Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Catching the Eye

By Mary Gallagher

From how far away can you catch your horse’s eye?
Laredo and Mary

I caught one of my horses watching me the other day while he was grazing, facing away from me. But he definitely had me in sight, peering around his front legs and under his belly.

As prey animals, horses are visually astute, noticing things well before humans do. They can see up to a mile away, detecting movement in the distance. The horse’s eyes are set well apart on the sides of their head, so with minimal effort they can monitor their surroundings, front, back and sides.

Just yesterday I was working with Grasshopper in the round pen. He became alert, noticing something toward the back of our property—a section we call the Emerald Forest—a good eighth of a mile away. Well before I could figure out what had caught his attention, Grasshopper had picked up that his brother Laredo was coming through the trees, in our direction. By the time I realized it was Laredo, Grasshopper had already relaxed, knowing it was his herd mate coming through the woods, and not a predator.

I make it a point to be aware of my horse’s attention, especially in relation to me; when we are together, I want him connected to me. Fostering our connection in this way affects every aspect of our relationship, and definitely, my horsemanship, making the difference between my being a passenger or a partner.

I recommend challenging yourself to notice when your horse notices you. Take a hint from the horse world, and make it a habit to watch carefully. You may be surprised at how often he is monitoring your whereabouts.

Let's learn to notice and look closely during ground work:

  • When your horse is on line, moving in a circle around you, is his attention towards you? Or somewhere else, away from you?
  • When he is at liberty in the round pen with you, is he connected, watching you, or looking for a way out?
In either situation, I like to catch the horse’s eye by placing myself in a position where his prey animal nature will cause him to look my way. The moment I have his attention, I lower my energy, rewarding him with space, retreating a bit and removing the pressure.

I don't need to be close to the horse to do this; because of his natural instincts, he will pick me up visually from just about any distance.

You can enrich your horsemanship by making it a habit and a fun exercise to notice where your horse’s focus is at all times, observing how you influence it with your own attention and subtle body movement. Take it a step further and use this new sensitivity in your ground work. You’ll find your horse is letting you know how well you are connecting with him, moment by moment.

Catching the horse’s eye is just one of the basic skills I use on the ground to improve my ability to connect with my horse. Horses notice everything, but humans are not so inclined; getting the horse to engage with me takes practice on my part to notice more. When your horse notices you, notice him back, and watch your connection, communication, and cooperation move to a whole new level.

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