By Walt Friedrich
Horses: big, beautiful, lovable critters, there’s no question. And we enjoy their company. We head out toward the stable, thinking of the excellent experiences we’ve had together with our beauties.
But as we might have expected, a negative thought sometimes creeps in, and one thing leads to another, and we marvel about how positive and pleasant thoughts can suddenly get clouded by “what-ifs”, as our pleasant and positive thoughts dissipate and we face the reality of what we actually may be about to experience: will my horse get elusive and make himself difficult to catch again? Is it my fault, for being too rough and demanding as I try to tack him up? Do I really frighten him, and why? — I certainly don’t want to. Yet yesterday he was calm and cooperative, but that was really unusual. Maybe I won’t even be able to mount because he won’t keep still, and maybe I ought to put away this tacking gear for today and get in a little of that barn work instead, if I find him elusive and uncooperative.
Well, meet Mistake #1, known as Ambiguity. Here we are, acting like we know what we’re doing, but our boy sees us question ourselves just by our body language — horses are very good at that, you know. But how can he take us seriously when he’s reading us in an entirely different way, and because of our own uncertainties, he’s quite right in questioning our leadership qualities. They’re confusing to him, and he won’t long put up with it — we may end up watching his beautiful butt disappearing into the dust in quest of something that makes sense to him, like maybe that cute little filly over there. Our fault, of course; we need to know what we’re doing and what we want from him if we expect to get his positive reaction even to our very presence. Don’t send mixed messages; be consistent with everything you say to him; make clearing your mind be your first actual action with him, then stay with the basic objective.
Mistake #2, Not Being in the Present Moment. We all live in the past sometimes, and the more optimistic of us often think seriously about the future. But horses exist in the here and now, and they always expect the same from us. They even expect that we know more about predators in the vicinity than they do, though truth be told, ’tain’t so, but we should proudly wear that rank and live up to it. Although most of us have learned a great deal from past experience, we have also applied those valuable lessons to the present, as have horses, very much to their benefit — it’s protected their entire species for centuries now. However, we should recognize that they do live mostly in the present — and seeing a halter in your hand may generate a reaction, as most of us know, because they have experienced reactions in the past. Note that much of their reactions to the world around them is because they are reacting to what they remember from the past — their minds and bodies are reacting to them in the present, and we would be wise to join them in what is going on in their minds which we observe by their actions. We will always do best whenever we join them in their present moment, and if that means we delay our morning ride for that day, it’s well worth it. And if we force the issue because we demand he do things our way, we must back off and rethink matters. The horse is usually right in his reactions to what’s going on around him, he lives in the present, and we should make sure we’ve joined him there.
Mistake #3, Being Dominant. Whether we wonder what we’re going to do with our horse today, or have it all planned out to the exact detail, it all takes place in our conscious mind. We may want to believe that we are not being dominant with our horse, but if we have a plan, no matter how big or small it may be, and we carry it out without even “asking” our horse how he feels, then we are being dominant and we expect him to be subservient. But you also can’t fool him. And if you’ve been aboard his saddle a few times, you already know how your horse feels without reading it in the paper. Every horsewoman (or man) who sincerely loves her horse has “heard his voice” and unquestioningly knows how he feels at any particular moment (he’s told you often enough in his own language), and for those of you who recognize what I’ll be saying, here, you will have already taken your relationship with him up to a heady and wonderful plane — you’re communicating! But there are still too many riders who discard these thoughts and their benefits to both you and your horse and stick with the “Me Tarzan You Jane (or the reverse, whichever gender reference applies), I suspect you’ve been dumped on occasion. For those “Tarzans” among you, you probably have had more than your share of being dumped, and my comments here, if followed, will help prevent some aches and pains.
A little more time on this matter is always in order: your status in this mixed world of horses and people doesn’t matter; you will avoid such uncomfortable events if you will just listen to your horse telling/showing you how he feels — and this is a perfect way to learn a whole new language — “horse talk” — and think how shocked some of your riding friends will be to realize that you and your horse are actually communicating. Listening to your horse talking to you, once you realize that you actually do “get it” — understand his language — imagine that!
Mistake #4 — Assuming horses are “dumb animals” and don’t know what you are thinking.
But they do. They have minds of their own. Just because they know rather well what’s going on in your mind (when you are the subject of their thoughts, which is the best time) t0″talk nice” and solidify your friendship with him. With no other human near you, just be yourself with your lovable side well exposed. Your own lifestyle will also help, sometimes in a big way: assume for a moment that your horse is shod and you want the iron off of his feet. Bring in your blacksmith and his tools, making sure he is truly a horse lover and will never mistreat your animal in any way — you’ll be turning two individuals into friends in the process as long as you understand that the horse understands you, and you take advantage of careful and proper removal of that iron from his feet. Suggest to your farrier that he restrict his thoughts to happy and positive ones as he works — if he’s wise enough, he’ll “get it” that happy and supportive thoughts have much power that he, himself, can use whenever he deals with his charges’ horses. It’s eerie, how you can hide some medication in your shirt, intending to use it on your horse. As soon as you appear on the scene, your horse is likely to go hide in a corner, or get himself through the door. Yet there is no way he can know you’ve got that “little surprise” for him, but he eludes you no matter what you do. His form of telepathy is the same one that allows a lion, filled with lunch, to walk through a herd of wapiti on an African plain and nobody runs away, yet a mile away another lion, this one hungry, can’t get anywhere near a herd of “lunch animals” without scaring them off instantly. The same works are in play as those horses who shunned you when you walked into their stall with medication injections “hidden” under your shirt. We don’t know how they do that, but the wapiti are quite pleased. So we can’t explain their clairvoyance, but we know it when we see it.
Isn’t the animal kingdom exciting and interesting? Now we have not only horses reading our minds, but African Veldt denizens as well.
Are other animals “dumb” or just horses and wapiti?
Well, I can’t answer that. But it makes no sense to allow a blessed two or three species such special capabilities and forget the millions of others. Most of us can think of a number of dogs and cats we’ve known, some quite friendly but others we’d rather not meet in a dark alley some night.