November 01, 2005

Listening with your heart

The Nicker

I, for one, have been absolutely blown away by the number of different ways a horse can communicate with a nicker. I've also discovered there's a wealth of communication that's available if you listen with your heart as well as your ears. This is an index of the nickers I've catalogued up to now:

The basic nicker also known as “the greeting Nicker”
This nicker reminds me of the gang in the T.V. series “Cheers.” When someone of the inner circle walked into the bar, everyone joined their voices together to call out the new arrival's name; it showed how fully connected they were in their small community. This is how I see the “the greeting nicker.” It tells all the other horses that one of their herd just arrived.

The food nicker
Anyone who spends time feeding horses gets acquainted with the food nicker. This nicker has many variations, some are listed below.

“Hi, you’re finally here, come feed me” nicker/whinny.
This nicker usually has some urgency to it. It is often combined with "the greeting Nicker" and has a nice welcoming sound.

The “Oh, good, I did it right” squeal/nicker.
Buck started this when he really began to understand “clicker training.” I knew we’d opened a new door of communication and understanding for him when he started to nicker after he got tapped. (You’ll remember that he’s deaf and I tap him 3 times quickly when he’s done something right.”

Not only does Buck nicker, he adds a whinny to it, I mean he is excited about the reward! He lets loose with a sound that goes up the scale almost an octave and back down again; he sort of sounds like a mare. He does this squeal/nicker when he has tried REALLY hard during a training session.

The silent nicker
This is the most effective of all nickers. It’s accompanied by a slight quivering of the nostrils, very soft; you could easily miss this. There is NO noise, just TOTAL anticipation. It comes from the horse’s heart; I see it as the silent reflection of the horse’s inner feelings, and this one melts me more than any other kind of nicker.

The stare/silent nicker combo:
When the stare is combined with “the silent nicker” it is devastatingly effective. For example, when at the ranch, my husband Dan likes to stretch out on the gentle grass covered slope for a well-deserved short-but-sweet Saturday afternoon nap. This slope is also near Buck’s corral. I’ve seen that horse start in with the stare/silent nicker treatment and watched in total wonder as he managed to force Danny to give up his nap to take him out for “the salad bar ride.”
Danny swears he can feel Buck “boring a hole right through him.” Danny pretends he’s asleep, all the while peeking out under his hat to see if Buck will give up, but Dan KNOWS he’s a goner; Buck wins out every time.

The contagious nicker
This is the one that a horse uses when another horse nearby is nickering. It sort of says, “Hey pal, I don’t know why we’re nickering, but if you’re excited something good should be happening soon.”
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