After reading Gallop to Freedom (Pignon) it got me thinking about using more mimicking play in my work with the horses. Pignon writes about how he will experiment with imitating the horses to see how they respond. While I’ve done a bit with my horses, I’ve never had a lot of success.
Which got me to thinking about Eric Cussons and how he behaves when interacting with the chimps he rescues and installs in the Jane Goodall Chimp Eden sanctary.
Some things before I discuss Eric’s work. First, I am not a fan of chimps. They actually are my least favorite animal. While I’m not a fan I do not support anyone abusing these animals or “making” them foster children. They deserve to live like nature intended and are not “tame” in any sense of the word.
If you watch this show enough, you know that secondly chimps are extremely dangerous. An adult chimp has the strength of 5-7 men; your arm could be ripped off, and indeed, the head manager of the facility is missing fingers due to an incident.
Yes, indeed, these are no “pets” and a horrible chimp attack in the U.S. (don’t read the article unless you have a strong stomach) should prove that these animals need to be under the management of trained personnel in an enclosure suited to their emotional and physical needs.
However, let’s get back full circle to how this applies to horses, training and me…
After thinking about the shows I’ve watched of Eric interacting with the chimps, I realized that perhaps I was not exaggerating my vocalizations, expressions and body language enough. Indeed, in Klaus Hempflings’ Dancing with Horses, you can see by the photos and video that Hempfling has strong and emphatic body language.
Let me be clear that I do not mean actions that would alarm the horse into flight or fight behavior. That is where the gauge of treating each horse uniquely comes into it: Z may need more “loud” requests; Dee and T-man need substantially less.
I’ve been experimenting with Z and Dee these last two weeks. If you are sharp you can catch it in the videos I’ve done recently.
When a horse exhales, I blow out – loudly and audibly.
When a horse snorts, I snort and blow out a deep breath.
When a horse flutters their lips with an exhale or snort, I ****brrrrrr*** my mouth with an exhale.
If their head lowers, I lower my head.
While I do have the horses copy me when walking or trotting, I’ve noticed that I need to make my transition into a stop much more dramatic for a horse response.
It’s been interesting and the results have been fascinating. Z knows that something is definitely up. She has almost a *shocked*WTF?*alert*are you crazy?* look on her face when I do it. She locks onto me immediately and will often repeat what I’ve done.
You can observe this same behavior in horse groups. One horse drops and rolls. Then another, then a third. It goes through the herd like a ripple. If you are really paying attention the same thing happens for fly swatting, snorting, or even drinking water – one horse starts, another copies.
One of the points of encouraging snorting and blowing, is this is a sign the horse is relaxing. A horse that blows or snorts, will automatically lower their head (perhaps it’s to just blow out the sinuses?) and his body structure relaxes.
This returns to the idea of teaching head down. If a horse has the head lowered, he would be relaxed. Ergo, a tense horse should lower the head to change the mental state which changes the physical state.
As we are blowing and snorting, mimicking each other, the horse becomes more relaxed, imitating me as if I’m a member of their herd family who is communicating to them that everything is cool and groovy.
However, it does make for a funny time at the barn…