Chatting With Horses
Recently I found myself saying to a student, ‘it’s a conversation, not a command’. This one phrase is probably the most important thing I can teach. When the human is commanding the horse to obey and do something, there will always be the master/slave relationship. I was raised to do this with horses, and people who didn’t have instant obedience from their horses were considered beginners or ineffective. I bought into this headspace for many years. I believed that the horse MUST do as the human says.
The relationship that is created by thinking this way is very different to the relationship I have with horses now. Now, if I ‘ask’ a horse to something and they say no my next question is why? Because over the years I have found that horses always say yes unless there’s a problem. So, it’s my job to ask them what the problem is, listen to the answer, then see if the horse and I can find a solution to the problem together. Sometimes there’s a no because the horse is in pain, has an injury, is frightened, tired, confused, frustrated or hungry. Horses feel all the same things we do, it’s our job to read the horse and find out what’s happening for them.
Sometimes the horse knows better. I recall a time when I wanted my horse to go through a boggy area and he said no, which I listened to, then later found that someone else had forced their horse to go in there and got seriously and dangerously stuck! Sometimes a horse will say no because they don’t know how to do it. Then it’s not my job to force then to do it, but to teach them how to do it.
I will tell instead of ask if there’s a serious safety issue, such as biting or kicking, when I say very clearly ‘no’. Then I immediately ask why. Why did the horse feel they needed to defend themselves with aggressive behaviour? Is it because they felt threatened? Is it because they were threatened? Is it because of some danger that happened in the past? Is it a habit from the past? Does the horse have pain? Is the there something in the environment that causes that behaviour? Is there something else I’m not thinking of?
As soon as you start looking at it this way, you’re separating the behaviour from the horse. Instead of ‘it’s a bad horse’ it becomes ‘this horse has a problem, I wonder what it is?’, this headspace changes everything. Your problem-solving mind clicks in instead of the dominating, forceful mind. The energy that comes with this is completely different, relaxing both of you.
Then you can start trying different things and seeing the horses’ reaction, each time modifying what you do in response to the horses’ response. This becomes a conversation. It goes backward and forward between you and the horse, sometimes at incredible speed. In this way you develop a deep relationship between the person and the horse, a place of understanding. No human is perfect, and no horse is perfect, we all have our things, our little challenges in life. By seeing your horse as a sentient being and treating them with respect the same as you would any other being, opens the door to true understanding of the nature of equids.
Horses are the most willing and honest creatures imaginable. When you drop all the baggage and just have an honest open conversation with them, they will do nearly anything we ask. When you ask a question, listen to the answer, and change your behaviour in response, the horses just talk more and more, they have a lot to say. I’m not talking animal communication or horse whispering (although there may be some of that present), just good old-fashioned observation.
If you really allow yourself to be completely in the present moment with a horse and observe and feel everything they do, you will be overloaded with messages. Horses are talking ALL the time, in their own language. If we allow ourselves to be open to listening them, they will open and listen to us. Then it’s a conversation, not a command.
Suzy Maloney B.Eq.Sc.
Happy Horses Bitless
Lismore, NSW, Australia
Ph: 0401 249 263
Facebook: Happy Horses Bitless Bridles