By Carole Herder
There is a difference in the walk and approach of prey and predator. As predators we walk in a direct line, with purpose and straight ahead to our destination. When we approach a horse directly it is perceived as if we are coming at him. Horses don’t like to walk in a straight line if left to their own devices. They amble along a bit unpredictably. Given free reign they wouldn’t walk down the road in a straight line, they would saunter from one side to the other. This tactic allows them to be more aware of their surroundings and puts them in a position to pivot, turn and go in the opposite direction really quickly. One simple thing we may do to be less menacing is to change our walk. Don’t walk directly at your horse. Zig zag a bit veering to the left or right as you make a casual approach. Horse expert Monty Roberts suggests what he calls join up. Joining up is when you get your horse to follow you. You turn your back to him or your shoulders. This demonstrates vulnerability; it implies you’re part of their team or the herd. When Monty executes a join up he walks in the opposite direction of the horse with his shoulder to the horse. That invites the horse to follow him. If your horse follows you willingly he is clearly comfortable with you and not feeling as if he could be attacked.
Has a dog ever bared his teeth at you? He’s usually growling as well. It can be very scary. Teeth baring is sign of being poised for battle or on the brink of attack in the animal world. Our world dictates this behavior as a smile, a way to show joy and pleasure. When you approach your horse all smiley because you are happy to see him, he has to push past his primitive response of fear and desire to flee. You can have a joyful tone to your voice, even smile with your mouth closed to convey the same sense of happiness when greeting your horse. Similarly, be cognizant of how your horse reacts to where you touch him. I had a horse that was extremely sensitive to being patted at the base of her neck, just above her chest. When I thought about it I realized that it is that position where a predator could come in for a fatal mouthful. Also, note how you may smell to your horse. As an animal he has a fine tuned sense of smell. Unless you are a vegetarian, you are a carnivore; you eat meat and your horse can smell it on you. I’m not suggesting you become a vegan to please your horse; just be aware of what he is going to sense from you.