Why learn horses’ body language?
Besides loving to learn about equine anatomy and biomechanics, I am fascinated with horses’ body language. Working with their bodies, body language is how they tell me what is going on before, during, and after the session.
Whatever we do with horses, learning more ways to communicate with them on their terms enhances our relationship, our connection, and our collaboration. You are invited to join me on this journey of learning to speak horse!
I also enjoy writing, and reading others’ writing. “Looking” through another’s lens often opens new understandings. I’m especially curious about connecting with horses on their terms. Here are two authors who have helped expand my awareness.
Tim Hayes is a natural horsemanship trainer who discovered how horses can be expert partners in healing and teachers of awareness. Anna Blake is an author and dressage trainer who writes beautifully about equine body language with respect for the horse’s experience.
From Riding Home, the power of horses to heal by Tim Hayes
“. . . learning how to communicate and interact with a horse on the ground is similar to creating a relationship with someone who speaks and understands only a different verbal language, e.g. English versus Chinese. The language of the horse is body language. In fact everything a horse does with its body means something.
. . . when interacting on the ground, if a horse is comfortable with you and what you’re doing, it will remain standing where it is. If not, it will move. Moving is the horse’s way of communicating that although it acknowledges you and what you’re doing, you need to change your attitude or intention or do what you’re doing differently.
. . . The vast majority of the time, when a horse walks away, it’s telling us that we need to move more slowly, be gentler, or be more relaxed. What the horse is saying is that it would be more comfortable staying with us if we acted less like a human/predator and more like a horse/prey. And just as with every man or woman who has ever tried to change another person only to discover that they can’t, the only way to positively have or improve a relationship with a horse is to change oneself.
. . . Unable to teach a horse to speak our language, we can nevertheless teach ourselves to speak in their equine body language. . . . Before the creation of our verbal language, humans, just like horses, communicated using body language. Human verbal language originated and continues to reside in the brain. Today, using our bodies to communicate in our relationships with others is generally not our preference. Nonetheless, our thoughts and feelings are unconsciously and continually revealed and expressed by our bodies.”
Anna Blake says many of the same things in different terms. She talks about ‘calming signals’ that horses use to communicate.
“Calming signals in horses are somewhat similar and include looking away, having lateral ears, yawning, stretching down, licking lips or eating to calm themselves. Can you recognize them? Calming cues communicate stress, and at the same time, release stress. It is modeling behavior for us; they want us to drop our stress level, or aggressiveness as well.
When a horse looks away, either with his eyes or whole head and neck, it is a calming cue. He uses a signal like this when he feels pressured and wants the rider to know he senses the person’s agitation or aggression, but that person can calm down because he is no threat to the human. In the horse’s mind, he is communicating clearly and with respect.”
read all of Anna Blake’s post