If you’ve been around horses more than fifteen minutes you’ve experienced a refusal. When your horse doesn’t do what you expect, do you automatically assume the horse is wrong? Horse communication includes asking correctly as well as properly interpreting answers.
Horse Communication Isn’t Always Clear
Not long ago as I entered one of our local horse emporiums a clerk called out, “Lynn, can I ask you a question?”
“Sure,” I replied. “How can I help?”
She wasn’t sure how to interpret her young stallion’s response (or lack of response) from an encounter that morning. He was happily grazing in the pasture when she went to the fence and called to him. He looked at her but didn’t come to the fence.
She asked, “Was he being disrespectful? Should I have gone into the pasture and schooled him?”
I responded, “What was your intention when you walked over to the fence? “
“What do you mean by intention?” she asked.
“Did you command him to come or did you issue an invitation? The answer to your question depends on what you had in mind when you got to the fence.”
“I don’t really know what I had in mind.”
It’s a little difficult for our horse to give us what we ask for when we don’t really know what that is. This bit of common sense isn’t exclusive to horses. How many times have you asked a question but got an answer different than the one you expected? Have you ever experienced less-than-perfect communication? People regularly confuse invitations, inquiries, and commands. If her stallion was given the command to “Come” and did not, then the right thing to do is figure out why. Was he unable to come (didn’t understand or lame) or was he unwilling to come (he just didn’t want to)?
The difference between an invitation and a request
Before calling out to a horse over a fence I predetermine if I’m asking him to “Come” or extending an invitation to wander over for a short visit. Invitations are basically, “Do you wanna?” There should be no doubt on the horse’s part if I’m just visiting or expecting a “yes.” If I ask my horse to “Come” I expect his little hoofies to start making hoof prints in my direction. If I’m just popping by for a few minutes or simply want to admire the beauty of my equine family I ask (invite) him over for a pet or chat.
There is no right or wrong answer to a genuine invitation. “Do you want to?” has no hidden agenda. There’s a world of difference between “Please come” and “Do you wanna?” If the store clerk was extending an invitation to her young stallion then he wasn’t being disrespectful, he was simply giving her an answer. “No thanks, I see you, hope you are well, but I’m content right here.”
There is a radical difference between making an offer (invitation) and issuing a request. An offer allows for a negative response; a request does not. The worst thing a horse owner can do offer an invitation then punish her horse for not accepting.
Invitations are one of four types of questions used in communication with horses. You can read about them in Discipleship with Horses. For the story on when I first figured it out consciously, learn about Ace and Shiner in He Came Looking for Me.