3. What You See Is Not Always What You Have
One of the primary obstacles we have to overcome when learning to communicate with horses, is the fact that we as humans become far too focused on what the horse is physically doing or not doing. If you consider these precepts as concepts a student must understand before going on to the next, at this stage the student is not qualified to worry about the physical. What you see is not the important part; that will come later. All that the student needs to worry about at this stage of their learning is grasping the language skills they will need in order to be able to influence the physical at a later date. Your relationship with your horse is a whole other can of worms, and honestly has nothing to do with speaking the language. Just like with humans, the language is not dependent on the qualities of the individual or your relationship with them. Spanish is Spanish whether the person you are speaking it to is opinionated or agreeable.
An example of this is when people come to us wanting help with their horse’s impulsion. Horses usually fall into one of two camps: “hot” horses with too much go, or “lazy” horses with too much whoa. But both of these problems are just physical manifestations of other problems, and have nothing to do with language. If you think about your human friends, you probably have some that are excitable, highly energetic people, and others for whom getting out of bed in the morning is an unpleasant chore. However, character traits aside, you are still able to talk to them equally; and them having enough respect for you to actually obey is a very different issue than you saying the words “quit bouncing off the walls and stand still so I can talk to you!” Can you see the difference here?
Say you wanted to get your horse to stand on a pedestal. Even if you ask correctly, the horse has to make a choice as to whether they are actually going to do it or not. If they choose not to do what you want, one of three things usually happen:
1. The person changes the subject. This can happen a couple different ways but one of the most common goes a bit like this:
Human: “Horse, will you get on the pedestal?”
Human: “Run away because I’m going to hit you with this stick!”
Do you see how “run away because I’m going to hit you” is a completely different subject than “get on the pedestal”? In the horse’s mind there is no correlation between the two.
2. The person tries to use a new word for the same task. This scenario is only properly ridiculous when you consider human interactions:
Human #1: (is meeting Human #2 for the first time and wants to shake hands) “Hi, it’s nice to meet you.”
Human #2: (turns away) “Not really.”
Human #1: “This phrase is crap! What other words do I know? Ah! How about this?” (offers hand again) “What time is it?”
Human #2: “No.”
Human #1: “That didn’t work either.” (offers hand yet again) “Where is the bathroom?”
In this instance the language is not the problem, and changing the words you are saying is not going to change your horse’s attitude.
3. The person stops asking entirely. Everyone has probably done this one before:
Human: “Horse, get on the pedestal.”
Human: “You’re right. Why would anyone want to get on a stupid pedestal anyway? Let’s do something we know how to do. Like stand here.”
It sounds strange, but we could probably teach you how to communicate with horses better without a horse than with one. In the beginning, the horse is only there so that you can test that you are in fact saying the word correctly, but that is a strange concept when you think about it. It would be like taking a Spanish speaking friend to your Spanish class so that you could say “como estas” to him, and then gauging your success on whether he answered “bien” or not. While it’s not exactly a bad plan in theory, it is entirely dependent on the friend being as much on board with the idea as you are. Now consider that you forcibly caught your friend, put him on a rope, drug him away from what he was doing, and are making him sit there and answer “bien” over and over again as you practice saying “como estas.” When you think of it like that it makes a bit more sense why horses are not always so agreeable, and why it is so easy for us to think that we are doing something wrong if the horse doesn’t respond appropriately.
It is human nature to get wrapped up in the physical. We are obsessed with what we see and feel and hear and achieve. There is a whole layer underneath that we may not see in a physical sense but affects the physical all the same. We have taught countless lessons where the student is only interested in achieving the task and overlooks the value of learning how to articulate what they are asking for. At best, they learn how to physically get a horse to do something when it is being obstinate. The problem is that they never learn how to ask a horse to do the same thing when it is being agreeable. Your relationship with your horse is a different thing entirely than the language you use to communicate with him.