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  • Writer's pictureKristie Cotton

Communication Breakdown

I enjoy educating riders regarding what their horse may be communicating. Not only through their behavioral issues but the Biomechanics of why the horse may be “ off, braced, unfocused, resistant, “ etc. This is something I have studied most of my adult years and something I am very passionate about. If you can let go of commonalities and understand that each horse presents a different need or approach to their training regime, you are well on your way to becoming better together. Getting to the root cause of what the problem may be, you have already begun the first step of helping your horse. (The true first step is involving your Veterinarian to rule out medical issues.)

What about trainer communication? Different trainers use different words to describe what they believe in, this can sometimes create confusion as to what will help or hinder your progress.

For instance…

“You need to be the Alpha of your horse” Alpha is used to describe someone who is strong or powerful, and who likes to be in charge of others- Cambridge Dictionary

Your horse does find confidence in having a leader but this does not mean the horse needs to submit to your authority.

Authority with empathy and confidence creates respect.

Authority refers to the tone you use when you actually have authority over someone and you want to inspire obedience. Picture a general giving a command

Confidence refers to the tone you use when you don't have authority over someone, but you still want to inspire respect. Picture someone explaining an idea they strongly believe in

  • Daniel Wendler

Submission is an important word for handling a 1200 lb animal that can have an opinion. Submission occurs when horse and rider have a relationship of trust and respect. Submission does not mean forcing the horse's head in a position, submission doesn’t mean chasing and waving things at a horse until they submit and surrender their entire spirit to their “person in charge.” This is an emotional shutdown which is far from tapping into the horse's mind by reading their response or “body language.”

Another example:

“Get that horse on the bit!” A horse that is correctly coming from behind into a gentle inviting hand will be using specific muscles to be on the bit.

On the bit does not mean to force the horse's head and neck in a position. This type of riding is destructive to not only your horse's physical and emotional well being but their relationship with you as well.

One more..

“Connection” This is a common word from both trainers and riders. “ I want a deeper connection with my horse” or the trainer may say, “ Your horse is not connecting with you”

These are such vague phrases in my opinion. I always think of Charles De Kunffy’s quote - “ The horse knows how to be a horse “ That is the simple truth. Connection is actually getting your horse to focus on what you are trying to communicate to them. Connection is having empathy for a horse by not always assuming every situation is the same. Every moment of a horse's existence is comfort. They need to know they are well cared for, well ridden by a rider creating comfort and not barbaric methods that create trauma.

Connection is an important word in Dressage training.

“Contact has nothing to do with the head of the horse or what you put in its mouth, true contact comes from the balance of the horse, it comes from the hind legs, from the way the back is working, the way the movement goes through the entire horse’s body. In the end, good connection comes from riding the horse from behind into the hand. If you look at all those bits and nosebands, it gives you the idea that you want to do something in front, in the horse’s mouth and on its head – holding the horse mechanically in an outline. It is really important with young horses to find their right natural tempo, and that this can vary from minute to minute, and day to day. That’s the task of the rider of young horses, to ride the horse into balance, to eventually find the right connection.- Susanne Meisner excerpt from The horse magazine

Remember...Correct training methods should be beneficial to the horse's well being, not detrimental.


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