Communication is one of, if not the most important tool we have as a rider, as it allows us to guide our horse throughout the commands we need to perform. It is thus critical that communication between horse and rider is one that is effective and successful. A strong bond and understanding between the partnership can help improve both performance and wellbeing overall. There are several strategies that can be used to achieve this effective communication, including the following below.
Clear and consistent cues: It is important for the rider to use clear and consistent cues when communicating with the horse, both on the ground and in the saddle. This may involve using specific body language, hand signals, or verbal cues. They may at times also be aided by artificial aids such as a whip or spurs, that can exaggerate these cues. Establishing clear and distinct cues and signals for each movement is critical, but is only as effective as the consistency in their use. If the same cue and pressure are not repeated in a consistent matter for each command, the communication becomes unclear and is not effective.
Positive Reinforcement: On the training scale, positive reinforcement is the most highly favoured way of responding to a positive outcome of a cue or command request. “Positive” implies the horse is being given something (whereas negative is taking away), and reinforcement is the act of encouraging the behaviour (punishment, being the opposite which discourages the behaviour). Positive reinforcement such as treats, praise, a pat or a scratch provided at the time of the positive behaviour can help encourage the horse for this response to the cue.
Trust and Respect: As with any relationship, trust and respect for one another is fundamental to having a strong partnership. Building a trust and bond between horse and rider will assist each party to better understand one another, aiding in communication. This may take some time to develop, and may involve activities both in and out of the saddle, in order to truly understand each other’s individual personalities.
Good body position: A good body position can assist us as riders in communicating clear and consistent cues effectively. An upright posture, with a correct seat and legs can unlock far greater communication tools, rather than relying solely on the hands. Core strength is critical in achieving this, and is a feature that can be developed with continued practice and training. Further, your approach both in and off the horse can have a large impact on their response and your style of communication. Positivity is key!
Regular Practice: We all know the saying, practice makes perfect! And it is no different for this situation. Practicing regular communication, especially when learning or developing a new set of skills, is crucial to confirming the cue to a known response. Repetition of clear, consistent cues and effective communication will aid in this training development far greater than that of imprecise, unclear communication attempts.
Developing effective communication is critical to fostering a strong and successful partnership with your horse, but it can take time to develop. The assistance of a qualified coach or mentor can also assist us greatly in ensuring we are executing the steps of a healthy communication efficiently. With continued practice however, we can truly develop that unspoken, harmonious partnership with our horses, which is arguably one of the most special feelings as an equestrian!