Posture
By: Rhett Russell

Posture applies to both the human and the horse. To the horse, we humans
look like a prey animal. We stand upright, tend to walk straight at them, our
ears are flat against our heads, and we make direct eye contact like a
predator. Horses can overcome these issues with us, but we have to earn
their trust. In contrast the horse will carry itself differently when relaxed,
stressed, or fearful. You need to be able to carry your posture differently for
training situations and read what the horse's body language is telling you.

Human Posture

When you work with the horse are you standing square or are you
slouching a bit? Do you walk fast and directly at the horse when you go to
catch them in the pasture? Think about how you come across to the horse,
switch places with them. If someone came at you the way you go after your
horse what would you do? We'll give you a couple of examples where your
posture can assist in training:

The backwards yield: When asking the horse to back up by wiggling the
rope side to side, and the horse responds correctly by backing up. Lower
your shoulders, move towards the horse with you body sideways, offer the
back of your hand (see the Senses "Handshake") and reward your horse.
You just gave your horse the "good deal" and showed them that correct
responses are met by low stress rewards from you. The horse doesn't
understand speech, but does read body language better than we ever will. If
you did the same exercise and then moved directly and quickly at the horse,
how successful would you be?

Stopping when leading a horse. When leading a horse and you want them
to stop you can reinforce the stop by getting big. By this I mean squaring up
your shoulders, standing tall, even jumping up a little into the air. You make
yourself appear bigger than you actually are. The horse is going to notice
this and pay attention to your posture. Walk forward with the horse on the
lead rope, stop abruptly with a "big" posture. Did your horse stop? If not you
may need to reinforce this with an up down movement in the lead rope at
the same time. Over time, the horse will watch you to see when you stop
and you won't need to get "big". For training purposes, properly using and
reading posture can increase the quality of your training.

Another thing you will learn is to draw your horse in to you with posture. You
can use this to your advantage too. When round penning your horse you
can step back and draw a horse into you.

Posture carries over into the saddle. If you tense up your muscles and get
"stiff" you send a message to your horse that something is wrong or you
deaden them to the feel of your seat.. If you stay relaxed and don't over
react you will teach your horse to be calm.

Horse Posture

When you know what to look for the posture of the horse can tell you
whether you are making progress or how the horse feels. Since you can't
ask them if they understood something or what they are thinking, this is a
valuable tool. Posture can be as subtle as the worried wrinkles around they
eye or as obvious as a strike or kick. Experience is the best way to learn to
read the horse's posture. Posture is situational, which means that the
posture you see in a certain situation may not apply to a different setting.
These are some of the easy things to see:

Licking and Chewing - submissive behaviors which means that the horse is
willing to take direction from you. Head down - licking and chewing "I am a
grazing animal, I don't want to challenge your position".

Head Down - relaxed, the horse is comfortable with the situation at hand.
We call this "turned off".

Yawning - an extremely relaxed posture which means that the horse had
"soaked up" what you were working on. Yawns are "gold nuggets" in the
training field.

Head up high - "I am resistant" or "I don't want to do this". We call this
"turned on".

Teeth showing & ears back - "I want you to yield to me, get out of my way",
this is usually a warning.

Turning rear towards you - "I told you to move, now move", this is another
warning - soon to be followed by a kick.

Rearing and striking - "You didn't listen, and now I am going to hurt you!"

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