Do horses know what we’re thinking?
Over their evolution and domestication, horses have never lost the ability to read others and their minute changes in body language. As herd animals they require the innate capacity to read others’ intentions before an event. When you were cantering, thinking of trotting, your unconscious mind communicated your thoughts to the body and what would be to you an infinitesimal change in your physiology, was perceived by your horse as a cue to trot. With practice, this subtle communication can improve your riding style and transitions between, and within, gaits. All you have to do is think of the gait you want to move on to, a half-halt of the mind if you like, then apply the aids. You should begin to find that your aids can be softer and more natural.
Some aspects of our physiology are evident to ourselves and those around us, for example, our movements, tensing, relaxing, facial expression and importantly, breathing (rate of rise and fall of the chest) and type of breathing (high in the chest or low and from the diaphragm). Other characteristic changes are not so noticeable by fellow humans, but are by our equines: heart rate and those small changes in tensed muscles in our hands, wrists, arms and legs. Studies have shown that as a rider’s heart rate increases, so too does a horse’s (http://www.uoguelph.ca/news/2006/08/researchers_stu.html). They too feel the fear, even if they are unaware of the reason for it. Often, riders will show fear around their horse and expect to form a bond and be loved by their horse. In horsey language, this is very conflicting!
In animal behavioural circles, fear in animals is considered worse than pain. Read more