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5 Most Common Horse and Rider Communication Mistakes


trouble horseCommunication is the foundation of our fellowship with all other sentient beings on the planet. We rely on communication through actions and tone to tell our pets when they are bad and good. We rely on communication to talk to our friends and neighbors. If we don't understand the spoken language of someone, we rely on gestures and sounds. Working with a horse is no different and requires just as much care as communication with anyone. Below are five common communication mistakes and misunderstandings between a horse and their rider.

1. Misunderstanding when a horse asks a question.

Horses ask questions all the time. They are not stupid animals, but intelligent creatures and they want to be sure they are doing the right thing. Horses may ask a question by turning their head when something is boring to ask "Can we do something more interesting?", or by twitching their ears to ask "Where shall I go now?". You want your horse to ask questions and you want to be prepared to answer them. By building a trusting relationship with your horse, and listening when they ask rather than assuming they are misbehaving, you are opening a very important line of communication that could save your life. For example, a horse that can ask its rider a question will ask the rider if something is scary before they bolt.

Scolding or punishing your horse for asking a question can lead to a very negative impact on your partnership as your horse may become reactive and uninterested in you and your goals. When your horse asks a question, politely respond with the cue. You want your horse to feel you are the partner and leader, not a tyrant.

2. Am I doing this right?

It's not at all uncommon for a horse to lack confidence and seek encouragement from their rider. A horse that lacks confidence may try to crowd your space when you are on the ground or by being skittsh when you are riding. If you're standing on the ground and the horse takes a few steps into your space, calmly wave them backwards the same number of steps without moving your feet. They want to know that you're paying attention to them, so show that you're a competent leader and wave them back. This says, "I'm in control and I know what's going on. Don't worry, everything is alright.", to your horse. When riding your horse, keep them calm and confident while you are saddling and mounting and maintain a calm awareness all during the ride.

3. Trying as hard as I can!

Horses want to please their owners, but they are prey animals and often take a little extra time to work up the gumption to take a step in a commanded direction. One common area where this may be seen are loading a horse trailer. Your horse likely wants to get into the trailer, and is planning to get in, but first they want to take a sniff around and be absolutely sure that this wobbly thing that smells funny is safe. Don't pressure your horse and don't punish your horse. Be encouraging and let them complete the task on their own time. Once your horse is sure it's safe, loading or any other task, will be easier the next time around.

4. Under Pressure

Sometimes riders cue their horse with too much pressure, making the cue difficult to understand. Listen to your horse. If they're tail swishing and there are no flies or tossing their head when you try to cue them, you may be using too much pressure when trying to cue. Start over with a much lighter cue and see if they respond without giving you any trouble.

5. You're scaring me!

Horses are prey animals and humans are considered to be more predatory. This can frighten a horse that lacks confidence and it is important that you understand how the horse views you and what it means when they turn their head away. Turning the head away is not a sign of rebellion but more one of shame or lack of confidence. It means the horse feels they cannot look at you with both of their eyes. Don't force the horse to face you, instead turn yourself slightly. This will make you appear less intimidating to your horse. In addition, try doing work with the horse on both sides.


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