Saturday, March 2, 2013

Lesson #19: Expanding Our Horse Communication Repretoire

Although my week was on the tense side, Friday night was completely and utterly relaxing. Not for one second did I worry about the traffic or weather. I was easy, breezy and beautiful like a regular CoverGirl. ADW got off work early and excitedly left me a voice-mail telling me he was going specifically to purchase apples, carrots and tuna. Apples and carrots for our equine friends and tuna for the barn cat who regularly temps ADW to take him home.

On the drive up, ADW tells me, with excitement in his voice and face, that Indy and Aspen are lucky tonight because Honeycrisp apples were half off, so he got two! The giant grin I was looking at was typical of ADW and his love of tasty fruit and value deals.

Indy isn't tacked up so I worked on getting him put together but he was A LOT of trouble! Bridling him was tricky and he was just not respecting me. He wasn't rude or a naughty boy but he certainly was making me work for things tonight. It's quite possible that his behaviour was retaliation; for me not noticing the sore spot on his back when I was grooming and going at things harder than I should have. I guess we were even.

Just skipping ahead for a minute, Indy eats the apple much like you or I would: in bites! There I was, holding his apple for him as he was taking one bite after the other and juice was leaking all over my hands.

We initiate the lesson with the usual posting trot to warm up. Sheri started the class with going over posting diagonals for ADW who had not been taught them before... with Indy and myself as the example. And, just as Murphy's Law would have it, Indy and I get simultaneous stage fright and we both sort of muck up our mini performance. Re-composing ourselves and getting back together, we manage to achieve the proper posting trot diagonal and the related change up.

Sheri continues her lecture about horse behaviour and reading our horses before getting out into the ring as our equine friends each have their own brain and therefore we need to work on proper communication and assessment of the moods. Afterall, horses read us, their riders, all the time. When we're tense, they in turn, become tense. She continues to go through some other behavioural things like applying the assessment we make: to our environment and our ride so that we ride safely and smartly.

She continues the lesson with technical breakdown of the posting and seated trot. She breaks things down for us about how different actions of our bodies (however slight) communicate to our mounts, what we want to do. While the untrained audience might not notice what's happening, a rider has many tools available to them in order to communicate with their horse, which are not verbal. For example, if you bring your elbows to your side, sit in your "seat" and tighten thigh grip, your horse immediately slows down, in response to this statement. While humans have an extensive verbal and speech vocabulary (even different languages!) to communicate, horses use mostly non-verbal cues--however slight. Because if he gets noisy, you're probably in trouble. As flight creatures, I expect this since noise in the wild could surrender their location to predators.

We move towards the canter next. Sheri tells us to evaluate our situation before actually cantering: are the horses busy, comfortable and relaxed with what's going on? Check. We usually initiate canter from corners as it gives them the opportunity to "push off" with the correct lead leg (I'm still trying to get clarity about what this exactly means...). At first, Indy is getting into the fast pony trot that scares the begesus out of me so that means I'm leaning forward, looking down and tensing up. I'm likely also not getting the leg aids quite right. Talk about sloppy! LOL. Oh well. I work repeatedly on the canter initiation and suddenly, it comes together and my hands are (woohoo!!) not holding onto the saddle for sweet life! HURRAH!!! Success at last. And for tonight, this is good enough for me.

The lesson is finished with a ride on bareback to cool-off. What a wonderful lesson. It's like what Sheri said the other day, sometimes you accomplish loads, other days you're just lucky to have stayed on the horse.


  1. You forgot to mention that I fed the cute kitty tuna and he ate it all and drank up lots of water too. He is so awesome.