Use Your Body to Communicate
Body language is your horse's language. Are you using it for maximum effect?
BY CLINTON ANDERSON
IF YOU WANT TO BE A GREAT horseman, you have to have good body language. Why? Because horses communicate almost exclusively via I body language. Yes, they nicker to each other on occasion, but it's not really to tell each other what to do. It's just to make known where they are, or to try to find out where other horses are.
If a horse wants another horse to actually do something, such as to move away, he uses body language. He pins his ears and lowers his head and neck in an assertive way. If that doesn't work, he'll up the threat of his body language until it does.
We, on the other hand, are verbal creatures. Sure, we're . aware of body language, but nowhere near as aware of it as horses are. We pay more attention to other folks' words than to their body language. What all this means is that if you want to be an effective horse trainer, you must work on becoming much more aware of your own body language as well as your horse's.
There are two types of body language to use in communicating with your horse—active and passive. When you want your horse to move, active body language is what you need. This means you "speak" intently to him with your entire body. Do this by facing him head-on, leaning forward toward lim, squaring your shoulders, and look-ling him directly in the eyes. This says clearly, in language he understands by his nature, "Pay attention and move, now!"
When you want him to stand still and Irelax, as when you're desensitizing him to something he's nervous about, use passive [body language. This means carry yourself in a way that conveys an easy, casual attitude. Do this by relaxing your shoulders, maybe cocking a leg, and not looking I your horse directly in the eye. This says to him, again in language he already knows, "Everything's fine—at ease."
As you begin to become more aware of your body language, your goal is to use it consciously—rather than unconsciously-—at all times around your horse. Remember, your horse is "reading" you constantly. So if you let yourself become tense and intent when you're trying to get him to relax, you're just confusing him.
By the same token, if you hang back and aren't assertive when you're trying
to get him to move his feet, you're actually saying, "Don't worry—you don't really have to do anything."
Ultimately, you'll need to be able to change your body language quickly at need, so that what you're "saying" with it is always appropriate to what you actually want from your horse at any given moment.
NO SHADES OF GRAY
The more black-and-white you can be with your body language, the better. Horses are extremely clear when they communicate with each other; you must be equally clear when you use body language to communicate with your horse in order for your training to be effective. You want to have a definite difference between the body language that says,
"That's it! Good boy!" and what says, "Get out of my space—move your feet!"
For example, let's say your horse is disrespectful and you back him up to correct him. If you don't use your body language to back him up with real energy, you're not sending a clear message. If you back him slowly for a short distance, plus let him decide when to stop, your correction becomes a shade of gray.
Your horse wonders, Did I back up because I did something wrong? Or was that just backing-up practice?
If he's unsure it was a correction, or if it didn't make him feel uncomfortable enough, he won't be motivated to avoid the same mistake again.
So use your body language-consciously, consistently, and clearly, and your horse-will he able to understand and to progress in his learning. ■