In my family we have a tendency to talk too quietly, too fast, or in a monotonous tone, or all three at once. Most of what is said is probably quite interesting or funny – at least it would be if anyone could decipher it! So we end up having to repeat what we are saying several times because we simply can’t be understood, and end up shouting and everyone gets annoyed!
This is a pattern that repeats itself and doesn’t seem to improve.
If only we could learn to speak clearly the first time around!
With horses we strive to use the lightest and subtlest of aids, but we also need to avoid going from a whisper that is too subtle to getting annoyed and shouting, like in my family!
If he can’t figure out what we are trying to say our horse is going to be confused and might seem uncooperative.
Instead we should take the time to explain more clearly in language the horse can understand. Teach him in simple baby steps the language we want to use and how we would like him to respond. Once he understands the meaning, the aid can become gradually quieter and he will be able to respond to that whisper with certainty.
Having defined our language, we need to stick with it. Being consistent in the language we offer can be challenging! Just attempting to apply a single meaning to each of the vast array of verbal cues that we use illustrates just how complex and confusing the communication we have with our horses can get.
A common mistake to send the horse out on the lunge using whip and hand aids, but at the same time folding one's upper body over and drawing the stomach in. This gives conflicting messages, because the body language is saying come in towards me while the arms are saying go away.
With verbal cues horses will often respond more to the tone – high or low, loud or quiet, harsh or soft - than to the actual word used. They read our facial expression and the energy that we project, for example whether we feel happy or sad.
Verbal cues with tonal variation, facial expressions, energy and body language, along with a clear inner picture and inner feeling, combine to create a powerful set of tools to communicate clearly with the horse.
So for example your jackpot cue might be the word ‘excellent!’ said with great enthusiasm, a big smile, buckets of appreciation and warm loving energy, open body language and repeated rewards, so there is no doubt in my horse’s mind that he has pleased me and he is a most awesome being.
It all comes back again to being self-aware, and consistent.
Next time something is not working, ask yourself: