Last week after trimming Fell Pony hooves, I found myself walking crooked. If I pointed my torso straight ahead, my hips and legs were pointed slightly sideways. Conversely, if I pointed my toes straight ahead, I found myself looking off to the side. I had obviously put my pelvis out while trimming. This is not an unusual problem for me. I rely on my chiropractor to straighten me up, and I had timed the trimming to be just before an appointment with my chiropractor. In fact, I trimmed a second pony before that appointment to get double the mileage out of the visit to the doctor’s office!
Several years ago I asked a different chiropractor a horsemanship question. This chiropractor had Haflingers, and he drove and rode them, so I knew he would understand my question. My question was: if my body is mis-aligned, as it was after my trimming activities last week, will I confuse my ponies when I ride them? Will my misaligned body communicate to them one message while my reins, for instance, communicate something else? His answer was somewhat reassuring. He said “no,” that the ponies work off our intent. This answer was reassuring since I am misaligned at least once a month and I ride anyway. The part of his answer that wasn’t reassuring came when I realized that I didn’t completely understand his meaning of intent.
At lunch recently I read an article that used the word ‘intent’ again in an equestrian context:
Equine communication consists of two dialects: body language and intent. Body language is the most universal form of communication used by all horses. Intent is a more subtle form of body language and the highest form of communication expressed by higher level herd members. Horses who primarily communicate with intent need only minimal accompanying body-language accents (or often none at all) to influence other horses while the herd is on the move or at rest. Such horses have a ‘presence’ that enables them to convey their intentions and have them understood and respected with just a look, a twitch of an ear, a brief gesture. (1)
I read the entire article hoping for a more detailed discussion of ‘intent,’ but I never found it. The article was an excerpt from a book, and obviously the article’s author wanted to encourage readers to buy the book! The brief introduction to intent as communication does provide a little more insight into how the chiropractor answered my question. Horses use both body language and intent as communication, so if my body language is confusing because I am mis-aligned, my ponies can still look to my intent for clearer meaning.
I have known about body language as a communication medium with my ponies for a long time. I am always fascinated to see how the herd communicates with each other, and also with me, using their tails, their ears, their noses, and their movement. A few weeks ago I watched a video that demonstrated that body language isn’t just something that humans use to communicate with horses. I was so impressed by the simplicity and power of the message that I recommended the video to many people. (2)
I still do not feel that I have a firm grasp of the role intent plays in horsemanship. Is it related to horses responding to a thought, for instance? I’m not even sure I know the right questions to ask beyond that one. I haven’t yet decided if I’ll buy the book excerpted in the article. I do know, though, that I look forward to my twice-a-day opportunities to experiment with responses to my thoughts when I ride my pony Shelley. I will hold out hope that experiential education will provide answers!
1) Thomas, Kerry with Calvin L. Carter. “The Power of the Herd,” Equus, Issue 415, April 2012, p. 69
© Jenifer Morrissey, 2012