This was my first impression of Nate.
Note the pinned ear, tense eye, wrinkles around the narrow nose and the clenched corners of the mouth. This is a horse with a message. He couldn’t be saying it any louder. DO. NOT. TOUCH. ME.
If you did approach, more likely than not, he’d swing his head and show some teeth.
But, we need to touch him. To lead him. To ride him. To care for him.
And Nate’s owner, Eileen, adores him. All she wants to do is love on him.
So I asked Nate what exactly he was objecting to, and I had Eileen do that, as well.
Nate told us that if you scratch him back here:
That his expression will change to this happy one:
Do you see how his upper lip is stuck out a little? That’s a horse saying, More please!
Kelsie, the woman who cares for all of our horses, has found another place that Nate loves to be scratched with gusto. Nate clearly showed his appreciation. We all adore Kelsie!
So, if Nate loved this loving, what was it that set off that snarly face? I asked him. I moved around, stood sideways, stood frontal, raised my hands, leant in and leant out. I watched Eileen groom Nate. If she started brushing him near his face, he pinned his ears and threatened. He also moved away from the rubber curry comb that she started the grooming session with. So I gave her a softer
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Nate let us know that touching him was fine, but we are never, ever, to start by reaching towards his face. Eileen loves Nate’s Medicine Hat head. All she wants to do is hug it. Nate requests that she doesn’t. So, rather than training Nate, I am training Eileen.
For now, she gets to love on his shoulder.
We have no way of knowing what in Nate’s past history makes him wary of hands coming towards his head, and it doesn’t really matter. What does is that Nate now trusts that his concerns are being listened to. He doesn’t have to escalate his body language to let us know. He can relax. His handlers can relax. Soon enough, I think that Eileen will be able to love on Nate’s head and he’ll be asking for more.
So simple if you only understand the language. Terry Golson – Equine Translator.
I like that much better than “whisperer!”
My Arabian gelding is beautiful. It’s not just me saying that, everyone says that. He was very head shy when I acquired him. Fortunately he has always been easy to work with around his face for tacking up, swat, and even injuries. I always felt he could discern the difference between business and ‘pleasure’. My theory was that many former handlers pet his face without permission. Now after many years of respecting his space a little loving is accepted. 🙂
A little listening and respect goes a long way.
What I like about Terry’s approach is that she doesn’t come with a one-size-fits-all theory of horse behavior. She observes and adjusts her approach according to an individual horse’s (and owner’s!) behavior. Nate is a sensitive, complicated horse who becomes aggressive when threatened, and Terry immediately got that. I tried working with other trainers/experts but they only succeeded in bringing out the worst in Nate. Terry brings out his best. I look forward to someday being able to squeeze his head whenever I want to. Thank you Terry!
Thank you, Eileen! I have to tell everyone that you are the perfect client. You’re open, you observe, you get it AND you always do your homework. Nate is improving tremendously thanks to your daily interactions with him.
I think part of Terry’s “special sauce” is that she has no interest in dominating the horse. Dominating the animal –with spurs, crops, bits, hackamores, restricting movement, confining, exhausting, etc.– may get you compliant behavior, but that’s all it will get you. At best, you’ll end up with a robotic animal that has been dominated to the point of tolerance of your presence. How awful. And how sad. Terry’s approach, it seems to me, is about achieving partnership, friendship and all the fun that brings. Anyone watching companionable horses in a pasture can clearly see that these animals know how to play, to be silly, and to love on each other. How much more fun to have a similar relationship with your horse. Horses are very predictable and reasonable if one can just understand their nonverbal language. Terry is just brilliant at communication and listening, in particular. I learn something here just about every post.
What a brilliant blog, who would not want to give such a beautiful horse a good scratch, his expression in the third picture is great….:)
Also are we not able to watch the Boys and Phoebe’s any more??
First, I enjoy all your posts, and I wonder how you have the time to do all that you do!!
Second, it seems to me a lot of horses would rather you wouldn’t walk up to them and pet them on their face. I certainly wouldn’t want someone to do that to me. If you really want to hug on their head, usually like you said, if you start somewhere else, they get relaxed, and then you can do the head hugging. And then there are horses that will actually walk up to you and put their head sort of under your arm for a hug. You just have to sort of figure it out with each horse. That is what makes them so interesting.
You’re right. I’ve never met a horse who wanted the first tactile hello be on their face. But, go along with horse protocol, and touching will be allowed and possibly even encouraged.