Friday, 24 February 2012

Getting Permission

(Anytime I use the term “he” please read “her” if it fits for your horse.)

Like humans, horses have rules of engagement.  These are conventions of etiquette in approaching a horse and touching a horse.

Your communication with your horse begins as soon as there is visual contact between you.  As you approach the paddock you should be observing the horses behaviour.  Is your horse looking at you?  Do you have two eyes and two ears?  If you do, then you have permission to approach  and enter the paddock.  It is like being invited into someone`s home.

                                            This is not an invitation.

                                           This is an invitation.

When you enter the paddock keep watching the horses body language.  Does he look away?  Does he move away?  What are his ears doing?  Is his head up, down, level?  Is he licking and chewing?   Does his body look tense?   When you move toward him does he turn his head away? All of these things and more are important.  The horse will give you a first signal about what he is going to do.  Don`t ignore it.  Be polite and respect it and give  him some relief.  Together they will tell you what level of permission you have.  If the horse comes to you give him the opportunity to touch you first.  It is important to the horse.

It takes time for horses to accept humans as full partners.  My experience is that it can take years for this to happen.  The connection if well maintained keeps building as confidence, trust and respect build.

Horses are social animals and they enjoy touch.  But like us, the permission to touch must be willingly given.  When the bond has grown to a certain level the horse will begin to ask for touching and they will get very specific about where they want to be touched.  They will present the part of their body to you that they want you to rub or scratch.  It may be their ears, neck, withers etc. But they will be quite clear about what they want.

                                            Scratch me here please.

Permission is not permanent.  You need to check every time you are with your horse to see how they feel about things.  It may be fine one day to pick up their feet and the next day they may have a problem.  If they have a bruise or a strain they may not want to pick up all four feet.  They will give you the signals and you need to watch for them.  Keep an eye on their ears and tail.  If the tail starts swishing that can be a sign that something is bothering them.

Just like people horses are all different and each day they can have a different attitude.  Be attentive and respect the rules of engagement.  Also be aware that you are entitled to expect the horse to respect the rules as well. Mutual respect builds trust and confidence within the partnership.

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