Tuesday, January 20, 2009


If I can't be on horseback please put me someplace quiet, with lots of ink. Outside of a mountain trail, my favorite place to get lost is a library or bookstore. I approach books, and reading, like I do an all-you-can-eat buffet--don't be afraid to try something you've never had before. You may decide you hate it but you could also discover your next favorite dish.

Recently, on a trip into town (its usually an all day excursion) sans children I was able to carve a little me time in between the bank and a grocery store stop. Walking into Barnes and Noble I breathed deeply and checked my watch. 45 minutes to feast.

The religion section held my attention for about twenty minutes (Note to self: Buy CS Lewis's, Letter's to Children--precious) but then I meandered by a table stacked with self-help books. I always have to look here. Really, how many variations on the theme "A Better You" do we really need? Perhaps I'm over thinking originality in my own book publishing quest...One title did catch my eye: The Power of Body Language: How to Succeed in Every Business and Social Encounter, by Tonya Reiman. I used the rest of my time flipping through it and skim reading.

The topic of body language is fascinating. I have studied it a fair bit in my efforts to advance my horsemanship but not as much in human communication. I found several human body postures that communicate a similar message in horse interaction.Just for interest sake, here are a few.

Touching heads equals intimacy:

I cannot imagine going up to a complete stranger and touching his/her head. This gesture communicates closeness in a relationship, a merging of personal boundaries. Lovers will snuggle with their heads and easily touch eachother here. According to Ms. Reiman, couples who purposely avoid this may be engaged in infidelity or are thinking about it. For horses, placing their head next to another horses head, when relaxed, can also indicate affection. A horse will certainly bite and wield their head aggressively but a soft dropped head, next to another horse, is only done among friends. They must be comfortable to assume this posture. Eli is a horse who is very boundary conscious. He will tolerate nearly anything without a fuss but his posture sometimes contradicts his outer calm. While grooming he often kept his head angled away, avoiding my personal space. Recently he began to show pleasure in grooming and in my attention. I was pleased when, one evening, he turned his head toward me while I was brushing his neck and kept it quietly bent in a sort of horse hug. One must be careful of personal space when working with horses and be on alert for signs of disrespect. In this instance, Eli's gesture was gentle and one of friendship so I allowed it.

Feet pointed toward someone equals respect/interest/affinity:

In a chapter on positioning of the feet, Reiman states that people will point their feet toward someone they like while conversing. Likewise when a horse stands, front feet facing the trainer, they are listening and giving respect. All my horses know they must turn and face me when I approach. A subtle positioning but it is meaningful in horse language.

Facial movements:

Some facial movements make it easy to discern emotions in humans but did you know that hand to lip/nose/chin postures, while speaking, can be a sign of dishonesty? Subconciously, the speaker touches the offending part of his body--his lying lips! Gonna keep an eye on this next time I buy a used car. One thing to love about horses is that they cannot lie. While certainly different than human beings, they still communicate with facial expressions. My favorite is pursing the lips. Tango does this only when he is very angry. If his lips are pursed, you better be ready for a show down! Eli purses his lips to communicate tension and discomfort. He may be standing quietly but if his lips are clenched, he's unhappy. All horses show comfort and understanding/acceptance by licking and chewing, something only possible with relaxed lips.

Eye contact:

An obvious one. We look those we value in the eye--"The eyes are the window to the soul." Lying, distressed, and uncomfortable souls do not seek eye contact. This is true in horses, as well. The distinct difference in equines, however, is that horses use focused eye contact to pressure eachother. Just one look can move a horse to the other side of the corral. For human to horse communication, it is wise to use eye contact carefully. With trained horses, regular insistence on eye contact while handling on the ground can be a safety and respect issue--"Two eyes on the trainer."

On inauguration day, I'm thinking of past presidents and their different posturing. Some were more expressive (not to mention honest) than others. "Straight from the horse's mouth?" Think I'll be watching his body language.


Julie Garmon said...

Loved this post, Cath! Right now my cat's annoying me. She's tearing through computer paper. I don't know if we can relate this to body posture with felines. :-)


Catherine said...

Hi Jewels!

Hmmm, tearing paper....The cat shrink within says this is probably equivalent to a kid making a mess as soon as you are on the phone!:) Kitties are full of personality, thats for sure. Thanks for stopping by. Cath