Roger Thompson: Horsin’ Around 12-19-11
December 19, 2011
The enjoyment of “people watching” is something I do quite often. I think it has been developed over a period in my life from just sitting and watching animals. Most of my life has been spent in the mountains, prairie, or in the city of just sitting quietly observing the critters around me. By critters I mean horses, cattle, wild life and people. I seem to learn a bunch by observation. I have had friends ask me to watch them while training horses and tell them if they did it correctly. That is a great compliment to my learning the way of training.
With people it is fun to try to figure out who they are and where they are going, what their attitude is and are they happy. Then there are horse lovers who find horse reading even more fascination. I am one of those kinds of people who spend time reading animals and especially horses. I have done this for a long time and still enjoy it. I have found that ears, eyes, tail, muscles and foot falls can most easily read a horse’s attitude.
The laid-back ears, flat against the head usually signal intent to kick, bite or intimidate the horse or human nearby. The ears say, “Take heed before I take action!” The ears moving forward and back, not always synchronized, tell a happier story of attentiveness to the surrounding sounds and voices. Ears perked straight forward, rigid, usually stiff, usually indicate fear, or suspicion. You can expect the horse to refuse to move forward or to bolt in this case. Some times the ears will be perked forward to afford a better look at the jump or any thing directly in front of them. This function is accompanied by dropping the head in order to use better frontal vision.
A horse shows the whites of the eye when they look back behind or when alarmed. When the lids are slightly closed it indicates the horse is at peace or contentment.
When “reading” horses, watch the muscle movement along with the ears and eyes, as the tensing or relaxing is most informative. Try to guess what the horse will do next. Experts can tell you exactly which foot the horse will move and where he will go, minutes before the horse takes any action.
Horse-reading is more like people-reading than you imagined. Sit at the side of a pasture and analyze the herd boss or the timid horse. Later on watch those same horses in the ring under the supervision of an instructor. You may be surprised at the change of behavior. The ‘boss’ horse may be the laziest horse in the ring, while the timid horse acts like the commanding officer.
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Prior to his retirement, Roger Thompson was a CHA certified instructor of advanced Western horsemanship and beginning English riding.