Horse-Logical Communication starts with Grooming
A lot of amateur trainers MythUnderstand what the training
process is all about. They think that training involves
dominating a horse, showing him who's boss. They approach
training as though it were a battle in which one party wins and
the other loses.
Good training is not about confrontation. It's about building a
horse-logical communication system. As trainer, you do your
talking as a non-hunting predator just walking through the herd
or in the role of lead mare in your little herd of two. But you
don't ignore the horse's side of the conversation.
To understand the horse's side of the conversation means learning
horse-speak--how horses say things to one another. Then you use
that knowledge to say things back to the horse for your own
purposes. You want to communicate to the horse that you like it,
that you're glad it's there, that you like to be around it.
You're not going to just grab the horse and beat it into
submission. In terms of horse-speak, grooming can be a powerful
influence you can use to gain control and trust.
Wild horse survival requires strong herd instinct. Mutual
grooming expresses camaraderie among horses and helps wild ones
bond into a herd. Horses love to be groomed. Use this to your
advantage to make friends with a horse when you first start
working with it and to study how your horse communicates things
For example, if the horse is totally relaxed and looking around
and sometimes looking back at you then you got some good quality
time going on. Pay attention as you groom the horse to see where
it's sensitive areas are and where it really enjoys a good
scratching. Horses often signal their pleasure by screwing up
their upper lip or by arching or stretching their neck when you
hit an itchy spot. If the horse pins its ears, swishes its tail,
or threatens a kick, it's saying "back off." There are horses
with very thin skin who dislike coarse brushes but if you groom
them properly without sudden moves using soft brushes and a
degree of pressure that agrees with them, there should be no
When you are grooming, the horse will naturally want to return
the favor because that's what it would do if you were another
horse. If the horse starts chewing on you, do NOT slap it. If a
horse tries to chew on you, you should have seen it coming if you
were paying total attention to your horse. Grooming is not just
moving a brush with your hand while you daydream about tomorrow.
You should be thinking about now, about this horse. So if the
horse wants to groom you in return, interrupt it unobtrusively.
If the head starts around, and you've been paying attention and
have a plan, you'll just put hand up near the neck to stop the
head turning without making a big sudden attack on the horse. You
interrupt the undesirable behavior without changing the horse's
attitude, excitement level, or interpretation of what's going on.
The safe place by any horse is beside the front legs. If you are
standing beside the front legs and have some way to control the
head, you won't get kicked, bit, or tromped on if everything
turns into a can of worms. So you start grooming where it is
safe--at the shoulders--and you just keep working both
directions. Take your time and keep working slowly to the back
and find all the places. Keep making your safe bubble bigger and
bigger. And by the time you and the horse speak the same
language, the entire horse will be available to you and things
will rarely if ever fall apart.
If, when you turned it loose, you saw that this horse did lots of
kicking, you would never go to the back of the animal without
taking the lead rope with you. That way, you can swing the
horse's hindquarters away from you by pulling the head toward you
if the horse tries to kick.
Actions and body language are the only things that make up
horse-speak. Save your vocalizing for later. If you use vocal
commands at the horse, you will leave out the horse-speak, and if
you leave out the horse-speak you will be very frustrated with
why the horse won't listen to you. If you always apply a
methodical and directional pressure to create a shape that the
horse feels and understands, then put a word or signal along with
that methodical pressure, the horse may notice it or may not.
However, over a period of time, the horse will begin to notice it
and pick it up as having a meaning that it feels at that moment.
But it is unenforceable.
If you want to talk to yourself, or hum, or sing to yourself
while grooming, however, it is fine. Anything that will keep your
rhythm and relaxation will keep the horse's rhythm and
There are times when you go into someone's barn and all the
horses in there will be in a depressed state because they don't
like where they are and they don't like what goes on and they
don't like anybody. The horses won't make any fuss, they'll just
be mopey and down. Horses that have a happy thing going on are
going to communicate with you as soon as you go through. One may
stick its head out and tell you that you have no business going
by without coming over to visit. One might try to get you into a
game of duck and bite. But they are all going to be active. They
will be doing anything they want. If you go into a barn and the
horses get up immediately, you know that the horses are
definitely afraid of the people. When you watch people around
horses you will find out very quickly whether or not they
understand horse-speak and have the knack for "nice-ing" the
horses into submission. That is the skill that a lot of people
Really good training is boring to watch. When it starts getting
exciting and looking like a rodeo then you know that somebody is
out of control or scared or angry. Good training should have
about the same activity level as paint drying.
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All rights reserved.
Instructor and trainer