Tuesday, March 14, 2017

14th March, 2017 Body Talks

Body language and sanctions

When you are tuned in. Kathryn and Friesian, BB
I don’t think that it is acceptable to hit a horse other than in a dire emergency. I can live with people using a whip as an extension of their arm in order to tap a horse (but only just!). I like to think that I work on a scale of 0 – 60 where 0 is no rules and 60 is hitting. I think it is just as unfair to give a horse no rules and then occasionally get cross with them for something that is suddenly inconvenient (for example pushing you with their nose). In an ideal world we would all work on the scale 0.5 to 5 or even better, 0.5 to 1, and be soft and subtle with our horses. However, occasionally a horse has become so immune to body language or is aggressive or dangerous that I might use big body language such as jumping up and down, slapping my coat, a kiss-kiss noise or flapping arms – enough that the horse knows that I mean it. The biggest I would ever hope to get would be to use something such as a rattle bottle perhaps to stop a horse biting me or persistently invading my space. (Ed: This has been so rare that I hesitated to leave this in here - if you use this technique use it once, and use it well).

Probably the biggest body language I ever used. This colt, Bahati, was intent on mating with me! All that's missing is my broomstick! I just needed to make sure he didn't keep coming in to me. He had been dangerous with the grooms at the yard I was working at.
When I am asking a horse to do something, for example, to take a step back (as opposed to getting out of my space), I will be as small as I can with my body language and only increase it if the horse is taking no notice of me. I need to make sure that I am still clear about what I am asking. My aim in time is to be able to use the smallest, subtlest body language almost as if I am dancing with my horse.

As a general rule when I am telling a horse, for example not to invade my space, I may ask them nicely and then I will use bigger body language and be very assertive so that I make it clear that a particular behaviour is not acceptable to me.  I work on the basis that once is once, twice is twice and three times is persistent and if the behaviour is dangerous I will answer it immediately by being big. The difficulty if you are wishy-washy about this type of behaviour is that the horse will continue to act in the same way and become de-sensitised to your body language. Remember that it is their job to continually ask where they stand in the hierarchy so that they can judge whether they are in charge or safe. By matching their behaviour step for step, you can simply escalate the behaviour and prolong it. At the same time there is no need to go totally over the top and I still don’t believe that it is right to hit the horse.

Subtle body language whilst long reining. Using my body (shoulders, hips, feet) in the same direction as his. I have dropped eye contact in order to slow him down as Kesali was a bit worried about being long-reined.
For behaviour such as biting, touching the horse or smacking him can be counter-productive in any event. In some cases biting is a colt game, designed to extract a physical response during play-fighting or mating. Using body language or a distracting noise is far more likely to extinguish the behaviour.

Sherekhan Cello and his playmate on the Forest. Horses use their mouths like an opposing thumb.
There is definitely an art to body language – the biggest part of it comes from within. You need to really mean it in your heart and in your head. We are often reserved about using body-language and yet you will draw far less attention to yourself asking a horse to stand still by using the right subtle body language than if you shout “stand!!”

Maddie using subtle but clear body language to ask Carrie to simply stand. Everything facing the horse, directly ahead, grounded.