2018 Communication Through Movement:

session 3: Week 4: When our horses can't hear us

What does a body language based conversation between horse and human look like?

This week we'll take a look at the nitty gritty of how we might go about developing this kind of dialogue with our horses. It's not always as lovely, light and in sync as this photo of Gin and I would make it seem. The truth is, we didn't start out here that day. So how did we end up here?


This favorite image was taken early on in my explorations of giving my horses a voice, it was such a cool moment to capture.  If you look closely you’ll see that we are in sync right down to the gestures of our feet.

Gin dance.jpg

Our connection in this moment was so soft and light.  Light on the inside and the outside.  This kind of synchronous movement can’t be forced.  It only happens when horse and human are flowing naturally together.  Our conversation on this day did not start out with this level of connection.  This level of connection came about as a result of a conversation. 

A conversation through body language, resulting in shared movement.

Let's take a closer look at each slide in the sequence leading up to us coming together.


Slide 1: I have made a suggestion, picking up the slack in the line and then moving my body in a direction that would invite her to come towards me. Gin has declined my invitation: leaning away, turning head away, look at her nose - even it's moving away!, one ear is on me and one ear is on the herd which is always her top priority. She's letting me know she needs a moment to check in with the herd and make sure they are okay. I release the rope and give her a moment.

There is so much power in just releasing pressure, stepping back and giving them a moment when they request one. If I pressure Gin when she's in this state she will lose all interest in me and agitate to go back to the herd. By not listening in this moment I can change the tone of this conversation from one of: 'I need a moment' to one of 'to heck with you' in a heart beat. In this moment Gin's concern for the herd prevents her from hearing me. In her case all that's required is a moment of time to change the conversation.


Slide 2: Gin has had her moment to check in with the herd, I make my request again. Stepping back to create space for her to come towards me. She turns her head and looks in my direction (answering my request). Notice her ears and eyes are on me, but she still has one foot headed toward the herd, not fully committed so I pause.


Slide 3: Her ears shift back to the herd one last time, she still hasn't committed fully. I've taken one more step back to invite her again.


Slide 4: She commits to me enough to take a step in my direction but her ears tell me that she is still concerned about the herd. I wait and she comes with me.


Slide 5: Gin has followed me around a little bit and then stopped. I'm inviting her to join me again. Note her ears and eyes on me and she's unweighting the right front foot getting ready to come with me again.


Slide 6: She has stayed with me and is following my suggestions so flawlessly that I decide to ask for a little lateral movement which she matches.

When we started it would have been easy to assume Gin was saying 'no' to doing something with me. By being patient, persistent and respectful of her needs we were able to come to an agreement and flow together within a few minutes. Gin and I have a long relationship and a lot of history. I know her really well. That's the only reason this conversation ended so well and it shifted so fast. It wasn't always that way and took some years for us to really figure each other out.