Communication: Horse Whispering

One of the definitions of communication as provided by Webster's Dictionary is "a process by which information is exchanged between individuals through a common system of symbols, signs, or behavior." Can we as humans use a common system of symbols, signs, and behavior to communicate with horses? Can they communicate with each other? The answer to both questions is a simple yes, but it goes far deeper than that.

 


CHARLES MANN

Communication between horse and rider can be as subtle as gentle pressure from the legs or a shift of weight.

Communication between equines and between humans and equines can range from subtle to explosive. Between horses, it can be as subtle as the flick of an ear or as bold and forthright as the screaming challenge of a stallion. Between humans and horses, it can be as subtle as gentle pressure from the leg when in the saddle or the slight shift of a shoulder when on foot to as violent and destructive as the vicious slashing of a whip accompanied by shouts of anger.

Learning to understand what a horse is communicating, whether to other horses or to humans, and how to communicate in return can be a lifelong endeavor for the avid horse owner because horses are not all the same. They are as individualistic as we are.

An interesting study is a group of people at a cocktail party or another gathering where there is a lot of activity and communicating. One will observe that many similar expressions are being exhibited, but unless you know the person involved, it will be difficult to understand just what the given expression means. One person might scowl, and it is a signal of anger. Another might scowl in the same manner; only with this person it is nothing more than an outward manifestation of inner, deep thought.

If we are to confuse the two, there will be obvious problems. If we think the person who is angry is merely being introspective, we can find ourselves in big trouble quickly. Conversely, if we decide that the deep thinker is angry, we might deprive ourselves of insightful conversation.

So it is with horses. There are universal signs, but they might mean different things with different horses. The universal sign of anger and displeasure on the part of the horse is the pinning of ears. Yet, just what this signifies will vary from horse to horse. With some, it might mean that if you take another step the horse will lash out with feet or teeth. With others it might only mean that the horse is mildly irritated.

To react correctly to what is communicated, we must be able to discern what the sign means coming from that specific horse. As with our hypothetical party scenario, misunderstanding on our part can have dire consequences. If we think the horse which is about to strike out is only mildly irritated, we can wind up suffering injury. If we overreact to the horse that is only mildly irritated, we might take remedial action that is totally wrong and confusing to the horse.

A personal case in point. In an earlier article on behavior I told the story of my favorite cutting horse mare that I decided to turn into a broodmare for a year. She was the type that a slight pinning of ears around humans meant only that something was irritating her a bit. Nothing more. Just figure out what was bothering her and change it, and all would be well.

The morning of her foaling I approached the stall and was met by her pinned ears. I was so excited about the newborn colt that I failed to notice the angry expression in her eyes. I innocently entered the stall, only to be met by a charging, protective mother with teeth bared.

She had communicated to me that this was a special time and that her total duty of the moment was to protect her newborn colt. I hadn't read the signal, that in retrospect was as clear-cut as it could be.

So where do we start in learning about communicating with this amazing creature called the horse?

First and foremost, we must always remember that the horse is a prey animal. It was designed by nature to eat grass, not meat. Lions, tigers, and other such predators were designed to eat the meat of grass-consuming creatures like the horse.

The horse was given two valuable weapons to use in its fight for survival--flight and fight. When given the choice, the horse will always flee. Fight is saved as a last-ditch effort when all flight options have been exhausted.

Because it is a vulnerable prey animal, the horse is always on the alert for hidden danger. This is as true of the barn-raised pet (although in more subdued form) as of the wild horse. Nature has done well in equipping the horse for survival. In addition to legs that can carry it at speed, the horse has unique vision and keen hearing.

It has the largest eye of any warm-blooded mammal. The eye is both binocular and monocular. This means it can focus on an object in front of it with both eyes if needed, but also can see to the sides and behind it, one eye at a time.

The horse's hearing is exceptionally keen, exceeding that of the human ear. While these two abilities bode well for the horse's survival, they also can be a bit confusing for the horse. When the wind is blowing hard, for example, and tree branches and brush are waving wildly, the horse has a difficult time focusing on specific objects. At the same time, its keen ears have picked up a cacophony of sound that is blasting its way into the brain. The result is often an agitated and jittery horse.

When being ridden on such a day, many horses will communicate their agitation by jumping at imaginary obstacles, shying from something in their path that normally would result in only a flick of the ear, a raising and lowering of their head, and the tensing of their muscles. It would seem that the response of the rider should be obvious to anyone who has been around horses. Under these circumstances, the horse needs reassurance that all is well in its world because the rider can be trusted. Unfortunately, not all riders react that way. There are those who decide that the horse's activity is the result of its being cantankerous and with sharp jerks on the reins or jabs with spurs seek to tell the horse to shape up and walk quietly.

That type of reaction is wrong for all parties, especially the horse which will wind up being even more agitated.

When it is fearful, the horse looks to its rider and handler for security, not discipline.

The reason for that is also basic to equines. Horses are herd animals that are comfortable only when they have settled into an established pecking order. If there are 20 horses ranging together in a field, a top to bottom pecking order will exist all the way from one to 20. The number one horse in the order will eat where it wishes, drink when and where it wishes, and the others will all give way. If a horse lower in the pecking order is at the water trough and the dominant horse approaches, the other will step back and wait until the dominant horse has drunk its fill and left. The same will happen with a succulent patch of grass. The lower echelon horse will yield the spot to one higher in the pecking order.

Horse Whisperers

The secret to training horses without use of force is for the trainer to become the dominant "horse" or force in the animal's life.

When you achieve this status, it is not difficult to train the horse to respond to subtle forms of communication without sessions of bucking or by the use of force on the part of the trainer.

If one observes a group of horses in a pasture setting, there will rarely be vicious fights. Sometimes, when two horses with strong dominant tendencies are pastured together, there might be a battle for supremacy when they first come into contact with each other. Normally, it will be very brief and whichever horse breaks off the encounter will always, from that day on, be subservient to the one that held the field of battle.

Normally, however, dominance is established and communicated by expression and posturing. A mere pinning of the ears is often all that is required for a dominant horse to communicate to a newcomer that it must be subservient.

In the wild, the pecking order is carried to an extreme. The dominant horse in each band is the lead mare. Even the stallion defers to her when it comes to decisions on when and where to eat and when to head to the water hole. When the dominant mare signals to the rest of the group that it is time to leave a given spot, they all fall into line behind her on the trail, each position in line reflecting that horse's status in the pecking order.

The stallion will always bring up the rear, perhaps because he is the rear guard or, perhaps, as some have surmised, if predators are lying in wait, he will have a better chance for escape.

Be that as it may, the wise trainer will make use of this societal positioning by making himself or herself the leader in that horse's life. This is not done with whips and chains. That approach only provides you with the status of overlord that the horse will seek to overthrow--often literally. Instead, the wise trainer convinces the horse to acknowledge man's mantle of leadership by subtly communicating that the trainer's space takes precedence over the horse's space.

Some will do this in the round pen, allowing the horse to circle and then causing the animal to change direction and/or speed at the trainer's discretion. It can also be done on a lunge line or even a lead rope.

Tom Dorrance, the venerable trainer who is truly the father of what has now come to be termed "modern" horse training, is an expert at achieving this subtle communication with the horse. One of his approaches is to lead a horse on a loose lead rope. Without ever tightening the rope, one can, with a slight flick, stop the horse in its tracks or cause it to move backwards.

At no time is the horse being abused or traumatized. It has received the message that a slight, rolling flick of the rope under the chin and a step forward on the part of the trainer are its cues to give up that space and take a step back.

Today, Dorrance, in his mid-80s, is hobbled with bad knees and is almost deaf. However, as recently as last summer, he was still conducting horsemanship seminars.

At a clinic in Wisconsin, I watched him in action as he sat in the bleachers of an indoor college field house while some 30-plus riders came forward for help with specific problems.

One of them was a woman riding a Morgan stallion which appeared far more horse than she was capable of riding. One of the basic problems was that the horse stepped about while the lady attempted to mount. Being short of stature and solid of build, she had a difficult time.

It was time to communicate to the horse that she was no longer going to be number two in the pecking order while he was number one. Dorrance had her use his patented lead rope approach. A flick for a stop. A rolling flick for backing.

It took awhile for the horse to accept that the rider was indeed in command, but eventually it did. At the end, Dorrance had a volunteer--a stranger to the horse--run at it, fall down just before reaching the horse, then get up and mount. The stallion stood stock still through the whole procedure.

No whips, no chains, no yelling, no cursing, just a quiet form of communication that let the horse know the rider had assumed a dominant role in its life.

When the horse accepts its lower pecking order position relative to that of its owner, trainer, or rider, it does not mean there will never be problems--it merely means that when problems arise, they will be much more easily solved when the horse turns to the human for support and encouragement. It makes life a good deal easier for horse and human. Removed from the equation are wild bucking sprees and other forms of misbehavior when we ride the horse for the first time.

That brings up another point. Why would a horse be inclined to buck in the first place?

Again, the answer is simple. The horse is a prey animal. Many members of the cat family that preyed on equines would lie in wait on overhanging branches and drop onto the horse's back as it passed beneath. With claws firmly dug in, the cat could stay aboard until powerful jaws and long teeth severed the spinal cord along the neck.

With that in mind, it's a wonder that horses allow us on their backs at all. The point is, when we establish ourselves in a dominant role, that brings with it trust on the part of the horse. The animal will allow us to do things that it considers totally unnatural.

And, while we are on the subject of predators, it would be well to point out that another way horses became an evening meal was to be deprived of their weapon of flight. This happened when they wandered into, or were driven into, marshy areas where they sank up to their bellies in muck. Unable to move, they were easy pickings for lightweight cats that could walk with ease over a muddy area that wouldn't support the weight of a horse. Thus, there is little wonder why horses often hate crossing a muddy stream or marshy field. All their instincts tell them that this could be the trap that will result in their demise.

Again, if the rider is one who has quietly established the role of leader in the animal's mind, even this fear can be overcome with firm, but gentle persuasion. The rider must communicate to the horse that the area to be crossed is safe--that if it weren't, the horse wouldn't be asked to cross it.

While we can achieve a solid, trusting relationship with a horse, we must always remember that the equine is unique. We will almost never, for example, establish the same type of relationship with a horse as we can with a dog. The dog that becomes a true companion wants to be with its human all the time and will constantly strive to please. When the dog's owner has been gone for a day, a week, or an hour, the animal is overjoyed at the return, leaping and barking and seeking attention. The dog is communicating its unending love and devotion. It never wonders about its station in the pecking order. It just knows that its mistress or master is number one and that matters.

The horse is far more impersonal, as a rule. A nicker at a human's approach is often cupboard love. The person's arrival means that hay or grain is about to be proffered. The horse rarely gives us love and devotion in the same way the dog does, although one can achieve a state of union where the horse truly enjoys a handler's company.

Through my years of training horses and teaching students, I have many times counseled heartbroken little girls who can't understand why old Brownie nipped her or casually stepped on a foot instead of granting space. After all, they reasoned, they loved the horse and it should love them in return.

My answer was that horses do not give love as we humans give it and they don't understand our insistence that they should be loving us because we are loving them. Instead, I told the heartbroken ones, horses understand respect and pecking order. Until the handler or rider can communicate to the horse that she is the one in charge, the horse will not respect her and will continue to nip or violate her space and step on toes. All the horse knows is that the person involved is playing a subservient role and is lower in the pecking order.

To repeat myself, establishing this respect does not require the use of whips, spurs, or chains. It requires that the handler demand that the horse yield its space to the human. Sometimes all that is required is a firm push on the neck or sharp jerk on a lead shank.

"Breaking"

Communication takes on a significant role when we begin training horses for riding. Incidentally, I can't tolerate the term, "breaking" horses to ride or drive. The connotation of that term is that we cause the horse to succumb to force and do as we desire without ever understanding why.

Sadly, in many cases, all of the communicating is carried out by the rider to the horse. The horse is told when to walk, when to trot, when to lope, and when to stop. Now, that is as it should be, providing that the rider is also listening to and feeling what the horse is communicating. The horse is not a passive vessel into which we pour a series of directions and instructions and it responds on cue. It is an individual that will tell us how fast it can learn and what bothers it while involved in the learning process.

Another personal case in point. Our ranching partner and I bought two cutting horses in southern Colorado recently. The owner demonstrated the two, and we were impressed. The only glitch I saw in the gelding that was to be my partner's mount was an adverse reaction to spurs. The owner was demonstrating the gelding by cutting a buffalo. At one point the buffalo made a quicker than expected turn and the horse had to move quickly to head it. The rider spurred the horse to push it faster. Instead, the horse bunched up and gave one buck.

We all grinned, thinking the owner had overdone it with the spurs and could have been unseated.

After getting the horses back home, I was riding the gelding in the arena and working on cattle. Much the same thing happened, I needed a quick burst of speed and used the spurs to get it. The gelding's ears came back and his back bunched, but he didn't buck. This time when he was communicating, I was listening. This horse simply couldn't tolerate the feel of spurs and he was telling us so. I missed the real message when the horse was being demonstrated, but, fortunately, I caught it when I was riding him. I took off the spurs and the horse worked like a champ. All he needed is the pressure of a leg and the touch of the heel. Spurs not needed--or tolerated.

If I were a hardheaded trainer, I would have become angry when the horse bunched up when spurred, and I would have taught that young fellow a lesson. When I hooked him with the spurs, he dang well better move or he'd feel the lash of the reins as well. If that had been the case, there would have been one more gelding that somehow would just never cut a cow and do it well, plus a frustrated rider who would firmly believe he had acquired an inferior horse.

The point is that the horse will be telling you constantly what it is feeling, what it likes and what it doesn't like. We have to be tuned in to that animal to the point that we receive the signal and react appropriately.

We can learn a lot about what the horse is saying by watching its eyes and ears. As mentioned, when a horse is distressed or angry, the classic manifestation is a pinning of the ears. However, the ears convey other messages as well. When a horse is working well and trusting its rider, the ears will be flicking back and forth, almost as though one ear is constantly flicking back to stay in communication with the rider while the other one is busy picking up outside signals.

When a horse is deeply interested in something in front of it, those ears will prick forward and remain there until the horse has satisfied its curiosity. You can feel the animal's body relax as its ears relax and resume flicking back and forth.

Watching the horse's eyes when one is on the ground can also result in reading a number of messages from the horse. For years, I can remember being told to beware of horses with white around their eyes because this signified a nasty temperament. Research has proven that to be basically untrue, but the way in which the horse uses its eyes can tell us a great deal. The horse can convey anger with its eyes as well as a placid attitude. If the horse's eyes roll wildly when anything unusual is done with it, beware, because this animal is communicating fear and trepidation.

My late father, from whom I learned a great deal about handling horses, was about the best I have known at reading what an animal was communicating with its eyes. I remember vividly one case in point.

My dad and I were to meet a friend of mine at a horse sale. We really weren't in the market for anything, but we wanted to see how the horses were selling. My dad and I arrived a little late and were met by an excited friend. He had just bought what he knew was to be the bargain of the sale, and he couldn't wait to show us the horse.

We walked over to a box stall that housed a good-looking grey gelding. My dad stood there studying that horse for a time and then he turned to my friend with a sad face. "You really shouldn't have bought him," he said.

My friend was crestfallen. He liked and respected my dad, and now this man he held in such esteem was telling him he had made a mistake. I studied the horse carefully. I didn't really like his eye that much, but I certainly failed to see what my dad apparently saw.

As usual, my dad turned out to be right. The first night my friend's son rode the horse out into the pasture, the boy came walking back in a daze. He had been thrown and landed on his head, suffering a concussion.

My friend asked if I would take the horse to my stable and find out what was wrong. I saddled up that first evening and the horse was as meek as a lamb. Suddenly, he went to bucking and I was in for the ride of my life. I stayed aboard, but it was by accident. I swear that horse had me bucked down at least three times and each time I was about to go off, he wound up under me again.

The end of the story is that I eventually got the horse so I could ride him, but anytime anyone new got on, he reverted to his old outlaw self.

When I told my dad about the incidents, he just shook his head and said, "I was afraid that would happen." The horse had communicated something to him with its eyes that the rest of us failed to see.

And, while I finally had the horse where I could ride him without incident, I could never quite get the full message that would have allowed me to train him so that other people could ride him as well.

Needless to say, from that point on, including today, I am a student of what a horse is telling me with its eyes.

While merely having white around the eyes does not give a true indication of temperament, the structure of the eye can have a bearing on the animal's manners. Perhaps one of the reasons we equate a small, "pig" eye with a mean disposition is that the horse can't make good use of both binocular and monocular vision. Perhaps not being able to see well makes the horse cantankerous.

Bitting

The portion of the animal's anatomy that most of us think of when dealing with communicating with a horse is the mouth through the use of a bit.

The way in which the bit is used for communicating can range from subtle to severe. The rule of thumb should always be that we elicit the desired response with the least amount of pressure possible. There are thousands of bits on the market, many of them designed to inflict pain to sensitive bars of the horse's jaw. The most basic of all bits is the snaffle and, if used on a horse that has been trained properly, is often all that is needed.

The horse will communicate to the rider in no uncertain terms when it is carrying a bit that is painful or uncomfortable. It will toss its head, have sour ears and eyes, and be irritable in general. It is up to the rider to read these forms of communication and react accordingly with proper and well-fitted equipment.

Ofttimes, riders communicate more through reins and bit than they realize. The way we hold the reins and the way we tense or relax our body in the saddle tell the horse what we are feeling. If the rider is uptight, the horse will feel it and, if it is inexperienced or has a tendency to be jittery, might become unsettled because the rider is communicating a lack of confidence.

On the other hand, a passive rider on a lackadaisical horse can have an almost numbing effect, with the animal plodding along more and more slowly.

Still another personal case in point. My wife, Linda, is a good rider and loves to ride, but she doesn't like to ask much from a horse, especially on a trail ride. On the other hand, I am the trail leader on many of our mountain treks, so I must have a horse that will walk out and set a pace that will cover ground and keep the group behind me strung out at proper intervals.

When Linda rides her gelding, Monty, and the two of us are out together, he often winds up trailing along behind by 20 yards or more. She has communicated by the way she sits the saddle and handles the reins, that this pace is all that is required. He complies.

When I ride him and he is required to be the lead horse, he receives a whole different set of signals from my body language, and even my thought processes. Monty then becomes a different horse. He steps out at a sprightly gait, ears flicking back and forth. He can go from laggard to leader in a heartbeat and without being spurred or pushed in any way. We each communicate a desire to him through body language and, good horse that he is, he reads it correctly and responds accordingly.

Dorrance Discourse

No one is better at understanding and conveying subtle signals to a horse via body language than Tom Dorrance. He carries it to such an extreme that he contends one can literally "think" the horse in the direction it should go and at what speed.

At the aforementioned clinic in Wisconsin, Dorrance counseled the riders to concentrate on where the horse was setting its feet with each step. If one focuses on this, it is possible to feel where each foot lands. An interesting exercise is to concentrate on this, then stop the horse. Before looking at foot location, decide in your mind where each foot is located as the horse is standing. You will be wrong more than you are right in the beginning, but you will begin to improve. Before long you will be riding along, looking straight ahead, and will know where each foot is placed as it touches the ground.

When one becomes aware of foot location, step by step, the natural follow-up is to be able almost to will the horse to take whatever direction you desire. All that is needed in the beginning is a slight shift of the body, a light touch with reins, or gentle pressure from a leg and the horse will respond because the signal will have been given when it is natural and easy for the horse to make that change of direction. As time goes on and the ability to communicate increases, the signals will naturally become more and more subtle.

During his Wisconsin clinic, Dorrance demonstrated both his ability to read communication via body position and the change it can bring to a horse's attitude.

A young man had brought a tall, handsome Thoroughbred gelding to the clinic. The horse had finished a mediocre career on the track and had been trained to be a saddle horse. However, it seemed to buck down its riders with regularity and was on its way to slaughter when the young man intervened.

The horse no longer bucked, the young man said, but it had a sour attitude and the young man was afraid to ask it to canter for fear of being dislodged. Dorrance asked the gentleman to trot the horse around the arena. The man made one lap and Dorrance asked him to stop.

The problem was a simple one, Dorrance declared.

Spectators in the bleachers looked at each other in amazement. Simple? They hadn't seen what Dorrance had. They had seen a young man of average ability, riding a horse with sour ears and eyes that had no desire to respond to the rider's cues. Nothing more.

"You are leaning forward and getting ahead of him," Dorrance told the man. "You are confusing him. Ride him from the hips down. It took the young man awhile to get the hang of it, and Dorrance sat back and patiently waited. After a time, he was satisfied that the rider was correctly positioned. How did he know for sure? The horse told him. Instead of walking and trotting with sour ears and eyes, the horse was now flicking the ears forward and back and the "scowl" was gone from its eyes.

Dorrance watched for a time, then said to the rider: "Now ask him."

The young man cued the gelding and he moved off into an easy canter, ears still flicking in interested fashion and showing no inclination to buck.

Here was a case where the horse had been attempting to tell its riders something and no one had listened or understood. Its final recourse was to pitch them off. Once a rider, by proper positioning of his body, had established a comfort zone for both of them, the horse was ready and willing to perform.

Another participant in the clinic had a totally different problem. She was riding a Quarter Horse gelding that was totally phlegmatic. It shuffled around the arena with drooping ears and half-closed eyes. Periodically, the rider would give it a kick with her heels, but to no avail.

Dorrance asked the young woman to stop the horse in front of where he was sitting. The horse stood there, half-asleep, one back foot cocked.

First, Dorrance directed the hefty young woman through some loosening exercises, lifting her legs from the side of the horse, then letting them drop limply into place. Before long he had converted a dead-legged rider into one with some flex in ankles and knees. It was obvious that the horse had become so desensitized to heavy-legged riding that it no longer absorbed any communication signals via the legs or heels.

Dorrance then asked the woman to arm herself with a short piece of clothesline rope, which she did. Then he had her raise and lower her right arm with the rope clutched in that hand. Time after time, she raised and lowered the arm allowing the rope to fall against the gelding's side just behind the rider's leg. The horse flicked an ear when the rope first tapped it gently on the side, then it resumed its snoozing stance.

Dorrance, a twinkle in his eye, asked the woman if she were married. She replied that she was.

"Do you ever get mad at your hubby?" he asked.

She smiled and said that she did.

"Did you ever get so angry that you would like to just haul off and hit him?"

She giggled and said she did.

"All right," he said, "I want you to pretend that this horse is hubby and I want you to think back to the time when you were the maddest at him. Then, raise your arm with that rope and give him the hardest whack you can."

The woman raised her right arm and brought it down hard, the light rope snapping against the gelding's side. The gelding came instantly awake, but didn't move.

"Again," said Dorrance. The woman repeated the movement. The horse, now thoroughly awakened, moved off at a walk, then a trot.

In a matter of moments, the gelding was changed from a droopy unresponsive horse to one that was alert and ready to perform. Within an hour, the rider, a smile affixed permanently to her visage, was making smooth transitions from stop to walk, walk to trot, and walk to lope--and all with subtle cues.

"See," Dorrance said, that twinkle still in his eye, "that wasn't so hard and we didn't have to knock his hide off or abuse him. He's a nice horse. He's not lazy. He's not stubborn. He was just saving himself for old age."

And so it went for two solid days, with riders presenting problem after problem, ranging from bridling difficulty to refusing to cross a tarp on the ground. Riders shook their heads in wonderment as they followed Dorrance's suggestions and achieved positive results through subtle communication.

Slowly and steadily, the Tom Dorrance themes permeated.

Communication is the root requirement. Understand the whole horse. Notice, understand, and be ready to react to the tiniest of details. If you learn where each foot is falling, you can easily direct where the feet and legs are to go and everything else will take care of itself.

Focus. Concentration. Anticipation.

"It's so simple that it is complicated," Dorrance said. "You have to know what a horse is going to do before he does it and direct him then. If you wait until after he does it, you're too late...It isn't easy, but once you achieve that, it will be like you have eyes in the back of your head. Everything will fall into place."

It became obvious early in the clinic that the first step along the Tom Dorrance pathway to true unity comes with caring about the horse and being sympathetic to its needs. No room for the "I am in control and you will submit" ego there.

Time after time Dorrance advised the clinic participants: "Pet him now. Let him know what a good horse he is...Spend time scratching her...Dig deeper...Have you ever seen two horses standing head to tail with one scratching the other on the withers with its teeth and the other doing the same on the butt? Scratch like that, like the horses would do to each other...Rub your hand over the top of the head and down over the eye. Feel that hard muscle behind the ear relax? You want to get that horse feeling so good that it would rather spend time with you than do anything else...You want to get it so that it is just waiting for your direction...When you achieve true unity and make mistakes, you will find that the horse is the most forgiving animal there is."

It was obvious that the petting and scratching had a beneficial effect on the horses at the clinic. Animals that had started out appearing high-strung, disconcerted, and agitated soon were standing quietly and relaxed.

Communication

Horses have no problem communicating with each other. A soft, loving nicker from mother to offspring. The long, lonely whinny. The scream of a stallion. The flick of an ear. The lowering of the head. A positioning of the body. All of these mean something to the horses honed in on the signals.

Our goal as rider, driver, or caretaker is to learn the equine language to the degree that we not only can understand it, but can communicate back to the horse in a way that is understood and capable of eliciting the desired response.

About the Author

Les Sellnow

Les Sellnow is a free-lance writer based near Riverton, Wyo. He specializes in articles on equine research, and operates a ranch where he raises horses and livestock. He has authored several fiction and non-fiction books, including Understanding Equine Lameness and Understanding The Young Horse, published by Eclipse Press and available at www.exclusivelyequine.com or by calling 800/582-5604.

Stay on top of the most recent Horse Health news with FREE weekly newsletters from TheHorse.com. Learn More

Free Newsletters

Sign up for the latest in:

From our partners