A “light touch” is a communication tool that is one of the first things that you do need to develop into an automatic reaction whenever you are working with a horse. The horse will always use a light touch in their initial approach to you or any other human. Now that light touch may change after the horse has made an evaluation of the person that they are dealing with. So, what you have to be aware of is how you present yourself and the first impression that you make upon the horse at your introduction. Getting along with horses is no different from getting along in our own culture, there are rules to follow and if you follow them you are then accepted. Now in our world and culture we have the ability to accept the lesser standards of others and to go on, the horse culture does not look at things in that manner. If you are not willing to follow the rules, as they are put down in stone, then you may not be accepted within the horse culture. The main point here is to be accepted and be accepted fully you need to adapt to the rules of the horse so that they can understand what you are trying to convey.
There are two main points that are to be covered within this section and they are: A) Working the head of the horse from side-to-side, and B) Leading techniques that are safe for the horse and the handler.
In the last section I spoke of learning to allow the horse to place their head into the halter rather than forcing it onto the head of the horse. The main point of doing it this way is to start to allow the horse to trust that you are not going to force them into doing something that could be harmful to the horse. This is the first step in the trust issue that I do stress constantly, for trust mean equality and equality means friendship. Now once that you have gotten to the point that the horse is willing to place their head into the halter on their own you are building trust and the building of trust becomes the bond that will eventually become the foundation that a great relationship will be built upon.
As that trust becomes equality then to a friendship then the foundation is in its very early stages and you will then start to be treated as an equal. Once that you are being accepted as an equal you have to act as an equal, never a superior, for the trip that you both are about to have will only happen if you become shipmates and take on equal responsibilities. Look out for each other and you both will progress and survive. With this though in mind you have to be made aware that equality is just that and that there is no room for force of any kind. But, do not confuse force with guidance. It may be difficult at times to realize that guidance is necessary and that a point has to be covered time and time again until understood, but each time that you attempt to accomplish that specific task it has to be done the same way and with the same frame of mind. Relaxed and calm because retaining this frame of mind will allow the horse to keep coming back to you for guidance and understanding. Learning to correctly work within the horse social structure will teach you patience. Learning to deal with a horse in this manner will show the horse that you too can learn from them and will then allow you to be accepted into their life and an understanding that there is no room within a relationship between mankind and a horse for any force, but there is room for understanding.
If you have made the mistake of introducing force into a relationship with a horse you will have a very rough time getting the horse to fully trust you from that point on. For once that force is introduced into the relationship it will start to tear down any and all progress that has been made to that point in time. Force will drive a horse away from an individual faster than any other thing or action since what will happen is this will be a form of teaching that will reinforce the horse’s ability to work against you, in their mind, and will they will then resist any attempts at a solid working relationship. This is due to the impression that you have introduced into the overall teaching program.
A horse deals in details much more than we do, they look at things and they analyze them and look at them in a totally different way than we do. Take force, what we perceive as force is not what a horse perceives as force. It has been my experience that I have never seen a horse able to judge the different levels of force ~ all they see is force ~ it is never a slight amount or a huge amount of force. To a horse force is force.
The absence of force is trust and trust is complete with a horse ~ again a horse cannot judge different levels of trust. All they see is trust ~ never a slight or a huge amount ~ trust is trust. It is a good idea and one that I have always followed to completely trust a horse when you approach the horse and never expect any kind of problem or situation since you will not be projecting trust, you will be relating to the horse the thought of non-trust and the problem that you are expecting is the foremost in your mind and this will then most likely the problem will present itself.
It is the factor of trust that you present to the horse that will get you the trust that you are looking for from the horse. The complete trust that is initially felt between horse and human that will allow the two to work with and through any and all problems that will present themselves as they present themselves; be they slight or huge.
When there is trust there is equality and when you have equality you have a working relationship. This relationship does not happen overnight since it is a progression that starts slowly; since starting too quickly will create confusion and confusion will create mistrust and that could be perceived as force by the horse. Using a process of give and take will allow both of the participants to get the feel of each other. Just as you are now in the process of learning a light and soft touch to work with horses, they too have to learn the feel that you are creating and then adapt to that feel that you are creating. When the two parts of the whole (horse and human) start to learn the feel of each other, they then progress to the development of the team process and begin to act as one unit. When you are able to develop and refine this kind of relationship on the ground will continue and expand once that you progress into the saddle.
Once that you are starting to develop a relationship that will allow the two of you to act as a team, it will be possible to start to relate to the horse what you want and expect of them; this will then start to show the horse where you expect the team to end up at.
This process will allow the horse to realize what your intentions are ~ but, it has to be accomplished softly and allow them to trust you and this is done by trusting them first. You have to show the horse that you are willing to totally trust them and give them the guidance that is necessary for them to return the trust that you have earned. Once that you have gotten to this point in your own development and understanding you are at the initial point of developing a soft touch and a feel for the horse. A soft touch and a feel for the horse will feel good to the horse and this is the point of development that a good horse handler needs to perfect and become proficient at.
Many things that I have discussed before may appear strange and awkward and they may even be difficult for you to accept what I have said; but, it is these actions that I have explained that will develop trust and eliminate force and it is a give and take that will develop the solid relationship that you are looking for.
It all comes down to being in sync or connected with each other and it is done through a mutual feel. That mutual feel comes from you understanding what you have to do to be able to relay that same information to your horse so that the two of you can do it together and at the same time and the same speed. It is at this point that the two of you start to think and act as a single unit.
It has been my experience that most people do not give the time that is necessary this type of progression to come together. In the structured lifestyle that we follow as humans has no meaning to the horse, so to be able to do what you want you have to start to think as a horse and look at time as they do. Time to a horse does not really exist; they have no clocks or schedules, all they know if they are hungry they need to eat and so on. Looking at time as the horse does will allow the horse to start to understand you better. Adapting our actions and thought to this method of thought takes time; some will get it quickly, others will not, it is a personal thing. The same is true being able to adapt to change, be they horse or human, all have a unique learning curve and it needs to be respected.
As you become more and more aware of your actions you will become more confident and that confidence will initially be felt by the horse through the lead line and then it will progress until the horse feels it directly from you through your body language. This is the true light touch that develops on the ground and develops and evolves so that it can progress into the correct contact when you are in the saddle.
Over the years I have noticed that there are three basics to ground handling of horses and they need to be understood and mastered before even considering riding each and every horse that you come into contact with.
And here is what they are; A) Working a horse’s head from side-to-side which will lead to the lowering of the head and being able to get it into various positions, which is the basis for relating a person’s touch (or feel) to the horse, B) The ability of the horse to be lead freely will show an understanding of the person’s touch (or feel) and will define the basis of respect from both handler and horse to each other, and C) Thirdly, is to take the art of leading a horse to the working of a horse on the ground ~ such as backing or stopping ~ moving when told to do so and to stop and have the horse wait for your soft touch to move just as much as you are asking them for. This will reinforce both of the two previous points above and go past the respect factor to that of trust.
Until me meet again, learn to have fun with your horse.
By Bob Burdekin
My work with horses and owners is dedicated to the thousands of horses that I have had the distinct pleasure to meet, learn from and allowed into their lives. That acceptance has given me the insight that is necessary for the understanding of their world and how I had to alter my thoughts and actions to become the same as theirs. These horses started out as my clients, became my friends, then my teachers and finally my mentors. For that I am forever grateful. Learn more about Bob and subscribe to his blog at http://www.BobBurdekin.com