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Musings, insight, and pro tips

Horse Talk - I Don't Speak Leonard

Sophia Proler

**Horse names have been changed to protect the innocent.


Totally innocent... for now.


The number of joyful horseback moments we've experienced are infinite.

But the moments of utter frustration and confusion are plentiful too.

Ever get the feeling that you are on a completely different planet than your horse?

Here are a few (of many!) stories about the horse-human language barrier.



First, there was Comanche**, a Pony of the Americas I adored.
The 3rd time I rode him, we trotted out to a field, because that seemed like a nice thing to do when you're 7 and on a pony....  until I was on the ground.

Comanche had tried to tell me that fields were for grazing, but I didn't listen until I somersaulted down his neck onto the grass. As I sat staring up at his speckled pony face, happily munching away, I knew this wouldn't be the last time we misunderstood one another.

How I felt after Comanche dumped me.

Next up? The pony who shall not be named.

Many years ago, I traveled to Chicago with my trainer to try out a dapple grey pony that jumped 'a 10 out of 10' as riders say. Her owners said she was a little bit 'green' but definitely appropriate for an 11 year old....  

We jumped a fence. Unintentionally. Apparently my steering was not in the language she spoke. So she jumped a fence. A big one

Red-faced, with tears streaming, I sheepishly got off, took my saddle, and we flew home.


Fast forward to Leonard**. I don't get Leonard. And he knows it.

If horses could roll their eyes, he'd roll them every time I got on. 

I say 'go,' he says 'yea right.' I ask him to turn, he says 'nah.' He tries to tell me about his day, about his past; I stare blankly. We're from separate planets, desperately trying to agree on at least one thing, but can't seem to.



So what then?

Certainly the answer isn't 'give up.' And it's definitely not 'get angry' or 'get even.' 

You have to swallow your pride, acknowledge that you're speaking a different language, and try a different approach. Maybe fewer words and more gestures. Less yelling, more collaboration. 

Take a pledge this year to learn a different horse's language - her likes and dislikes, her stiff side, and her favorite treat (Leonard likes bananas).

You may never be fluent, you may struggle with pronunciation or just not feel up to practicing one day, but you'll feel better for trying. And I bet your horse will appreciate it too. 

Shawdee & Greta having a chat. Image by Eric Lau.