Monday, December 9, 2013

Horses Have A Pause Button

Howdy Folks,

Horses do have a pause button, and they'll push it themselves. Sure sometimes we push it for them, but however it gets pushed, it works. And they pause. Sometimes they pause a little, sometimes they pause a lot. Pausing is an important part of being a horse. Perhaps some people should get their own pause buttons, but that's a story for another day … Why are pause buttons good for horses? And how can we understand them?

So much is said about the "flight mode" of horses, frankly I think that's overstated, overworked, but that's just me. You bet that fight mode is imperative to the safety of horses' survival, but don't we all kind of get that? When confused, scared, or just unsure, in kicks the fight mode and off they go, or at least they try to, if we don't stop them. Pretty self explanatory.

But the pause button. Now there's an interesting, and far too often, misunderstood intricate part of the horse's make up. Often mistaken for stubbornness, refusal, laziness, uncooperativeness, attitude and a whole pile of equally negative and unkind thoughts and projections, the pause button is exactly the opposite. It is total cooperation, willingness and eagerness. How could I say that? You ask. – They are totally eager and willing to cooperate in helping us to understand communication.

A horse will push the pause button when they don't understand, need to make sense of a cue, a request or situation. That pause is their request for more time to process the situation. It is not a request for more and stronger cues. In fact, more and stronger cues at this time will most often turn the polite pause into something negative such as refusal, or misunderstanding. It is important to allow the pause button all the time it needs to do its job.

"But you must keep the pressure on," Some say. In my mind those who say that are very wrong. Remember the flight mode? Too much pressure invites the fight mode, even if they can't flee. That's a hair's breadth from "shut out" mode. I believe it is wrong to pressure a horse beyond its comfort zone. Rather we should keep the horse well within its comfort zone, a safe distance back from their limits, and grow from there. When your horse pushes her pause button, back off, give her time to process – then when she's ready, gently cue again.
Kessy's smiling eye
The remarkable thing about the pause button is, the more keenly tuned into it we become, the shorter the pauses become. And the fewer times your horse will push it. Go ahead, give it a try, allow you horse to teach you to honor the pause, you'll be amazed at the softness you'll both enjoy.

Gitty Up ~ Dutch Henry


  1. I saw this 'pause' mode several times when I rode Magic a week ago. Not knowing you at the time, I believe I did the right thing. I sat quietly, rubbed her neck and told her it was okay. She must have been okay with it because she finally moved out with reassurance. Felt good for our first real ride.

    1. Sandy, a good feeling to "hear" your horse, isn't it? Hooray for you and Magic! -

  2. This is so spot on! My George does this exactly as you describe it, and too many times I react too fast. I need to let him use his pause button! Thanks, Dutch :)

    1. You bet, Robynne ... We mostly all react too fast, haha, It's a good thing to allow our horses to teach us to "pause" too!