How to Exchange A Proper Hello With Any Horse

Author: Isis Jade       Date: 2011-09-06

Keywords: personal space, breath exchange, horses greet, horse feels, share breath

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I can't tell you how many times I've seen horse trainers tell their students they've got to act more like a herd leader, but forget even the most basic of requirements for a horse to want to work with you.

Think about it for a moment. Whenever you visit another country, for example, don't you think it's at least polite that you learn some basic things in their language so you don't seem rude? Things like hello, goodbye, please and thank you?

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You mean humans can appear rude to their animals?

When we encounter another animal, those basic, common courtesies go right out the window. Now dogs, for the most part, if they are generally well-socialized, they'll pretty much accept your rudeness, ignore it, and still wag their tails while you pat them on the head (many dogs, however, have told me they grumble to themselves about how intrusive such an action is to their personal space). Now, I'm not suggesting you go about butt sniffing the next dog you meet, but at least give the dog the benefit of not being so dominant and aggressive towards them by smacking the poor guy on top of his head repeatedly.

And what about horses? Well, horses are significantly more formal about their greetings and even more insulted by invasion of their personal space, especially when it comes to their face than dogs. There's nothing more insulting, or more threatening than some two-legged primate striding forcefully up to him head on and pat him directly between the eyes. The horse can't see directly in front of him too well, so you've invaded a partial blind area - which already triggers his emotional flight response at the worst, and at the least, it speeds up his heart rate a bit. No horse, and I repeat, no horse wants you to smack him on his face along his blaze without first coming up to his shoulder or side or walking towards him at an arc and saying hi. Now that you've so rudely invaded his personal space, and humiliated him by touching him in one his most risky spots, first - without his invitation, let's continue on with explaining how this creates unnecessary challenges.

How You Approach Your Horse Sets the Entire Tone of Your Relationship

With that many strikes against you, how do you think your horse feels about your relationship? That's right, you're a total hay bag. Or maybe your horse feels like you just acted like a slimy little worm.

Your horse might be the gregarious and generous type and just ignores a couple of these insults, roll his eyes, and snort a bit, and ask you for a treat. But over time, day in, day out, he's eventually going to move away from you. Or he might start trying to invade your personal space, because you established the parameters for the "space-invasion let's see who's more dominant" game.

Maybe your horse has long since dismissed you as any intelligent creature worth his time or energy would. Yeah, sure, you might be good for a grooming session now and again, but then again, so is a good, sturdy post. And all your insistence that he obeys you for the hour or so every other day in the arena or out on the trails, well, he can probably handle that, as long as you don't ask for too much and skedaddle on your way home and leave him in peace afterwords.

You see, whether you like it or not, you've become nothing more to him than an annoyance. Worse yet, you've established all this to him in less than five seconds by demeaning him, insulting him. You've also demonstrated your predatorial nature to him beyond a shadow of a doubt (you did just walk right up to him without pause, because you mean business, right?). So, no matter how badly you think you might want to partner up with him, now you've got to work twice as hard just to gain his respect and trust. Admiration and affection? Outside of demanding a treat out of your pocket? That's now just completely out of the picture.

So, What's a Horse Person to Learn From All This?

Well, before I answer that question, I want you to go out and watch how horses greet each other. Especially note how strange horses greet each other for the first time. You'll find, if you are a very careful, astute observer, that there's quite a bit of ritual posturing, snorting, gesturing, and, if you don't realize it yet, there's also blowing in each other's direction. As you may or may not already know, the horse's most powerful sense is his sense of smell. Blowing towards one another enables them to begin to sort out details about the other horse.

Everything from how he positions his feet, to how he tips his ears, everything is deliberate in the ritualized greeting. For those of you who aren't yet able to sense or see energy, there's also a bit of an energetic, intuitive communication going on beneath all that posturing.

There's one thing you should make note of, neither horse pushes into the other horse's personal space until there's a give in the energy field of someone first. Somebody opens the energy and offers the invitation first. Or they both do. But it's still a very formal ritual.

Now, there's some vital, important parts to all this ritualized, formal greeting behavior, including how horses approach each other. If you've spent any time in the world of horses, you'll see that horses in the wild walk in an arc towards each other and especially towards things they aren't sure of. They also pause after a few steps. They rarely charge right up to another unless they are extremely dominant. They don't walk in a straight line or directly towards the face of another - that's a human/predatorial approach, and considered very aggressive behavior.

Now, when it's invited, there's an arching and stretching of the neck and a further prick of the ears and some blowing towards the other horse. This is the beginning of the breath exchange.

The Breath Exchange

Breath exchange is the very first thing a horse encounters before he is invited to touch another horse. They touch noses, nostril to nostril, and share breath for a moment. This sharing of breath helps them further analyze hormones, state of health, status of energy, and sets the stage for a statement of intention. Sometimes they'll switch positions and share breath through alternate nostrils, if they feel aligned in intention, just to make sure. Ears twitch, then sometimes snorting. But, if one horse is seeking to establish a chain of command, or wants something of the other horse and demands acquiescence, you'll see ears begin flipping back and forth, pin back and either ritual striking out or stomping of the ground begins, then usually one horse begins to chase the other.

But that split moment where they've exchanged breath and talked, that's where the magic happens.

Breath exchange is a formal greeting. Between horses as friends, as strangers and as mates.

Exchanging Breath With Your Horse

So, the next time you head on out to the barn, why not practice saying "hello" by exchanging breath with your horse, nose to nose, by leaning into you with your hands behind your back - before you touch him - and see if his attitude towards you shifts a bit. I guarantee the first time you try this experiment it will shake him up a bit, make him wonder about you, make him very curious as to what's going on in your brain. Chances are, he'll be more inclined to play with you.

Are you interested in learning how to really work with, train, and build wonderful relationships with hyper-sensitive or challenging "problem" horses, without using harsh aids, bits, spurs, or other forms of force or intimidation? Are you sick of "gurus" trying to sell you the latest instant fix gimmick?

Are you sick and tired of the "herd leader" dominant pushy approach to horsemanship?

There is another, easier way, to building a great partnership with your equine friend.

Get educated, read The Equus Manifesto. it's the key to unlocking your horse's problems.

Download and read quality how-to articles and listen to podcast audio files in mp3 - Visit my website: [].

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