HORSES WERE CREATED TO BE WILD! Imagine a herd running across the plains of unsettled territories of North America. That herd has a stallion or two and all the mares he could ever want but there has to be a hierarchy within the group and despite common misconception, the stallion is not the boss. Each herd has an alpha mare who runs the show. She tells each horse when they can eat, drink, sleep, give birth to their babies, and when to run from danger. In the tiny herd of you and your horse, you are that alpha.
Who’s in charge?
Today, thousands of years after they were put on this planet, horses still have wild, fight-or-flight instincts as the foundation of their reactions and decisions. It is your job as alpha to take away some of those questions and flighty reactions. It is your job to encourage your horse’s attention on what directions you are communicating through body language and vocal commands at any given moment. Your horse should look to you for guidance instead of relying on thousands of years of flight instincts.
It is your responsibility as the handler, groom, rider, and/or trainer of the horse to clearly and effectively communicate your desires. You have to exude confidence, fearlessness, and calmness in every situation. You have to be the boss.
Your horse is talking to you
If you listen carefully and pay attention to their body language, you will see your horse asking questions with their stance, ears, and eyes. These are questions you must answer with your body directionality and stance, breathing, and voice. Body directionality and stance are the primary communication method to tell your horse to go forward, stop, go backward, and change direction. Position your body in such a way that you drive them in the direction of your choosing.
Audible breathing is a technique that tangibly relaxes your body, helps you be more confident externally (even if you don’t really feel like you are), and convey relaxation to your horse in all environments. Taking a large, slow, deep breath delivers more oxygen to your brain which allows you to think more clearly even in a moment of panic or uncertainty. Letting out your deep breath with some kind of sound (sigh, hum, whoosh, etc) is an excellent way to “help your horse breathe” and releases some of their tension.
Tone and Cadence
The last piece of communication is through your voice which has several small but key parts to the alpha equation. Your vocal commands are different depending on your sounds, tones, and cadence. The reality is that your horse doesn’t truly care what words or sounds you are making but the single syllable in “walk” is different than the multi-syllable word “canter.” You also have different tones in your voice. Lower and quieter tones translate into confidence and relaxation whereas higher and louder tones communicate stress and anxiety, neither of which we want in our 1200 pound equine partners. Using the cadence of a phrase, pair your tone with the syllables of your words and the breathing mentioned before. Finding your cadence of “one, two, one, two” with each canter stride or “nice, easy, walk please” with each step in the walk will keep everyone breathing, keep everyone relaxed, and keep the pace consistent.
You are Alpha. You are Boss. Your horse is looking to you.