Communication- A Two Way Street

Communication = a process by which information is shared and exchanged.  To transfer information, thoughts and feelings so that it is received and understood.    

 When we communicate with each other, it takes one to express (talk) and one to receive (listen).  It is an exchange.  It is similar to dancing - one leads and the other follows.  Communication that is received and understood will have a response.  At the point of response, the listener becomes the one talking and the other becomes the listener.  If this does not happen, it is not communication on the level of exchange. 

Communication can be fun and it can be frustrating.  According to the experts in family communication- the type of communication that is an exchange of thoughts and feelings is becoming a thing of the past.  They state that break ups in marriages often start with one of the individuals finding someone who will listen to them. Communication takes time, patience and effort. Actually, it is a skill. 

When we see a beautiful and fast barrel racing run, we know that the rider is communicating and the horse is listening and responding.  The rider is also listening and responding to the actions of the horse. To reach the level where the dance is beautiful and fast, there have been hours of communicating and listening and listening and communicating back and forth.  That is actually how a horse is trained. 

There are some ways of communicating that simply will not work.  Let’s explore these today. 

Communicating and never listening for the response.  Let’s refer back to humans so that we get a clear picture of this concept.  How many of us have a friend that we do not enjoy talking to.  When we see their number on the caller I.D. we don’t want to pick up the phone and we dread for them to come see us.  We care for them, but we know when they call or come by that we may as well put our brain in neutral and watch the clock turn.  This person talks without stopping to take a breath.  This person never waits for a response from the listener or butts in when the listener tries to respond.  This is not communication, but being talked at.  I have heard people make excuses for people like this saying that they talk incessantly because they are lonely.  (Get a clue as to why they are lonely!) 

Think about this type of communication with your horse.  If you are giving cues for one thing, then a cue for another, continuing to communicate without listening for a response, then your horse is not learning anything except to dread you and your hands and feet and body weight.  When we give a cue to a horse, we will know by his response 99% of the time if he understood the cue.  If we do not listen for the response, we are going to have a type of horse that when he is free to work will never know what his job is.  Why?   Because there was no communication exchange – but rather a forced command.  This horse is like a dancer being forced around the floor. He is not being given a chance to learn to follow and consequently he never learns to dance.

When you sell this horse to a new owner, the new owner will have to ride the same forced command way that the one who trained him used.  If you throw his head away on the way to your barrels, he will be lost.  He has not learned to follow the lead because he never had a chance to respond.  He was not free to make a mistake and then be corrected.  When I get a horse like this in for training – I tell the owners that he needs to be trained over.  I don’t care how much futurity and derby money he won being forced around the arena – he will need retrained for an amateur or child to ride him.

Unclear cues:   How many times have we as people told someone something in a way that was not clear?  The listener may get a whole different picture of what we thought that we had stated.  I find myself doing this – stating something and not stating it clearly enough for the hearer to understand.  This is when feed back and the response becomes so important.  I might ask my husband – “did you understand what I meant?”   When he replies, I will know if I made myself clear or just thought that I did.  If we give a horse the wrong cue, he may try to respond in what he thought we wanted.  That is why our cues must be clear and correct.  We will never get a correct response if we do not give the correct cue.  If you are not getting what you are wanting from your horse, change your cues and make sure that they are very clear.  The feedback of his response will tell you the answer. 

Cues given in wrong sequence:   Have you ever had someone yell at you to go do something for them?   How willing were you to do a task for them when you were commanded?  A rude command can make us angry.  Think about your horse.  When you want him to do something, do you command him?   Our cues should be given in the order that we should learn to communicate with our horses.    We first ask for something.  If there is no response, then we can tell the horse a bit stronger.  If there is still no response, then we command.  Commanding comes thirdly – not first.  Communicating in a command teaches horses to brace and defend themselves.  This horse will never work on a free rein either. 

Inconsistent cues:  Have you ever tried to communicate with a person who is not consistent in their thoughts, feelings and words?  They can be very confusing.  We might say that they wake up in a new world each day and you never know how they are going to be when you see them.  Think about our horses.  If we aren’t giving clear, concise and consistent cues to our horses, then they cannot learn consistency.  If we go into a barrel in one pocket area today and a different one tomorrow or gather in different places. each day, we cannot expect him to learn consistency.  The horse will be as consistent as the rider teaches him to be!  If we are in a good mood one day and in a jerky mood the next, we will teach inconsistency.  People who cannot control their own moods will never train consistent horses. 

The correct way is listening for the response and then rewarding or correcting the response:    A big part of training a horse is listening for his response and rewarding the correct response and correcting the wrong response in repetition.  I have seen people go from one maneuver to another without rewarding the first maneuver.  For example, if you stop your horse and immediately back him up without releasing the reins, you have done two maneuvers without rewarding the first.  You picked up on his reins to the bit in his mouth and asked him to stop and then asked him to back – all on the same mouth.  If you pick up your reins to stop and then release the pressure on reins when he stops, then you will pick up new mouth to do the next maneuver.  That in itself is a reward because the mouth was released from pressure and then asked the second time.  To go all the way through your runs on old mouth will teach a horse to brace upwards with his head because he felt no relief or reward.

This is like being talked at and never getting a chance to respond.  This is not beneficial communication.  Communication that is beneficial is one that is an exchange. It is one in which the response is heard.  Next time you are communicating with a person – think about what type of communication is taking place.  Then, think about the different types and how that would relate to a man and horse.  Relationships are built and sustained upon an exchange.  No one wants to be in a one-sided relationship – not even your horse!

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Copyright © 2004 - 2011 Joyce Loomis-Kernek
Last modified: January 05, 2014