Human and horses are social beings by nature and Horsemanship is, by definition, the relationship between a man and a horse. If we want to keep using our human code of language, the more natural kind of relationship for horses could be called “horsehorseship”. In this case, relationships and ranking are based on “grazing rights”, and territory, while in horsemanship many are still trying to achieve leadership in ways that are very different than what is natural for a horse. For natural I mean what a horse understands naturally as leadership.
When I was young I had the chance to experience in real life a close relationship with a horse, a racehorse in full training. I rode in flat races for 12 years, while going to Veterinary School in the 80’s and 90’s and experienced a very different equestrian environment than the one in which most kids learn about horsemanship. At the track, horses are professionals at work, the riders have to listen to the trainer’s orders and the whole team aims to win the money that is at the finish line of the races. In all of that the word LOVE is very rarely present, but horses can still surprise us. I managed to meet a very special one.
His name was Maslogarth, a big dark bay colt that was able to win everyone’s heart. He raced until he was 11, and for the services he rendered, he earned himself lifetime free room and board at the racetrack in Milano Italy. Maslogarth recently died at the age of thirty, in his owner’s arms, after they both spent the last night snuggling together in the same stall where the horse entered as a yearling from the fall sales of 1986. Angelo Garbati, who owned Maslogarth was a very experienced horseman, in his life he rode champions and less than champion horses in the morning workouts. He worked for people like Federico Tesio and broke Ribot, one of the most famous Italian horses of all times. He even rode Maslogarth’s sire, Hogarth. I feel very blessed to have met him and his horse.
Maslogarth offered me the chance to learn in “horse language” how to communicate with horses. I was able to ride Maslogarth bareback on the track and he would stay by my side, like a friend, while I was cooling him down or after a shower. I could ask him in a silent way to go fetch carrots and push doors. Our relationship lasted forever. I went back and did the same things fifteen years later and it felt like I had just left him in his stall the previous day.
When I was young, I was very proud of our horsemanship, but I could not teach anyone how to do it, because it had been Maslogarth’s choice to behave in that manner with me, in order to communicate with me.. While I worked at the track, I modeled the same behavior with other horses and got the same answers, but still did not know my equine ABC in the human code of language.
Years later I was blessed to meet a trainer that could explain in words what I experienced in life. By working with her teachings, and my past I was able to realize that senses are everyone’s open window on the environment.
Based on what is perceived, and with the filter of the personality, everyone performs behavior, expressing thoughts and relating to others, who will perceive and will respond alike. Some information, for example the stimuli that cause instinctive behavior, is more immediate in eliciting responses. Other stimuli need to be learned to work, and use more complex neural paths. This is true for human beings and horses, but with the very important difference that we belong to different animal species. In H2H we make a distinction between work and relationship, in the interactions amongst human beings and horses.
A relationship goes beyond the circumstances of any action we do when working with horses, and can be transferred from one situation to another, even between very different ones. Whether people want to acknowledge it or not, horsemanship is at the core of any equestrian situation, jumping, dressage, fox hunting or any other thing we do with horses. For me, the important fact is that, from the first moment of our interaction, with or without tack, my mindset is that the horse is free, and can choose whether to participate or not in a certain situation. When we relate to horses with this attitude, two main situations can be present: the horse voluntarily takes part in the action, because he understands the situation, benefits from it and is interested, or the horse gets away from the action we are suggesting because our leadership did not impress them.
Just like us human beings, horses have their five senses: sight, hearing, feel, smell and taste. Knowing how to approach a horse, staying in contexts familiar for the horses can really help us in communicating efficiently with them. Working with horses without holding them allows, requires and teaches how to modulate the communication through the senses. This is a spontaneous kind of communication, which eliminates the need for horses to have to learn how to respond to cues. This widens the possibilities for communication, but requires for human beings to step in the horse’s field.
Are you ready to enter this new territory?
Here is some simple facts that are basic in Human to Horse Sensing, and can be used in any field of horsemanship
(Excerpt from Elite Equestrian Vol 14 Issue 4 2014 online at www.eliteequestrian.us )
Human to Horse Sense
The horse has a wider field of vision, due to the position of the eyes on the individual’s head, and has the ability to efficiently employ a monocular mode, and a binocular mode. Horses will primarily use body language and the sense of sight, to communicate in a detailed fashion with other individuals, while man uses sound and the sense of hearing, to get information across to others.
The sense of sight is paramount, when working with a horse without tack; furthermore, it is our best connection to him. If a horse is looking at something, he is also paying attention to it.
The sounds that horses can articulate are very simple, but they can definitely control the intensity, and rhythm of sounds, when they “talk” with their keen. The words we say when working with horses, can actually help us modulate the action we are performing; but the intensity, and rhythm of a sound matter more than the meaning of the words we use, because the horse understands immediately the intensity and rhythm of the sounds we make.
The equine ear can passively catch sounds, and has a very pronounced ability to move, which helps horses in localizing the source of a sound. In addition to this, the position of the horse’s ears can express their state of mind, giving them the ability to express their personality and mood in a certain situation.
When communicating with a horse that is not tied to a rope it is essential to pay attention to the appearance of the horse’s ear in detail.
In horsemanship, the sense of feel becomes the primary channel of communication when we ride, given that the horse cannot see us because of our position. In other situations horses use the sense of feel to explore things that look safe enough to touch, action that they carry out after having blown on the object to explore it. Timid horses stretch their necks to feel something with the tip of their nose. This part of the horse’s head is very capable of collecting detailed information; it also helps in the selection of food.
Through feel, a horse perceives, in a very detailed way, things that are as subtle as the weight of a fly on their skin. When we rely on feel to communicate with horses we need to very finely gage our cues, because the horse can be that aware.
Smell and Taste
Horses always the use of smell and taste, when they are far or close to the source of the information, but most of the time human beings do not keep in mind the information they can convey to a horse through it.
Horses have a great deal of signals that work through the senses of smell and taste that human beings cannot employ in the communication with them.
We feel that these last two senses require from us more consideration than what normally is given. In our courses we dedicate a lot of attention to the use of food in horsemanship, and highlight its effectiveness as a communication tool.
This is just our starting point, if you wish to empower yourself to horsemanship in a very simple and immediate way join me in a class online or onsite, or read our column on Elite Equestrian (US) or Il Mio Cavallo (Italy)
Allegria de Los Cielos
Things like this can happen when we understand the equine rules for relationship!
HH Sensing Online Course in English (ten weekly sessions)
Registrations are open for this course; there are only 14 spaces available.
For further information visit our website http://www.hhsensing.com, or to register, call us at 760 715 1554 or email at http://email@example.com.
This week we will not show you Chapter 8 in Staring a horse under saddle
with Stina, but instead show you the next chapter in…
Making of a Dressage Horse