Do You Communicate Like a Coyote?

Some of us baby-talk and cuddle our horses like they’re twelve-hundred-pound teddy bears. Some of us enter the pen with enough flags and whips that we look like a lion-tamer at a circus. It’s possible we’re on a behavior continuum not so different from horses.

My last two blogs have been about working with stoic horses and reactive horses, as opposite ends of a continuum, with the goal of inspiring honest, calm communication somewhere in the middle.

Human behavior runs similarly from one extreme–very shut down–to the other extreme–overly reactionary. In other words, some of us are passive aggressive and some of us just plain aggressive. Too harsh? That’s what the horses thought about the words stoic and reactive, too.

Then one last assumption: If you were the sort of screeching, hard-handed, bone-crushing, slimy-reptile Neanderthal who was brutal with horses, my bliss-ninny positive training blog would have bored you to death years ago.

That just leaves us passive aggressives left. And it didn’t start out being our fault. Most of us are women; we were raised to be polite and quiet. We were rewarded for being good girls.

I, myself, am a recovering good girl, so if I want some wine, for instance, I take a breath and say, “Please bring some red wine home. Thanks, Sweetie.”

A passive aggressive good girl might say,”Excuse me, Sweetie, if you have time and it’s no trouble, perhaps you could detour on your way home, only if you want to, for some wine, if it isn’t out of your way, but if it doesn’t work out, it’s no trouble for me to go later, Honey, even though my foot is swollen and I’m a bit congested, I can limp out later after dinner, I was just thinking you might be able to get a nice Merlot, but it’s fine, just fine, either way.”

Just. Say. It. Already.

And to be clear, it’s okay to be passive aggressive out in the world. I’m just saying horses hate it.

Horses are prey animals, and coyotes (or people acting like coyotes) are their sworn enemies. Coyotes stalk them, passively aggressive, skulking around in the shadows, lurking and feinting. Circling their prey, just out of reach but relentless. They might tip-toe with a halter partly hidden behind their back, or nag-nag-nag with their feet in the saddle, or be twitchy with their hand, or maybe just lurk on the stiff-side rein. They might give a cue, contradict that first cue, then give a different cue, and still not pause for an answer, busily talking to themselves, up there behind their horse’s back.

Or worse yet, we might have so much compassion for our horses that we listen and listen, and never really say anything to them at all. We crane and squint and worry, wondering how they are responding, and is this what that blog meant? In the meantime, a horse picks up on the doubt and confusion and they can do nothing but lose confidence. We chatter down to them, over them, beyond them, until nothing we say has meaning. In other words, if we often stop and start, walk on eggshells to keep them calm, or over think everything in the saddle, we’re stalking them.

Do you find this prattle confusing? Imagine you’re a horse.

Bottom line: We lose our natural rhythm when we try too hard. We’d hate to consider ourselves abusive so we whisper, and even if we know horses are confused, we tend to commiserate with them about it and not clarify. They see a dog answer a sit command and get a cookie, and wonder why they have it so hard. It’s enough to make a stoic horse to shut down further or a reactive horse start to scream.

Truth: A horse will never confuse you for a horse. You will always be either a coyote or a human. Sorry for the bad news, but now let’s set about being a better human; honest communication is appreciated because it’s understandable. Think short sentences, with a thank you at the end.

Horses are looking a quietly confident leader who respects their intelligence. Let your body be still. Listen without expectation of good, bad, or otherwise. Breathe. Plan ahead. Ask for a transition with awareness in your body. Then breathe again. Wait for his answer. Reward him.

If he’s wrong, reward him for trying. Then “re-phrase” the question more simply. Go slow so that he can reason the answer. Slow yourself down so that you are clear. Be patient because there is nothing more important than a foundation of understanding. Speed is easy but real trust takes time.

Let him accept you for who you truly are, and if that’s a bit of a mess, don’t give him a whiny apology. Instead, smile, relax, and try to do better. Trust that he can tell your intention is good. Horses absolutely know honesty when they see it.

Horses not looking for groupies and they don’t want to be put up on a spiritual pedestal. They don’t need adoring humans to give them purpose. They want a whole lot more from us than treats.

Scientists tell us that horses have feelings similar to humans, but that is not the same thing as feeling what we do in the same situation and we’d be arrogant to think so.

Try to find the middle of our human continuum. Horses are drawn to calm leadership. They like a herd that feels safe; they appreciate emotional clarity. Leave your puny insecurities and your frail feelings in the house. No baby talk, no coyote stalking, no apologies. Square your shoulders and speak your truth clearly. They expect us to be nothing less than their equal.

….
Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
Horse Advocate, Author, Speaker, Equine Pro
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56 thoughts on “Do You Communicate Like a Coyote?

  1. SA Spinks

    Wow. That’s really stripping it down. We are crystal clear to them. There is no hiding. Perhaps if I worry less about who my horse is, and more about who I am; then she will reveal herself to me.

  2. Katie5k

    Love it! But I cringed because your description of a stalking coyote reminds me of how a couple of bullies treat other riders. They lurk in the aisle and you never know when they’re going to do something passive aggressive like swing a muck fork past your horse’s head while you’re grooming. In the arena, they act like coyotes toward their horses and other riders. They refuse to ride left to left or let riders know where they’re going. They prefer to cut you off or scream at you to get out of their way. When your horse startles when they “accidently” hit your horse with their whip, they remark on how hot and spooky your horse is.

  3. equichic2016

    Spot on! Clearly this is at root of my troubles with my more sensitive young mare. She sees right through my BS! Time to stop walking on egg shells… thank you Anna ❤

  4. giantsdancefarm

    Hooo Boy. This one for sure hits home as a recovering passive aggressive. Another I will share with my horseWOMEN friends for sure. Thank you!

    Something you say above which made me gulp and wonder what you think… My hubby is in the early stages of Parkinson’s. Do you think the horses will be able to understand and adapt to his tremors? We’re not riding much these days due to my recent health issues and it being winter in Northern Michigan, but Spring and thus more horse activity will come eventually. Even then we’re primarily toodling around on our farm mostly loose rein. Thoughts?

    Shelley

    1. Is his horse a quiet long time Partner? Then I’d be prone to trust the horse, at the walk, at home. Go very slow and wear helmets, please. Then you might want to warm up his horse. Can you tell I think you need to be cautious? But then, have a great ride.

  5. Lynell Abbott

    My husband would love it if I’d just get to the point; he will gladly pick up the wine if i’d just straight out ask him. Same for my horse; he will gladly head for the gate if I’d just simply ask him to go there. Why is that so hard?

  6. Daisy

    Anna, I would like to set up a phone consult with you; how do I do that and what is the cost ? thanks, daisy and whisper

  7. Good stuff straight shooter! At times, I’m guilty of being too timid around my horse and expecting him to be courageous at the same time. Always asking for too much, instead of offering more! I like that – “short sentences with a thank you”… You make everything sound so perfectly easy. If only I had you around to remind me to keep breathing when I start doubting.

  8. I like this recent series of posts! I’ve had stoic and reactive horses … extremes and everywhere on the continuum. Interesting that you mentioned the Western movie heroes in the one post. I grew up reading Western novels. Being an introvert, I identified with those “strong silent” types – and my approach to horses has mostly followed. Quiet, calm, speak seldom but make it clear when I do … mostly listen and observe. But it took a reactive mare to add a layer of finesse and more flexibility to my approach. I owe her a huge debt!

    I will confess one thing … while I don’t actually baby talk my horses (that is saved for my puppy), I do a fair amount of murmuring and “cooing” at them. Don’t think I can actually stop doing that. 😉

  9. Michelle

    Oh Lordy this one is a great one Anna! Thanks for being a proponent of honesty to our horses. They are really quite clear and basic in their expectations of humans. We make it so complicated! Guilty of overthinking on my very observant horse. I appreciate that you give us thinking lessons not just technical lessons like inside leg to outside rein. None of that means anything if you are a coyote!!

  10. Thérèse Cartier

    And another blog to make us think! You often talk about waiting for the horse to think tings over. It made me realise that they live in a different time frame. Over my life time, so far I am 66, time has we know it as accelerated quite a bit. Whith computers, cell phones, microwave ovens etc everything is faster today than it was yesterday. Horses wont have anything to do with all those new toys of ours. Let’s just slow down all together and just try to match our horses time frame. Thanks again Anna and may all living creatures be with you, big or small!

  11. Anna…I’ve found there is ALWAYS this truth in your very words, “Horses are not looking for groupies. They don’t need adoring humans to give them purpose. They want a whole lot more from us than treats.” I’m without horse now that Tulle’s gone on, but he was just the third of three very different but uniquely beautiful ‘horse-in-my-life’ experiences.
    I was a working adult when I sat on my first horse, a 1960 Tobruk Arabian gelding whose wisdom caused veteran horse people’s chins to drop. The world was his oyster… and he took care of all things two-legged and four-legged. Then came a gorgeous grey OTTB who came off the track “in the rafters” but who settled to show his real identity as “a rose inside.”
    Each of the three had so much integrity to give and this alone was their purpose. It showed in everything they uttered….and in return they needed only the English language for my understanding and meaningful response.

    1. Susan

      Yes we do go to the barn to relaxe .Where else can you find pice of mind .l have a very reactive horse . now I just give a nod of my head in the direction I want him to go and he goes ( I talking ground work) it’s been 7 years that we’ve been together and we’re just really starting to understand excuse me I’m just starting to understand how to communicate I was a coyote

  12. A friend and I recently picked up a gentled mustang to work together. I’m a half step ahead of her but we are both learning still (always I hope). She struggled between ‘love’ and ‘leadership’ as we all can do- finding the balance- but she was a little stuck on the ‘love’ side. More petting and encouraging even when the horse was pushing into her space and heading towards seeing her as a pushover.

    Something that struck me and really helped that I was reminded of in your blog was my horse who is the obvious lead mare in the small herd was ‘mean’ to the new mustang. (Not really mean of course, but very super clear on what was expected of a new horse and she would escalate if needed all the way to two leg kicks if the younger mustang wouldn’t fall in line).

    What I asked my friend to watch for and try to understand was how badly that mustang wanted to be near the lead horse. She was showing firm leadership and what might have looked ‘mean’ was her being perfectly fair and clear and firm- if she told that horse not to come into her space while she was eating nothing was going to change her mind and let it be ok until she was ready… when it was her turn at the water – y’all better wait a sec.

    It was eye opening and a change happened in my friend when she saw the horse wanted a true leader. That was more important to her than the ‘human style’ love of petting and cooing over them at the wrong times.

    And then of course there are the times the mare got something right and offered it to her and I’m the one saying ‘yeah yeah! Now give her a rub for that!!’

    Love the blog!!!!!

    1. Mares teach this so much better than me. No only are they clean and clear; they don’t hold a grudge after. Really… we need to take a lesson from them. Thanks, great comment.

  13. Thank you for getting these thoughts out there! For me, this was the ‘thesis’ of the article: “We lose our natural rhythm when we try too hard. We’d hate to consider ourselves abusive so we whisper, and even if we know horses are confused, we tend to commiserate with them about it and not clarify.”

    To take off on what you mentioned about horses never mistaking us for horses – I notice that many people make it their goal to ‘be a horse’ to their horse. We tend to think it’s our responsibility to communicate exactly the way another horse would …this is simply impossible! We have two legs, they have four (an a multitude of other differences abound).

    I’m glad you mentioned this because it brought up the important concept of coexisting peacefully and patiently with our horses as the predators that we are.

    I think it’s time for us (women especially) to stop feeling guilty when we don’t communicate in perfect ‘horse language’. It’s time to start working towards a solid, working relationship between us and our horses. Through this relationship, our horses can begin to understand what we mean, as well as us understanding what they mean. It is surprising how well horse’s learn to read predator language and what kind of results come about when we patiently and respectfully educate them in our language, as well as learning more about theirs!

    This article is a great diving board into a world of other questions about psychology, communication, and coexistence. Thank you for sharing!

    1. Yes, I think a relationship between two species is much cleaner than pretending we are different than we are, it’s about honesty. Spectacular comment, thank you Jeannine.

  14. My trainer (of German ancestry) refers to this as “just be German!”–meaning, state your purpose clearly (to the horse) and deal with the reply. Not harsh, just firm in purpose, and with crystal clear aids of course. Easy for her to say…😏

  15. Judi

    This one gave me pause for some soul searching. Have been and still am a P/A personality. Now I see how that has carried over to my horse and mule. It was like a bolt of lightening for me as I sat and thought about our relationship over the past years. Will take me awhile but will focus on what I am doing, saying and reacting . My husband may get benefit as well. LOL. Thank you for your insight.

    1. Oh Judi… well, thank you, I guess. For your horse and mule…especially your mule. I’ll throw the husband part in for free. :0 You make me smile; honest comment here!

  16. Dee Morris

    Interesting. Particularly as I decided to stop my paltry attempts at shrinking myself around them -and generally in the rest of my life in the last year. Suffice it to say that the horses have been happier than the humans with the new direction lol. Great piece. Dee

    1. YES, truer words… The thing that works so well for me in the barn is certainly less acceptable out in the world. We need to change that! Still, happy for you for the change. Easier this way, I always think. Thanks, Dee.

  17. Nuala C. Galbari

    Anna,

    A direct, hit-you-between-the-eyes blog today. Excellent — a good start to the day. I am battling Strider’s left eye infection right now. The Hanoverian has a swollen eyelid and bright red lid. The vet has been called. He’s 17 h.h. and an alpha, so not the easist one to manage. I will have to be short-talking, strong and confident today, especially. This has helped.

    Many thanks.

    Nuala

    On 3/10/17, Relaxed & Forward: AnnaBlakeBlog

  18. I love this article!

    It helps me a lot in understanding my young (4y) Knabstrupper horse.
    He came to me several months ago out of a herd of stallions and he was nearly untouched.

    I have about 30 years of experience with horses, but I never met a horse that was so strict with me.

    The first thing I noticed, was his pedantic (in a positive meaning) behaviour, when I brought him together with my other horses.
    I could see, that he was very anxious, not to enter the space of a superior horse – he sometimes seemed to walk on his tiptoes, when he came near the leading horse. He was fully accepted by the herd in a few days.

    On the other hand, he was quite crude with me, even though he was very soft with the other horses.

    When I came to the stable, to feed the horses and tried to cuddle him, he hardly pushed me away with his nose or he threatened to bite me.

    Yes! It was feeding time – not cuddling-time!

    When I tried to smuggle the spray bottle near him behind my back (which worked with all my other horses), he either ran away or hardly pushed me away to find out, what I had hidden behind my back.

    We have solved this issue in the meantime by clear and honest communication like this: “here is the spray bottle! – may I use it?” – and the answer was “yes!”. Yes! Only coyotes smuggle bottles behind their back ….

    Your article fully confirms my experiences from the last months and will help me to improve my communication in the future!

    Now I would say, that it is easier to learn a clear communication with a horse, that is very strict and extroverted. My first horse for example, shut down the communication in such situations, which made it difficult to recognize the mistake and to successfully reestablish the communication.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts!
    Stefan

    1. I agree those stoic horses take more patience to listen to… and truly; they never do fall for the “hidden behind my back” story… good luck with your new horse! Thanks for commenting.

  19. Pingback: Do You Communicate Like a Coyote? — Relaxed & Forward: AnnaBlakeBlog – MobsterTiger

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