13 Nov How Horses Read Your Body Language
How to Communicate With Your Horse Using Body Language
Horses can’t talk using words; instead, they communicate using body language. Even with humans, horses will look at what you’re saying with your body before responding to other aids. Having an understanding of using your own body language to communicate with your horse can make your training more effective!
So, how do you communicate with your horse using body language? When it comes to learning how to use your body language to communicate with your horse, groundwork is a great place to start. Groundwork is the foundation of horse training and allows you to interact with your horse face to face before getting on their backs. One big part of communicating with your horse is learning how to create an “atmosphere” with your body language. An atmosphere of intention, assertiveness, and gentleness will go further than one of aggression, tension, and uncertainty.
Horse Body Language #1: A Horse Moves in the Direction Its Shoulders Point
An easy place to start when learning how to communicate with your horse through body language is to become aware of the direction in which your shoulders are pointing. Horses travel in the direction their shoulders point, and you can let your horse know which direction you want them to travel in by the direction you point your shoulders.
Leading Your Horse
When you lead your horse, your shoulders are pointed forward in the direction you want to go. This indicates to your horse that you want to go forward. Many times, people have trouble leading their horses because they don’t use their body language to communicate to their horses where they want to go.
Likewise, if you want your horse to back up, you face backward. Your position, along with your aids, can make it easier for your horse to understand that you want them to back up.
Lunging Your Horse
These concepts can apply to lunging your horse as well. Pointing your shoulders in the direction your want your horse to go can give your horse a better understanding of what you want. When it comes to lunging, there are some technical aspects you need to know as well, but this is just one thing you can do to make it easier.
When you’re in the middle of the circle and want your horse to move forward or go into the next gait, turn your shoulders forward. If you want your horse to slow down or stop, turn your shoulders backward, facing behind the horse. If you want your horse to go around steadily, face your horse directly, your shoulders pointing at their barrel.
If you want a complete breakdown of how to lunge your horse, I made an online course that walks you through step-by-step how to lunge your horse. It also includes troubleshooting common lunging issues. To check it out, click here!
Horse Body Language #2: If You Want Your Horse to Move, You Need to Move Too
When it comes to communicating with your horse through body language, it’s important to remember that your horse will mirror your body language. For example, if you want your horse to move, it’s going to require movement on your part.
Getting your horse to move is always going to involve movement. For example, if I want my horse to lead, I need to take the first step or apply pressure. If I want my horse to move into the next gait while lunging, I can increase my step in the center of the circle to push the horse forward.
If I want to get my horse to move away, I need to make movement toward them. If you watch horses interact in the pasture, you’ll notice that when a horse wants another horse to move away from them, they always move towards them or create pressure in the other horse’s direction (pressure can look like pinning their ears back kicking out or trying to bite at the other horse.)
So, if you’re having a hard time getting your horse to move, you may not be moving enough. You may be confusing your horse by being too still and not using your body language to communicate. If you have a particularly lazy horse you’re dealing with, check out my article Making Your Horse Faster: What You Need to Know.
Horse Body Language #3: Still Human = Still Horse
Likewise to my previous point, if you want your horse to slow down and stop, you need to slow down and stop your movements. Remember, your horse will want to mimic your body language; if you stop or slow down, your horse should mirror that.
If you’re lunging your horse and want your horse to slow down or move down to a slower gait, decrease your movements within the center. This will lessen the push you’re applying to the horse’s driveline, and they should slow down as well.
Slowing down can also relate to the energy you are putting off. If your horse is particularly nervous or worked up over something, slowing down your own tempo and reactions can cause them to become more relaxed. They are going to feed off of your response. If you are responding quickly and reactively, they will too.
Believe it or not, many riders unknowingly use their body language to communicate tension, anxiety, and fear to their horses. To learn more, visit my article Horseback Riding Mistakes: The #1 Mistake English Riders Make.
Horse Body Language #4: How to Communicate Your Intentions
Intention means a determination to act in a certain way; an intended goal. You can use your body language to communicate your intentions to your horse. This, in turn, will help your horse feel more confident and relaxed in training.
I want to read and respond to my intention rather than my action. By responding to an action, you’re teaching your horse to respond to an action. For example; if you tighten your reins and tense up when approaching a scary object on your horse, the horse will learn to mirror your response and be afraid of the object. When responding to your intention, you will try and remain relaxed in the saddle and confident so your horse feels the same. In this scenario, your intention is to show your horse the object is nothing to be afraid of.
One thing I constantly have to be reminding myself of is to reflect my intentions in how I communicate with my horse. Desensitizing is a great place to work on this.
Let’s take desensitizing to the crop. The horse knows the crop means to go forward, but I want to show him that my intention is not that at all. To get him to go forward, I would usually move towards him with the crop as I wave it. To show him that my intention is not to make him move, I’ll start at a standstill and just wave the crop around.
In the beginning, the horse will probably move because that is the first thing he was taught. I’ll help him understand that isn’t what I want for this. By standing still and facing away from the horse as I wave the crop, I can help the horse understand my intention isn’t to move him. If I wanted him to move, I would move towards the horse and move my body more.
To learn more about how to desensitize your horse, check out my article Bombproof and Desensitize a Horse: The Ultimate Guide.