EMHH Episode 48: Simple Haltering Changes to Improve the Relationship with Your HorseFeb 02, 2023
Discover how haltering sets the tone for your interaction with your horse and how simple changes can elevate your equine relationship. You'll hear how mindful haltering can even improve your horse's willingness and athletic performance!
In this episode, you'll learn why it's important to pay attention to subtle cues that your horse is giving you that can either strengthen - or weaken - your relationship. With the right approach, basic interactions such as haltering can be used to create a solid foundation of trust between you and your horse.
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Mentioned in this episode:
Why You Should Lead Your Horse From the Wrong Side: https://www.marydebono.com/blog/h47
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Feldenkrais® for Riders videos: https://www.marydebono.com/rider
All information is for general educations purposes ONLY and doesn't constitute medical or veterinary advice.
Hello, would you like to learn some really easy, practical ways of elevating your relationship with your horse? And these are ways that won't cost you a dime, maybe a little bit more of your time in the beginning, but they'll become so natural to you. You wondered how you worked with your horse before without them. Hi, my name is Mary Debono and this is the Easier Movement,
Happier Horses podcast. And today I wanna share with you something that we, most of us will do on a very regular basis. And that is we halter our horses, right? So maybe your horse is out in the pasture and you wanna bring your horse in, whether to be groomed, ridden, both of those things simply to just attend to your horse or to have fun with your horse in a different way than riding whatever it is,
maybe health concerns or hoof trimming. But generally speaking, we either go to the, to the horse's paddock, the pasture, the stall, whatever, wherever the horse is. And we approach with halter in hand. That's usually how it's done, right? And this is something that we've all been doing for a long time, and many of us don't pay attention to how we do it.
We just kind of, you know, hold the halter and we walk towards our horse. And most of the time our horse is like, okay, hey, you're here. That's awesome, that's wonderful. And we just put the halter on maybe very habitually, and we don't pay much more attention than that. But what I'd invite you to do is to take a step back.
Number one, think about your horse's response when your horse sees you. So does your horse come right to the gate with a big Winnie or a little nicker, or just come attentively? Now, there are many horses, mine included, who when he sees me, he tends to, he, he nickers for sure. He, he actually usually gives a big Winnie,
and then he goes and he urinates. So it's like he's getting ready, oh, we're gonna be doing some fun stuff and let me take care of business. Kind of like when you tell little kid if you're going on a long car ride, you know, use the restroom before we go, that type of thing. And I know many horses that do this,
but in any case, he's always comes over, wants to put his head in the halter and it's all good. And maybe your horse is the same way. Maybe your horse is very willing to do that. But I'd still invite you to take a step back and to notice how you put the halter on. So most of us have been taught to do things with our horse to the right of us.
So to do most of these things on the horse's left side. So in other words, you put the halter on, you're on your horse's left side as you do that. So right away there's a, a very strong habit, habit for you and a habit for the horse. And in this podcast, we've talked at length in other episodes about how habits can really keep us constrained.
They can actually restrict us physically and mentally because we've become so habituated to doing things in a particular way. And that's true for both of us. The horse and you, because you know, your horse is used to seeing you out of their left eye. They might be bending their body a little bit that way, and to do it from the other side would be like a whole new thing.
So what I would encourage you to do is notice when you go to put the halter on is your horse softening, like maybe through the ribcage and, and gently softening the neck. And ever so slightly bringing the nose towards you, you know, bringing their head towards you a little bit. But in this soft way, not through tension in the neck,
but through a softness in the whole body. And if not, if not, how could you encourage that? Now, in my move with your horse program, we go through lots of different ways where we actually work with the horses, ribs, we do all these different things, and with the spine and we, we help the horse, we really supple through the whole body.
So it's easier for them to do that. But just see, even if you approach the horse differently with maybe this idea of inviting them, you know, softening through your own self, maybe folding ever so slightly in yourself, like think of just, you know, softening your ribcage, maybe bringing the belly in a little bit. Believe it or not,
this makes a big, can make a big difference. Now. So that's, we're, we're going to assume you're doing this on the left side, cuz maybe that's your habitual way you do it as far as the side. But then I would invite you to also start to play with doing it from the off side. So from the horse's right side,
so to your left. And now you might think, well, my halter won't, won't buckle that way. And that's probably true, but you can often turn the halter inside out to get it to work. Or there are halters that will buckle on either side. Many of these are actually ones that have a, like a leather breakaway strap at the top,
and there's a buckle on each side. Some are also made specifically so they can be, you know, opened and closed on either side specifically for this reason. So you're not so habitual to only doing things on the left. So you can, you can probably make it work and if not, you can kind of pretend you're doing it. Okay, maybe do something else.
At least get the beginnings of it. Maybe just put a rope over the horse's neck on the right side from the right side of the horse. So, but again, can your horse, does your horse offer to gently bring their nose towards you to soften through their body? Or is there like just a stoic, okay, you're gonna halter me, but I'm not like participating.
The way I look at halter is if you were, if you were a, a parent or a guardian guardian of a small child and you wanted to hold that child's hand, okay, maybe you're crossing a street or something like that, or just being affectionate, you wanted to hold that child's hand. You wouldn't want to just grab the kid's hand without their kind of like consent.
You would want, ideally the child to want to hold your hand and maybe to reach for your hand. And that's such a precious thing, right? When a little kid reaches for your hand. Now, there are times when maybe you are crossing a, a street or in a parking lot and it's dangerous and whether the kid wants it or not, you need to grab that kid's hand.
So we know that there are certain exceptions like that where you're not, you know, waiting for that level of cooperation. But ideally, if you think about halter your horse as you're, you're going to hold hands with your horse. That's what the act is, right? What would you do to invite them to want to hold hands with you? So think about that.
I know that might sound very unusual. You may have never heard it put like that before, but we're all about unusual and non habitual here. So there you go. But that is one way to think about it. Think about the softening. Again, in my programs you learn hands-on things, hands-on methods of actually helping the horse soften through the body release tension,
both emotional and physical, et cetera. But this is something to get you started. So think about that. What could you do that can elevate your relationship simply by halter altering your horse? Just even having the intent, I'm going to really pay attention to my horse's responses to me instead of just very habitually putting on the halter. I'm gonna slow down,
I'm gonna take a breath, I'm gonna notice how I am breathing when I go to halter my horse. I'm going to notice how my horse is breathing when I approach my horse. So these are things that in the beginning they'll have, they'll take your real conscious attention to do, but over time they just become part of who you are as a horse person and they just become a natural part of you.
It's, it's, you have that heightened level of awareness and this can definitely elevate your relationship and really improve your communication with your horse. Okay, so those are some things to think about. Another thing is, while we're on the subject of halter, what does your horse think of being, being haltered? In other words, again, going back to do they just tolerate it?
Is it just like something, or I do, or is there an anticipation of good things happening after they're halted? This is important because, you know, there, there's pattern recognition, right? We know that animals including us, right? We, we recognize patterns. So if the pattern is I get halted and then I go over to the grooming area and I get groomed and yay,
that's okay, then I get tacked up and ooh, I'm girthy. I don't like being tacked up for maybe physical reasons and or emotional reasons. And then I get ridden and I'm ridden in a way that's not comfortable. So these are things that happen after being halted. So when you halter your horse, what do you imagine, what do you imagine your horse's expectation of the next steps to be?
And can you change that up? Whether it's good or bad? Like in other words, even if it is good, can you do something a little bit differently? That's still good? Of course, we want to associate being halted with something positive. And it's really interesting because your horse may have developed either maybe before he or she was your horse or through events that,
that were beyond your control. But your horse may have developed an association, a ba, a negative association with being halted. Okay? And again, it may not be detectable very obviously, it may be that you notice that they hold their breath or they're just a change in the eye or the ears, or you just sense the tension in the mouth,
whatever it is. My horse was a little more obvious. So my horse breeze, he came from a very abusive background, but he, he, so he learned with me, oh good things happen when I get haltered. So he would, he would come over, he'd be whinneying, he'd come over and he'd like literally put his head in the halter,
but he would do what I call his mouth anxiety thing. You know, that kind of working the mouth that some horses do when they're feeling very anxious. So to give you a little background, breeze used to do that mouth anxiety thing. I would say about 95% of the time that he was interacting with a human, even very nice humans. Okay?
So before he was my partner, that's what he would do. So it was very strong in him, very strong neural connections to that. So, you know, I adopted him, his life was very different when he came to me. And then again he realized, oh, being halted is a good thing cuz it's a predictor of good things happening.
However, that mouth anxiety thing still happened. It was so interesting, right? Because that was so har hardwired in him. So I helped him get over that and there's various ways you can do that, but I helped him. I and your timing has to be so good to help him get over something like that. But, but mine was, and he stopped doing it,
but it took a little bit of time. It took a little bit of time because that habit was so strong in him. And so, so these are things, so again, that's a more obvious way of showing that there's anxiety, but there's much more subtle ones that your horse might be doing. Same thing with tacking up. We'll go, we'll go in another episode into detail about tacking up and how you can make it better for your horse.
But oftentimes it's a more subtle, it's not a gnashing of the teeth or pinning of the ears or, or threatening to kick, but it's a subtle tension that's still very real. Okay? So notice things like that. And just to go back to breeze, because I love talking about my horse, and by the way, he's now 28 and he's so awesome.
The other thing I did with him is I did a lot of stuff without the halter on. That's another subject. But just to put that out there. So this is really important. How do you halter your horse? And to really start to break it down and think about the softening and how you using your body in a different way can approach asking your horse to hold hands,
we'll call it that, right? The halter in process. How do you, you know, and you just insist on it or you know, what is your intention and where do you put your attention when you do it? Okay, so, and as far as actually the, the mechanics of halter, I personally prefer to have the halter open. Like I know a lot of people just,
if there, if there's a throat latch snap, they just do the throat latch snap and they put it over the horse's head. I have found over the years that some horses, many horses actually don't like that. And you know, so what I prefer to do is have it open. I don't even bother with the throat latch snap. And I put it from behind and just gently put it over.
And I find that that's usually more accepted by most horses. Now your horse might be different, and of course everything is in how you do it, right? You can do the throat latch approach in a nice way too, but you might wanna play with how you do it. So not only which side do you do and how, and again, and please,
please be careful if you're doing it non habitually, cuz your horse might have a big reaction to it. So you might wanna work with a qualified trainer, or in any case, always use your caution around horses. Always be very mindful and aware of your safety and your horse's safety. So again, these are ways that they're subtle. They, they may seem subtle,
like what does halter have to do with my relationship with my horse? But it's everything, everything. Because how you do one thing is how you do everything and it sets the tone. So again, let's go back to a horse that has a little bit of anxiety, a little bit of tension about being halted maybe is, is anticipating something not so wonderful happening,
right? That is going to set the tone for your interactions with that horse. Okay? So we want to, to recognize that and to do it in a way that, again, if we want to use the idea that it's like holding hands with somebody, that it's, you know, mutual, mutually pleasurable. That, that the horse is bringing their hand to you,
so to speak, as well as you reaching for their hand. Okay? So if you think about that and think about that softness, you know, how would you, how would you do that? How can you help the horse be softer? How can you use yourself and explore, experiment Again, you're in my program, move with your horse. We go into more detail about these kind of things.
How we use our breath, where we focus our attention, right? All these things impact your horse, right? How you move, how you, you know, how you hold your body, right? All of these things, you know, are felt by your horse, they're sensed by your horse, and they determine, you know, the, the interactions you have with your horse.
The, they're horses are very sensitive to this kind of stuff, probably more so than people. I think humans, we do notice them too, most of the time it kind of goes under our radar, although on some level, on an unconscious level, we're noticing right things, but oftentimes we don't notice them to the degree that horses notice things like this.
So pay attention to this. So I just wanted to start with that. I'd like to go into, in, in future episodes about leading your horse, right? And things you can do. Again, simple ways that to elevate your relationship, mounting your horse, dismounting your horse riding your horse, doing groundwork, all these things you can weave in this kind of heightened level of awareness and mindfulness of how you're using Your,
your movement, your body, and also your own mind to help elevate your relationship with your horse. Okay? So I hope this gives you a little food for thought. I would love to hear your, you know, what your explorations dis you know, what you discovered in doing this with your horse. And yeah, let me know if you have some other ideas too.
Maybe there's something else that you've been kind of struggling with and you would like to elevate your relationship with your horse around that. And we'll talk about doing that in a future episode. Okay? Thank you so much for joining me. I really appreciate it and I look forward to talking with you again. Bye for now.