A lot of people aren’t very aware of how they move around their horse or how much their body language impacts their horse. I remember talking to a student one afternoon while she groomed her horse. She was telling me about an upsetting event that had happened the day before, and every few seconds she’d accompany her tense body and voice with a sharp hand movement to emphasize a point. Her horse stood still, but his ears and eyes were on her and every time she made that movement I saw the muscles in his shoulder flinch. Had he been a less mature or more nervous horse, he might have gotten quite reactive.
Learning to be aware of your own body language is one of the things discussed in depth in The Better Deal. The book offers simple explanations and also some fun, practical exercises you can do with a (human) friend to really get a good understanding of how your movement and position impact the horse. Here’s a short excerpt:
Your presence is your body language and movement around the horse. Your presence is an important part of communicating with your horse on the ground. It shows the horse your leadership qualities. When you work around your horse, you show him your leadership by having a confident, relaxed body presence. It is important to exclude emotions when presenting yourself to the horse. Replace them with directness, simplicity, controlled energy and enthusiasm.
It is very important that your horse learn to distinguish when you are just walking around him, and when you are asking him to move away from you. You need to learn how to move around him in distinct ways. Your presence needs to be different when you are asking him to move his hindquarters, as opposed to when you are just walking over to pat him on the rump. Your presence can be raised or lowered by changing the way you carry yourself.
Examples of bigger presence (left) and smaller presence (right):
Raised arms: Lowered arms
Tense shoulders: Soft shoulders
Facing the horse squarely: Looking or turning away
Moving towards the horse: Moving away from the horse
Moving fast: Slowing down
Shouting: Speaking softly
The more you raise your presence, the stronger and more aggressive you seem. The more you lower your presence, the more timid and gentle you seem. If you approach your horse with too big a presence, he will become afraid. If your presence is too weak, you can seem hesitant and tentative, making the horse nervous or aggressive. If you approach with a calm, relaxed, deliberate presence he will become confident. When working with horses you need to be able to change your presence to fit the situation. Your body presence is a vital part of communicating with your horse on the ground.
Take a look at the books page to find out more about The Better Deal: Practical Horsemanship Training for You and Your Horse.