2018 Series 3

Body Language Fundamentals

Week 2:  Setting and changing the tone of the conversation

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May 7 - 13, 2018

course content for week 2:

Setting and changing the Tone of the conversation

Welcome to week 2!

Introduction to week 2

This week we’ll take a closer look at how conversations happen between horses and humans.  How our body language, thoughts and intentions influence the way our horse responds to us. Conversations have a tone.  They can be serious, playful, irreverent, rebellious, pushy, resistant, harmonious, the possibilities are endless.   

What I can tell you from learning to dance is that the tone the ‘leader’ sets tends to dominate the interaction.  When I agree to follow I agree to match my leader’s tone to the best of my ability.  It’s so easy as a follower to resonate with the leader’s physical and emotional tone.  This is not something we discuss verbally, it seems to be something that just happens instinctively.  I don’t think about matching his tone, I just do it automatically.  It’s not a conscious choice. 

This, by the way, is resonance in action.

If he’s tense I’ll tend to feel tense.  If he’s confident, I’ll feel confident.  Beyond that, if he decides to create a playful dance or an intense dance I’ll feel that.  If he is clear in the tone he sets it’s markedly easier for me to predict what he might ask me to do.  He becomes interesting and magnetic when his movement is infused with emotional content.

It’s no different for horses following humans...

Steve and I talked about this when I started thinking about what to write for this session.  I told him what I really want to share with you guys is how our horse’s behaviors and actions when we interact with them are a direct response to something we are doing.  It’s our job to learn to interpret their behavior and attitude as a reflection of what we’re doing or how we’re doing it.  The tone we’ve set – whether consciously or unconsciously. 

I asked Steve how he can tell when he’s doing something that’s disruptive to my ability to follow his lead.  I loved his answer.  He said: ‘first I have to be paying enough attention to notice your responses to my lead.’  First, we have to pay attention.  I couldn’t agree more!  He went to on to say that the first hints that he’s causing me stress or anxiety are often small changes in my facial expression.  The most obvious being that I stop smiling, the next level being a pained grimace of concentration. 

If he doesn’t respond to the change in expression he’ll start to feel me getting tense.  We end up out of synch, I’m behind all the time or ahead.  He can feel me tense up, stop breathing and withdraw.  He describes it as: ‘I take up a defensive posture.’  I’m now protecting myself from him (emotionally but often also physically). 

He knows that if he feels me slipping away from him in any of these ways it means he’s doing something to make me feel protective, anxious or confused.  If he does something to create a pause we can regroup. By acknowledging my anxiety (through the pause and re-set), he lets me know he cares about the quality of my experience, he’s paying attention, and that is usually enough to regain my trust.  Then we can return to the smooth flow of communication and connection we normally enjoy together.

I witnessed the best example of how the leader sets the tone when I taught one of my very first ‘Tango with Horses’ clinics here at my place.  One of my friends brought her mare with her.  They went first.  It was a simple exercise.  Walk your horse around the arena and see what you notice.  She took off around the arena with so much gusto she was literally leaning forward into her walk.  That mare marched behind her with not one shred of doubt.  They were on a mission!

When she came back around and I asked her what she noticed she said it all felt good except that she couldn’t get the mare to slow down or stop.  

She had done a great job of setting the tone of forward, goal-oriented movement.  She just didn’t realize she was maintaining that tone even when she stopped.  By that I mean she was still leaning forward physically as well as maintaining the emotional intensity even when her feet stopped moving.  When she rocked her weight back to her heels, exhaled and relaxed she changed the tone enough that her mare knew she wanted to stop and matched her nicely.

Now, we swap dance partners.  Same mare, different person.  This person set a tone of deep connection.  She was clearly with the mare, they walked side by side in perfect unison.  They could speed up and slow down and stop seamlessly.  It was focused but fluid and beautiful to watch.

Change partners again.  Same mare, different person.  This woman walked around the arena with very little energy or focus.  The mare dutifully plodded along behind her. She set a tone that was heavy and unenthusiastic and the mare reflected that brilliantly. 

When she came to check in she complained she couldn’t get this mare to speed up when she wanted her to.  She wanted to know if she could have a whip to encourage her to go when she wouldn’t.  This was the same mare that wouldn’t stop and marched around on a mission.  Such an eye opener for me as to how much we influence our horse’s energy, behavior, attitude, all of it, by the tone we set. 

Often, we come to the barn with a ‘pre-set’ sort of tone.  It’s the tone we always come to the barn with or the tone we left work with.  It may not be the tone we really want to have our horses reflecting but we aren’t aware we’re doing it.  What I hope you get out of this week is a realization that we can create the tone of the conversation we have with our horse simply by consciously setting the tone we want within ourselves. 

You set the tone.  Sing the song and dance the dance you want to dance!

Welcome to week 2 video:


Course Content for Week 2:

setting and changing the tone of the conversation


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Links to PDF Documents for week 1:

PDF:  Setting or Changing the Tone of the Conversation

Audio Transcript:


video demonstrations:

In this video you'll see Kastani demonstrate what it looks like when a horse responds accurately to my body language and intention.  Check out the explorations to find some homework when you watch this video.  When you watch this time, remember that when I went to catch him he was sound asleep.   I had to be conscious about the tone I set to help him wake up enough to be responsive when I did this session.