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What is this about Yawning..? (Ugh Factor Be Gone!)

Catherine and China

Ok it's true, we do tend to get pretty excited at clinics when we see a horse yawn...

So why then, is this so important?

"Is yawning always a sign of releasing concerns, or could there be some continued concerns still lurking?"

Here is a video from a live Q&A session recently...

More below... you might be wondering:

[Looking for the Katrinka video? Scroll to bottom of page]

Is yawning really that significant?

It depends, as the old adage goes. Afterall, horses do yawn simply because they are feeling mellow and relaxed. That's the kind of yawning that might seem more cute than holding any significance.

The example in the video was about helping  a horse through a big "knot" of fear about unusual surroundings that had her racing around on the end of her line - and how release was applied to reach her mind, help her change how things felt and therefore her perception about needing to run. She yawned huge yawns, found a mental and emotional ease that stayed with her and her handler.

But what about if there has been something "off" in your connection with your horse. Perhaps something that you can't put your finger on - say, something in your horse from a past experience, but it just seems to lurk in your partnership now. Perhaps it's a brace or resistance you hadn't really noticed was there before, but now you know more you, see more, are trying to be more discerning - but the brace keeps triggering despite your best efforts. Perhaps you know exactly what the "off" part is, because it's a not-so-good-feeling-response-especially-when-you-accidentally-built-it-in. 

The Ugh Factor

There seem to be infinite incarnations of this mild type of misunderstanding that has left in its wake a sort of a "grumble" in our horse or a "hum" of low grade concern that seems a bit s t u c k. That 'knot' we just w i s h  we could help our horses let go somehow. 

I have officially given this phenomenon a name: The Ugh Factor. Why? Because I've noticed that when these kinds of challenges have a label,an odd wave of relief tends to wash over those affected. I'm not sure why exactly - perhaps that sense of "Oh, you mean it's not only me...??" diffuses It somehow. Whatever the reason, it's a notable step towards the solution: for the horse to let go... we need to first.

If you have experienced The Ugh Factor, you may have wondered how these seemingly smaller challenges seem to erode your insides. Sure, they don't seem like that much, but.... BUT we feel the weight of them in the connection - which just happens to be thing we care about most. So that smaller thing becomes a big thing. We know consciously or not that i t ' s   g e t t i n g  i n  t h e  w a y - whether limiting the good feel in the connection or athletic performance or both.

Sometimes that can have us falling through the trap door into unconscious 'avoidance' mode (which also does a really good job of fueling The Ugh Factor). Alternatively, it may keep us awake at night wondering how to get things feeling better - but the next day if we (still...) can't seem to 'unlock' that Ugh spot, we move onto something else (as The Ugh Factor goes on to slow cook).

I have met two wonderful ladies in the past month who have been so affected by The Ugh Factor that they had stopped doing anything with there horses, other than care for them daily - and both had all but decided to throw in the towel on their passion.

My heart sinks, well goes thud would be more accurate when I encounter this - an echo of when I'd found the end of the road in 2010: a brick wall and no way around it. Until I realized the door was right there, and had been all along. I   j u s t    d i d n ' t    k n o w.

There is something else I didn't realize for a lot longer too - when I was under The Ugh influence, my horse felt the connection the same way.


Banishing The Ugh Factor

Yawning' in the context that quietly sparks such great excitement in this approach, is the doorway appearing in that brick wall - the 'knot' unravelling, the "portal" opening and the horse and person about to step through it to a new place of mutual understanding and an exquisite sense of Flow.

I will never tire of seeing an "Ugh" expression  l i g h t   u p  like the sun from behind a grey cloud, glowing with the inspiration of what could... can... now be - the realization that it was never not possible afterall, it's just that you can't pressure a block out of a horse, nor out of a person. You can get things moving and improving from the outside, but the wall will keep showing up until the "knot" is unraveled from the inside. The Feel of Release is all about working with the horse from the inside... through, well... release. 

The Master Key

When this yawning occurs in the context of the "knot" and in direct response to the rider/handler's Feel of Release - that "knot" is not only unravelling, it's unravelling within the context of the connection  with the person  and the  e q u i p m e n t  (if in use) that contributed - in most cases, usually inadvertently - to the "knot".

And  when that happens... the "knot" and associated Ugh Factor  g o  a w a y. Poof.

And that is why we get pretty excited when this characteristic yawning shows up. 

Katrinka video tutorial excerpt:

Mark Rashid


"I see an 'opening' as anything that allows us to help guide, however briefly, an individual in the direction we ultimately would like to go. An 'opening' can be, and often is, a very subtle form of communication between horse and rider that can easily slip past us if we're not paying attention. 'Openings' can and do work both ways. [...] It amazes me just how small an 'opening' can actually be, whether working with horses or with people, and how easy it can be to create an 'opening' when one is needed."

Mark Rashid

"I truly believe developing the ability to see and use 'openings' effectively is only one piece of what one might refer to as the 'harmony in horsemanship' puzzle. When this idea of understanding 'openings' is brought together with the understanding of two other simlar ideas - making a connection with another indvidual, and the role distance plays in overall communication - I believe it is then that harmony in horsemanship becomes a much less daunting concept for us."

Mark Rashid

Leslie Desmond


"Bill knew about a place I did not know existed, or could exist, between a horse and a human being [...] Bill included each one of my horses in that information exchange. Over the course of many months,... he took each one by its lead rope and, later, by the bridle reins. Using what he called his 'better feel', Bill showed me and each of them exactly what he meant by what he did [...] It was not long after I made the switch from force when needed (often) to always customizing the feel I offered to a horse, that two tough horses I had misunderstood for years developed into my most reliable mounts."

Leslie Desmond

The lightest hands carry intent that is recognized instantly by the horse, as seen in the maneuvers he chooses to make with his feet. Whether that horse is ridden or handled, the lightest hands can purposefully influence the speed, direction and sequence of each foot with accuracy, in a manner that is reflected in the horse's body and on his face.

Leslie Desmond

Bill Dorrance


"The Real Masters Understood Feel [...] For example, De Kerbrech, (French officer in the cavalry of Napoleon III) really understood horses. He had it fixed up so the horse could succeed. [...] The first time I read Beudant's book was in the 1950s. The way he explained things, there was no doubt in my mind about what a person needed to do to get these little things working for them and their horse."

Bill Dorrance

“Feel, timing and balance: sometimes it’s best to talk about feel, timing and balance separately, and to learn how to apply each thing separately on the start. But when you apply these three things a little later in your training, then you see that each one of these things supports the other. They are interconnected and all three are real important. You really can’t get along without all three.”

Bill Dorrance

Faverot de Kerbrech


“ le deplacement du poids est facile dans tous les sens, plus l'equilibre est parfait. En vertue de ce principe, on dit que le cheval est 'en equilibre' quand de simples indications suffisent au cavalier pour modifier a son gre la disposition du poids sur ses colonnes de soutien”

Faverot de Kerbrech

[Translation: ...the easier it is to shift the weight in any direction, the more perfect the balance. By virtue of this principle, the horse is 'in balance' when a simple indication from the rider is sufficient to modify the distribution of weight across the columns of support (four quarters) accordingly]

Duke of Newcastle


"You must in all Airs follow the strength, spirit, and disposition of the horse, and do nothing against nature; for art is but to set nature in order, and nothing else."

William Cavendish, Duke of Newcastle

"A confrontational approach ‘Astonishes the Weak Horse […] makes a Furious horse Madd; makes a Resty Horse more Resty […] and Displeases all sorts of Horses’. The alternative however is not ‘to Sit Weak […] but to Sit Easie’, in the understanding that ‘The Horse must know you are his Master’"

William Cavendish, Duke of Newcastle