Monday, February 2, 2009

Looking a Horse in the Eye

Dear Friends,

Monty Roberts makes the argument that looking a horse in the eye drives him away, that it is interpreted by the horse as a challenge.

I don't want you to think you can never look your horse in the eye, so let me add my thoughts to this. I believe what Monty is talking about is a hard, focused stare. This could be read by the horse as assertive body language and could easily make him uncomfortable.

A soft gaze is a different matter and may even tend to calm your horse if it is also reflected in the rest of your body. This is especially true if you have established a strong relationship with the horse and he trusts you.

Remember, horses read our intentions by reading our bodies. Keep your thoughts positive and supportive and things will usually go better.
R

13 comments:

Barbara said...

Notice that horses really look at you when they are approaching you. A slight inclination of your head may be all that is needed to assure a colt that you are welcoming him to your circle. Horses that feel threatened always strike or bite or even make gestures very quickly. When grooming each other or just relaxing they are very slow and deliberate. Your movements should reflect this.

naturalhorseman said...

Good point. I agree. I usually approach with my shoulder toward them and my head lowered a bit. In that very non threatening stance I can look directly at them without them feeling any pressure from me.

bnbaldwin_53 said...

I can look my horse and many others in the eye without impact. So to say never, that's pretty broad and general and, no what's so.
I can (as you put it Rick) Glare at a horse and have a negative impact. Of course my muscles will be tense and my internal energy increased, so that's no surprising.
I can also, most times, draw a horse to me by tipping my head and lowering my eyes (almost subvervient posture), with arm extended, closed hand. But, I might have to change position a few steps or more to get his feet to move.
We're all on the same path, but beware of general statements.

Rick said...

bnbaldwin_53, you hit the nail on the head. Generalizing is generally a mistake. I think this is an example of simplifying to get a basic point across. It's up to folks like us to carry the discourse further. As I wrote in Human to Horseman, every person, every horse, and every moment is unique. That's why we work so hard on developing this elusive thing called feel. It's all about developing this sixth sense about what horses need from us at any given time and doing our best to give it to them. Thanks for your comments, everyone.
R

Barbara said...

It is all about energy. People find it strange that I can "catch" my horses in an 80 or 160 acre pasture. I often will walk up to the horse I want and take its tail in my hand. THey immediately stop and allow me to go to their head to put on a halter.This came in handy after a grass fire took out part of my fence and two fillies only one of which had been halter broke escaped and were spotted by a friend across a busy highway miles from my home. This friend had just brought home a mare and colt and had his trailer hooked up so we drove as close as we could to the two spooked mares. I had some treats and a halter and approached the halter broke filly and got her in the trailer and tied her. I went to the other filly talking to her and assuring her and she followed me to the trailer where inch by inch, I "Talked" her into loading. If I had not always scratched and touched this mare's tail, I don't know if it would have worked so well. THe owner of the trailer said, "If I had not seen that I would not believe it." I always was able to talk cows into loading quickly even in a double deck semi. Truckers were amazed. "Are we done already?" Once I caught a trucker hitting a cow with a hotshot when we were starting and I grabbed it and threw it over the fence. A friend of mine who had helped with the gather assured him "Wow , you are lucky, I would have thought she would have shoved it where the sun don't shine".

naturalhorseman said...

Great post Barbara! I just posted an article I wrote this morning on my blog about using our body to speak to the horse. You can read it at: www.thenaturalhorseman.blogspot.com

And I'm glad you mentioned energy. People need to realize that the horse is sensitive to all of that and really feels it. That is how I think of 'feel', as Bill Dorrance puts it in his book, True Horsemanship through Feel.

Rick said...

Feel, energy, chi, spirit, connection. I think they are all ways of trying to describe this intangible thing that can exist between a horse and a human. The challenge we face is learning how to harness this and make it work for us. To me, that is the essential mission of natural horsemanship.
R

naturalhorseman said...

Yes! I am also a Reiki Master. Sometimes I think it gives me a step ahead when it comes to the horses, they are very sensitive to the energy.

Loretta

Clark69 said...

From personal experience...when they are wild or untouched, fearful, distrusting, no eye contact is right. You have to convince them you are not a preditor. Later when you establish trust and a relationship they will understand your nature and looking at them is acceptable. Staring in a trance is rude to anyone-we can all feel that. From a relationship standpoint-in the beginning-looking them in the eye is too intense. Your energy is the most important as it reflects in your body.

Clark69 said...

From personal experience...when they are wild or untouched, fearful, distrusting, no eye contact is right. You have to convince them you are not a preditor. Later when you establish trust and a relationship they will understand your nature and looking at them is acceptable. Staring in a trance is rude to anyone-we can all feel that. From a relationship standpoint-in the beginning-looking them in the eye is too intense. Your energy is the most important as it reflects in your body.

Rick said...

Clark69...agreed that the more skittish the horse, for whatever reason, the more care we must take with anything that might make him uncomfortable. But even that can be a tool if used correctly. There are times in training that we want to drive the horse away, as in round pen training, and there are times that we want to invite him in. It depends on what you are trying to accomplish at the time. Introducing measured amounts of discomfort or stress to a horse and allowing him to find the way to make it go away is an important part of training. One last point: we can't change the fact that humans are predators, but we can change whether we act predatorial. A horse is more concerned about a creature's behavior than whether it eats meat to survive. Thanks for your comment.

Rick said...

Clark69...agreed that the more skittish the horse, for whatever reason, the more care we must take with anything that might make him uncomfortable. But even that can be a tool if used correctly. There are times in training that we want to drive the horse away, as in round pen training, and there are times that we want to invite him in. It depends on what you are trying to accomplish at the time. Introducing measured amounts of discomfort or stress to a horse and allowing him to find the way to make it go away is an important part of training. One last point: we can't change the fact that humans are predators, but we can change whether we act predatorial. A horse is more concerned about a creature's behavior than whether it eats meat to survive. Thanks for your comment.

Rick said...

Clark69...agreed that the more skittish the horse, for whatever reason, the more care we must take with anything that might make him uncomfortable. But even that can be a tool if used correctly. There are times in training that we want to drive the horse away, as in round pen training, and there are times that we want to invite him in. It depends on what you are trying to accomplish at the time. Introducing measured amounts of discomfort or stress to a horse and allowing him to find the way to make it go away is an important part of training. One last point: we can't change the fact that humans are predators, but we can change whether we act predatorial. A horse is more concerned about a creature's behavior than whether it eats meat to survive. Thanks for your comment.