance. Ultimately, human to equine interaction is best approached as a partnership, as opposed to the horse being seen as a tool to accomplishing a task.
The first key to helping a horse trust you, want to follow your lead, and function as your partner, requires that you are in control of your own emotions and energy. This is critical because the horse intuitively has a much deeper understanding of what is being conveyed by your energy and body language, than by your words. Knowing how to center yourself so you are feeling grounded while working with a horse is extremely important in establishing the trust between you, and helps the horse to feel more confident and engaged in the activity.
The second most critical factor is breaking down what you are asking of the horse into smaller steps, and then being consistent in how you ask. Lots of resting and praising when the horse moves in the slightest direction toward the right action helps the horse to understand what you want. It reinforces the learning process, builds more confidence, and encourages the horse to stay in a learning mode rather than revert to their flight/fight instinct. To deeply connect with a horse means to present new things or ideas in a step by step manner that makes sense to the horse.
It’s also critical that you pay attention to the physical aspect of the horse’s body. Delving into the biomechanics of the horse, which we’ll address in an upcoming article, establishes better two-way communication between horse and human. It provides better understanding of when and how to apply an aid to help your horse to stay in balance.
A deep connection is built through remaining objective and positive by grounding your own emotions, breaking a task into smaller steps, giving the horse time to process what you are asking, being consistent in how you ask, and using the biomechanics of the horse’s body to apply aids at an appropriate time. All of these will build a deep connection with your horse that will lead to partnership, confidence, and a safer horse to be around.
For questions about this type of training, contact Kim Gieseke, Promenade Horsemanship Academy, at 303-941-2037.