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The Language of the Horse

2/13/2022 Written by Rachel Ory Photo by Kelly Mastine

As a horse trainer working for the public, time spent with each horse is limited. Most owners have budgeted an amount of money they are willing to put into the training of their horse. During training, we try to get to the causes of a problem instead of focusing on the symptoms. The horse learns to respond to aids a certain way; on one level there is a logical progression to the daily work. On a deeper level, the horse responds to what we would consider nuances; the way we carry ourselves and our ability to encourage them to search for an answer that provides relief. Our intention, and the feel that we emit as we ride are all part of speaking the horse's language.

I do my best to prepare the rider, who must embark on their own journey when the horse leaves. The work that has been done is not all directly transferable; each rider builds their own relationship with their horse. At the most basic mechanical level, riders learn how to deliver the aids to get the horse to operate a certain way. Often times, it doesn't go any deeper; as humans we are only capable of understanding what we are ready to accept. However, when a rider becomes curious, then I have the opportunity to encourage them to take the next step. In all of my work with riders, I am preparing them to make a choice, perhaps THE most important choice that each of us as riders have to make: Do we stay at the basic mechanical level where this is for fun, for sport, for recreation, or do we choose to commit ourselves to acquiring the skills to begin communicating with our horse on a deeper level?

This is a crucial decision, because horses are not mechanical. They are either learning or unlearning, being trained or untrained. Knowing what to do is vastly different than doing it. It takes a commitment to acquire the skills to truly "speak with horses;" it's not something that comes natural to most humans. And this starts with making the mechanical part of riding inherent, so then we can focus on sculpting the nuances, our feel, and our intention. This is where speaking our language ends and speaking the horse’s language begins.

By changing our thought process, our goals become more incremental, less obvious to the casual observer, and way more apparent to our horses. Human logic starts the training progression counting from 1-10 when it actually begins at 0. The vitally important 0-1 part most often goes unrecognized because we don't understand what really matters to the horse. A horseman's path should be to seek help when the progress is positive. The most common mistake is waiting until we are in a negative place before asking for help. It is so much easier if a horse never learns he is stronger than we are, how to avoid the subject, or what he can’t do in the process. If you are unsure of what a logical and attainable goal should be for you, find a trainer that you can trust to help you define them. Even if things are going well, checking in with a teacher that offers new perspective from the horse's point of view is essential to our growth.

The commitment to learning based on what matters to our horse doesn't come naturally, and we all will need help from other trainers and teachers who emulate our goals. Riding doesn't have to go any deeper than how and when to apply the aids, but for those who are ready, there is a whole new language waiting, and our horses will thank us! Let's keep contemplating the choices that we have for the sake of our horses, present and future.

Peace to you and your horses!

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