Uncommon Horse Sense







Teaching is the process of encouraging the student to step outside of his comfort zone and continuously expand his knowledge and understanding of the world around him.





Three Part Harmony With Horses

 <First of four articles>


 “We will never solve the significant problems we face with the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.”

                                                                                                Albert Einstein


     Andrea stood next to the bay horse at the rear of the trailer and twirled the lead rope at the horse’s rump.  The bay’s attention was riveted on three mares in a small paddock about fifty yards behind the trailer.  Andrea increased the intensity with which she swung the rope and eventually tapped the bay on the rump.  Startled, he shied from the rope and snapped his attention on her.  Continuing to swing the rope, she directed him toward the trailer.  He sniffed the trailer, stiffened, then took three quick steps back.

      “What do I do now?”

      “That depends.”

      “On what?”

      “Why he did what he did.  Did he back away from the trailer because he was afraid of it?  Because he was more interested in those mares than what you were asking?  Or, because he just didn’t understand what you wanted him to do?”

      Most people ask the wrong question when faced with a horse problem - “What do I do?”  That’s approaching the problem as though the horse were a machine – “Which lever do I pull?”  The Horse is a living, breathing, being just as we are.  The physical response is the result of a mental process.  In other words, a mental problem becomes an emotional problem, resulting in a physical problem.  If you don’t approach the physical problem by addressing its cause, you’re treating cancer with band aids. 

      It’s more beneficial to understand the principles by which the horse interacts than to memorize a bunch of procedures.  If you understand the principles, you can develop your own procedures for any situation you encounter.  Or as one of my college professors would say, “The man who knows how can always get work, but the man who knows why is the boss of the jerk.”

      Nearly all horse/human problems relate to one of, or a combination of three principles: Trust, Respect, or Communication.  Being able to recognize which of these principles needs work, tells us how to respond to the problem.

      These principles also have priority in the horse’s mind.  The first principle/priority in the horse/human relationship is trust.  If you try to get respect, or communicate with the horse before he trusts you, fear will trigger the fight/flight response in the horse.  Simply put, if he doesn’t trust you not to hurt him, he doesn’t care what you have to say.  The second principle/priority is respect.  Why should he care what you are trying to tell him, if he doesn’t see you as a leader?  The third principle/priority is the constantly evolving one of communication.  Does he understand what you are asking of him?

      The bay at the beginning of the article (although he’d been trailered for years) was afraid of the trailer, and more interested in the mares than his handler.  Up to this point he had been pulled, prodded and scared into the trailer each time he was loaded.  Once he had been shown that the trailer wasn’t a thing to be feared and he needed to pay attention to his handler, he walked in willingly with the slightest suggestion.

      At all levels of training or problem solving, understanding the importance of these principles/priorities in the horse’s mind, will greatly improve your effectiveness with your equine partner.

      Earn Trust…

                                    Instill Respect…

                                                                        Develop Communication.

      In the next three articles we will explore each of these principles in more detail and discuss how to improve them in your horse/human relationship.