When teaching a child communication skills we generally start with a few simple words. Like Mama and Dada. We also work on getting them to know the difference. We then start to teach them to recognize and say words that represent parts of their body, numbers, colors, animals, etc...
When building a communication with horses. It is important to know that most of the things we want to communicate to them, they already know how to do. We just need to figure out how we can communicate to them the things we would like for them to do.
Now, a trainer trains the horse. Training consists of actually teaching them to do something they don't know how to do. Horsemanship is about communicating to the horse that we would like them to do something. Usually its something they can already do on their own. So in short, horsemanship is learning how to communicate with the horse. To communicate there must be word recognition. In most cases when we are working with horses its subtle body language instead of words. The thing about this is. The horse already understands body language better than we do. So it is important to remember that we need to pay more attention to ourselves, rather than the horse.
If we go back to the child for a second. When we show them a red crayon, and we teach them to recognize the color red. We know there are many shades of red. But in the beginning we keep it simple. So when we communicate with the horse we need to be aware that it is very similar to this example. For instance, if I ask the horse to move his hind end so he can turn and face me. It starts with just a step in the right direction. But we need to be very clear with our intention. This means we need to pay attention to their posture, speed, apprehension if there is any, how big of a step, and do we want or notice if the front end takes a step forward, backward , left, or right. In the beginning we will reward each little try. As we practice, we want to hold them to a higher standard. Rewarding every time its better than the last time. In 10 or 15 minutes you can have them recognizing quite a few shades of that red, (so to speak).
We would do this for all the basic maneuver's like, step forward, step backward, move the hind end to the right or left, move the front end to the right or left. We can get fancy later. In the beginning all the basic things have to be in place. We need to be able to communicate to them that we would like them to do all this quietly and respectfully,even with distractions, before we go any further. During all this you will need to be aware of many things. For instance, what is your body language saying, do you have their attention, is something happening other than what you intend, just to name a few. There is so much happening all at once. You really need to be aware and evaluate constantly.
Once you have somewhat of a vocabulary you can move to building sentences. With horses it can raise their anxiety when you start asking more of them. This is why it is so important to have control of their emotions. At least to a point were they look to you for advice when their nervous or confused. This will help keep them from running away, or minimizing how far they run before turning to face you.
We will talk more about building sentences in our next post. We hope you have been enjoying our posts. Thanks for reading.