Did you ever wonder why a horse responds perfectly, or close to it, for one person and not another? It’s all in the way they ask.

When I’m teaching the young riders, I will say, “Ask the horse to ___________.” You can fill that in with walk, stop, trot, or canter. And the rider will usually respond with the aids I have taught and the verbal command. But, a funny thing happens as they are learning. The horse sometimes does what she is asked, and sometimes doesn’t. So I coach the rider on how they are giving the cues and how they are sitting on the horse. But then, I hear the parent coach – you didn’t say it LOUD enough. So, the lesson progresses from trot to TROT! Wrong!

Now, you will hear me say to a rider to repeat the command so the horse can hear it. Often, in one of my therapeutic classes where we are working a speaking as well as riding. But never in one of my regular riding classes.

Ears_forward_listening_3cThink about it. The horse’s hearing is very unique. Did you ever watch her ears? One ear will swivel, then the other. They are very sensitive to sound. After all they are prey animals and they need to hear if a predator is nearby. They can hear a wider frequency of sounds – like the ultrasonic squeaks of a bat. They can also hear a greater distance. It is estimated that horses can hear another horse 3 MILES away!

So why the need to shout at your horse when you want her to move?

Horse respond readily best to low, confident tones but not high pitch shrills. They also respond to the “way” the command is given. When we want the horse to go faster, we make our voice go up. When we want the horse to go slower, we keep the tone low and drawn out. Even a simple command like “walk” can be said too different ways. Walk! Said quickly with the voice going up in pitch is very different from waaaaalk, with the voice dragging the word out and the pitch going down.

Now, look at your body when you say these words. With a quick “walk” not only does your pitch go up, but so does your entire upper torso. And that’s the language your horse is responding to. Drag out the word “walk” and your body sinks down as well.

So the next time you ask your horse to do something, think – am I asking my horse with my whole body or am I yelling at my horse and expecting her to listen.

Your horse will thank you for the softer voice and the louder body language.

Linda Watson is the owner and head riding instructor at Pretty Pony Pastures. Visit the website for details on all the lessons and activities at this facility.

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