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Do horses have feelings? Anyone who knows horses will agree that they can definitely show us what they like and dislike. Some horses seem to be more opinionated than others, but all have their preferences.With the arrival of the New Year, humans reflect on how to become better people. I wonder what our horses would wish for in the New Year.FoodOur horses love their treats and grain and, a little less passionately, their hay. This should be their first and most important wish: that we meet their physical needs for food, shelter and lots of time out in the pasture with their friends. The closer our horses live to their natural state, the healthier they’ll be. No doubt they would like us to learn about equine nutrition, how to recognize good-quality hay, how to maintain pasture. But most of all, our horses want those apples and peppermints!CommunicationHorses speak a physical language, and the better we learn how to speak that language, the more successful we are in working with them. So maybe they wish that we will become more aware of our body language when we’re around them. Maybe they wish that we would slow down and be more patient and deliberate.We often ask our horses to do something but aren’t clear about what we want. Then when they somehow manage to guess what we want, we keep on nagging them. It’s a wonder we don’t get bucked off more often! I bet they wish we would learn how to give clear, definite cues, and then release the pressure as soon as they respond correctly. It sounds so easy, but it’s a hard lesson for us to learn.My first horse was an expert at tuning out busy or indecisive riders. He had been a lesson horse for years and had carried many wiggly people on his back, including me. Since he had no idea what they wanted him to do, he just shut down. I’m sure he wished I would just leave him alone. It took me a long time to realize that.One day I got on him and didn’t ask for anything. For about 10 minutes, I let him go where he wanted. I think he was a little puzzled! Then, I very quietly picked up the reins, turned my left hand palm up and made gentle contact against his right side with my calf. He immediately turned left. I immediately released all pressure and started doing nothing again. We did this for about 20 minutes: cue, response, release; cue, response, release. I realized that not only was he listening very closely to every movement I was making, but I was getting much better at making those movements clearly, with a definite beginning and end. After being together for four years, we were finally communicating!Our horses must wish that we would pay more attention when we ride and realize that every movement we make has an effect on every movement they make.LeadershipNobody likes a bully. On the other hand, horses are born followers, so they’re really looking for someone to tell them what to do. Maybe they wish that we would be their leaders but not their bosses. We can frighten and intimidate our horses into doing what we want, but if we don’t inspire their confidence, they’re not going to take care of us on their backs.It is a partnership that we’re looking for – give-and-take. We give them confidence by clearly asking simple questions and giving praise when they respond correctly. They give us confidence by listening and responding to us when we ask gently and fairly.Whether or not horses wish for something, we can guess that they know what they like. I know my young horse likes to run free, be silly and explore everything. My wish for 2007 is that I learn how to do all these things with him!

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