We can communicate to our horses through…
1. Our Voice
Your voice is such an important way to communicate with your horse. Your voice has the ability to comfort your horse when he is worried or praise your horse when he does something special. When I ride Sky and want her to halt, I constantly have to be talking to her. When you communicate with your horse, you voice should be soft and low. We never want to yell at our horses because then they become more irritated and tense. As my trainer says your voice should sound like your are “talking Texan.”
2. Our Legs
Your legs also play a huge role in communicating with your horse. As riders, when we use our legs, we become more connected to the horse while riding. Your legs are the key to riding success! We have to learn to be able to ride more with our legs rather than our hands. Any horse will respond much better to leg pressure than pulling with the reins. When I ride Sky or Kahari, both respond to leg pressure. Once I use leg they instantly respond to what I am trying to ask them. When you use your legs for pressure, you should be using your thighs and lower calves. This pressure should not be constant pressure but just slight pressure every once in while depending on what you are learning.
3. Our Hands
Your hands are also equally important in communicating with your horse. Now, I am not saying to roughly use your hands to pull the horse in the direction you want to go. What I am trying to say is to use soft hands to communicate to your horse that you are relaxed and want them to be relaxed as well. Being able to have a soft touch in the saddle is very important to improving in your riding. Once you develop a soft touch and use more leg, your horse will respond positively.
4. Our Emotions
Your emotions will directly impact how your horse responds. For example, if a rider comes to do groundwork with their horse and they are nervous and tense, how do you think the horse is going to react? You guessed it… tense! Horses easily mirror our actions and emotions and how we respond to different situations. My trainer taught me that when you are riding or working your horse you should always keep your emotions and face expressions in a neutral state. So if your horse does spook or do something out of the ordinary, I encourage you to remain neutral and act like nothing happened. I am not denying that this will be hard, but you can do it! If you stay neutral, your horse will calm down faster than if you panicked.
5. Our Body Language
Whenever I attend clinics, horse events, and horse shows as an observer or spectator, I always watch the rider’s body language with their horse. Body language is a HUGE way to communicate with your horse. Horses are VERY smart and can easily sense how you are feeling and what your body language is saying from far away. So basically, horses have already checked you out before you put the halter on them. Your body language can tell a horse if you are confident and know what you are doing or if you are nervous and timid.
6. Our Breathing
Your breathing is also another way that you can communicate with your horse. There are many breathing techniques that can not only help you as a rider relax, but also your horse as well. When you are relaxed your horse is equally relaxed. I recently learned a breathing technique that is super easy in helping you and your horse relax. It is called the “hooga”. Yes, it sounds a bit weird, but trust me it helps SO much! So what you have to do is this: breathe in for 4 counts, hold your breath for 2 counts, and breathe out for 8 counts. Next time you are feeling tense while working your horse, take a moment to stop and do this technique and I am confident it will help you and your horse.
7. Our Eyes
Soft eyes, hard eyes, angry eyes, happy eyes… all of these types of eyes can affect your horse and how he or she reacts to different situations. When I had my first lesson with my trainer and I was lunging, he told me that when I wanted to stop, I should look my horse in the eye like I would look my sister in the eye if she messed up my room. That meant that I needed to look my horse in the eye like I meant it and I wanted her to stop. Once I gave her that look, she immediately stopped. As you can probably tell, our eyes are powerful and can change our horse’s movements in small and big ways.
8. Our Assertiveness
Your assertiveness is also an important factor in communicating with your horse properly. When working with your horse, you can’t be timid or nervous or your horse will refuse to listen or respect you as a leader. You have to be able to be assertive when working with your horse so your horse knows that you are not going to be messing around and that you mean what you are saying. Every time you enter the barn, enter with confidence. Leave any timidness at the door.
9. Watching Our Horse’s Body Language
When you communicate with your horse, watch it’s body language. By watching our horses and how they are responding can help us to figure out what to work on. Horses can express their emotions and body language in many ways such as through the movements of their ears or even responding in flight. A little saying that I use in my riding is to “Watch the horse, then make the decision.”
10. Our Pressure
Last, but not least is pressure. While working with horses, there are many types of pressure such as leg pressure or hand pressure. We can use leg pressure while we are riding to connect with our horses staying in constant communication. We can use light to no pressure on our reins to communicate to our horses that we want relaxation from them.
Communication is EVERYTHING in building a successful relationship with your horse. Communication allows us to be in constant connection with our horse at all times, strengthening the bond. For example, if you have a best friend and never talk or communicate to that friend, how is that helping your friendship grow? This is the same as with your horse. You have to be in constant communication to develop an incredible, strong, and trusting relationship. Until next time… don’t forget to hug your horse!