YOUR HORSES' EXPRESSIONS
A horse at liberty enjoys the freedom to fully express himself in your presence just as he would with members of his own herd. Horses are extremely proficient at reading body language and energetic influences. Humans do this too. We look for facial expressions and body movements to gain insight into the feelings and attitudes of others. Without any conscious thought, we rely on these non-spoken indicators to guide us in our efforts to forge meaningful connections. Horses, most definitely, are sentient beings as well. I find that the surest path to connection with my horses unfolds when I focus on maintaining a constant awareness of their expressions. Although the language may be silent, horses speak volumes to anyone who is willing to hear.
The horses within my herd are all unique individuals, some more expressive than others. Sampson tends to be quite stoic while Shadow can be a bit more rambunctious. Each horse displays varying degrees of personal expression. To enhance our relationship, it is my responsibility to read how each horse chooses to demonstrate his feelings of pleasure or discomfort. Sometimes, a minor adjustment on my part can ensure that we are working in harmony. Paying careful attention to your horse's expression and body language will allow you to receive his message as well. For example, if you step toward your horse and he steps away from you, he is sending a clear sign that he does not want you to approach him right now. Ultimately, your bond will strengthen as your equine partner realizes that he has a say in the relationship that you share.
I have discovered that when I am more "in touch" with how my horses feel about activities such training, riding, or simply being with me, I become less prone to approach them with a particular agenda in mind. It's personally rewarding to me to nurture a willingness in my horses. Willingness stems from trust, which is an important component in any relationship. A horse's capacity to trust me increases when I focus on his feelings and remain mindful of circumstances that make him uncomfortable.
As I said earlier, Shadow surely can be a handful. Sometimes, he is especially sensitive to noises. One day we were trail riding with a friend and came to a wooden bridge. Despite the fact that my friend's horse had easily and willingly crossed the bridge, Shadow would have no part of it. I asked him repeatedly to walk across the bridge and each time he backed up and refused to go forward. I could have chosen to handle this situation in several different ways. I could have dismounted and led Shadow across the bridge hoping that he would follow my lead. I could have asked my friend to come back around to demonstrate once again how to cross the noisy bridge. I know my horse well and to receive such a strong refusal from Shadow is quite unusual. Thus, I decided not to force the issue. Shadow wasn't trying to be "stubborn" or "bad." I realized that he simply lacked the confidence needed to cross such a strange-sounding bridge. Fortunately there was another path to take that did not involve walking across a bridge.
Shadow and I simply walked down into the water. Then we proceeded to walk calmly and quietly up the bank to the other side. At that moment, my horse's trust that I would keep him safe was more important to me than walking across a bridge. Of course that doesn't mean it's alright for Shadow to never cross bridges. Clearly we have some work to do. With proper training in a safe environment, Shadow can learn to cross wooden bridges. It all starts with reading your horse's expression and focusing on the training he trusts and enjoys.
Have a great rest of the week.