I bring this up because of the time I spent with Odin today. It was a nice, warm day and I just couldn't resist going out to enjoy some of it. So, I grabbed the rope halter and long line, and stuck the curry comb in my pocket on my way out the door.
Since I bought Odin as a weanling, he and I have gone through many different phases of his understanding of our herd-of-two pecking order. Did you know that horses go through the Terrible Two's too? For just about an entire year, he kept nipping me on the same place on my arm to the point where it remained black and blue for a year after. I'd go out to the barn every night for a final check and bring apple slices with me or some other treat and ask for a move or two to earn a treat - that I gave him from my hand. Major, major mistake. Feeding a horse treats from your hand teaches a horse to relate human skin with food, and that turns into biting. Maybe not every horse will become a biter, but Odin did. As soon as I started putting his treat on the ground or in his feed dish, no more biting, and that arm finally got the chance to heal. Trust me, I tried every way I ever heard of to try to break his biting during that year, and it was my own behavior that was causing the problem.
There have been more than a few "testing" behaviors throughout the years, and I've learned more about horses and Odin than I ever imagined. I've had dogs all my life, but I've never learned much about dog behavior. Take the dog to the vet, apply flea collar, teach it to go outside, sit, lay down, stay, and feed it and you have a happy companion. When I was a kid, I learned how to brush, pick out hooves, saddle and bridle and not fall off too often, so I thought I knew all I needed to know about horses. Odin has taught me that I was dead wrong about thinking I knew all I needed to know about horses. And he continues to teach me every time I'm with him. I don't whisper to him either. Instead, I've learned to listen.
Today was the first time in months that I took the halter and rope out with me. Odin has been free lounging for the most part, but the last time he was a bit too frisky and showed me some heels, and without the rope, I couldn't think of a way to curb that behavior. He surprised me today when I put the halter on. He was immediately compliant and willing and very, very soft. Quite a different horse from the last time! Not once did I have to take the slack out of the rope to get any part of his body to move, like I didn't need a rope to get him to do anything I asked. But, that halter and rope told him I was serious about what I was asking for and I think that he was glad (relieved?) to be the follower. He gets a kick out of picking up the rope and holding it in his teeth when I'm brushing him. He never pulls on the rope, just stands there with it in his mouth. I think that's his way of telling me he's OK with playing on my terms. Funny horse.
We walked up and down the driveway, trotted, stopped, backed up and changed direction a lot. When we changed direction, I asked him to walk on my other side. I'm hoping to teach him how to 'shadow' me. At one point while I was brushing him, he was distracted by dogs, and really wanted to chase them down; but a soft "whoa" and a hand on his side planted his feet into the ground. I could feel his energy under my hand, his want, and all his strength as he stood there with his back legs under him ready to spring into action; but he listened to me instead. I think that told me more than anything else we did. I'm still amazed by it. He got a lot of pets, scratches, hugs and kisses from me. What a joyous animal!
When it all is said and done, I don't believe there is any such thing as a "horse whisperer." A horse hears and listens to so much more than any whisper that might come out of your mouth. What I've learned is that Odin and I do best when I listen to him as much as I expect him to listen to me. Today, Odin was telling me he was happy to be with me, to play together on my terms, no doubt about it.
Communication is a two-way street.