The first thing I am going to discuss is how aware horses are of our focus and energy. When I first heard about the concept of horses "feeling our energy" I rejected it immediately as mystical, new age nonsense, but after observing horses closely, how their behaviour changes so drastically based on the handler's state of mind, I slowly became a believer. And now, I would even say that using my energy and focus is the cornerstone of the way I train. Honestly I'm not a nut-job, so please don't stop reading yet!
So my problem is how to explain the true power of focus without sounding too crazy. One of the best illustrations of this concept was provided by Bill Waterson, I will hand the discussion over to Calvin and Hobbes for a bit.
Some studies estimate that human communication is only 7% the actual words we say! The majority of how we as humans interact is non-verbal 38% tone of voice and a whopping 55% body language. Now compare our behaviour to horses. Think of how much human beings feel the need to talk. We talk to each other, we talk to ourselves, our pets, our cars, inanimate objects, and sometimes we even talk in our sleep. Relatively speaking, horses are silent, rarely using vocalizations to interact and yet in a herd they convey thoughts to each other constantly. This should really demonstrate to us how much more acutely tuned in to non-verbal communication horses are than humans. When it comes to subtle language, we are severely handicapped from our horse's view point.
Experts in human body language study many different things; facial expressions, posture, gesture, touch, and proximity(personal space) all of these things are even more important to horses and combine together for them to "read our energy" for a lack of better term.
The first time I heard someone say that you can reprimand a horse by "giving it a dirty look" I thought that was impossible, because 1. I was so used to hitting my horse that I didn't think he could understand anything else(proof of my exceptionally poor body language skills) 2. I thought our faces are so different how can they know what our expressions mean? But then I watched my border collie "herding" our chickens one day. She stood absolutely still and stared intently at those birds only moving a step...or two...very...slowly in any direction and in a matter of minutes she had all the chickens huddled in a ball near the gate begging to be let back in the chicken yard. You can't get much more different facially than dog and chicken, but Molly's "dirty look" and intense posture was all it took to get her point across. I started observing what came so naturally to Molly and doing my best to imitate it to move my horses around. To begin with things were very awkward and clumsy, but I saw my horses trying much harder to understand what I wanted because finally I was using a vocabulary they understood.
In the future when I talk about using energy or a look to communicate with a horse, think of Calvin, we all know where someone is looking when we talk to them. Your horse knows exactly what you are looking at all the time and can read what your expression means. When it comes to learning how to use that subtle communication; imagine a border collie, intense, focused and slow when they want something to happen, but happy, smiling, relaxed when things go the way they want.