As humans we have the advantage of being able to communicate verbally using an extensive and precise form of language. Horses, however, primarily use body language to communicate with each other. In turn, they are very perceptive of human body language. Being mindful of our own energy and non verbal body cues when working with horses is vital in creating a positive and lasting connection.
Horses will notice even the most subtle signs of human behavior including crossed arms, eye contact, body tension, posture, etc. These displays of body language can have a direct impact on the horse. If we approach a horse in a field looking to catch it, with body tension and direct eye contact, more than likely the horse will try to avoid the interaction. If you are trying to work your horse under saddle and are focused elsewhere, your horse will most likely be focused elsewhere as well.
Being aware of our body language is important for all horses, but especially for those that have suffered a trauma. We often see horses that have been abused or neglected. Previous bad experiences often results in a fearfulness surrounding people. When approaching a nervous horse it is important to keep your body language quiet, and inviting. This can often mean moving slowly, not holding eye contact, and allowing for less aggressive body tension. This is going to be the kinder, softer approach that will be more inviting for a horse that is fearful or nervous.
We also see many horses that are very dominant and pushy. Our body language when working with this type of horse is very different than from one that is fearful. When approaching a horse that can be pushy, you want your body language to be strong. You want to approach and work the horse with intention, eye contact, and good posture. If one wasn’t being mindful while interacting with their horses it could be very easy to offend a scared horse by coming on too strong or get in trouble with a pushy horse by not coming on strong enough.
Our mental and emotional state can have a significant impact on our horses as well. It is very easy in today’s fast paced and stressful state of being to bring our emotional baggage with us wherever we go, including to the barn. It is unfair of us to ask our horses to be calm and focused if we are anxious and unfocused. Horses are very sensitive creatures, and our physical body language along with our mental state can have a big impact on them. As hard as it is to leave all of our worries and anxieties at the door, it is important to be as mindful as possible during every interaction we have with our horses.
So next time you go to get your horse out of the field, take a minute and assess where you are at physically and emotionally. These check ins will help you and your horse be on the same page. It can often be beneficial to keep checking in throughout a training session a see where you both are emotionally and physically. When we are able to be conscious of both our body language and our horse’s body language, the connection between horse and handler can be seamless.