Horse and Rider Communication on Wilderness Trails in Mongolia
Communication between Long Time Companions on the Trail
Horse and rider communication will become more and more fine tuned as the time goes that you spend with your horse. Horses are very generous, letting us sit on their backs and taking us where we want to go… usually. Having been with “Good Boy,” my horse for over 10 years, it seems sometimes that it only takes a flicker of thought to make him take the direction I want. He picks up the slightest cue that I give him and most times without me giving it too much of a conscious thought, just a feel really. Maybe because we know each other so well, or because he knows me well. This is very nice, like enjoying the company of a person close to you without having to talk much at all, and just being in harmony. And sometimes, after a stop to take in a good view or a snack of his favorite grass or a drink of water, when it’s time to move on, he turns his head like asking “Where to now?”. Like on the photo to the left, taken from the saddle when we had arrived at “Khagiin Khar Nuur” – the “Black Lake”, hidden deep in the Khentii wilderness – where we stood at its shore for some moments taking in the view and its stillness.
These are experiences of old companions on the trail. But any horse, no matter how long you’ve been with him, and perhaps even more so if your connection with him is brand new, wants to know – “where are we going?”. The experienced rider will be very familiar with this notion, but don’t worry if you are a novice. It’s a lesson your trail horse will help you with. If you don’t have your mind on the trail and a place ahead where you want to go, you may find your horse making the decision, eventually. Most likely, that will be to eat some nice herbs and grasses that grow all along the trail and probably wondering whether this is an expedition, or are we just out grazing for the day on a random route through this salad bar..?
The Rider’s Focus and Direction – Body Language and Thinking Ahead
It’s an easy but important aspect, this keeping focused and where you want your horse to go. It works best when you are relaxed and it does come naturally, but you want to keep it in mind. Always think “ahead” a bit, and look ahead. By doing that, you not only are aware of what lies in front of you, but also have a better chance to spot a deer or a grouse that may cause a little reaction from the horse. You also sit in the saddle in a better position, more balanced. Your forward thinking and body language keeps him moving along.
In the same way, he will know to turn upon certain cues that are just as natural and easy. Our horses, though they’ve never had much “formal” training as horses elsewhere may have, do react to a number of signals. They do “neck reign”; if they feel the reign touching the right side of their neck for example, they turn left. And they do feel the cue of your thighs – pressure from the left means turning right. But even a slight shift of weight, that you may even make unknowingly for a turn, will be picked up by the horse.
Balanced Riding and Your Natural Instinct
You have to imagine this from the horse’s point of view; he has a living backpack to carry. That’s easiest if the pack moves as a unit with him, and the whole unit is in balance at all times. As the horse moves he undergoes different postures and his center of gravity moves. It is further forward at faster gaits. That’s why a rider will lean a bit forward when the ride is picking up beyond a slow trot, bringing their own center of gravity in line with that of the horse and maintaining an overall balance. Looking at the mechanics of this is interesting but not necessary; or even counterproductive if it complicates things and overwrites the natural instinct most of us will use when moving with a horse. Its best not to overthink this, and go with what your guts tell you to do.
Saddles for Balanced Riding
Good saddles are constructed to promote a balanced seat, in the way the saddle seat is shaped and stir-ups and rigging are placed. In preparing our expeditions, we pay a lot of attention to all of this so that all riders have a good experience – comfortable in the saddle, close to their horse, enjoying the ride and the landscape.
Further Reading on Horse and Rider Communication and Harmony
There is very good and informative reading on these topics that you may want to check out – about harmony and unity with and feel for your horse. The authors I want to mention here are Tom and Bill Dorrance, and Ray Hunt. Old hands at horsemanship and feeling your horse.
And getting back to cues – Mongolian horses of course “speak” Mongolian, and there is one word they all know as the signal to go – “Chuu”, and it sort of sounds like a sneeze. I only need to whisper it – or think it (?) – and “Good Boy” goes. He likes to go! And he likes to act upon all the “Chuu” signals, from any rider in the group whether it was meant for him or for the last horse who’s trailing behind a bit. Then it takes a bit of persuasion to let him know it wasn’t meant for him. Which of course, he knew…
Here are the books I mentioned, and that you’ll find in the little library at the Stone Horse cabins:
- “True Unity”, by Tom Dorrance, 1987
- “Think Harmony with Horses”, An In-Depth Study of the Horse/Man Relationship, by Ray Hunt and Millie Hunt (ed.), 1978
- “True Horsemanship Through Feel”, Bill Dorrance and Leslie Desmond, 2001
Get to know amazing Trail Horses in Mongolia
The best way to get to know a horse well, and experience horse and rider communication is on a longer trail ride. Our horseback expeditions in Mongolia are great opportunities to explore fantastic landscapes and bond with amazing horses.
Khentii Mountains Expedition – 14 Days – Once per season only
Khentii Wilderness Conservation Adventure – 14 Days – Once per season only
We look forward to hearing from you,