if you never thought so before.
Observing your horse is an “approach” message: He will know you are watching him, trying to see and understand him, and as a result, he will become more engaged and trust will grow without you even realizing it. One day, your head-shy horse will bring his muzzle closer to you for a breath exchange or he will do a huge head bob as you come toward the gate. Your attentive observation is reaching out to him in a new way---and it is one he understands. You are now listening to his body language.
When we are not paying attention with regular observation, a horse has to resort to the equine equivalent of “shouting” at us, which means he communicates his happiness, fear, confusion and pain in grand gestures. Some of these big movements may even be called vices because we don’t know why he is doing them. For example, he fidgets on the cross-ties, steps on your foot or rushes out the stall door. We might label him as stubborn or stupid, but we are the ones being callous. We just haven’t noticed the more subtle ways he has been trying to tell us about his concerns.
Some horses shut down and do not even attempt to show us what they think or feel. They have learned there is no point in making the effort. Why try to communicate with a species that doesn’t take an interest in learning, seeing or acknowledging their perceptions?
Half a conversation is listening and the other half is talking. If you aspire to “see” your horse’s language, you must remember to listen even when the horse is saying things you don’t want to hear. When your horse gets emotional and you do not know what to do, keep yourself safe, then go to your Inner Zero. At least this will afford you the right state of mind to observe your horse and perhaps come up with a helpful strategy. You will see your horse with a whole new level of awareness once you know the words he uses.
Dogs, cats and people display emotion in a direct way. Cats and dogs come up to you when you come home from work, follow you around and wrap themselves around you. Horses, however, being prey animals, display emotion indirectly---they express affection, for example, by giving you space and by paying attention to you. They express love by treating you as they treat their horse friends: by being calm, bonding, letting you into their space and sometimes initiating touch in the way they do with other horses.
We enjoy the way we feel around horses. We can feel enveloped in the state of peace and calm, which is the horse’s Inner Zero. We ride to merge with this body that is so much larger than ours. We want to feel that our heart is at one with his enormous heart. I believe we all still have this need. It is deeper than a learning technique, deeper than an award-winning performance, deeper even than having fun. It is the need to communicate love and affection to your horse and to know---without a doubt---your horse offers love and affection back to you.
Mother Nature endowed horses with a sense of humor, curiosity and a huge “play drive” as if to compensate them for having to worry all the time about being eaten. These are all expressions most horse owners can recognize---for example, when a horse wiggles his ears, he is demonstrating his sense of humor. Playfulness and affection are expressed sometimes via sideways ears or big huffing breaths.
Then, there are common defensive messages: For instance, your horse might say, “No!” with a tail swish and a
Mother Nature endowed horses with a sense of humor, curiosity and a huge “play drive” as if to compensate them for having to worry all the time about being eaten.