When we started doing natural horsemanship we were told very emphatically that we should not talk to our horses. This is totally unnatural for humans and, in my opinion, is not a helpful instruction for people. The proper instruction is that you must use your voice carefully and thoughtfully.
Horses communicate primarily by body language, but, they also use their voice. Like most animals they do learn to communicate with people using voice. They also communicate to other horses. The most common situation is when one horse is separated from the herd. The lone horse will whinny loudly and the herd will respond so the lost horse can return.
There are two kinds of voice communication with horses. There is the ASKING VOICE and the CALMING VOICE. The asking voice is the one that concerns clinicians. The risk is that people rely too much on voice to ask the horse when they don`t understand the body language. The calming voice is used more for ourselves than for the horse. Through the tone of voice it does convey an emotional component to the horse.
The asking voice is used to supplement a physical request for a horse to respond. For example there a number of physical techniques for asking the horse to back up. This can be combined with a simple voice command “BACK”. When using this command you should always use exactly the same word in the same tone of voice. A cluck can be used to ask the horse for a trot, a kiss to ask for a lope. These voice asks must be taught in combination with physical training cues. Clinicians can explain the use of voice in detail when you ask them. Used properly the asking voice can be a very useful method for communicating with your horse.
In building leadership and partnership with horses I have found that horses begin to vocalize to me. With our first horse his vocalizing started after 6 months. The next two horses did not start until the second year.
The first sound is a fairly loud knicker when the horse sees me coming toward the paddock. It is like a signal or an invitation to come into the paddock. The second voice is a very low knicker when I am with the horse in the paddock. It feels like the calming voice that I use when I am around the horse which he is replicating in his own way. The third voice is an extremely low knicker that is barely audible. The horse does this when I am rubbing him or grooming him and he is very relaxed it is very much like purring in cats.
For humans the use of voice is so much of what we are that we should understand how we can employ our voice to communicate with other species. We also need to learn to listen to the voices of other species to help us understand them. Communicating doesn`t require language it does require understanding.
The foal gives my mother an earful below.(circa 1940)