What we read into what horses tell us

Recently I have been concerned about how people and horses come together, and how we “read” what horses are telling us.

khamiruthsHorses are playful, live in the moment, and weigh usually 800 pounds or more. Horses can have wonderful relationships with people. But they are horses.

We’ve all had experiences where we think we have read the horse correctly, and then find out we haven’t. Or, we read the horse correctly in one moment and she had a change of mind.

From free groundwork to Bitless, bareback riding
From free groundwork to Bitless, bareback riding

I hear this story sometimes: My horse suggested I get on, all was fine, energy good, then something frightened him and I’m off.

Horses don’t hold onto thoughts very long. In one long delicious moment, my gelding Khami suggested that I get on bareback. He moved right up to the mounting block so I could do this. He is older, and kind of crabby sometimes because of his arthritis. He also can be prone to ADHD. I decided to put a saddle on, even though he had offered this bareback.

Why? Because I don’t have as good balance as I used to riding bareback, and I had a feeling about it. So I saddled up, and lo and behold some people rode by on bikes in the pasture and he forgot that sweet moment between us and pitched around. I was so grateful for that saddle to hang onto!

Some people have really good balance bareback and so it’s fine for them. They probably could have ridden it out on this geriatric horse. In spite of his age, though, he’s still pretty nimble.

IMG_0150I also think horses have a sense of humor and sometimes think one thing one minute and one thing another minute. I trusted that Khami thought this was a good idea for us,  when he thought of it. But a few minutes later it wasn’t. The relationship you have with the horse is a real indicator of whether to trust what the horse is telling you. I know for instance, that he has a great ability to remain focused in certain situations but as he’s aged, his focus tends to get a bit fuzzy. It helps to have known him for a very long time.

My mare Zuzka is amazingly solid in her thinking. Anything that has happened to me because of her has happened because of my own stupidity.

What I know about her, and what her actions showed me was that she will take care of me as long as she can. She has demonstrated such common sense in the past that I always look to her for horse advice. She has never pulled, pushed, shoved or done anything that other horses have done. She knows exactly where everyone is and what their role is, and what should be going on. If you are on her back and she shies and you slip sideways a bit, she will shift her body under you so you are balanced again. When I’ve been lost in the mountains, she has found the trail where no visible trail existed that leads to home. I also know that if a very noisy, unfamiliar truck comes down a road we’re riding on, she will spin.

Me with Zuzka, the most efficient mare in the world.
Me with Zuzka, the most efficient mare in the world.

Reliable. I can trust that relationship.

This is similar to friendships. I can trust certain things in relationships, like some friends I can count on to have great integrity; others cancel on me at the last minute; some will always be there for me in a pinch; with others there will be certain limitations.

So think about the kind of relationship you want with a horse and whether it’s even possible to achieve it. With liberty training you can have a relationship beyond your wildest dreams, but will it be the relationship you want? The horse is who she is. That’s something to think about.

Also I think we as humans feel a bond or connection with a horse and think that it’s done, there is nothing left to do. That’s not true. You are trying to experience something meaningful with a 1,000 lb animal who has an agenda wrapped around food and territory. Your needs are somewhat the same but different and sometimes more intellectual. To think that the relationship is cemented by what happens in one moment in one day is stupid and dangerous.

The relationship can move beyond food and territory to a deeper connection with liberty work and a growing understanding of what the horse is about, and what the relationship means.

When you are working with relationship, you may go through stages where the horse chooses not to listen to you, but indicators show that you are not done yet. The relationship is coming along but you need the horse listening and you need the horse to move when you ask. These things must be in place.

Karen having fun with Holly.
Karen having fun with Holly.

I have met some people attracted to liberty work because it means to them that they don’t have to ride their horses or expect anything of them. That is also untrue because the horse needs to feel your boundaries and respect them.

I have said I often ignore some behaviors in favor of rewarding other behaviors, but I avoid dangerous situations with horses with too high energy or unawareness of where I am. Horses learn respect from you and for you, so role modeling is key. I also want to recognize the horse’s limitations and what level he or she is at in their training or at their age, so I don’t expect something from them they can’t deliver.

Basically, the more you know about a horse, can find the holes in his training or just the holes in his ability to deal with life, the better off you are. The more you work together, the deeper the bond becomes, and the more you have to work with within that bond. From there, the more accurate your “horse readings” become!


(copyright: Susan Smith, OrthoHorse)

Services: Bodywork (Ortho-Bionomy for people, Equine Ortho-Bionomy): private sessions,  tutorials, phone consultations, distance healing communication and gift certificates

Liberty Coaching: clinics, mini-clinics, workshops, private and semi-private sessions, tutorials, consultations: by appointment:  505.501.2478 or emailing susansmith@orthohorse.info Winter Lessons – semi-private, private and small group sessions. Scheduling now. Contact me for details.

On the schedule for 2014:

March 1-2 Horses at Liberty Foundation Training Weekend Clinic, DeLand, Florida. Still spots available– book today! Space is limited. Contact Anne Daimler, tdaimler@cfl.rr.com (386-822-4564) or myself for registration and information. Space is limited. Private bodywork sessions and lessons are being scheduled now.

April 5-6 Spirit Horse Ranch Liberty Foundations Clinic, Jones Oklahoma, Presented by coaches Ruella Yates and Susan Smith. Contact Ruella Yates ruella@libertyfoundations.com, (405-771-4274) or myself for registration and information. Space is limited. Private bodywork sessions and lessons are being scheduled now.DeLand_Liberty_March_2014_3


4 thoughts on “What we read into what horses tell us

  1. VERY timely article for me, it puts things into words that I have been pondering at a more right brain level recently. Particularly around having different levels of dependability in relationships with different horses and how even with horses that we know we can generally depend on, our own stupidity can get in the way of that and/or ignoring clear signs from our horse(s) that today is not a dependable day for whatever reason. Had that happen just this week. LOVE IT!

    I also like that it is made clear that the type of relationship created through liberty work (and other more “horse conscious” methods) may not actually be the one you want because the horse is allowed to be completely herself, and that is not what many horse people are used to…

    1. Thank you for your comments. The type of relationship created through the type of liberty foundation work I do is fundamental, so that although a horse may get very excited in the beginning at being asked for his opinion, she will settle down and get used to it. All of us are much more open and share more with those we feel closest to and do not feel dominated by, and horses are the same. We also want to do more for those beings, and that’s where we get the great benefits from this work – the willingness and joy that our horses show us in whatever is our chosen discipline.

  2. Loved your cautionary story especially. It’s good to remember that a horse may ‘change his mind’ unexpectedly, and be prepared. Your Zuzka is a treasure beyond value!
    Looking forward to seeing and working with you at our April 5-6 Clinic at Spirit Horse Ranch Liberty Foundations!
    Ruella Yates

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