“There are none so blind as those who will not see. The most deluded people are those who choose to ignore what they already know.” John Heywood, 1546, England *
For some reason, the ability of animals to understand and respond to our language is overlooked, ignored and denied. I have heard countless trainers, and their clients, recite that we ruin our interactions with animals by talking too much.
That is not true. It is good to be clear and concise when talking to animals – if we want them to respond to us, and there are subjects which I don’t attempt with animals, like discussion of religion, politics, and art (I fear they are wiser than us on these subjects and don’t want to risk embarrassing myself). However, animals are very capable of learning and responding to much of our language.
For example, when I tell Sera, my Arab mare, what sequence of movements we are about to execute, she will instantly start to walk through the sequence on her own, just as I used to see dancers do, when given a new dance to perform. If I tell her what direction we are going, she will start to turn at the appropriate point. If I ask her a question, she normally answers immediately, without confusion, delay or incorrect answer.
So did the heifer cows in the project I worked on with Mark Varner, PhD, at the University of Maryland at College Park, circa 1988-90.
My chickens, also at the University, knew well over 100 words, and would knock at the door to come in, and ascend a ramp to jump into a pot of warm water on the stove when it was time to bathe them for training. Each knew his/her name, and would come running if called.
In fact, I lived on campus in a little cottage, a stone’s throw from the livestock I helped care for. One day my neighbor banged on my door.
“Kayce! Your chickens are loose. They’re at the fraternity barbecue, under the tables – right by the grills. Things could get ugly. Come on, I’ll help.”
“Thank you, but let me call them first – maybe they’ll just come.” I say this as I peer into the blooming darkness, looking for them amongst the feet of the barbecue crew. Their bobbing saunter catches my eye. They look mighty small in the distance.
My neighbor wheeled around gawking at me in disbelief, “Kayce, chickens don’t know their names!” he sputtered.
But, I was already calling them. “Here, Henrietta, Cluck Gable…… (and then the bridging of course) xxxxxxxx…”
But this was right at the beginning of the use of the Intermediate Bridge. We had chosen the sound of the spoken letter X, but were just learning to add speed, and when we did it was…. Awkward.
“Xxxxx (sexsexsexsexsex)” I intoned, as I slurred the x’s together.
My neighbor’s eyes narrowed, and his distaste was glaring. “Don’t tell me that’s how you motivate them!” he barked.
But by this time, his attention was grabbed by the rapid approach of Cluck and Henrietta, running straight to us, as fast as their waddling legs could carry them, and looking as if they would burst apart at any second.
He was speechless. I was relieved, and gathered them in my arms. He was still shaking his head, as he left us to return to his cottage.
SaraJane Hakopian, my right hand, called me in frustration one day. She was fuming. Accompanying her son and daughter on a horse vaulting competition, she had volunteered to manage the barn, and help care for the horses.
She was leading two out of the barn, and told them to go left around a pole, and they ignored her and plowed around the pole on either side, about pinioning her. “I cannot believe that no one taught them left and right!” she exclaimed in disbelief. Then she paused for a moment and said, “Oh my, I am so used to horses that understand what you say, and listen. I had forgotten that most horses are left out of the loop.”
So, those of us who speak with horses, and other animals, find it exceedingly useful, and cannot imagine stopping. Further, we find it very easy to accomplish. It does not take great skill. It takes only mindful intent. And while I can make it easier and faster for you and your animals, you probably already know how to do this, because this is how parents teach language to their children. And, this is how my friends in Europe taught me to speak Dutch (a bit).
So, it is simple, you know how to teach it, it can change your horse’s life, it can make your life easier and safer and less arduous… is there any reason to wait? I mean, how can you wait one minute longer to be able to really communicate with your animal?
If there is a reason to wait, let me know what it is, and maybe we can talk about it!
If you harbor any doubt that horses can do this, check out this video: “What was shown to you”
Oh! I can think of one reason. It helps to know a process for doing this, and to be comfortable with it. Stay tuned!