Conversations with our horses

When I’m talking with horses.

Every species has a unique way of communication through vocal or physical actions. I find my conversations with horses to be usually a matter of pressure and release, or friction and content. No matter what I am doing, or what task I am asking them to do, it seems consistently come back to those subjects. It’s because conversation with horses is really that simple, it’s us as humans that end up complicating things. We are emotional and really good at over thinking simple things, but that’s OK because all you have to do is be aware of it. Slow things down, really think of what your saying before you say it. Mean what you say each and every time. You can’t have your 2 legs mean forward one day and then your stick on another…consistency is key. Don’t expect your horse to get on the first day, or in a month, or whenever, they get it when they get it. Until they do, don’t force the subject, educate them on it.

To talk with a horse, one must be like the horse

Be proactive in your conversations, if it wasn’t for people horses would keep to themselves, you always have to go first! Horses have a strict progression scale, for example there is a pile of hay one horse is already eating from, but another decides he wants that pile, so he directs his intentions towards that horse – pins his ears to say “here is your cue to move” – and then maybe a lunge or bite or kick, some kind of fuss. The idea is he was quietly telling him to move way before he even got to the hay pile. For us people, I call it the volume scale. It goes from 1 -10, and varies depending on each persons intensity. Depending on where you naturally fall on the “universal scale” whether you tend to be more timid or assertive, some need to learn to speak up and others to quiet down. These conversations change from horse to horse, because horses have their own scales too.

Work on the basics before diving into the deep end

How I see it our goal with horses always comes back to the fact that we want our horses to respond off the softest cue, and perform effortlessly. With both of these goals one thing is mutual : understanding. In order to respond the horse needs to understand the question being asked and knows the right answer. In order to be effortless, the horse needs to not only mentally understand the job but physically be able to perform it. If your horse isn’t physically fit enough to perform the tasks, the conversation is going to be a struggle no matter what. Our biggest way of complicating things is we do too much too soon! Not because we need to advance, but because we want to. I can’t tell you how many times in french class I would hear someone say, how do you say this?! What about that?! Even though that was way beyond our basic entry level, and wasn’t even going to come up until much much later. We get so caught up in advancing little things, that we sacrifice the basic’s and then can’t figure out why we are having problems later on! The better you get at building that basic conversation with your horse now, the less trouble you will have later on.

Taking the lead

I can’t imagine how frustrating it must be for some of these horses. If I was forced to do a bunch of tasks with a Russian yelling at me, my brain would be pretty fried but I think over time I would piece things together….hopefully. A lot of riders and trainers struggle because they are the same with their horses, if a horse doesn’t truly know, they can only assume and if they are assuming they are never going to feel comfortable in the conversation, I know I wouldn’t. The most simple way to see if your horse understands is in consistency. When ever you feel something changes from day to day, there is probably a “communication breakdown” somewhere. Take a step back and look at what your doing, if your stumped then get some help!

Putting it all together

You can’t have one without the other, to me someone who has poor communication on the ground with the horse, is going to have a harder time in the saddle. Now this is coming the cold hard truth, not some made up theory. I have seen people come up with 101 reasons why horses are doing this or that, but they don’t truly know, because they were never educated on the horses language. The others who know bits and pieces typically end up assuming in other area’s, which is not a solid bridge to be walking on. So here is my suggestion, go out and learn from every single type of trainer out there, listen to their techniques and theories and think on it. These are all people that “know the language”, but do they really and what do the horses have to say about it? Are they soft, relaxed, content? Or do they have the outline of a horse that’s assuming things? Can’t tell the difference, think you have the “real deal” trainer?  How do they work with other horses? How do they clients or students ride? Dig a little, immerse yourself and do it with an open mind. Not everything you see you will like, but it will give you an idea of where your at. Work to be really fluid in your basic conversation, the day to day stuff that too often gets overlooked. The advanced stuff will come when you and your horse are ready.


Remember it’s a conversation, there are two of you, your role is to lead it, not to force it. Help your understand, without micromanaging or doing it all for them – they won’t really understand if your always filling in the blanks for them. Most importantly, keep it simple and keep it fair. No conversation needs any emotion, if your frustrated because your horse is  not “getting it”, whose responsible for helping them understand??? If you can’t be helpful, find someone who can, rather than grabbing some piece of equipment to make them understand. Never stop educating yourself, and make sure when your sorting out what works from what doesn’t, try your best to retain quality information/techniques. Also have patience with your horses, after all they are basically a reflection of the conversations.

Til next time,

– D


Right – Chinook stands quietly ground tied, while pete and jess ride around. Everything about this picture is soft and relaxed. The horses understand and are content with the tasks.