Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Feeling Stressed Out? Horse Speak Meditation with Sharon Wilsie

We are all experiencing a time of not knowing what the next day is going to bring. Each day brings a new set of rules, fears, and questions about our future. Through all this, how can we come back to a state of inner calm, which in Horse Speak® we call Zero? Follow along on this guided meditation, so you can embrace your state of Zero not only for you and your family but for your horse too!

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Why am I Addicted to Teaching Horse Speak?

Why am I addicted to teaching Horse Speak? 

Horse Speak came about largely in part to my work with rescues. The picture above was taken during a workshop at Dorset Equine Rescue in Dorset VT. This young filly was a recent arrival, and did not have a trustworthy attitude toward human beings. She could be flighty and reclusive on one hand, and feisty and temperamental on the other (as many yearling horses are.)

Horses have a protocol of cycles of communication starting with greeting, and moving through negotiating personal space, hierarchy and leadership roles. Horses only land on the square of emotional relaxation when the first two categories are satisfied.

In order to get horses to become compliant, horse trainers have relied for years on various methods of moving horses around in prescribed ways to convince them that the trainer ultimately has the upper hand, and if the horse backs down and complies, then the trainer can move onto other areas of the horse's education. 

These methods vary from putting the horse into a small enclosed space such as a round pen and running them around inside it with either ropes, whips or even a combination of the two; to using a lead rope and maybe even a whip or stick of some sort to correct any actions the trainer does not want. Some trainers rely heavily on lunging techniques in which the horse makes circles around the trainer until they show the level of compliance the person is looking for; other methods simply use the whip to strike towards the horse to teach them to stay obedient, or even the rope shaken at the horse to seek the same thing. 

The goal in these methods is to take away the horse's ability to refuse, and ultimately once the horse has succumbed to the trainer's wishes, usually that person also offers a level of affection, and rest. 

In strict positive reinforcement methods such as clicker training, the horse is taught to cultivate a sense of pleasure in "problem solving" and receives a treat only when the correct "answer" is achieved. This method can have great results, but takes time to master the feel, timing and exact delivery that creates a thoughtful and engaged horse; not a muggy and demanding one. In the case of rescue horses who may have been starved or abused, this can be a tricky method to use. 

In both cases, the results of the training are seeking to win a horse's trust, respect and compliance. The use of physical contact such as TTouch, Masterson Method or Reiki are ways to try to alleviate a horse's embodiment of trauma both emotional and physical and hopefully gain ground in that horse's rehabilitation. 

On this level, Horse Speak was developed for just such situations, but it does not need ropes, whips or treats, nor do you even necessarily need to touch the horse; your presence is enough. 

While all these methods and tactics certainly carry their own weight and usefulness, once you know Horse Speak, the manner in which you present yourself to the horse will be able to accomplish most of the hard initial work, building trust, respect and rapport within the very first encounter - and you can do this from the other side of the fence, or with the horse loose in their natural environment. 

I am addicted to teaching Horse Speak because the results are powerful, and tend to stick even after only one session. Horses who realize people are attempting to speak their language often respond with a surprising amount of both interest and tenderness. Best of all, these same horses begin to cross the bridge of understanding even with humans who have never even heard of Horse Speak. I have frequently received feedback that not only did the horse I worked with have enormous breakthroughs, but they responded positively to the regular staff, who had no incline of this work. 

Bottom line; talking to Horses in their language; even if it is just an honest attempt can make all the difference. 

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Give Your Horse a Valentine

  Give Your Horse a Valentine

The words “love” and “horses” usually go together. People usually talk about horses with a little misty-eyed expression on their faces. How can you tell if your horse loves you back? Horses do not express affection as directly as cats and dogs do; after all they do not usually come running up to us, wagging their tails or curl up on our laps while purring.

Horses are prey animals, they require a good deal of personal space to feel safe and secure – so crowding our space does not inherently mean they love us. It tends to mean they are not registering our boundaries.

Here is a real area of confusion; to a horse, healthy boundaries (not rigid, controlling ones) help horses feel safer around us. They have a well-defined bubble of personal space, and rarely do you see horses lingering too close to each other. Even mutual grooming sessions are over relatively quickly.

You may have seen puppy piles or kitten clumps – have you ever seen a foal pile?

You may have seen puppy piles or kitten clumps – have you ever seen a foal pile? Sometimes very young horses may lay on or near their mothers, but Mother Nature dictates that a tangle of legs is the last thing you need if a lion shows up and you have to run for it.
Human beings love touch! Horses love it too – but – they need to feel that their bubble of personal space is safe, first. If a horse has come to learn that his bubble can and will be invaded at any moment, he tends to have one of two main reactions. Either he withdraws and becomes stoic and tolerant, but does not seek touch on his own, or he overreacts and blurts into your space, too! The over friendly horses are just as frustrated with the lack of space respect as the overly stoic ones are.

The remedy? Give your horse a moment before you touch him. Take a big, deep breath, and wait for him to release his breath, too. Pause outside his bubble and wait for him to naturally look your way or lower his head a little. Most horses will even turn away from you with a grand gesture known as “Deferring Space.” When they turn their head away like this, they are showing respect for your bubble, not tuning you out!!

Most horses will even turn away from you with a grand gesture known as “Deferring Space.”

If your horse is a real space invader, then you can ask him to give you a tad more room by simply touching his “Go Away Face” button – located in the center of his large, round cheek. You may have to repeat it several times if he has a long history of bumping into you – and a super tip here is to leave your cuing hand lightly in the air with your pointy finger up, like a librarian asking for quiet. If you put your hand back down to your side too soon, he may think this is a game called, “Go Away – Come Back!’

“How does this turn my horse into a love bug?”

Easy! As soon as your horse realizes that you want to clear up this personal space confusion, they relax!

For some horses, this has been a long, lost battle – and as soon as you clean it up, they feel much, much better – and then they invite you in!

As soon as you clean it up, they feel much, much better – and then they invite you in!

The question you may be asking is, “How do horses show affection to each other?” Horses use the Mid-neck button to drive each other away during a scuffle. Sometimes, you may even see bite marks there. When two horses are really buddies, you will find them sniffing each other’s necks as a sign of real friendship. It basically means, “I won’t bite you and drive you away – you can stay near me.”
If you sniff a horse’s neck, you are sending the same message. I have witnessed many horses grow very still, and then begin blinking, wiggling their lips or even yawning! Every horse reacts uniquely to this message, but if they trust you and enjoy your company, this can be a powerful way to tell them in their own language – the language of Horse Speak – that you love them.

Once you have sniffed your horse’s neck from the ground, (don’t they smell so good?) you can offer to sniff them from their back! I have witnessed many horses become very soft and peaceful or even un-brace in a tense moment. You do not even have to lean all the way down, you can sniff from your position, as long as it is a deep inhale.

Even if you are leading a horse, you could aim your sniffer towards their neck as you walk, and secretly inhale. Once you and your horse have enjoyed this interaction, you will find yourself wanting to offer it again and again. So will your horse! You may find he suddenly starts inhaling as you walk towards him, or that he wants to linger on your knuckles, sniffing deeply.

If he gets over-zealous about inhaling your scent, and you have practiced the Go Away Face button, then there is a polite way to ask him to stop and you have not harmed the sweetness of the offer in any way. The Go Away Face button is the politeness button horses use with each other all the time.

We love our horses so much, isn’t it nice that there is a way to say, “I love you” back to them?


Sunday, February 4, 2018

 How to Say Hello to a Horse

Horses are surprisingly ritualized in their body language. They, in fact, have a formal way to greet each other, and they adjust their greetings depending upon who is greeting who, much like we do.

When a person approaches another person, we take in a lot of information about each other before we even shake hands, (or bow as the custom may be.) Horses, too, take in a good deal of information about the way another horse is coming at them. For instance, if one horse is high-headed, the other will have to adjust, either meeting them at that level of intensity or lowering their posture to indicate, "Hey buddy, can we take it down a notch?"

When we are simply walking up to a horse, our posture, confidence, tension or relaxation are all projected by our unconscious body language - and the horse is reading it all.

Saying "Hello" to a horse is as important to them as it is to us! If you want to say Hello, you simply extend your knuckles towards their muzzle.(* I always recommend the first encounter to be over a stall door or even a fence for safety if you do not know the horse.) This can be done up close, or even at a distance. At a distance, the horse who is greeting you will flare their nostrils, and take a good whiff in your direction while looking at you. This would be similar to a long-distance wave we may use towards someone far away.

After you gently touch your knuckles to a horse's muzzle, you stop touching, and step aside a little bit - just like you do after greeting a person! Standing too close to someone after you have shaken hands with them feels like a space invasion, and it does with horses, too.

What will a horse get out of your Hello?

Horses value being greeted and having the chance to be introduced as much as we do. It would be weird to meet a new person, and just start a conversation or start working together without even having an introduction.

Horses who notice you payed attention to your approach, (not too fast, not too fearful, etc) and who got to "fist-bump" a greeting with you will be more engaged with you after that.

There are many more layers to what happens next in a process of getting to know each other; but if you have at least started with a polite, "Hello," you will be on your way!