Sid Gustafson DVM
|Talismanic wins Breeders Cup Turf in Record Time|
THE LANGUAGE OF HORSES is a behavioral interpretation of the theory and practice of contemporary horsemanship. An empirical appreciation of equine behavior is instrumental in developing agreeable partnerships with horses.
Horses form strong pair bonds.
To successfully train horses we must initially bond with them. To bond with horses we must know and learn from them to fulfill their inherent general and individual needs. An effective pair bond is formed when each knows the other in a consistent, communicative, predictable, and reliable fashion. Once this familiarity is established learning and training can commence in earnest for both human and horse.
The domestic nature of horses is an inherent inclination to please people who fulfill their behavioral needs. Fulfilling the social and physiologic needs of horses is essential to their health, trainability and prosperity. Ethical horsemanship appreciates the both the wild and domestic natures of the horse.
The Language of Horses facilitates harmony with horses. An appreciation of the long-evolved nature of the horse allows the development of positive relationships with horses. Stabling must re-create natural. The successful horse person appreciates the world from the horse’s perspective. In addition to the fulfillment of the horses’ essential needs of friends, forage, and locomotion, fluency in the language used to read and communicate with horses is essential to teach horses. Communicative bonding allows the union of horse and rider to be a willing partnership.
Constant concise communication clarifies and solidifies the relationship. Horses form strong pair bonds based on precise communication. Precise communication engenders predictability, and predictability establishes mutual reliability. A partnership forms, activated by actualizing the bond. Horse and rider. Each knows the other. Each understands the other, and appreciates the other. In the best relationships, each admires the other, looking forward to riding together. Familiarity, from the word familial, develops between the horse and rider. Horse and rider come to know one another, and in the best relationships, to enjoy one another. Horse and human share an evolved sociality that facilitates communication and appeasement. The higher the degree of familiarity between horse and rider becomes, the more fluent and productive the relationship.
Willing partnerships between horses and humans are developed utilizing a shared language, a gesture language, kinetic empathy. Both man and human, having evolved in group-survival societies, have the evolutionary background to cooperate and communicate with like-minded others. Man and horses share communication-based group survival constructs. With horses, humans share the language that facilitates group survival, a language of motion and touch, kinetic empathy and haptic empathy, empathy implying conveyance of meaning, rather than sympathy. Empathy is the ability to understand another. Kinetic empathy is the ability to understand another’s gesture language.
To bond with and train horses, one must become sympathetic to the gesture language of horses, empathetic to the meaning of all of their motions, their body, ears, eyes, lips, and legs. One has to watch carefully to become sympathetic to the meaning. In watching for meaning in motion, horses and humans enhanced group survival. Fluency in the language of horsemanship is based on an understanding of the language of horses, and its similarities to the language of horsefolk. Horsemanship is a sharing of the language horse with the language of man. Man and horse easily share a language as time and domestication has proven. It is no surprise we are apt to share a language with other species who have evolved similar group survival constructs. Man and horse successfully converged societies facilitated by their similarly evolution of group communication. Horses and man share a language of movement and touch, which successfully allows a shared sociality between human and horse. Horsemanship is merging with the herd, while pair bonding with the horse. Horses have no verbal language, but are adept communicators utilizing kinetic empathy. Horses employ movements to transfer information to others. Horses also communicate via touch. Horsefolk communicate with horses utilizing movement and touch.
There are many layers and textures to the communication and social structuring that occurs between humans and horses. Domestication science, the study of the merger of horse and human societies, helps horsefolk appreciation the similarities between horses and people. Shared social constructs allowed horses and humans to merge, enhancing group survival for both species. As the species merged, coevolution solidified the survival of both species. Eons of time played an immense role—time, geography, climate, and genetics, but mostly it was the social constructs horses and humans share thousands of years of close association (co-evolution), followed by selective breeding.
Communication between horses and people is largely silent gesture language, a language with meaning in motions and pressures and releases rather than vocalizations. Auditory cues can replace physical cues after the physical cues are established, however. Beyond the language of movement between horses and people, comes the captivating language of feel, a haptic empathy, a language of touching motions. Kinetic empathy and haptic empathy are the terms I use to define the Language of Horses. Fluency in both is essential to achieve ethical horsemanship.
Ethical horsemanship emphasizes the exploration of the inherent socialization processes required to develop mutually aggreeable relationships with horses. Making friends with horses in a social sense facilitates willingness to please, and willingness to learn and remember. Appropriate socialization with the mare and herd during the growth phase refines these essential communication abilities. Once foals are taught to communicate with other horses, they can then be taught to communicate with humans. It is essential during the imprint phase that the mare teach the foal these communication basics, as she is the most qualified, the only qualified teacher in this regard. In order for horses to respond to human training and teaching, the foal must be thoroughly taught and trained, and maintained by refining their communication abilities with other horses. Trainability requires appropriate socialization. To train up, horses must grow up to be horses as taught by horses. Throughout life, abundant socialization is required to maintain healthy mental processes and responsiveness to other horses and people alike. The most effective socialization is accomplished in spacious herd settings. Especially critical is the period from birth through adolescence. In addition to understanding and correctly applying equine behavior to training, horses benefit immensely from appropriate and abundant socialization. Horses become willing to reward people with stellar performance and optimum health when continuous and appropriate socialization are abundantly provided throughout their development, training, and competitive life.
Dr Gustafson graduated from Washington State University as a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine in 1979. He is a practicing veterinarian, animal welfarist, equine behavior educator, and novelist. The application of behavioral science to the husbandry and training of horses enhances optimal health, performance, soundness, contentment, and longevity.
Sid Gustafson provides equine behavioral consults to help humans achieve willing and winning partnerships with horses.