Without a doubt, my favorite thing to teach people is how to understand what their horse is experiencing.
Understanding is the foundation for communication.
When it comes to understanding horses, the place to start is by teaching people to read the horses body language.
Horses are always communicating with us…but we need to use our EYES to listen.
Check out these three photos from my recent trip to Texas A&M. The photographer did a series of photos that captured the horse physically showing signs of a mental transition. Check it out:
In the first photo you can see the horse is standing still but he is visibly leaning backward. Look at his front legs. His ears are laser focused on me. Even in these less-than-high-res photos you can see that his eyes are very focused.
I am visibly moving toward him and he is physically and mentally processing it. His eyes, ears and front legs reflect the question, “What is she asking? Should I move now? Is she asking me to move again?” While his hind end reflects that he is somewhat relaxed because his left hind leg is resting, he is mentally experiencing some conflict.
In photo number two you can see that I have touched him. Look at the difference in his ears and eyes. When I touched him it helped him answer some of his questions. He doesn’t expect to be asked to move while I am rubbing his head, so the question ‘should I move’ has been answered. There is slightly less lean in his front legs but he hasn’t changed his legs much because they were partly relaxed to begin with.
This third and final photo does an excellent job of capturing a more detailed look at his facial expressions. I have continued to rub and he has continued to relax. His eyes and ears convey his thoughts. He speaks with his body language.
Two of my favorite places to watch are the wrinkles around their eyes and their nostrils. This is obviously less necessary if the horse is SCREAMING at you with other body parts (pinned ears, etc.) but as things become more subtle and detail oriented they are my go-to spots to watch.
Action plan: When you visit your horse today do five minutes of groundwork that you haven’t done for awhile. This could be sending them to a specific corner in the stall while you stand in the doorway, sending them over a tarp or asking them to back 10 feet while you stand in the same spot. Focus on their body language and decide what they are thinking.