Communication is a Huge Responsibility

 “The more time you spend communicating with your horse, and I mean actually communicating, the more likely it is that your horse will trust that you do in fact know what you’re saying and want the action you’re saying you want.”

       Today’s post is about matrimony. Well, a marriage between you and true communication with horses. While this does indeed sound odd, it is best described in this wayWe choose to use this wordbecause agreeing to a communicative relationship with horses (not horse, singular, because if you are actually communicating, you should be able to do so with any and all horses) requires you to make a promise. This promise is often times a thing people don’t factor into their everyday associations with their horse, but is something that for better or worse plays a huge part in what your communication and relationship with them looks like.

      We realize that whole first paragraph may have been a bit hard to follow, but hopefully it will be clarified by an example. Say you have a lesson with us and we teach you how to communicate ‘up’ to your horse. What usually happens is that we show you this ‘word’ in the form of a pattern so that we can ensure that the horse responds to the word over time, despite what his previous experience has beenwith people and use (or more likely lack of use) of the word.  You as the student are able to see the result of the word in action and practice the body language required for the word.But what usually happens is that, despite having been told that it is in fact a word you are learning, the student places importance on the patternand practices it relentlessly.

      So your next lesson goes something like this: we come into the arena and after a few seconds realize that you have not been practicing the word ‘up,’ but have instead taughtthe useless skill of hopping up and down on cue. So, we alter the pattern into something else to confuse the horse into responding to the word again rather than just the pattern you have been drilling.

      “But,” you are probably saying, “I can now get my horse to rear on command! That was the whole point of the pattern, right?”

      But that is putting the task ahead of the true accomplishment of learning the word. Think about this for a moment. We are using our horses merely as tools for understanding their language. If we taught you the Spanish word for ‘up’ by getting your Spanish speaking friend to put their hands up in the air, you would quickly realize that the true value of learning the word was being able to use it in different contexts. If you could not use the word to get your friend to step ‘up’ onto something or pick ‘up’ something, what was the point of learning the word ‘up’ in the first place? How many times in conversation are you actually going to get your Spanish speaking friend to put their hands ‘up’ in the air? Not very many.

       So what does this mean with our horses?It means that when we leave the arena the first time we should treat the word that we learned like any other word. This means that while it may very well be easier to get them to stand on the pedestal the way you taught them three years ago, you have an obligation to use the word ‘up’.When you are out playing with your horse and you want to practice your new word, you use it in all different kinds of sentences. You say, “horse, up into the trailer”, ”touch the leaf up above your head”, “jump up and over that pole, not just trot over it” (and by the way, if a student was very clever, they might realize that if you know how to communicate ‘up’, you probably also know how to communicate ‘down’).

       The thing is, once you have committed to communicating, you have made a promise that you will continue to do so. Nothing is more frustrating for a horse than the confusion of whether or not to listen to or ignore their human. Think of it from your horse’s perspective. He is constantly having to ask the question, “does she really want me to do that? Or is she just standing that way?” So,although it seems counterintuitive, accomplishing things with your horse, if it compromises your communication, is actually hindering your ability to advance.

     This brings up another responsibility of communication: time. It takes time to become a solid communicator. And time is something we are very stingy about. We hate piddling around with simple tasks and feel as though we are wasting time if we are not seeing glorious results immediately. But if in every interaction you have with horses you use it as a chance to test your knowledge, that time will be invested into your knowledge. The more time you spend communicating with your horse, and I mean actually communicating, the more likely it is that your horse will trust that you do in fact know what you’re saying and want the action you’re saying you want. Therefore, when you use the word ‘up’ in several different ways, you will receive results that are not based upon your horse’s assumption that the two of you don’t speak the same language.

      Communicating with horses is not for the faint of heart. Not because the words are difficult, but because it is so darn easy to slip back into what is familiar and comfortable to us. It is no mean feat to limit the exposure your horse has to the human side of you, and to monitor yourself so that he doesn’t doubt the fact that you do understand him completely (even if you don’t, yet). But we have seen amazing things come from learning to speak to horses. And learning to speak the language of the natives is the rational choice, especially if you love and enjoy them as much as we do.

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