Last time, I wrote about four basic ways of keeping our horse’s attention, so we might have lighter, smoother communication. I talked about two polite, positive ways that complemented two tougher negative ways. I commented how we observed in real life that we begin to appreciate the polite communication more after comparing the discomfort of the negative communication.

The two polite ways of communication are the ones that we envision as being the normal ways of asking a horse to do certain things. They are body language and voice cues. Body language is the best way, unless a horse cannot feel or see us. Voice is the most polite when body language cannot be used, such as when our body is busy doing other things.

I have equated body language in the past with God in the flesh, Jesus Christ. To explain it in Missouri terms, “the show me way.” I explain to riders that the reason we bounce on a horse’s back is that we are not quite moving the way the horse is moving. When we become a horse so to speak, then we know how to move like a horse, and can therefore show a horse how to move. When we want a horse to run, we begin to run with our seat, waist and back on the horse’s back so that they can follow suit. The more the horse respects our asking, the more subtle we can be. We ask a horse to walk, trot, or stop through our seat also. When we are close to a horse while we are on the ground, or on his back, we can equate it with dancing. This is because horse and human are basically doing the same thing. When we are further away, we might resemble a traffic cop if we have the horse circling us. We can all imagine a traffic cop telling us to go, stop, or turn, and this is not much different to our body language on the ground.

Mike Daniels

Mike Daniels

If we are moving sideways on the ground, we can look like a band director. This is because we are trying to conduct both ends of the horse in motion at the same time, just as a conductor seeks to synchronize his band. I like using the image of a waiter at a restaurant as they show us the way to our table also. These are all examples of body language we can all relate to.

Voice cues are the next polite way to ask a horse to respond. Most of the time we envision someone calling a horse to them or communicating to them from a distance. We are familiar with gee and haw for right and left, as well as many other words we can teach them. I like to think of voice cues as simple as possible, basically using sharp, staccato noises to get horses’ energy up, and soft easy noises for bringing their energy down. Usually people do the opposite. They will use soft, lullaby noises to ask a horse for more energy. For example “come on,”  or “let’s go.” They will use hard loud noises to ask a horse to stop, such as yelling out “whoa.” To bring a horse’s energy up, I use four basic sharp noises: a kissing sound that I call a bird sound, a clucking sound that resembles a squirrel, a hissing sound like a snake, or a spitting sound like a cat. These are all sharp, staccato noises that naturally get an animal’s attention. I will vary the noises and intensities so that they do not sound redundant, and turn into tick-tock clocks or sprinkler systems that become lullaby noises that put us all asleep instead. Even emergency vehicles have different noises that they use when they come to intersections so they can catch anybody napping. For bringing a horse’s energy down, use easy noises such as breathing out, breathing in, or sighing. All these voice sounds work in any language, and become clear heads-up cues for communication.

After we have given clear body language, and/or voice cues, we need to be prepared to back up our soft signals with some harder signals. This communication is delivered through our hands and feet. I have previously discussed what I call the “daddy language,” and explain it as hitting air before hitting horse. We move our hands and/or extension (like a stick) rhythmically toward the part of the horse we want to move. It warns that if a horse stays there to make contact, then it will run into something telling him he should have moved when he saw it coming. The warning time is important because it helps sensitize the horse to what happens before what else could happen happens. If we do not hit air first, we can actually begin to desensitize the horse. They can learn to toughen up and begin to ignore the signal in defense of the discomfort. It’s kind of like the suspense before what happens in a scary movie. The suspense actually makes more of an impact than what actually happens.

The most common way people are used to asking a horse to move is by kicking them with their feet. I have explained two polite ways before this, and also one clear warning method through our hands. The most polite way to use our feet is to start by applying pressure with our calves, then our heels, then go to rhythmic motion through our feet. We start our rhythmic motion slowly, and then build up speed and intensity until we get a response. I do not use spurs on horses in their first 30 hours of training, but can introduce them after the horse has gotten the basic idea of what is required of them. Rhythmic leg motion, followed up by spurs can take over the warnings and follow through of hands and stick through time.

As I stated in my prior column, the warnings and follow-through are the most important part of a good communication system with horses. It provides black and white, crystal clear consistency, and emulates God’s way of communicating to us through the Bible.

Mike Daniels is a horsemanship trainer and barefoot trimming specialist from Raymondville. Email: rlhorse58@yahoo.com.

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