Let the Horse Understand You

Author: Bob Burdekin       Date: 2011-09-06

Keywords: horse understand, horse senses, horse structure, horse society


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It is a known fact that horses do have a certain amount of intelligence and are able to make decisions that concern them. It is this ability that allows the horse to be able to sense what you are trying to get across to them, it is this same intelligence that allows them to make the decision whether to follow what you are asking them to do. The horse is a "flight or fight" animal and that means that they would rather run away than stand and fight, they will stand their ground and fight, but only if there is no other option. And, if you are asking them to do something that they are unsure of, or do not have the trust in you, then most likely they are not going to stay around. The reaction that you will receive comes from what and how you relate to the horse, be it on their back or on the ground. Some people have called it "feel"; I refer to it as "communication". The communication skills that I do refer to can be accomplished by direct contact with the horse or through the use of your body as a communication tool in an indirect or no contact method.


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Once that you are able to understand and properly use these two methods of communication effectively you can control the mind and the body of the horse in a manner that will allow you to have the horse understand what you expect of them.

The mind of the horse operates differently from ours and has an unusual way of processing information, there are many factors and conditions that either help or harm the overall mental state of the horse. First, we must realize that there are certain limitations in dealing with the horse. They have little, if any, ability to reason. If you ask the horse to do something that is unknown to them, they cannot determine the safety factor of what you are asking them to do and if it will hurt them or not. Since the horse has limited reasoning ability it has to be taught that any safe action that can be done on the left side can also be accomplished on the opposite side. It is also important to remember that horses are prey animals, having eyes on either side of their heads. This gives them a greater range of vision, however, what they see on one side does not translate effectively to the other side. They are moving through two worlds of sight at all times. One of the most important points that we have to concede is that we must start to react as the horse does. We have to learn to look at things the way they do and start to realize that once that we start to look at things differently we will start to react differently. What we have to do is become more instinctual in our reactions to objects and situations. This will allow us to be able to successfully learn to properly communicate with horses at their own level.

The first step is to build a bridge of trust. Through your personal and total trust of the horse they will learn to trust you. The length of this step depends upon you and the horse. Just as you have your own personality, abilities and limitations, so does the horse. Here more than any other area you are rewarded for your patience and effort. Remember, you get out what you put into any project. If done correctly, every step that you take allows the horse to learn. Trust comes from within and you must be willing to enter the horse's world both mentally and physically, any indication of your holding back will slow down the entire process of building the bridge of trust.

Humans have developed into a vocal and pitch society where the horse still relies on the use of the body and other senses for communication. Once that you are willing to start using your body as well as your other senses and stop using your voice the faster you will start to build a lasting relationship and have a greater bond between you and the horse. As you become more proficient in using your body and senses as communication tools, you then become more aware of other things that went unnoticed before that time.

Concern for the comfort of the horse is the next step in the building of the bridge of trust. Any horse, just as in people, can be distracted from what is required when discomfort is involved. The best way to compare this is to think of your own self and the items that are comfortable to you, then realizing that the more comfortable that you are, the greater the accomplishments you are able to start and complete. Discomfort can be as distracting to accomplishments as comfort can be to accomplishment.

Any discomfort may be of such a degree that it is so concentrated that it is unable to accomplish any more than just getting one foot in front of the other. In fact the concentration and determination to eliminate that specific discomfort may be so great that you will become totally uncooperative and will do all you can to get it out of your life at that point in time.

There are two important factors to consider in the area of comfort; the care of the feet and legs, as well as the quality of the tack and equipment that you are using.

The care of the feet and legs are of primary importance, due to the fact that through correct care it will allow the horse to be able to move about in a comfortable manner. For what is done to the feet will affect each and every bone and joint, from the foot to the shoulder or the hip, and well beyond into the entire body. Remember, if our feet hurt we can relax, put up our feet or even take off our shoes. When a horse has an uncomfortable set of shoes on they must keep those shoes on until they are removed. This is one of the most overlooked areas of the training and understanding of the performance horse today. For the performance horse, be it any type, has a demanding pace of competitive training. When I do talk of a performance horse it is a horse that is used by a rider in any manner what so ever, they do not have to be in hunter/jumper training, cutting, endurance or any other specialized form of training, if you have a horse and you ride it, it is a performance horse. The proper foot care for your horse is a major maintenance factor that is as important as the regular changing of the oil in your automobile.

All too often the way to judge the quality of foot care is controlled by the cost factor. This brings to mind a particular situation that I was involved in a number of years ago. I was called to a new client's home to come and shoe their new horse. When I got there I found three horses at the house. I shod the horse that I had been called to do; upon completing that job I did ask if they would like to make another appointment for six weeks later. The answer was yes, my next response was if I should schedule enough time for all three of the horses at their home. To my surprise the answer was to schedule time for just the one horse. It appeared from talking to the owner that there were three different farriers doing work there. Each horse had its own farrier. The one horse they had got for $500 and didn't need a very good horseshoer since it was so cheep, the second horse was worth a little more money so it got a little better horseshoer and lastly the new horse was of the greatest value and demanded the best farrier that they could get. The point that I am trying to get across here is it does not matter what your horse costs, they all need good and regular hoof care, by trained professionals.

The second part of comfort is the quality of the tack and equipment goes back to what I was taught by my grandfather, and it was "You can always tell the level of the craftsman by the quality of the tools they choose". So, the quality of the tools that you chose predetermines how far you will go and how committed you are to your project, as well as how strong your belief is. For it is through your commitment to quality tack and equipment, as well as the overall comfort of the horse that will allow you to progress past the point that most people get to in the performance of any animal. Through this total commitment you will allow yourself to put the horse's needs above your own --- allowing you to get more from the horse through asking rather than demanding. I am not saying that you have to go out and buy any and all of the items that everyone says that you need to use in the care of your horse; all that is needed is some common sense. Analyze the situation, look at it as your horse would and then ask yourself if you would like that being done to you or even if you would like to have a specific task preformed on you. If it takes you more than two seconds to analyze and come up with an answer, most likely it will be the wrong answer. Learn to trust your instincts and allow yourself the freedom of being able to trust your own feelings.

The third area in building the bridge of trust is the mind of the horse. I have found it easiest to put it this way; within the horse is the learning ability of a two-year-old human child while at the same time you have to control the physical conditioned body of a college athlete. One of the more important points that I can instill within you is the fact that mankind is on a much higher mental level of ability than that of the horse. And, in realizing that one fact you can then understand that you have the ability to go down to the reasoning level of the horse. But, you can never hope to get the horse to your level of being able to understand. You have the ability to understand what the horse senses, calm the fear of the unknown and then guide them into what it is that you want them to accomplish.

Until next time "Ride for the Brand".

My work with horses and owners is dedicated to the thousands of horses that I have had the distinct pleasure to meet, learn from and allowed into their lives. That acceptance has given me the insight that is necessary for the understanding of their world and how I had to alter my thoughts and actions to become the same as theirs. These horses started out as my clients, became my friends, then my teachers and finally my mentors. For that I am forever grateful. Learn more about Bob and subscribe to his blog at http://www.BobBurdekin.com

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