Horses don’t speak human. But if you “listen” with all of your senses, they absolutely communicate.
Nothing will teach a rider to listen to their horse quite like prolonged lameness. Each time I approach my mare, my mind starts a checklist. “Is she bright-eyed? Was that a little swelling on her leg? Did she take a funny step there? Ok, was that a head-bob or did she just sneeze? Why did she leave grain in the bucket?”… and on and on and on…
Granted, this may have crossed the line from listening to paranoia a few times. But I’d rather be safe than sorry.
This week I got to her stall and she didn’t poke her head out. I tacked up and entered the indoor.
The first trip around the ring, she stopped in the corner near a box we use for an in-hand training exercise. The horses are asked to put their front two feet atop the box and stand quietly. Prior to her injury, we were eventers. The mare could jump the moon. In fact, a ring steward at our last event together told me so. She is brave to the core and will follow me anywhere, so she has been on the box in-hand several times.
The second time around the ring, she stopped again. This time, closer. I asked her to walk on and changed rein across the diagonal. The third time she stopped, I let her decide when to move. And sure enough, she went straight to the box. With me in the saddle. Left foot, right foot, up we went. I leaned over and gingerly rubbed each side of her neck in long strokes. She turned her head left, then right. I reached behind me to rub the small of her back. After a few minutes, off we went to finish the warm-up. She gave me a beautiful free walk and stretched her neck long and low. We rode Intro Test A. She was obedient, relaxed, supple, AND SOUND.
I hopped off grinning from ear to ear, tucked the reins into her noseband, and let her get back on the box. Her head came down and she poked out her nose, then she lifted her neck and she pressed her hips forward. After a few minutes, down she came. As I untacked, I noticed her muzzle was wet. She had been drooling.
I can’t say I would have ever asked her to hop on the box under saddle. But how many times have I talked her into things that were my idea? So I listened. My horse needed a little pre-workout yoga. I’m glad she told me so.