“Frustration feels like a grudge to an animal - our body language speaks it loud and clear, even if we don’t verbalize it.” Anna Blake, Equestrian and Author
I talk to Sportie a lot. I tell him about my day, tell him how handsome he looks, tell him what a good boy he is. But when we come to different opinions while I’m in the saddle, I get frustrated and tend to simmer in silence. I’ve taken enough lessons to know a riding problem is usually not the horse’s fault so I get frustrated at myself and how long it takes me to figure things out. Sportie just feels the tenseness, the misery, and doesn’t know who it’s directed at. The ride often goes downhill from there.
This past week, after reading Anna Blake’s blog comparing horseback riding to a partnership, I decided to converse with Sportie to work out our differences. I tend to clench my teeth and stiffen my jaw when I’m upset, and I can’t do that when I’m talking. I practiced opening the gate while mounted to exit the arena, and he complied perfectly. We passed through and Sportie tried to go left towards the tack area, thinking we were done. As the leader, I have to be the one to decide when we’re done. Using all my aids, I tried to steer Sportie to the right into an adjacent arena to do a quick cool down. He decided to compromise by going straight.
We circled, and as we passed the new arena again he ignored my requests to turn in and went straight. We repeated this a few times until I drew him to a halt and took a deep breath.
"Okay Sportie, we are almost done. Just go through the gate into this arena and we will come right back out."
Sportie might only understand “whoa,” “trot,” “canter” and “good”; or he might be a genius and understand everything I say but he’s not able to tell me. Whether he understands my words or not, he definitely understood the way my whole body “spoke” reasonably as I vocally rationalized with him. We then walked over to the new arena, went right through and, as promised, right back out. I rewarded him by letting him go straight to the tack area. Done, with no grudges on either side.
Body language is the universal language.