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Strengthening communication between humans and horses

Horses respond equally well to visual and auditory signals.

Horses respond equally well to visual and auditory signals.

Your performance horse's strength and health are not enough if it refuses to listen to the cues you give when the two of you compete. Communication between humans and horses is intricate, hard to grasp and essential for success. Thankfully, researchers and trainers are breaking new ground in how equines best learn and interact with others.

Sight or sound: Which makes a better cue?
A recent study from the University of Western Australia found equines respond equally to both visual and auditory cues. Researchers collected 10 horses and 10 ponies from riding schools to put through a series of tests. In each evaluation, an equine was released four meters away from two buckets, one of which contained a carrot. To test their reaction to visual cues, an experimenter standing just beyond the buckets gestured to the one holding the carrot. To study the animals' response to auditory cues, a speaker behind the correct bucket played the sound of a person double-clicking their tongue. The experimenter still stood by the buckets but did not move. 

Each animal was tested 10 times per cue, according to Horsetalk and researchers found no differences in success rates. They also studied the equines' response when both signals were given simultaneously. Results were similar to when each hint was given individually, indicating the number of cues did not improve nor hinder a horse's accuracy. Finally, researchers tested the equines' reactions to conflicting cues, where the experimenter's gesture indicated one bucket and the tongue clicking indicated the other. The equines' responses were random, but three tended to react to the visual cue.

"This was the first study researching equines and auditory cues."

Although prior studies have shown equines react to visual cues, this was the first time researchers evaluated how well horses handle auditory cues.

"The animals' proficiency at using auditory cues means these can be used when providing visual cues is difficult, for example, for disabled riders," the researchers told Horsetalk.

Gentle training techniques
Learning more about how horses respond to certain stimuli helps equine owners and enthusiasts become better trainers and paves the way for a stronger connection between humans and animals.

One woman, a self-proclaimed energy healer and horse whisperer, believes equines respond better to gentle guidance rather than harsh breaking techniques. As Horsetalk detailed, Anna Twinney is spreading her training methods across the world. She recently journeyed to Beijing and Mongolia, where she taught students – including some of the region's most distinguished horse owners – that connection and communication are key. Twinney and others like her believe understanding a horse's emotions and responses, not enforcing one's own will, is key to successful riding.

Of course, no amount of nuanced training or cues will overcome the anxiety of a nervous horse. Calming products like Finish Line's Quia-Cal promote emotional soundness in your horse, making it more responsive to direction. Healthy nerves keep your horse calm during times of stress, such as traveling or the moments right before performance. What's more, Quia-Cal contains no prohibited substances, just natural ingredients for a healthy, stable horse.