RBEI MASTER COURSES: EQUINE MANAGEMENT: PSYCHOLOGY 4
READING HORSES & BEING AWARE OF WHAT IS GOING ON WITH THEM MENTALLY
Working with horses, horse riding, handling and ownership is all about how accurately you can read and work with what is truly going on in your horses MIND. It is not about pushing a button and getting a programmed result.
Is your horse being naughty or fearful.
Does your horse always want to go faster than you want to... or is it just thinking YOU want it to go faster.
Being able to accurately read and know where your horse is coming from takes a good understanding of how horses generally think / Horse Psychology. One thing that will take you far is just stopping, giving your horse a cuddle, a quiet moment, looking him in the eyes and explaining things slowly and gently to him.
There are a few things that factor into what a horse is thinking and where it is coming from mentally while you are with him.
Generally forefront and foremost affecting a horses thoughts is not you or people, but it's horse friends. Where they are, what they are doing and what is going on with them.
This is where the stronger you build a bond with your horse and become 'the herd' to them the more focused on you they will be and their tasks while with you. This puts you in first place as far as mental concentration goes.
Secondarily a horse will be thinking generally about his own comfort routine, food, water, if he is too hot or cold or thirsty. Whether it is roll time, pee time, or the time he normally stands under his shelter because the flies are too annoying and the sun too hot.
Thirdly your horse will be thinking about the task you are doing with him.
So if you have a horse that has just been brought into your home, a new horse, it will take a while and a lot of bonding before you really get to see your lovely, un-distracted relaxed and happy horse. What you will see is a horse who is mentally traumatised from being suddenly removed from all his friends and the routine and life he has had and all he's known.
You have a BIG task now of communicating to your horse that YOU UNDERSTAND THIS, are gentle, kind, fair and are going to allow time to adjust and all he needs considerately.
They will fret, lose weight, not sleep, and be very nervous and unsure of everything. This is foremost. To try to ride a horse in that state is where so many people get it wrong. This horse is unable to function until it bonds with you and trusts you and it's new home environment and routine. You will not see the true horses nature and what they are truly like until they are comfortable, not fearful, have enough love in their life to forget their loss, and have securely bonded with you into your home and routine and to you.
Secondarily when you go and catch your horse and go to ride or do something with him you must be aware of his comfort routine also.
Horses generally around 10am have a roll daily.
Nap around noon and get sleepy just prior.
If it's been a cold night nap earlier.
Will often all go off in a group in the morning around 8 to graze certain spots the herd leader or themselves want to graze.
Their feed times.
EG: If you go and catch your horse at 9:45am you may notice he keeps looking at the leaving group as you walk him out and when you ride him he seems uncomfortable and itchy. He is thinking it's roll time.
Or you catch him at 11:30 am and he is more doughy and lacks concentration...this is because he normally sleeps then and his body clock is switching off.
Horse individual routines will vary. It definitely pays to watch their routine or even video it if you can't be there and learn their paddock preferences and habits and to shape your routine to suit. Or at least to be aware of it so you are able to understand any slight distractions that arise from it creating behaviour in your riding regime.
Horses feel safest in their space, in their paddock, near their friends.
If you become their friend, the herd, build a strong bond, you will find they very much will make YOU their safe zone, ie, where they are and whatever they are doing is fine as long as you are there. This is why we build a bond and relationship, rather than force. If you just go grab a horse out away from it's friends and expect it to act mechanically for you, you will find your horse is spooky, ill behaved and unpredictable. It will always be overly distracted by where it's friends are and what they are doing and want to desperately get back to them at first opportunity, they are primarily a herd animal.
You need to understand these things that are foremost in horses minds shaping their behaviour and actions always.
Ie and horse is not 'gate clingy', (sidling towards the gate constantly in training).
and a horse is "a clingy horse" with his friends.
Behaviour IS not THE horse. Understand the behaviour and act accordingly at the root cause to remedy the behaviour.
It is key to build that bond and trusting relationship with them and then to learn to interact and communicate effectively with them. Encouraging them to communicate with you and communicating with them.
There are many ways horses communicate with each other and with people as well as signs and changes that indicate what is going on with them. Some are:
Their eyes. You should always be watching your horses eyes when you are around them. Horses eyes are very unique and very telling. Black or dark means they are VERY upset, angry, or fearful. Never jump on to ride a horse when his eyes are black. You must soothe this horse, understand why his eyes would be black, firstly understanding your bond and relationship needs to be strong so patting, soothing, cuddly. Then considering their friends and comfort routine and how that would be affecting them.
Foremost and the overriding factor however is your relationship bond. This is able to override any fear, frustration or distraction they have. Keep the bond and encouraging strong always. Many times you just need to stop, hold your horses head in a big cuddle and re-assure them quietly and watch as the eyes go light with blue rings around them then get on and continue to re-assure them.
Shaking their head is a way horses tell you they are frustrated with something they have been trying to tell you about or deal with.
Pawing the ground or air is asking nicely for something.
Opening their mouth like they are yawning is asking for something nicely and politely.
Ears back is not happy. Ears forward but up and out is not good, something has freaked this horse out and it is about to explode in fear, normally gear pinching or something has freaked it out. Soothe this horse, check and reset all gear, walk him around gently.
Posture long and low, is a relaxed horse.
Posture high and coiled is a very nervous or poised to flight horse, soothe this horse.
Stamping a front hoof at you is asking for something.
Kicking the ground with a back hoof is a sign of frustration or a warning he wants to kick something.
Switching the tail sharply is something is annoying.
Swishing the tail casually from side to side is a happy horse.
Nickering gently is a happy horse wanting you to come closer.
Whinnying loudly while you are with him is a very nervous horse calling for his friends to help him.
Nodding head up and down is a horse beckoning to come closer.
Milky light blue rings around their eye, very happy and relaxed horse. You can see this in Yorkies eye below, (limbus).
If you build a respectful and trusting kind relationship with a horse where you welcome them communicating nicely with you, you will see your horse communicate more and more.
It's not uncommon for our relationship based horses to turn their head and lick your boot or leg while being ridden or turn their head round for a big cuddle, sneak closer to you while being groomed fro a hug etc.
Dis-allowing horses to express themselves and communicate with you means they will be forced to play up and throw a wobbly rather than simply asking nicely for something.
A great way to get your horse communicating with you is to ask questions then encourage and wait for a response.
Horses often misbehave simply because they have no 'voice'. If you encourage your horse to ask for things nicely they will be so much more relaxed and happy ;)
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