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.
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.
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.