Horses travel with diagonal movement. In others words, the left hind leg pushes power through the body and out to the right front. The right hind leg pushes power through to the left front leg. That is why when riding, you will feel a swinging in your seat from left to right.
The theme of this horse friendly tip is “Listen”. Listen to your horse. I am deeply saddened when I hear of a horse or horses that have been euthanized because they were so called “problem” horses and therefore not useful to the business. These “problem” horses are healthy and in the prime of life, but because they have become intolerant of mixed messages coming from handlers and owners, their fate is death. Horses labelled as dangerous are blatantly trying to tell their handlers that they are not using horse friendly body language and it is really stressing them out! The horses who act out the most, such as bucking, rearing, biting, kicking, and so on are screaming for someone to listen. Please listen! And if you do not know what to do, find someone who can help you to listen and learn how to speak horse.
When horses are respectful to each other, they will bend their barrels away from each other. (google “horses mutually grooming” for an array of photos) In the previous post we learned how to place our body in left and right bend, just as a horse. When working around the horse’s head area, show respect by slightly bending your “barrel” away from the horse.
Horses not only read our core energy, they also read the position of our hips and shoulders. We can push, block or draw with our hips and shoulders as well. Try the following exercise. Stand up straight with good posture, keeping shoulders aligned squarely over hips. This is a neutral, non-threatening position and can be used to block an unwanted movement. Now shift your weight over onto your left leg and allow your left hip to move outward to the side. This will put a slight right bend in your body and your right hip will be “open” in a drawing, inviting position. Now switch and place more weight onto your right leg allowing your right hip to move outward to the side. This puts your body in a slight left bend and with a drawing, inviting left hip. Keep your shoulders aligned over your hips. Do not allow your shoulders to lean to the side.
The moment a horse can see you, he is reading your body language. Whether approaching a horse outside in a field or coming to his stall, the approach is the same. Use the “rainbow approach”. Walk on an arc to the horse’s shoulder. This is a non-threatening, horse-friendly manner of speaking.
Button #5 is located at the horse’s hips. Just like the shoulders, the hips are a lateral moving button. If we send a push directly at the horse’s hip, he will move away laterally. The horse’s hips will respond to both pushing and blocking signals.
Button #4 is known as the “Go” button. This button is located in the area of the horse’s flank. When we direct pushing energy toward the flank area of the horse, this engages the hind end forward. When lunging a horse, a low to level flick from the whip toward the flank will send a push signal for the horse to go forward. When riding, our leg aids send the horse forward.
Button #3 is the girth button. This is the horse’s bending button. It is located about 4 inches behind the top of the front leg where the girth is positioned. It’s a point on the horse that we massage to encourage bend and unlock a braced, inverted spine. It is also a point that when massaged will help a distracted horse bring his attention back to you.
Button #2 is the shoulder button. The shoulders are a lateral movement button. We can use pushing energy on the ground or in the saddle to move the shoulders over. On the ground, our core with the aid of a whip can send a push to a horse’s shoulder to move away from us laterally. Blocking energy can keep a pushy shoulder from coming into one’s space. In the saddle, our leg aids influence the shoulders to move away or block a shoulder from unwanted lateral movement.
Chris Irwin defines five major “buttons” on the horse’s body that we can influence. These are: 1) the corners of the mouth; 2) the shoulders; 3) the girth button; 4) the flank area; and 5) the hips.
Button #1, located at the corners of the mouth where the bit rests, is where blocking energy is applied to tell the horse where not to go. We do not pull on the left rein to go left or the right rein to go right. Remember…no pushing or pulling energy should be directed at the horse’s head. So, left rein does not pull to go left. Left rein blocks the horse from going right. Right rein does not pull to go right. Right rein blocks unwanted left. Try riding with reins that block unwanted direction instead of pulling on the horse’s mouth and throwing him off balance. You will gain more respect and trust from your horse. Blocking not pulling puts your horse in good hands.