Should we teach equine cues?
Where do they come from?
What are cues?
- Cues are signals that tell us some ‘thing’ is going to happen.
- Cues can predict things that are good or bad.
- Understanding cues is important for carers of horses.
- Humans might not observe cues that are highly visible to a horse.
- Cues build a language between us that can be clearly understood by both parties or by one party alone.
- Signals given to us by horses can easily be misinterpreted. Confused horses become fearful and will be unable to learn.
- Teaching and learning mutually understood cues in a calm situation is ideal.
Breaking it down
- Cues are not one-sided we can learn from our horses as well as well as them learning from us. A horse will signal to you in very quiet ways before taking stronger action and these are cues to the human that something is about to happen. It is rare for a horse to just bite your arm with no warning but subtle clues before the bite can often be missed by humans who are often confined to complex language as a first means of communication.
- Cues do not just have a place in riding they are a way to communicate on the ground and in every situation that horses and humans interact.
- It takes time to teach and learn cues. Some horses may appear to learn more easily than others who might have been shut down by previous human contact and now feel disinclined to interact.
- Horses understand many more cues than those we teach them. They are mastermind detectives and will pick up incidental information without us noticing. Environmental cues can be obvious- rattling of buckets in the feed room being a cue for dinner. Or subtle- wearing a pair of gloves might signal you’re riding today. Just know that your horse is collecting cues constantly especially when you least expect it.
- The word aid is often transposed into cue and of course an aid (ridden or from the ground) is a signal that you want something to happen- it’s a cue to the horse to make a certain move.
- Cues are created and kept strong by the addition of a consequence. Every time the pushy pocket nudge gets a carrot it will reinforce the nudge. The nudge becomes the cue and is kept strong by the consequence of a tasty carrot fed afterwards.
In simple terms a cue is a signal that something is going to happen. Our horse interactions are full of cues that are not always understood, or even noticed, by us but are clearly evident to our horses.