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Photo by Laura Wilsie

In her book HORSES IN TRANSLATION, TSB author Sharon Wilsie shares true stories of how she discovered Horse Speak® and the early horses and horse people who benefited from learning it, too. A lifelong horsewoman and animal lover, Sharon had to break down all that she had learned in a traditional sense about how to handle and ride horses in order to open herself to the possibility that there was a better way for our two species to communicate. Namely, she pinpointed ways we can learn to talk to horses in their language instead of expecting them to understand ours.

In this short piece from HORSES IN TRANSLATION, Sharon tests the body language she’d been trying with her own herd with a rescued Mustang. We are given a front-row seat to a breakthrough conversation that has now yielded an entire language that can be incorporated into any training method and used with any breed of horse, in any discipline, with unbelievable results. Horse Speak changes everything.


I received a phone call from the director of a local horse rescue. They had a Mustang no one could do anything with. She knew I was taking time off but asked if I could just come take a look and maybe offer some advice. I hadn’t worked with any horses outside my own herd for several months at this point. But the request didn’t feel like an intrusion. Perhaps I was ready to re-enter the bigger picture.

Sure, I thought. Why not?

The little Mustang stood stoically at the back of his pen, which was attached to the barn and gave him entry to his own stall. He had buddies in pens and stalls on either side of him, but they were all separated due to specific injuries and frailties, and for the time being, needed to stay that way.

The little guy took one look at me and turned his butt toward me, dramatically and as a warning. I got it loud and clear.

Well, I thought. Here goes nothing!

I started to walk back and forth about 10 feet away from his pen, showing him all sides of me. Then I stopped and did an “Aw-Shucks” (looked down and scuffed my foot, asking him to take the pressure off).

The Mustang turned around and dropped his nose to the dirt (the horse version of Aw-Shucks) in about two seconds!

At the time, I wasn’t totally sure about the protocols yet, so I just stood there, licking and chewing with my mouth and lips. He reached his nose in the air toward me and sniffed three huffing breaths. I copied him, figuring he knew better than I did what came next. He then dramatically turned his head to the side, and so did I. Sniffing at me again, the Mustang again lowered his head, muzzle to the ground. I took it as an invitation to come over.

I scuffed my way to him in a very “O” position (rounded shoulders, hands together in front of my belly), and extended my arm with my hand in a fist and my knuckles up when I got close. (This “fist bump” was what I had been using in lieu of a nose to greet my horses.) He touched them lightly with his nose, and turned away, walking into his stall. The conversation seemed to be over.

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I walked away to visit some of the other horses and came back a few minutes later. The Mustang was waiting for me at the fence, and he reached to touch my knuckles again. I had the old urge to pat his forehead, but this caused him to pin his ears and turn away. Oops. I hastily backed up and scuffed the ground with my toe. He responded by sniffing the ground again.

Then he began to walk slowly to the left, so I did too. I stopped when he stopped, and he seemed pleased. I was curious to see what would happen if I turned to the right, so I took a step. The little horse paused a good, long moment and then swung around, also moving to the right. I didn’t know what to do next, so I exhaled loudly. He started to yawn. It felt like time to take a nap, so I sat down in the dirt outside his pen. He cocked a hind leg and closed his eyes.

What would my horse Rocky do now? I wondered. (Rocky had been teaching me many of the Horse Speak protocols.) I thought of Rocky flopping his ears sideways and wiggling his lips. I couldn’t flop my ears, but I could wiggle my lips, so I did. The Mustang came out of his reverie and then flopped his ears and wiggled his lips, too. This caused another round of yawning. I took a deep breath, opening my floating ribs to allow in more air, and his lower belly took a Shuddering Breath and expanded, making him look fatter for a minute.

Not sure of what else to do, I stood up. He seemed to know I was at a loss, so he swished his tail at me and headed back inside his stall. I swished my hand down by my thigh in response, and he paused, looking over his shoulder at me, and swished his tail again while blowing out his nose.

I wasn’t sure what good this did the little Mustang, but I was over the moon! The volunteers who had been watching were full of questions, so I agreed to come back for a teaching day to go over some of the movements I had used and why.

I got another call the very next day: The Mustang had met a volunteer at the door of his stall in the morning, for the first time since he had arrived. He allowed a handler to place his halter on so he could go out to the bigger field.

The rescue director said he was much more relaxed—it seemed like he just suddenly “fit in.” I was thrilled—but surprised. How could one visit in which I hadn’t even touched him have caused such a change? Was I just lucky, or was this really happening?


The breakthroughs Sharon experienced with the rescued Mustang were only the beginning. Horse Speak is now practiced by thousands of horse people around the world, and Sharon’s third book ESSENTIAL HORSE SPEAK: CONTINUING THE CONVERSATION, is coming out this year.

CLICK HERE to add your name to the waitlist and be alerted when ESSENTIAL HORSE SPEAK is available.

COMING 2021

For more information about Horse Speak, visit Sharon Wilsie’s website: https://sharonwilsie.com/

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and videos, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont.

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In November of 2016 the book HORSE SPEAK: THE EQUINE-HUMAN TRANSLATION GUIDE was released, becoming an instant bestseller and propelling a little-known trainer and riding teacher from Westminster, Vermont, into a whirlwind of book signings, speaking engagements, and clinics throughout North America. Now with the book soon to be released in Dutch and in German, and a follow-up DVD and book in the works, Sharon Wilsie is looking to help more people, from all equestrian backgrounds and disciplines, all over the world, learn to truly communicate with their horses—but not using our language of words and ropes. Wilsie has decoded Horse Speak for the rest of us.

TSB: How did you conceive of the different aspects of Horse Speak?

SW: As a long-time animal trainer, I am intrinsically aware of the difference between a “trained skill” and an “authentic response” from the animal’s own nature. I can train a horse, for instance, to come to the mounting block while at liberty and stand perfectly still without a halter or bridle, and I can then proceed to ride that horse without tack. Eventually, though, this was no longer satisfying, as it occurred to me that just because a horse could do this with apparent ease and obedience did not necessarily mean that he was choosing to do it of his own volition. A well trained and loved servant is still a servant.

I truly wanted to know if a horse, given freedom of choice, would choose to offer me his back. In order to answer this question, I needed to go beyond training. I had to be able to ask a question, “Would you be interested in having me on your back?” Moreover, I would have to understand his answer.

Ultimately, I had to learn to speak “Horse.” Language flows, bends, twists, and turns. It is not the straight-line reasoning of training, which pares down to a set of responses the animal learns to give to the same cues over and over again. The language of the horse belies his innate world view, which can be similar to ours, and in other cases can be almost in opposition to us.

In this work, I start teaching people with the most basic platform: I call it “Going to Zero.” This simply means you adopt the inner state of calm that horses seek to maintain at all times. If you can steady yourself by learning to be at “Zero intensity,” both outside and in, you are on your way to learning the visual language of the horse.

TSB: How does Horse Speak differ from other forms of human-animal communication?

SW: Horse Speak demystifies the subtleties of not only horses, but of the best of the best trainers that people may wish to emulate. When we see a truly stunning performance—whether dressage, circus tricks, Roman riding, or some other amazing horse-and-rider combination—we all wish to experience that level of connection and inspired horsemanship. What few people understand is that body language is a natural part of all of us. It is the level of innate brain connectivity around the interpretation of body language that varies among us. Some people can be naturally fluent in this skill, while others may struggle to interpret even basic facial cues (as is the case in autism).

Horse Speak assists people on any level of awareness to either take what is already working and make it better, or even start from scratch and learn body language basics from the ground up.

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TSB: Why do you feel others can benefit from and should learn Horse Speak?

SW: Whether a person has professional goals (showing, teaching, training) or simply enjoys a backyard horse or two, everyone generally wants to have a happy, healthy, and wholesome relationship with horses. Taking the time to really learn their language is just plain common sense.

TSB: How has Horse Speak changed your life with horses? Your career as a horse trainer and riding coach?

SW: To speak the language of the horse is to dive into a world of potential that only exists when two beings can really communicate with each other. And on a completely practical level, I know no better way to help a horse “buy in” to our ideas—whether we want to jump a bigger fence or just get through a veterinary visit without incident.

TSB: How do you see Horse Speak growing and changing other people’s lives with horses? Other people’s equine careers?

SW: In any theater of horsemanship, it is essential to have the utmost safety possible. Far too many people live with a level of mistrust, getting stepped on, run over, bucked off, and so on, while assuming this is just the way things are with horses. This is most definitely NOT the way things should be, and it is NOT ultimately the way horses wish things to be. Especially in the arena of therapeutic horsemanship (physical or emotional/psychological) the need for trust, rapport, and co-facilitation from the horse himself is paramount. One cannot simply layer on more and more obedience-based training, hoping to reach the horse’s authentic core and gain access to the depth of heart that these animals are capable of offering. This can only be reached through communication.

TSB: If there is one common message that most horses are trying to tell us that we don’t understand, what is it?

Horse Speak Final CoverSW: Live from your heart. Horses don’t mind if you cry, or are afraid, or even if you feel frustrated. But they abhor incongruity. If your insides are churning, and your outsides are trying to act like a rigid authority, this inner vs. outer conflict makes horses confused and anxious. If nothing else, learning to think and act like a horse will give any human access to a level of inner awareness and outer presence that trumps any other mechanical, rule-based roboticism that steers us to see horses as more of a biological motorcycle than the elegant gatekeepers to a richer existence in which being “one with nature” is more than a quaint expression: it is reality.

To find out more about HORSE SPEAK and to download a free chapter, CLICK HERE.

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and DVDs, is a small company based on a farm in rural Vermont.

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How do you think your horse feels about being mounted? Does he fidget? Throw his head up? Drop his back? Root at the bit? It is easy to unbalance your horse when you mount him, and you can also unbalance him when you dismount. Learning to take your time in the process of mounting and dismounting helps everybody stay balanced and neutral.

In the book HORSE SPEAK: THE EQUINE-HUMAN TRANSLATION GUIDE, Sharon Wilsie explains how her system of Horse Speak can help ease anxiety related to mounting, ensuring your rides start off on a positive note. Here are some of her recommendations:

First, really notice how your horse reacts to being mounted. (Consider asking someone to take a photo of your horse’s face while you get on.) A stoic horse may grimace while being mounted. A sensitive horse may raise his head and show anxiety. An energetic horse moves off when you step into the stirrup. There are many possible reactions. When looking at your horse, notice his ears, eyes, and in particular, his mouth. What you have long thought was acceptance, may instead have been be acquiescence.

Your core energy broadcasts from your “center” just behind your belly button. This can cause confusion when mounting, especially with a sensitive horse. When you face the saddle from the mounting block, you may put “sending” pressure from your belly button onto the horse. He will naturally swing his head toward you and his body away, in response to the sending message your body is conveying. To clarify your body language, practice mounting with your core energy turned toward the horse’s head.

You can also diffuse your horse’s anxiety about mounting with the following Horse Speak “Conversation”: 

Horse Speak Final Cover

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1  Begin by leading your horse to the mounting block and position him as if you are going to mount, but instead just sit on the block for a few minutes (retreat) and breathe with him. Breathe long enough to see your horse visibly relax next to the block. This is a good exercise some evening when you don’t have time to ride but do want to have a Conversation with your horse. Tack up in your normal routine and have a Breath Conversation at the mounting block. Try to sync your breath to his. Observe the subtle language he shows. Take really deep breaths. 

2  Show your horse affection before you mount. Before getting up on the mounting block, check in with a Knuckle Touch. Reach up and lightly scratch the Friendly Button where the forelock meets the forehead. Most horses also appreciate having each front foot picked up and moved in a gentle circle at the mounting block—it releases tension.  Rock the Baby first on his bridle while standing in front of him, and then while standing on the mounting block with your horse in position in front of you, facing the same direction as your horse with your hand closest to him on his withers. Shift your weight from one foot to the other or from one hip to the other. Remember to sync your rocking to your breath, and breathe as slowly and deeply as you can. Your horse may take a step to rebalance himself. Many horses are taught to stand still no matter how awkward and unbalanced they feel. Letting him widen his stance may be a huge relief to him. Also some horses appreciate Rock the Baby at the mounting block with one hand on the withers and one behind the saddle. 

3  Now, once you mount, dismount again immediately, and walk your horse in a medium-size circle. Bring him back to the block, breathe, and mount again. Repeat this sequence three times, paying attention to your horse’s comfort and body language. If there is any tension stop and breathe with your horse, then resume the Conversation.

4  Try a Copycat Conversation with your horse about the mounting block. Lean over him slightly as if preparing to mount, and then lean back upright or away from the horse. Repeat, syncing your leaning toward and away from the horse to your own breathing. Do this at least three times before getting on and staying on. When you repeat this Copycat every time you mount, at some point your horse may simply lean toward you as you step in the stirrup. What a wonderful way to start a ride!

Learn more Conversations in HORSE SPEAK, available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE to learn more.

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and DVDs, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont. 

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How do you greet someone for the first time? Depending on which part of the world you are from, perhaps it is no more than a nod and a smile of acknowledgment, a small bow, or it could be a kiss on one cheek or two. Of course, the greeting many of us are most familiar with is the handshake.

The handshake dates back to Ancient Greece. It is believed that by shaking hands, rather than bowing or curtseying, two individuals proved they were equals. It also demonstrated that they felt comfortable enough together to be unarmed.

Have you ever thought about the fact that horses have a similar system in place? A way to show when they are on equal footing and not a threat to one another? Of course we’ve all seen the horse-to-horse sniff, stomp, and squeal, but have we ever really considered what it all means…and what it means when it comes to the way we greet our horses?

“The Greeting Ritual is the basic platform I have created to teach humans how Conversations with horses can exist,” says Sharon Wilsie of Wilsie Way Horsemanship in HORSE SPEAK, the book she wrote with fellow horsewoman Gretchen Vogel. “The Greeting Ritual consists of three separate moments in which horses that are meeting touch noses on the Greeting Button (located on the front of the muzzle). The speed at which they may perform these three touches varies from lightning-fast to very slow. The reason for three official touches is simple: there is much to say in a first, formal greeting, and it takes two subsequent touches to sort it all out.”

 

HORSE SPEAK author Sharon Wilsie greets her Morgan mare.

HORSE SPEAK author Sharon Wilsie greets her Morgan mare.

 

Here’s a very simple way to start a real Conversation with your horse, the way he’d like you to, beginning with “Hello”:

1 Use a Knuckle Touch (your hand in a soft fist, knuckles up) to the horse’s Greeting Button to say, “Hello,” followed by an obvious turn to one side. Do this to see if the horse will copy your movement (an offer to follow you).

2 Add a second Knuckle Touch to say, “Getting to know you!” and once more turn to the side to confirm the horse will offer to follow you.

3 End with a third Knuckle Touch to say, “What’s next?” as you breathe in and out softly. This could lead to you going somewhere together, grooming (some form of touch), or separating peacefully. The third touch is where the next level of Conversation begins.

 

“Horses must be bilingual,” says Wilsie. “They must speak ‘horse language’ to horses (although if they have been isolated, they may not be effective communicators with other horses). In addition, horses need to speak ‘human.’ We use words and inflections to indicate our many levels of feelings, needs, and replies to each other. Humans don’t need to rely on subtle visual messages. We express less with our bodies than we do with words. We make so many random movements around our horses that they can be at a loss trying to understand us.

HORSE SPEAK is meant to help both sides of the coin: humans and horses. Just like learning a foreign language, you will first learn distinct movements that are the horse’s individual words. You’ll learn how to mirror his words visually, in a way he will understand. Eventually, you will be able to combine these gestures in sequences and pose questions to horses. When a horse replies with his own movements, you will understand what he is saying and be able to respond logically. Fluency comes with the flexibility to have a conversation automatically, calibrated with appropriate intensity. And giving you the means to become fluent is my goal.”

Watch the book trailer here:

 

CLICK IMAGE TO ORDER

CLICK IMAGE TO ORDER

HORSE SPEAK: THE EQUINE-HUMAN TRANSLATION GUIDE is available now from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE to download a free chapter or to order.

 

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and DVDs, is a small business located on a farm in rural Vermont.

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