The horse’s state of mind is revealed in the shape of its body. Its physiology and psychology are so completely connected that the horse is incapable of separating how it feels from how it moves. The frame of mind is congruent with the shape and expression of its body. When working with a horse we must also be congruent with our intent and our body language. By aligning ourselves correctly in body, mind and spirit we can become the leader our horses need us to be.
To recap, the three energies we utilize on the ground when working or just hanging out with our horses include:
1. Pushing energy – This is established with our core aimed at various points on the horse, beginning at the shoulder and working toward the hind quarters of the horse, depending on what we are asking of him…forward and/or lateral movement. Pushing energy is never directed at the front end of the horse (head/neck area). Our body is erect, shoulders square and aligned with our hips and our intent is one of gentle confidence.
2. Drawing energy – This energy is “front of horse” friendly energy. It invites the horse to be relaxed and trusting, while you are in his head space. You must be aware of your core position as well as your shoulders and hips. Slightly fold off your core as described in tip 8/365 when you are facing the horse’s head. If done correctly, you can draw your horse to you and go for a walk with him with no “strings” attached!
3. Blocking energy – Horses respect boundaries. We can define boundaries of where not to go by blocking with our hand/arm at various parts of the horse’s body, depending on which boundary we need to establish. Taking up the slack in the lead rope so that consistent contact is established will enable us to block the horse’s head from going where we do not wish him to go. A horse “goes” by seeking the gap or opening which allows him through. So the boundary shows the horse where not to go and reveals the opening(s) of where to go.
Click on the following link to see a short explanatory video from my teacher, Chris Irwin. http://www.chrisirwin.com/?page_id=0 Click on the third video in the list.
If a horse is pushy with his head and is intruding into your space, pushing his head away will only send him a “game on” message. Simply put your hand/arm up so that it aligns with the corners of the horse’s mouth (where the bit would go) to create a block or boundary. Do not push the horse’s head. The horse may try and push at your hand/arm to come into your space, however stand your ground with your block. Pushing back at the horse’s head is a “bully” approach. Establishing a simple, non threatening block will create respect and build trust.
Why does pushing and/or pulling on the head of a horse create stress for this animal? Horses are prey animals and in the wild, they are fair game to meat eating predators that tend to strike in the vulnerable throat area. So in horse language, a push or a pull on the head area sends a predator type message. The question then arises, how should a person be, move, when working around the head of the horse? One uses what is called a drawing position with our body when we are at the horses head/neck area. This position is accomplished by simply folding our core (belly) backward slightly. Try the following exercise.
Stand up straight with good posture; now bend over slightly as if to bow to someone. Notice when you bow, your core and hips draw back slightly. Now stand up straight again and this time draw your core and hips backward slightly without bowing with the head and shoulders. This is the drawing or inviting position. When facing your horse’s head, try this drawing position, inviting the horse to come toward you with his head. You can even walk backwards a few steps as you draw with your core. Your horse will love you for this! You will no longer be sending a predator message to his head! In other words, you will no longer be “in his face”.
From the ground, we can send a pushing energy with our body by standing up straight and directing our core (belly button) toward the horse’s shoulder or hips to move laterally, or at the flank area to move forward. From the saddle, our pushing energy is transmitted to the horse by various types of pressure from our leg and seat aids.
Horses will become stressed if we send any pushing energy toward their head/neck area. Any pushing energy must be directed at the horse’s hind end through to the shoulders, depending on which type of push we need to give, lateral or forward. It all has to do with proper alignment between human and horse.
A horse’s power begins in the hind end and travels forward through the body into the front. Since leadership is determined by who pushes whom the best, we must send our pushing energy toward the hind end to have the horse move forward. The exact “go” button is located at the flank area of the horse.
There are three main energies that we use in our body language when we are with a horse. These are pushing energy, blocking energy and drawing energy. The horses are well aware of this body language because it is their language and they are reading our body language from the moment they can see us. Are you sending your horse correct messages?
Horses determine who is to be the leader of the herd by who pushes whom the best. The leader is then revered as the one who will always lead the herd to safety. In the human-horse herd, it is vital for the human leader to communicate with appropriate body language so the horse can gain the trust it needs to feel safe.