Reading Horse Expressions in the Waterhole Rituals

Today I am going to share another question from an Insider Circle student about some typical expressions horses have and how the Waterhole Rituals can help you understand them and work with them.

While participating in a clinic at Return To Freedom with Neda De Mayo (2007, I believe) I was introduced to your way of being with horses and have been practicing ever since. HUGE breath of fresh air! I have no words to describe the gratitude I feel.

My questions are:

  1. Horse pins ears when walking toward food, with or without me walking with him. What does this mean and how would you shape his behavior, or does it matter?
  2. Sour expression, pinning ears while companion walking. What does this mean and how would you shape his behavior, or does it matter?
  3. Head slinging when sending away quickly. What does this mean and how would you shape his behavior, or does it matter?
  4. What are your insights on mutual grooming as a herd behavior? Does it matter who initiates it? Who usually initiates it, lead, dominant or lower in the order? Is this a ritual that can be used to strengthen the bond and shape behavior? How do you use it?

Thanks so much for your reply!

I’m so glad you are enjoying my Method. Now, about your questions:

  1. Sometimes horses cannot be broken from the ear pinning habit. What you have described may be a situation where she puts her ears back when she is approaching food when no one is around her. Certain breeds, like the Kemosabe Arabian line, will behave as you have described, and you cannot get it out of them. But, the horse has no ill intentions from the ears being back. It’s just the way they are. They connect and love as well as the next horse. The other thing to consider is that when horses are in a herd and are traveling together very close, it is natural to connect to the horses that get too close by laying their ears back, even when the horse next to them isn’t disturbing them at all, or too close. It’s a game they seem to participate in. I still take all the time it takes to train this behavior out of him, if I can. I find that it’s easier to teach them to put their ears forward as a way to ask for a treat. How you do this is to just wait the horse out; he can’t have the treat until at least one ear goes forward. Eventually, you can put a word to the horse and say “pretty ears” or whatever, and the horse learns what he needs to do to get the treat. You should be able to accomplish this in a week’s time, but, maybe, it will take a month for the horse to be consistent.
  2. On Companion Walking, sometimes it will help to stop and not go forward until the ears go forward. This might take a lot of time. You may just have to accept this from your horse.
  3. The behavior of head tossing could very well be connected to your horse’s ear behavior. In a way, it could be a genetic reflex. Whether it is or isn’t, I find that, when they are tossing their head as they are on a send-away, it will eventually go away. You can try, when you send your horse away, to have him go faster, and that might help. But, I do not think that a horse that throws their head in a send-away is something to be concerned with. I think that one should be concerned of a horse that has forgotten how to express himself. The main place to put your focus is on how your horse is advancing. If there is advancement, no matter how slow. You are on the right track.
  4. With regards to mutual grooming, obviously, a lower-ranking horse would not start grooming a dominant horse, because he might get in trouble. It doesn’t matter who starts the grooming. What happens with horses and humans, is that the horse gets demanding about being groomed, and the human allows this. I use grooming as a way to train interactive behavior of the horse to be polite and accept when I choose to groom and when I choose to stop. If the horse begs for grooming, I give him a little scratch and then send him on his way. If you groom a horse always when he wants to be groomed, you will take the gas pedal off your horse when it’s most important for it to be there. In my book, Naked Liberty, there is a chapter titled “Boulder Rituals”. It shows how I used only grooming as a way to train a wild horse even to the point of riding her from a bonded trust.

What has been your experience of reading horse expressions using the Waterhole Rituals? I'm sure we'd all love to hear your stories, so please share them below and I look forward to reading them.

Keep practicing the Rituals and change will come!