Words are the Source of Misunderstandings.

“What must I do, to tame you?” asked the little prince.

“You must be very patient,” replied the horse.

“First you will sit down at a little distance from me–like that–in the grass.

I shall look at you out of the corner of my eye,

and you will say nothing.

Words are the source of misunderstandings.

But you will sit a little closer to me, every day . . .”

When I read other people’s horse blogs I realize just how little of the time I spend verbalizing when working with and around my horses I.  I do observe and set goals, and I can verbalize those if I need to but it is an effort at the best of times and interrupts the flow of my connection to the horse when we are working together.  Mark Rashid is one of the few ‘natural’ horsemanship authors out there who, instead of projecting their human preconceptions on the animal, has noticed that horses have very different neurological and so mental setup than we do as humans.  I was willing to take another look at his work when he wrote that horsemen should take note that:

  • Horses have no neo-cortex
  • Their actual brain is the size of a walnut.

So all our human-biased verbally-based stories about why horses are doing something are erroneous until and unless we consider that fact. What he did not go into was explaining that:

  • The human brain has a huge neo-cortex, yet
  • Our speech structure that puts things into words is the size of a walnut

Not only do horses not have the physical neurological structures underlying our human story-telling abilities, when we humans route all of the input into our very large brains through our relatively small speech center, it slows our ability to process and respond to kinesthetic input w-a-a-ay down.  If we want to work with the horse on the horse’s terms, we have to be able to turn our verbalizing off, or at least by-pass it.

My non-verbal tilt has led me to having some really strange and interesting conversation with people who want to know what I call Domo as opposed to what his name is.  The latter question is pretty straightforward. I could answer it by saying that his registered name with the Jockey Club is Domo. I can even elaborate and explain that most likely came about because his sire is registered as ‘Dome’.  But there are always a few who want to know what I call him, or in show parlance, they want to know his barn name.

Now I do vocalize and play with horse names as well when noises seem appropriate, so there were days when Domo might be called:

  • the Majordomo when he decided to take charge of the show, or
  • Demosthenes when he demanded that I straighten up and act right, or
  • Dumbo the Dummy when he decided to take the hose out of his water bucket, soak me and the general environs, AND break the handle of pistol grip sprayer he enjoyed working with his teeth so very very much just one more time

All of those are more along the lines of commentary than a proprietary label though. Explaining how I actually call him is a real challenge for me because if I want Domo’s, or any horses, attention, I get it through body language, breath, and movement which is how horses initiate and carry on conversations.   While horses do whinny, snort,  and squeal, in general vocalizing is for rare and occasional emphasis, times of danger or stress, and/or communicating over a distance. I am not sure I even know how to go about starting to verbally explain the minute differences between my breath and posture and position and intent especially when differentiating between one horse and another.

For his part, it was months before Domo would whinny a greeting to me, but eventually we got to where he would converse with me vocally. I would come outside and call out and he would answer me with a head toss, a hoof stomp, and a ‘ho-ho-ho’ through his nose if and only if I could hit the right vowel length, rhythm, and intonation myself. A couple of phrases worked especially well for both of us*. One was:

‘O-o-oh s-oh-oh-oh beee-yuh-yuh-yuh-tiiii-ful’

The other was :

‘hey-ey-ey meye-eye-eye puh-puh-puh-poh-neeey bouyh

This ritual also meant that occasionally I had a eureka moment when asked what about his name  and would burst forth with the announcement that what I called him depended on whether or not I wanted him to answer me, which tended to reduce my questioners into silence. I usually left them there, as that silence might actually be the best place to seek answers from anyway.

*Oh-so-beautiful and hey-my-pony-boy

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