In my research for that blog I came across a video of a trainer who was using the principals of "power poses" to help horses gain confidence. ( Link to that video here: http://amycuddy.com/ ) This trainer teaches horses to imitate the behaviours playing or fighting stallions use when establishing dominance to help horses to be more confident. While I do think there may be value to this method in certain applications, I would caution, that if used improperly it might lead to a horse being threatening towards its handler. All of that aside, I began thinking about the ways I will manipulate a horse's posture to help it become more confident. While the afore mentioned trainer is tapping into a horse's more aggressive behaviours to teach confidence, I try coax the horse into a very relaxed posture to help a horse to gain confidence.
We all can identify what a very relaxed horse looks like, head low, neck level with withers, leg cocked, ears slightly back, tail loose, lower lip sometimes hanging. It is what your horse looks like when he is snoozing in the shade of his favourite tree, or when he is chilling with his herd by the barn, or what a lot of horses look like when they are getting a thorough grooming. This is the posture I try to encourage in a nervous horse whose emotional state is interfering with learning.
Below is a diagram of the many signs a horse is emotionally uncomfortable. Bear in mind that a horse does not always display all of these symptoms of nervousness when they are upset.
To the right is a picture of my first meeting with a young mustang who had already completed the first stages of his taming. Our goal for the day was to get video of him lifting his feet for me, but you can clearly see he is in a very tense pose; high head, stiff neck, contracted belly, hind legs braced and ready to run, taut lips, straining ears and clamped tail. The way he is standing clearly says he is ready for either fight or flight. In the photo, while it may look like I am just cuddling with this colt I am actually using pressure and release while massaging his lower jaw to try and induce him to begin licking and chewing so he could begin letting go of his stress. (For a closeup see the image in my blog title.)
Next, I went on to asking him to bend his neck lightly from side to side so he could free up the tautness in his neck to bring his head down. For this particular horse that was only minimally successful, the real key to getting his head down was massaging his tail and belly to unleash the tension he was holding there. As you can see in the next picture when I began convincing him to let go of the stress in his belly he lowered his head and reached around to connect with me more. His ears also are more loose and relaxed in this picture. I slowly worked my way all around this horse addressing his anxious posture with massaging or pressure and release to get him to adopt the posture of a relaxed horse. When he finally achieved a nice relaxed look was when I knew he could make progress in the lesson of lifting his feet.