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verbal communication with horses
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Capparella
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 Posted: Fri Apr 7th, 2017 02:49 am
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My question is in regards to verbal communication with horses.
I have looked at some sonograms of various horse vocalizations published by zoologist/ethologist Lucy Rees.
What is very interesting to me, and that she notes, is that mammals tend to have a similarity in both pitch ascension, dynamics, and meter which tend to convey certain meanings. When we mammals are pleased, a certain cadence of ascending and descending pitches presents itself.
I have recorded some of the horses’ vocalizations, and at times have used one that was calling to locate the herd when I was searching for them on the large property of woods.
I played the recording a few times, and I got a call response and was able to locate them.
My question is regarding my own vocalizations when I am working with horses. For sure, body language seems primary in our communications, as does feel, and the ineffable deeper communication of intention/presence.
I read in an older thread about people talking to their horses, and it being a sign of nervousness or trying to create some sort of impression for others to view.
I do find myself talking to horses quite often (as in good boy during a pet when we got something really together)-I felt this was normal for me, as I am by trade a vocalist and music teacher. I am almost always alone when working with them, so it is meant as a adjunct to the more salient means of communication.
In the aforementioned author’s work, it is stated that « tone of voice is immensely important to a horse…this cannot be overstressed. » So obviously, if one does speak, to anyone for that matter, that is important.
After reading the thread though, I started to wonder if it was meaningful to the horse, or just me expressing myself. Would the tendency to be verbal somehow decrease our awareness of the subtler somatic communication going on?
When watching some clinicians such as Buck for example, he will say something like « no, don’t you push on me, now there, that’s good. » Perhaps though he is doing that for the benefit of the students, and not something he does when alone.

DrDeb
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 Posted: Fri Apr 7th, 2017 07:14 am
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Dear Capparella: A most thoughtful and insightful post. To answer in reverse order, I think Buck, like most teachers, is vocalizing as he does for the benefit of BOTH the horse and the audience. If he didn't use the appropriate tone of voice, the horse (who is quite unaware of the audience as "an audience"), would not respond correctly; and if the horse did not respond correctly or as Buck intended, then the demonstration would serve neither the audience's needs nor Buck's.

If you teach music as well as play or sing it, then you actually already know this, I suspect; anytime someone with expertise teaches, they are in a kind of split-brain state, where half of their consciousness is on the students, but the other half on the horse they are riding or the piano they are playing. I notice this with the choir director at my church; we are a big lot of amateurs for the most part and we require help of various kinds from him at almost every moment. He plays the piano while we're learning the piece, and since most of us can't read music, myself included, this requires him to play a given phrase over and over: first bases, then tenors, then altos, then sopranos; then bases and tenors together; then altos and sopranos together; then all four voices together; and when we get that put together, then on to the next phrase. Often we work through a piece more or less from rear to front, tackling the hardest parts first: and we know we've gotten pretty far when he finally says, 'OK, let's do this a capella' or else 'OK, let's try it from the top.' I do this same thing also when I teach from horseback, but I could not do it if it weren't for the fact that, like our choir director, I can play my 'instrument' almost with my eyes closed, totally by feel, not needing to fix anything about my own 'playing' while I demonstrate or lead for the benefit of the riders in my class.

As to vocalizing too much: yes, I have said that numerous times. What I am noticing is that many students, particularly women, chatter continuously and meaninglessly to their horse, and they do this to either relieve (bleed off) stress or else to cover the fact that they feel afraid. By 'stress' I mean fear: they are afraid of their horse, they are afraid to get right up close to his body, they are afraid (once they mount) of what he might do that they wouldn't see coming and wouldn't be able to stop or control. I had one lady in a clinic one time, mounted on the nicest and most broke old Arabian mare you could possibly imagine, who could not bring herself to raise the walk above 2 1/2 mph., and when on the ground could not come closer than arm's length to the body, and could not pick up a foot: and yet claimed (as almost all of them claim when they first experience my efforts to help them) that they are not afraid of their horse! This is one of the most basic problems that beginners have that a regular practice of ground schooling helps to cure. Learning to groom the horse at liberty is also enormously helpful.

The first step in stopping the robotic chattering is to teach the student how to perform the basic ground schooling exercises of untracking, head-twirling, and correct longeing. And the second step (I usually build it in there pretty early) is to simply order them to shut up. This because they have to become aware that they are doing it, they have to hear themselves -- just as they also have to become aware of their body dynamics, feel, and intentionality. Beginners have problems because they are UN-aware; and by 'beginners' here I include a lot of people who have been around horses for ten, twenty, thirty years or more. Whenever they start becoming aware of themselves would be the first day of the rest of their life, as the saying goes.

Like you, I also use tone of voice and I do talk to my horses, especially quiet words of praise; but I don't chatter continuously. Chattering teaches the horse to ignore the handler/rider, just as a flickering lightbulb that you can't turn off is so irritating and so meaningless that within a few minutes your subconscious will be doing its best to shut it out of your consciousness. Does the husband whose wife continually nags him listen to her? No, he tunes her out; and if he makes a response, it's something robotic like 'yes dear'. This is the kind of ride and responsiveness the jabberer typically gets too -- horse's mind only one-tenth on his job, giving only just enough attention to the rider/handler to get by without actually being punished. Obviously, we would much prefer that the horse always listen carefully to our communications, verbal or otherwise, and respond to them as if they were vitally important and interesting; and so another reason not to jabber, and indeed to keep silent as much as possible, is so that when you do speak, the horse will most certainly listen.

I also use mostly low tones of voice and low volume: so that if I ever speak sharply and loudly, my animal stops whatever he is doing instantly and turns to me for suggestion or direction: and I teach him that if he does not do this, there will be physical consequences in the form of some sharp maneuver required, which serves as an attention-getter. This is all in line with the principle that horses will work on a TEENY gradient -- a teeny difference between handler pleased and handler displeased. You do not have to hit him over the head with a bottle, in other words, any more than you have to gouge him with a spur anytime you want him to move -- UNLESS you are a loud, dull, robotic jabberer all the time.

This is analogous to what Buck says about adjusting the height of the bit in the horse's mouth: many English riders/Pony Clubbers are taught to adjust the bridle-hanger so that the bit sits so high that there are one or two wrinkles at the corners of the lips. But the very design of the snaffle bit, especially when it's used with courtesy and as a tool of communication rather than as a brake, is to work on the commissures of the lips. So Buck says: why would you want to take all the slack out of the lips before you even start? But again, one of the things that our school of horsemanship changes in many people who get into it, is they come to realize that they have (in every way and not just verbally) been shouting at their horse all the time, for years.

I have a neighbor who has a yappy little dog. As soon as the dog is turned out in their fenced yard, it yaps at everything and anything; it barks nearly continuously. So they let it out to do its business and the whole neighborhood knows and wishes they would hurry up and call the dog in. Apparently however, the people that own the dog find the continual barking just as irritating as everyone else, so pretty soon we will hear the lady of the household step to the threshhold of the open door and shout at the dog to come -- in the crudest, meanest, coarsest tone of voice imaginable. Naturally, it totally ignores her and it is quite a little scene and a problem every single day for that lady to get her dog to come to her. If I were her dog, I would not come to her, either.

So, when I walk out to my gelding's pen, I don't have a tape-recorded 'call' but I do have my own voice, and what I do with it is I call his name in the English language; and immediately I follow that with the sort of 'chuckle' that horses make when they are glad to see each other, or you. And the moment I call Ollie's name, no matter what other horse he's with, or whether he's at the back of the pen, up comes his head and his ears, and he arches his neck and he starts to 'chuckle' back, or whicker, or even whinny quietly; and by the time I get to the gate, he's at the gate, too. So we teach them our language, and they teach us theirs. The main idea is not to talk 'down' to them, but as J. Allen Boone says in 'Kinship With All Life', to make the bridge level. -- Dr. Deb

Capparella
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 Posted: Fri Apr 7th, 2017 02:32 pm
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Thank you! I understand now that you were addressing unaware, unproductive chatter.
I have experienced this from some of my students-when they are afraid of actually playing/singing a piece (making mistakes) they tend to chat and fidget-basically do anything but actually play the instrument. That state of mind extends through the body, so they become uncoordinated and stiff in their movements.
Your answer addresses much deeper issues than mere vocalization.
The story of the lady in the clinic is interesting. I had a lot of fear when I first started-but I was very upfront about this with my teacher from the beginning. I don’t understand why a person wouldn’t just admit this to their teacher of all people-for when they do, the teacher can truly help them.
I have also seen experienced (in years, not in awareness) horse folk who present a sort of « false bravado » I suppose this is just a different manifestation of underlying insecurity. I am sure good teachers see through all that as well.
I have only used the voice recording when out on the large acreage and can’t find the herd. I would love to be able to call a horse out of the herd.
The only experience I have with calling one horse up was when I was feeding an elder retired mare while her person was out of town. I would call her name, and she would appear at the gate soon after.
Obviously this wasn’t to be with me, but because she knew she was getting her bucket. She quickly began recognizing the sound of my car and before I ever entered the long driveway in I could see her making her way from the woods on up to the gate.
When I go out to the pasture to find Benjamin, I do call his name, and he acknowledges me, but he does not come to me. I have tried to draw him, but so far have only gotten a step or two in my direction.
I would love to have Ben respond to my call as Ollie does to yours!

DrDeb
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 Posted: Fri Apr 7th, 2017 05:55 pm
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Dear Capparella, this is what the roundpen is primarily for: to teach the horse to come at call. Do you want to discuss this further? Have you tried working in a roundpen? -- Dr. Deb

Capparella
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 Posted: Sat Apr 8th, 2017 01:13 am
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That would be wonderful! Thank you for this opportunity.
Yes, I have worked in a round pen a bit-the round pen is large though (I am thinking 100 ft). So this may make it more a riding arena than a round pen. That's all that's available though.
In fact, per another forum thread suggestion, I did all grooming and tacking at liberty in there this past week before working in it pre ride.

Last edited on Sat Apr 8th, 2017 01:17 am by Capparella

Adrienne
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 Posted: Sat Apr 8th, 2017 02:57 pm
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I hope it's ok to speak up here, I just wanted to say that I also did not have access to a standard round pen in the past so I would set up my own round pen size area WITHIN a well fenced area, such as a riding arena or a pasture. I used what I had on hand, barrels and jumps poles worked well or I used step in plastic fencing posts and used electric tape or one strand of cotton clothesline as my round pen fencing. My mare was very respectful of electric fencing so she never tested the clothes line or electric tape(I never had it electrified of course). She was trained and gentle so these options worked well for us. Obviously this would not be a good option for horses who are not trained, gentle and respectful electric fencing. In this way we were able to do all our round pen work.
Have a lovely day,
Adrienne

Last edited on Sat Apr 8th, 2017 02:59 pm by Adrienne

DrDeb
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 Posted: Sun Apr 9th, 2017 12:50 am
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OK, Capparella, let's begin with a fundamental question: what is the MAIN purpose of roundpenning?

In other words -- why a "round" pen? What's so special about it being round, as opposed to square, triangular, or rectangular?

And Adrienne -- sure, it's OK to jump in, for you or anybody. Your observations and situation are in fact relevant to Cap's question: we'll get to those in the next few posts. -- Dr. Deb

Capparella
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 Posted: Sun Apr 9th, 2017 01:02 am
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Oh no-fearful I will flunk this already. Well, there are no corners. A horse will feel trapped in corners. I know this is not the answer.
They would be "orbiting" around the central director...meaning the director of movement.

Capparella
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 Posted: Sun Apr 9th, 2017 01:04 am
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and the center would be the place of peace, where the teacher/director would call them to.

Capparella
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 Posted: Sun Apr 9th, 2017 01:36 am
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I am tempted to look this up, because I'm sure I have read about it. But I'm not going to. Because if I'm missing something fundamental it might just make a great big change for me.
All I can think of is the rounding out of the horse when we do groundwork, untracking, circling straight on the circle, and the same in the saddle, when things come together and movement is united.
I should've waited and put these three responses in one post. All I can get is a feeling-of centripetal force (as opposed to centrifugal force which would be driving). Both feel to be working in a round pen.

Last edited on Sun Apr 9th, 2017 01:44 am by Capparella

DrDeb
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 Posted: Sun Apr 9th, 2017 02:16 am
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Guessing, guessing, guessing, guessing....and fear of failing. All inculcated and habituated in people by our horrible public schools.

Now I am going to warn you, Cap, the same as I warned Shea: DO NOT go beyond the question actually asked. Do not guess. Do not flounder. Do not re-post with further guesses which are attempts to get an 'A', because there is no 'A' to get.

There is only just to sit down with yourself and think about it. Your answer should be brief. If you review the thread just above this one where I am doing something similar with Shea, you will see that his answers get quite short after the second warning. Only at that point does the lesson begin to proceed smoothly. Have a little faith in me, Cap: I am not here to hurt or embarrass you. You MUST fail -- somewhere along the way -- you MUST get it wrong: because you came here asking, and not as an expert, didn't you?

So now I am going to ask the first question again, and give you another chance to answer:

Why a ROUNDpen, as opposed to square, triangular, rectangular or some other shape?

And this is actually a second question, but it's linked pretty closely to the first: what is the PRIMARY purpose for working a horse in a roundpen? -- Dr. Deb

Capparella
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 Posted: Sun Apr 9th, 2017 02:41 am
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there's nowhere else to go

DrDeb
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 Posted: Sun Apr 9th, 2017 04:16 am
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Very good answer, Cap. Right....and if the roundpen is of the 'pickle barrel' or 'round barn' type, with walls higher than 8 ft. and built of solid wood, no windows -- there is also nothing else to look at or think about except what is present, or what is going on, on the inside of the pen.

So the use of these tools, I think we can conclude without further ado, must have something to do with keeping the horse's mind on whatever is going on INSIDE the enclosure. And even when the roundpen is just made of aluminum panels or a wooden fence, or for that matter unelectrified white tape or string, or even at the most minimum, the 'pen' is not a pen at all but just a low kerb like a circus ring -- so that the horse can look out and thus has more tendency to get distracted or to try to make a plan for escape -- even then, we hope he does not, and the objective is to get him to think "in" rather than "out" or "flee the premises".

Now this is important and it's half the answer to 'why use a roundpen'. However, your answer does not address the question of the shape. Why round, do you think? -- Dr. Deb


Capparella
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 Posted: Sun Apr 9th, 2017 11:01 am
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No corner to stop/face away. Person always in field of vision when round.

DrDeb
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 Posted: Sun Apr 9th, 2017 10:08 pm
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Right. And you had essentially gotten this right on your first shot, above, Cap; I just wanted you to repeat it because it's so tied up with the first question, i.e., what is the main purpose for going into a roundpen with a horse anyway. If you have a square pen, a green or confused or frightened horse will have a great tendency, if he runs, to run up into a corner and get "stuck"; and if the operator isn't pretty careful, the horse will have a tendency to jump right out of the pen in the corner. We don't use triangular pens either, though an equilateral triangle is a fine shape considered on paper, simply as a shape; it's as good as any other shape, but we don't use it to train horses because the angles in the corners are acute and would certainly tend to "trap" the horse.

Now, this does not mean that a square pen cannot be used at all; indeed the first American "horse whisperer", John S. Rarey who was active from the 1840's through 1860's, never used a roundpen. But he had a certain approach to using square and rectangular pens which we will consider a bit later, because that approach and that mode of thinking are highly valuable.

Round-shaped pens are an import to the US via Mexico, and to Mexico from Spain. And the Spanish got them from the Romans. Indeed there is an ancient Roman fort in England that has a nice 60-ft. roundpen built into one wall, and this particular fort was the central location where all the colts procured by the Roman Army's equivalent of the Quartermaster General were sent for initial breaking and training. And before that --? Ahh, that goes back into antiquity so far that it actually antedates the domestication of the horse. The takehome from this is that roundpenning, when it is done right, represents very, very, very ancient knowledge, which some in the past, and a few still in the present (vis., the Knights Templar of Spain) regard as sacred.

Now the key phrase just above is "....when it is done right". And this gets us back to the fact that nobody should ever (in my book) even be allowed in a roundpen who has only viewed videotapes by some of the well self-advertised horse gurus -- none of whom have the slightest idea of what the roundpen is really for; and all of whom not only abuse horses, but teach other people who view their videos to abuse horses. And I say "abuse" advisedly: because the roundpen is quite strong medicine exactly because of what you answered correctly about above, Cap: it is strong medicine because it compels the horse's attention and prevents him from escaping, so that if the operator applies too much pressure, pressure at the wrong time, pressure for the wrong reasons, or pressure unrelated to release, the horse will certainly be harmed. As Harry Whitney has observed, "if a horse cannot flee physically, he will flee mentally." And we have already seen that the roundpen is "close quarters" from which the horse cannot escape. So these false gurus and their misguided followers wind up using the roundpen to cause horses to shut down or worse.

Our elderly teacher used to say, "when working with a horse, it takes SO LITTLE to get that horse to obey." And this is true at all times, under all circumstances; but especially true in the roundpen. The roundpen is, as I said, very strong medicine; so the operator or handler must have the realization that this is so and also be capable of, and committed to, using the lightest possible touch: even "touch" by non-touch, i.e. by an awareness of the thread and the bubble.

So again with these thoughts in mind, I return to re-phrasing my first question. You have rightly said, Cap, that the primary purpose of the roundpen is to get the horse to pay exclusive attention, or you can say focus on, the operator. But there is another answer I'm trying to draw out of you. I mean, in the sense of what we are trying to accomplish with the horse once he DOES pay attention. We will assume that once your horse is in the roundpen with you, he can and does pay attention to you. What are you going to do with that? What is the main and primary purpose of calling your horse's attention to you?

If you've studied "The Birdie Book", you can certainly answer this question in terms of the horse's "birdie". -- Dr. Deb





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