What Join Up means
Join Up, which was first described by Monty Roberts, can be quite complex to explain.
The way I like to look at it, it’s a conversation that the human has with the horse. During that conversation, the horse gets to say “no” (horses always start by saying “no” it’s just part of their hard-wiring to stay safe). They get to say “no” as many times as they want.
During Join Up, the human listens to what the horse says by looking at his body language. And then responds accordingly. And then listens again. Join Up doesn’t work if you don’t listen. And we’re not very good at listening - so this is really what we need to work on.
Horses, on the other hand, are great listeners. But they are also great communicators. Everything about them, from their breath to their tail, to their adrenaline level, is telling you something. If they slow down it’s telling you something, same thing if they accelerate, if they flicker their ears etc. If the human doesn’t listen, then the conversation can’t take place and Join Up can’t work.
Communication is a precursor to cooperation, and cooperation is a precursor to leadership. You can have no leadership without cooperation and good communication. Besides, more and more scientists now agree that Darwin, when he was talking about the “survival of the fittest”, was not talking about physical strength, or aggression. He was talking about aptitude at reproducing and at keeping their offspring alive. Darwin himself wrote that the species and elements in species that cooperated the most did better at reproducing, and therefore at surviving.
This is how I like to look at Join Up and this conversation we are having with horses. We are setting the base for cooperation that is mutually beneficial, a cooperation that can only happen when there is good communication.
So, while there is a lot of communication going on during the Join Up, I would summarise it like this:
1) horse runs off = no, I don’t want to be with you,
2) horse continues to run + no, I still don’t want to be with you
3) horse slows down = okay, I’m thinking about this now
4) horse walks slow, head low, mouth licking and chewing = I’ve decided, I want to be with you
5) when the horse walks with the human, following him around = yes, yes, yes I want to be with you.