Blabbermouth voice commands should be used with care warns Clinton Anderson.
I don’t encourage people to use a lot of voice commands, especially when they first start working with horses. It’s far more important to develop an awareness of your body language and learn how to communicate with your horse though this.
As a general rule, people who use a lot of verbal cues with horses have a tendency to have pretty poor body language and tend to nag their horses. Let me give you an example. Often I’ll see people at a horse show trying to get their horses to canter on a lunge line. They’ll point and say, ‘Canter, canter now.’ The horse ignores them so they repeat the cue to him, ‘Come on, canter. Why won’t you canter? Canter, canter, canter!’ They say the word canter so many times that it means absolutely nothing to the horse. They basically wear the word out so much that it has no meaning.
It’s like the little boy who cried wolf. He cried wolf so many times that when a wolf finally did show up, nobody believed him. Well, that’s the same problem people have with voice commands. They use the command and water it down so that it has no effect.
If I were going to teach a horse to canter off a verbal command, I would say canter once in a very firm, clear voice. If he didn’t canter, I’d pick up my stick and string and spank the ground behind him. If he still didn’t canter, I’d flick his hindquarters with the stick and string. If he still didn’t canter, I’d continue to flick his hindquarters harder until I made him feel so uncomfortable that he decided to canter. I’d use the voice command as plan A, spanking the ground as plan B, flicking him as plan C and flicking him harder as plan D, E, F, etc. I would make it easy for the horse to do the right thing and then I would make it harder and harder for him to ignore me until he chose to respond.
It’s the same thing that a broodmare does out in the pasture. She doesn’t immediately start kicking the other horse as hard as she possibly can. She goes in with a plan and gradually makes it more uncomfortable for the other horse to ignore her. Most people who use voice commands have the same plan A, but they don’t have a plan B, C or D. Every time you say a voice command and you don’t get a reaction, but you continue to use it, you’re teaching the horse to ignore that command.
The only voice commands I use are ‘whoa’ to stop and ‘cluck’ to speed up. Clucking means whatever you’re doing, do it faster. If I’m backing the horse up and I start clucking, it means back up faster. If the horse is side passing and I start clucking, it means side pass faster. Clucking doesn’t necessarily mean go forward, it means whatever you’re doing now, do it a lot faster. Those are the only two voice commands I encourage people to use. That doesn’t mean that I have a problem with people wanting to talk to their horses to soothe them when they’re rubbing them as a reward. But I do have a problem with people talking to their horses constantly to try to get the horse to do something. I want you to effectively communicate with your horse so that you can accomplish your goals and stay safe while doing it.