I’m going to stray away from the usual Equestrianism fodder to touch upon a bit of an interesting, if not controversial, topic. It’s something I have found interesting and certainly applicable when it comes to problem horses, yet I’m not sure I entirely believe this method or practice, although my experiences with it have definitely caused me to open my eyes and widen my perspective on how we communicate with horses.

I come in contact with my horse, Harley, in numerous ways. We communicate through touch, body language, voice, and sometimes artificial aids, whether they be spurs, a crop, a bit, or even a lead rope and halter. Most of these ways of communication are easily understandable to seasoned riders and trainers. Push your horse to move him over in the crossties, use your leg to urge him past a spooky trash can, use a crop to discipline a dirty stopper, use body language while lunging to drive your horse away from you. Such examples are commonly used, and once someone has a basic understanding of how a horse’s mind works, they can use these signals to have a working conversation of sorts with their horse.

However, communicating with voice is probably the easiest form, yet the most difficult to understand. We tell our horses to whoa when coming into a tight combination, and an obliging horses will usually understand and back off a bit. I saw a perfect example of this a few months ago in a Grand Prix out at Thermal, CA. About five jumps into this course was a triple combination that consisted of a regular two strides to a short one stride. Obviously, horses had to be very adjustable to complete this line, and it was interesting to see how each rider guided their mounts through it. One particular pair came in a bit too fast, and easily made the two strides but I could tell they were in danger of overshooting the one stride. Upon landing from the middle jump in the combination, the rider sat up and very clearly said “WHOA.” His horse automatically rocked back and steadied for the short stride to the last jump and cleared it easily.

While voice communication is not as concrete as a firm press of the calf or pull of the reins, in some situations it can be a clear way to get a point across. Like in the example above, sometimes a well-placed growl can urge a hesitant horse over a spooky fence.

In the context of riding, the vocabulary that exists between horses and humans is quite simple and small, consisting of short phrases (“get up there!”) and one-syllable words (“whoa”) that are perhaps most useful because of the soothing sound they produce.

Beyond this, though, is the realm of more in-depth communication. Into this area emerges the controversial subject of equine psychics. Many people flat-out refuse to believe in such practices, while others swear by them. Personally, I’m fairly neutral. The whole idea of being able to communicate mentally, and no less with an animal, seems to escape my capacity for reasoning. I can’t understand it, and therefore I didn’t always believe it, although I never outright shunned the thought.

My first experience with an equine psychic was around four years ago, when my barn had one come to “speak” with our horses. Surprisingly, almost all of the boarders signed their horses up, and even though I didn’t have a horse at the time, I came to watch out of curiosity.

At first, I was skeptical. The questions being asked weren’t particularly in-depth, and thus the answers seemed pretty generic. But I began noticing that the responses the psychic gave us were all very unique, and they matched each horse’s personality exactly. As the day wore on, the psychic began to come up with responses that were mind-boggling; there was no way she could have known most of the things she told us.

Needless to say, by the end of that day I was astonished at what I had experienced. It was so amazing to get inside these horse’s heads, and I was still awed at the things we had learned.

Flash forward to today, August 24, 2008. I had the opportunity to ask an “equine psychic” a question about my horse, Harley. I’ve had him for a year and a half, and since the day we bought him, he’s been a bit of a rascal. He is a very difficult ride, and he almost caused me to quit riding altogether.

With that said, he taught me everything I know about riding. Without him, I wouldn’t be half the rider I am today. Besides teaching me to hang on and work with difficult horses, he taught me determination, courage, persistence, and to love unconditionally. The last point stems from the fact that although he often sent me flying, he wouldn’t hesistate to put up with my novice mistakes and carry me safely over big jumps. He would let me bareback him around and lay on his back, hug his neck, and prop my feet up on his hindquarters. On the ground, he can’t get enough of me. While walking, he loves to push his nose into the small of my back or rest his chin on my shoulder. He loves licking my arms and sniffing my hair, and for all the fights we have in the arena, it’s amazing that he’s so laid back otherwise.

Still, I knew it was time for change, and my trainers and I made the decision to sell him. With college looming ahead and Harley still being a bit of a challenge, I felt he would be happier in a different setting. Since he is my first horse, the decision to sell him has been heart-wrenching. I love him so much, yet I find riding him to be more of a task than a pleasure. So, with a heavy heart, I put him on the market.

A few people became interested in him, and things are moving quickly. If everything goes well, our time together will soon come to an end. So, with little time to waste, I asked the gracious equine psychic a simple question. What does Harley think of me?

I expected to take the answer with a grain of salt, but the response immediately brought me to tears:

Harley said: I love you. I love you. Let me count the ways I love you. 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10.

Real or fake, that’s something I wholeheartedly believe Harley would say. For all of his stubborness and attitude, the love he has shown me is tangible. Suddenly, everything–his past behavior, his strange habits, his surprisingly tender moments–all make sense. And even if I’m deluding myself, I’d like to believe that he really does think this. And I feel the exact same way about him.