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horses in a field

The latest article on subjects that we feel are of interest to today's riders.


Merely causing a horse to do something does not mean that you are in control of the horse. Think about the times you have seen someone put a chain lead shank under a horse's chin or over its nose. They may have been successful in leading that horse from Point A to Point B but the use of that shank is a dead giveaway that they were not really in control. If they were, coercive equipment would not be necessary.

Trailer loading is another activity where you see a lot of out of control horses. You may use a longe line or a buggy whip or some form of bribery to get your horse into that trailer. Most horses eventually give in to the pressure if you nag them long enough or coerce them hard enough and they go on that trailer. But that is not training. Even though you succeeded in causing the horse to do what you wanted him to do, you were not really in control.

At Meredith Manor, the beginning step for students learning how to control and teach horses is ground work we call "heeding." We call it that because, to an observer, it looks like a combination of leading a horse and getting a dog to heel. The trainer first uses body language to establish himself or herself as the lead mare in a little herd of two. Once the horse tunes in to the trainer's body language and acknowledges the trainer is leading the dance, the trainer then uses body language to create shapes that the horse can successfully mirror.

The trainer starts by mirroring the horse's natural shapes (such as the animal's normal walking stride) until the horse learns that matching shapes is the name of the game. Then the trainer can gradually take greater control by asking the horse to mirror new shapes introduced by the trainer.

This is a greatly oversimplified description of basic heeding. But it is enough to help you understand that as both horse and trainer progress in this relationship, "advanced heeding" gives the trainer control to lead that horse wherever the trainer wants it to go, to get the horse to stand quietly for a farrier or vet, to march on that trailer without blinking an eye, to stand to be caught in the pasture, and to respond to cues under saddle. The trainer is in control. Not guessing, not hoping, not praying, but actually in control without coercion, without nagging, and without any special gadgets, gimmicks or drugs.

There's a catch, though (isn't there always a catch?). To succeed at teaching a horse to heed or anything else for that matter, students must first be in control of themselves. That's the catch. If you want to be successful at teaching things to your horse, you must first be in control of yourself mentally, physically, and emotionally. You must be calm, mentally focused, and self disciplined before you can to control any horse.

Being in control mentally means that your entire attention is focused on your horse at all times. Every moment, every stride, even when you are just leading your horse. Your attention to your horse must be the greatest when something startles it or when something goes wrong such as another horse kicking out as you trot past. When you take your attention off your horse, even for a second, you have just told your horse that you won't always be there when something goes wrong.

Your ability to concentrate on what you're doing, to be mentally with your horse at all times, has to be unquestionable. The horse should be so used to you always being there that it never surprises him when you are. A lot of people ride along like they're in the back seat of a taxi cab and all at once they want to lean forward and beat on the glass and yell at the driver about where he should have turned. Working with horses shouldn't be like that.

Being in control physically means that you are always aware that you are always creating physical shapes that your horse will mirror. Every stride. On the ground, your horse will walk the way you walk, in the direction you walk, and at the speed that you walk. That's how you just walk him onto that trailer. Under saddle, your horse will mirror your breathing patterns and the shapes you make with your own body. That's how you get him to speed up, slow down, collect, extend, turn, and stop.

Being in control physically does not mean physically dominating the horse. When you look at pictograms of how to apply the aids, you might get the impression that you are supposed to put one leg back, the other on the girth and squeeze so hard that you push the horse's hindquarters over. Give me a break. Arnold Schwarzenegger is not strong enough to push a horse over. Nothing about horse training or riding is about physical force.

Finally, to train horses well, you must be in control emotionally. A real chess master makes his moves calmly without showing any emotion that might reveal his real motives to his opponent. Good riding, good training, calls for the same kind of emotional control.

There's a paradox here for riders and amateur trainers. A totally effective rider or trainer must be so emotionally committed to getting the job done correctly that they will do almost anything, including waiting a year or more, to get the job done exactly right. But someone with that sort of emotional personality, that intensity of commitment, usually hates waiting. So there is a conflict.

To succeed as a trainer, you have to develop the discipline to control your emotions and your ego. You cannot get greedy or impatient and force your horse faster than it is physically and mentally able to master something. You have to stay calm, stay in control, and not let anyone influence you to alter a sound training plan.

It does not require strength to train horses to the highest levels. Horse training is a mental game played in a physical medium. As your ability to manipulate and control the horse increases, your judgment about what to do and when to do it has to increase along with that ability. Otherwise, you may cause the horse to hurt itself and you don't want to do that.


As one might imagine, I’ve had a chance to see some pretty interesting problems that
horses have developed over the years. One such horse showed up several years ago. His
name was Red. Red would let you get on without any trouble. He would move off nicely
with slight leg pressure. He neck-reined well and would stop readily.

His issue surfaced about 50 feet away from the barn. For no apparent reason other than
he didn't seem to want to go any farther, he stopped dead in his tracks. Probably a little
barn-sour, I thought to myself. No problem. We'll just move off a few more yards and
then go back to the barn. That would be enough for one day. The last thing I wanted was
to get him upset on our first time out.

I gave him a little leg pressure to ask him to move forward. No response. A little more
leg. No response. A bump with my heels. Nothing. A harder bump. Still nothing. A hard
bump and slap with the reins on my chaps. Absolutely no response. Not even an ear
cocked in my direction. Another bump and rein slap. Nothing. Not only was he not
moving, but he actually looked as if he might doze off.

No matter what I did, he seemed perfectly content to stand in that spot. He didn't want
to go forward and wasn't overly concerned about going back. He seemed totally
oblivious to everything and everyone around him, including me.

I needed to get his attention, but all of the conventional ways seemed to have no effect
on him. It was as if his whole body simply shut down as soon as he reached that
particular spot. Upping the pressure with something such as a crop, whip, spurs, etc.,
was out of the question. It seemed obvious to me that it had already been tried on him
without any luck. Otherwise, I probably would have gotten some response when I
slapped my chaps with the reins.

I decided that if he wouldn't move his feet, maybe I could get him to move something
else, and then work down to his feet. I started with his head, moving it back and forth
using direct pressure (he was in a snaffle bit), being careful not to jerk on his mouth. He
resisted at first, but after a short time, he loosened up considerably. This enabled me to
increase the speed at which I was moving his head.

After about 2 to 3 minutes, I stopped the movement and gave him a little leg. No
response. Right back to asking him to move his head.

A couple of minutes later, we tried again. Nothing. Again, I went back to the head
movement, but this time I also began to move my weight back and forth in the saddle in
the opposite direction of his head in an effort to take him slightly off balance, and
perhaps get a little inadvertent movement.

After a while, I stopped and gave him a little leg. This time he offered to move forward
by shifting his weight in that direction. I responded by petting him and letting him stand
quietly. That was the last time he offered to move.

After about 30 minutes, we still had not made much progress. He was beginning to lose
interest, and I was beginning to get tired. I climbed down and stood there in
bewilderment. After over a half-hour of work, I managed to get him to move only a
couple of inches and now it looked as if he might doze off again.

I picked up the reins and stepped him up about 3 feet. He moved willingly. I thought
maybe that would be all it would take to break him loose. I climbed back on and gave
him a little leg. Nothing. I got back off and stood there looking at him.

Just then the words of the late Walter Pruitt, the man who taught me much of what I
know about horses, came rushing back to me. "One of these days," he told me over 40
years ago, "you're going to get a horse that is going to flat make you think. Nothing that
you know to do is going to work on him, so you'll have to make it up as you go along. The
answers will come if you ask the right questions."

Then it came to me. I was surprised I hadn't thought of it before. One of the hardest
things for a horse to do is to stand on three legs. They can do it, but not for long. It's
extremely tiring for them, even when they're standing still. I had never tried it before,
but I figured it was worth a shot.

I had one of my students bring me a cotton lead rope with a bull snap on one end. I then
got back on Red and gave him one more chance to do the right thing, which was to move
off with only slight leg pressure. He didn't. I got off and immediately tied one of his front
legs up. I made a one-leg hobble out of the lead rope by putting the end of the lead rope
through the bull snap.

I took the loop made by the lead rope and put it around the horse's forearm and pastern.
When I tightened the rope, it brought the leg up, and put it in a bind. Red was forced to
stand on three legs. To lessen the chances of injury to the gelding, I made sure we were
in an area where the ground was soft.

After 3 minutes, there was no effect. After 5 minutes, the muscles above the tied leg
began to quiver. At 7 minutes, he started to go down and was in a slight panic. I
immediately let the leg down, rubbed it, and got back on.

He had a whole different look to him. His head was up, he was alert, and his ears were
on me. I finally had his attention. I gave him a little leg. He offered to step. The pressure
came off. Some more leg. Another try. A pat on the neck. More light pressure. Two steps.
Rest and a pat on the neck. More leg and we were off. He walked down the road as if
nothing was or had been wrong.

We went about 20 yards, turned around, and went back to the barn. After all, that was
what I had wanted to do in the beginning.

Over the next few weeks, the problem arose a couple more times, usually when
somebody new was on him. But with the rider going through the same steps (leg
pressure, bumps with the heels, then head movement), he always responded positively
before his leg needed to be tied again. Now he moves off willingly for anybody with the
slightest pressure.

I have always stressed to my students that just about every training problem that they
will see in horses is man-made. I feel that this problem was no exception. It's hard to say
for sure how it may have started. Perhaps Red found that if he stood in one spot long
enough, whoever was trying to get him to go would quit, and he wouldn't have to work.
Or maybe he just wanted to be asked to move instead of being told or forced. Whatever
his reasons, he has now made up his mind that it is much easier to move than not.

Shortly after that, one of my students asked me how I knew that tying up his leg would
be the key to getting Red to move. I told her that I didn't know for sure that it would
until he actually moved.

She stopped and thought for a moment, then said, "You mean you were just
"I guess I was," I told her.

I would like to point out, however, that this method will not be necessary on most balky
horses. No two are the same. Some are easier than others; some are downright difficult.
I guess with a few, you just have to improvise, especially if you're looking for quiet
solutions to perplexing problems.

Like the old man told me over 40 years ago, the
answers will come if you ask the right questions.

All Things Natural by Mark Rachid

Okay, I’m getting ready to climb out on a little limb here and talk about something that comes up a lot at our clinics, as well as in a number of the letters and emails we receive. It’s the subject of “natural horsemanship”.

Some people say that I am a “natural horseman” because I practice certain philosophies and techniques. Others say I’m not “natural” (oddly enough) for the very same reasons. If you ask me, I say that it seems pretty dang hard, if not impossible, to be - or not be - something that doesn’t even exist in the first place.

We’ll get back to that in a minute, but first, a quick history lesson. One might be surprised to learn that the term “natural horsemanship” didn’t really even exist prior to around 1985. You see, it was about that time that a well-known horse trainer coined the phrase and began using it as a marketing tool for a horse-training program he and his wife had developed. The term resonated with a lot of folks and whether people followed the program or not, they began using it as a way to define the methods and techniques they used to work with their horse. “I use natural horsemanship to train my horses.” Over the years the term has even morphed into what a lot of people might refer to as an actual equine discipline, like dressage, or reining or jumping. “I do natural horsemanship.”

Now, before going any further, it might be helpful to understand what the definition of the word natural, is. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the word as: being in accordance with or determined by nature. defines the word as - existing in or formed by nature (opposed to artificial ): a natural bridge. So it seems to me that, in order for horsemanship to be truly natural, it must somehow match up with at least one of these, or at the very least, a similar definition. The problem is…nothing we do with horses does!

Lets start with the enclosures we keep them in. First, here’s a question. Not counting humans, how many other species of animal on the planet build enclosures of any kind in order to house or keep another species of animal captive? According to my research…none. So, while building enclosures to house other species of animals may be natural to humans (a statement that could be debated), it is certainly not natural to the animals being kept. As a result, if we are keeping our horses in any kind of man-made enclosure, no matter how big or small, it is unnatural to them.

Here are a couple more questions. How many species of wild animal (including horses) willingly allow another species of animal of any kind to restrain them? How many species of animal willingly allow another species of animal to climb on their back? So, if we physically restrain the horse in any way, or if we ride the horse, it is unnatural – not just to the horse but to us as well.

Okay, so there is our base line. Keeping a horse in a man-made enclosure is unnatural, and so is restraining and/or riding them because none of those things are in accordance with or determined by nature, or existing in or formed by nature. So now that we’ve established that keeping, restraining and riding horses is unnatural, the rest of what I am about to say may seem a bit redundant, but…what the heck. Lets go through it anyway.

Rope halters vs. web or leather halters. Seeing as how we have already established that restraining a horse is unnatural, the kind of halter one uses on their horse becomes personal preference. It is my personal belief that a web or leather flat halter is more humane than a knotted rope halter, but I don’t believe either is more “natural” than the other. And, truth be told, there are some instances when using a rope halter is actually going to be more beneficial for both horse and handler due to circumstances between the pair.

Large pasture or box stall. A man made enclosure of any kind or size has not been determined by nature nor was it existing in or formed by nature, so the bottom line is any enclosure is unnatural. Granted, a horse would probably be more comfortable in a pasture than a stall, but still, by definition it doesn’t change the fact that man made enclosures are unnatural.

Bit, bitless or bridle less. All three are unnatural, so it boils down to personal preference and comfort level of the horse and rider.

Saddle or no saddle. As was already stated, no mammal naturally allows another mammalian species to get on their back without some form of desensitization or training. So riding a horse in any way shape or form is again, by definition, an unnatural act. This then boils down to personal preference and the comfort level of the horse and rider. The majority of horses are probably going to be more comfortable with a rider’s weight dispersed over the most square inches of their back. With that in mind, a proper fitting saddle would probably be more comfortable for a horse than carrying a rider bareback.

Shoes or no shoes. At first glance, it would seem that keeping a horse barefoot would actually be more natural than putting shoes on, and if the horse were in the wild and not carrying a rider, I would agree. But domestic horses aren’t wild horses. Most domestic horses lack the sound quality of foot that the wild horse does due to selective breeding by man, so the domestic horse doesn’t have the luxury of having a foot that was determined by nature. In other words, many domestic horses do not (structurally) have a truly natural foot to begin with, so trying to give them one by having them go barefoot can, and often does, cause problems for both horse and rider.

Having a domestic horse go barefoot also doesn’t take into account the fact the horse must carry the weight of a rider over terrain that the horse often isn’t used to (in the case of a trail horse, for instance) which usually leads to lameness and/or soreness issues for the horse. Of course the answer to having a lame or sore “naturally barefoot” horse is to place a rubber boot over the entire foot to protect the sole – the logic of which (I must admit) escapes me. Common sense would tell me if I have to strap a boot on the foot to keep the horse from being lame, I might as well nail a shoe on. At least by doing that the horse will have 24-hour consistency in the way the foot feels as well as how it travels.

Now don’t get me wrong, here. I think its great when a horse’s foot is healthy enough for it to go barefoot year around, and over all kinds of terrains. In a case like that, it’s probably the best thing for the horse. But for a horse whose foot isn’t healthy enough, then doing what’s right for the horse is the way to go. If than means nailing a shoe on him, then that’s what I do.

It is my opinion that sometimes people’s ideology gets in the way of their common sense. Its like a dog owner who refuses to feed their dog meat because the owner is a vegetarian. Being vegetarian might be what’s best for the person, but it sure isn’t what’s best (nor is it natural) for the dog.

Because some people might have a hard time distinguishing between something that is natural or unnatural when it comes to working with horses, just for the fun of it, lets replace the words unnatural and natural with the words wet and dry while going over this. We can use the following question as a sort of template to go by: two men walk into a pond, one walks in up to his neck, the other up to his chest. Which one is still dry (natural)? The answer is obvious…neither one. They are both wet (unnatural). Wet is wet, and dry is dry. The only way one man would still be dry (natural) is if he hadn’t walked into the pond to begin with. The man who only walked into the pond up to his chest might be less wet…but he is still wet nonetheless.

I suppose in the end, it is important for us to keep in mind that all things natural are not necessarily good. A tornado is natural, but probably not terribly helpful when our house stands in its path. Arsenic is natural, so is locoweed, larkspur and black walnut. Of course we keep our horses and ourselves away from those things because they are not only harmful, but also deadly.

So next time we consider doing something for our horses simply because it flies under the flag of being “natural”, maybe we can allow some common sense to enter into our decision making first.

Training Mythunderstandings:Using Pressures To Shape The Horse by Ron Meredith

Training horses involves using pressures to shape a horse's behaviour. But many people MythUnderstand how to use pressures properly.
Horses learn when:
?¯â???§ a pressure is not perceived as an attack,
?¯â???§ the pressure is only one step away from something the horse already understands, and
?¯â???§ if doing the correct thing relieves the pressure which rewards the horse

When all three of these things are in place, then the pressure will be "horse logical." The horse will accept it calmly and learn from it.

Many trainers attack horses. They think that if the horse's activity level or excitement level increases, the horse is learning more. That's one of the biggest MythUnderstandings there is in the training world. In fact, the truth is just the opposite.

When a horse feels attacked, you have created an avoidance situation. Avoidance situations create five times as strong a reaction as approach situations. That means that if you create a pressure that the horse wants to avoid, you create five times as much negative feeling as you do if you use an approach situation instead. What does that teach a horse?

When most people come to the end of their knowledge of how to enforce training positively, they often resort to avoidance pressures. Yank that lead shank. Pop him with the end of the rope. Jab him with those spurs. Those actions all create a high level of activity in the horse because the horse feels he's being attacked by a predator. Do you want that horse to react to you like a prey animal or a partner?

Have you ever noticed how people talk to someone who doesn't speak English well? The first thing you know, they're talking louder. The problem isn't that the other person can't hear. It's that they don't understand the language. So you cannot be louder with your aids or pressures to achieve the desired result with your horse.

Many people don't know how to link the things a horse needs to learn up in a logical sequence or how to break training down into many small building blocks the horse can learn one by one. They put pressure on the horse to do something, to create a particular shape, before the horse understands all the baby steps he needs to get him to the point of understanding. Then when the horse doesn't "get it," they "swear" at him.

Swear pressures elevate a horse's excitement levels. What are swear pressures? Whenever anyone runs out of language, they swear. It's a cheap shot out of nowhere. But a person with a command of the language can make a number of meaningful points without ever swearing. Swear pressures do not make your point. The only thing they do is disrupt communications.

To communicate with the horse, you must make the shape you want understandable. You need to use the right language. You will see a lot of people slap a horse when they want it to move or go faster. As a training pressure, a slap has a definite "start" but the "stop" is right there with it, too. So what does the slap tell the horse to do? There is no way for a slap to do anything but elevate the horse's excitement level. The horse will not be going the specific amount faster you wanted or moving in exactly the way that you wanted

How quickly you apply a pressure, where you apply it and how hard you hold it tells the horse how he needs to respond. And as soon as he responds, you reward by taking the pressure away. The greatest reward to a horse is the release of pressure. Always. So you apply pressure in a horse logical way that causes the horse to act the way you want, and then you release the pressure as a reward. Then you do it again until the horse's response to that pressure becomes a habit

Some horses will tend to lean into your pressures when you apply them and in order to create an understandable shape at that time, you must keep the pressure there until the horse moves in relation to it. For example, if you are on the ground trying to get a horse that is leaning into your pressure to move away from you, you have to push only the amount that you can comfortably hold until the horse gets tired of it. If the pressure of the flat of your hand or the front of your knuckles doesn't have any effect, use the butt end of a whip or poke with a finger or two to concentrate the pressure on a smaller area and make it more noticeable.

If you take the pressure away before the horse gets tired of it, the horse learns that all it has to do is wait and you'll quit. You hold the pressure until the horse decides to move away from it. And you have to be certain that you don't get impatient and smack the horse in the belly and ruin everything it was understanding up to that point. Give the horse time to learn. Then reward it.

The timing of a pressure can be important to learning. Take this statement: "Woman without her man is lost." Now change the punctuation. "Woman. Without her, man is lost." The words are the same but the way they are timed creates an entirely different meaning. Aids are the same way to the horse. It's the timing, the punctuation, of our aid pressures that often counts, not the strength or force of them

Aid pressures must be balanced in order to create a training corridor for the horse to move in. A horse has a one track mind. Anything will distract him and when it does, he's gone. He's out to lunch. You see people distracting their horse with badly applied aid pressures all the time. They only use one aid or pressure too loudly out of all the aids it takes to communicate an understandable shape to the horse. That distracts the horse from all the other aids that could give him a clue about what to do and he misses the meaning of the communication. Bits are the biggest problem here.

When you communicate horse logically using methodically applied directional pressures that shape rather than attack the horse, you are training, not breaking. Punishment has no place in a training program. When a horse does something "wrong," that happened because you taught the horse to do it or you allowed the horse to do it. Punish yourself, not the horse.

Bucking, Shying and other Attention Deficit Disorders. Faith Meredith

There may be a few enthusiastic riders out there who look forward to the challenge of riding their horse through a fit of bucking or shying when they mount up. Most of us, however, would prefer that our horses never did either one while we are on their backs.

Whenever horses start behaving badly, we try to give them the benefit of the doubt. The horse that bucks may have a saddle or girth that’s pinching him uncomfortably. Or he may simply be high on life and feeling really good. The horse that shies may be hypersensitive to noise or reacting to the excitement of a windy day. Or he may be in need of a lot of patient “spook proofing” to build his confidence and recondition his responses to unfamiliar sights and sounds. The horse that backs full speed across the arena when his rider asks him to go forward may be trying to escape a severe bit or a rider’s unrelenting hands.

More often, however, behaviors like bucking, shying, standing up or that unrequested backing are the horse’s way of evading something the rider has asked him to do and that he understands perfectly well how to do. If the rider does not recognize what has happened and take measures to correct it immediately, the horse learns that evasion has its rewards. He doesn’t have to do whatever it was he didn’t want to do. Better yet, if he frightens his rider badly enough, the lesson may end altogether. What a deal!

In our training program, we take horses through four stages of learning. First we show them what we want them to do. When we’re sure that they understand what we are showing them, we begin to ask for it. When the horse consistently does what we ask, he has reached a level of sophistication where we can tell him what we want and expect to get the correct response every time. At this stage in the horse’s training, if he does not do what we tell him to do, we can enforce our request with stronger aids without upsetting his training program one bit.

If the horse bucks or backs because his equipment is hurting him, it would be unjust to enforce our request. However, if he’s bucking because he’s having a tantrum or shying at the barn cat out of high spirits and we fail to enforce our request, we reinforce the evasion. Today’s evasion quickly becomes tomorrow’s bad habit.

The best way to deal with an evasion is to ride the horse forward assertively. The idea is to channel the horse’s evasive energy into forward movement. The average rider finds this a scary thing to do when their horse is behaving badly, however. And if they don’t have an independent seat, they may not be capable of riding the horse forward assertively. Their fears allow the horse’s evasion to succeed and a bad habit gets started. Our students get a lot of experience riding horses like these when discouraged owners send their horses to Meredith Manor for “reform school.”

Upper level riders like a horse that’s bursting with energy because they can direct that energy into the horse’s work. Less skilled riders may want to make sure an energetic horse has plenty of turnout time during the day or at least before their riding sessions begin so the horse can spend its excess energy playing rather than evading. If your horse has developed a persistent evasion, you seek help from a trainer who can return him to ranks of solid citizens and improve your riding skills to build your confidence.

The best way to prevent the occasional evasion from turning into a regular bad habit is to keep the horse’s attention on you at all times. Attention is a learned habit for both the horse and the handler or rider. We start our young horses with a groundwork program we call heeding because its goal is to get the horse to pay complete attention to its handler at all times. At the same time, students learn to put their attention completely on their horse. If you are physically with your horse but mentally thinking about the what kind of pizza you want for dinner or what song you want to download from your computer, you are not paying attention to your horse. So why should he pay attention to you?

When you cultivate the habits of paying attention to your horse every moment you are with him on the ground and of bringing his attention back to you whenever it wanders, those habits carry over into your riding. To ride well, you must pay attention to every stride the horse takes, stride after stride. When you give your horse that level of attention, you start to automatically pick up on and correct those small losses of attention on the horse’s part that are the beginning of an evasion. Then a full blown evasion simply never happens.

Just like people, different horses will have different attention spans. Young horses have short attention spans just like young children. So their lessons should be short enough to end on a good note before they get too tired to pay attention any more. Some horses are more focused while others tend to get distracted easily. Developing concentration—both your own and that of your horse—is a skill that is just as important to good riding as developing balance or understanding the aids.

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Understanding Equine Emotions by Laura Thomson

Many horse owners wonder about equine emotions. Do horses feel? Do they have preferences? Are they unique in personality?

Since horses cannot talk, it can be difficult to discern equine emotions, and some researchers claim that animals are incapable of emoting. Even if they do think and feel, these professionals believe that they don't communicate their emotions outwardly. However, after spending time with horses, it is almost impossible to not believe in horse emotions.

Main Equine Emotions
The primary reason why it is difficult to understand how horses think and feel is that their emotions surface only briefly. Since the equine mind is not as well-developed as a human's, horses are not capable of holding on to an emotion for longer than a few seconds. This makes them very forgiving, but it doesn't mean that humans should not consider equine emotions in handling and training.

The primary equine emotions that humans are likely to witness are fear and excitement. These are linked directly to instincts and are highly visible in all animals. Since horses possess a particularly potent flight response to danger, for example, they exhibit signs of fear whenever they are threatened.

Similarly, equine emotions often include excitement, as horses are active and engaging animals. Excitement can range from a stallion running back and forth in his pasture, calling to a mare in heat, to a gelding who truly enjoys the equestrian discipline in which he is ridden. This equine emotion can be either positive or negative, depending on the situation.

Expressing Emotion
There are several ways to tell how horses think and fear simply by watching them on a regular basis. Rather than talking about their fears, desires, needs and other feelings, they communicate with body language. And unless one watches them closely, interpreting that body language can seem like a mystery.

Horses use all body parts to tell others how they think and feel. One can observe equine emotions by watching:

Ears Eyes Tail Haunches Neck
For example, when a horse is paying attention to something, his ears automatically flick in that direction. When he is scared, his eyes will widen and his tail will tuck. If he's excited, the tail goes up in the air, the eyes get big and the neck brings the head to attention.

Horses communicate irritation very well by kicking, biting, bucking, rearing and calling. Horses will be more likely to make equine emotions known when they are feeling an extreme of one emotion or another, such as rage or excitement.

It is also easy to tell what horses think and feel when they express jealousy. Often, when horses are grouped together in the stable and in the pasture, they will fight over who gets attention. This is especially true with horses that are very comfortable with humans.

Emotions and Safety
Why should anyone care about equine emotions? How does it help a horse owner to know how horses think and feel? Obviously, one cannot have a conversation with a horse in the traditional sense, so it seems silly to worry about how they feel at any given moment.

However, a basic understanding of horse emotions can keep a rider safe. If a horse owner knows how to read equine body language, he or she is far more likely to recognize the signs of impending danger. For example, a horse who flattens his ears and swivels his haunches to face a human is probably going to kick, most likely out of anger or fear.

Chair Jon Atkin


Building Your Horse's Confidence by Duane Isaacson

The most important consideration for a flight animal is having a safe place to be. It's your job as herd leader to provide him with that place.

Working as a horse behaviorist for Heart of the Redwoods Horse Rescue, I deal with all different types of horses with all different sorts of problems. Many of them have emotional difficulties to varying degrees, but it seems the ones that give people the most trouble are those horses that are overcome with fear. They have never found a safe place to be in the world of humans.What compounds the animal’s misfortune is human misinterpretation of the animal’s behavior. Humans take things personally, as if the horse were misbehaving just to make life difficult.

Comments reflecting this misinterpretation include:

he knows he’s not supposed to do that she’s just being stubborn he’s not listening to me today, and she does that just to make me mad. But, the horse is always right! He only acts in ways appropriate to his sense of self-preservation. He does not know he’s not supposed to do that.

If the horse is doing it, it’s because he thinks he should! Horses can be stubborn – when they are stubbornly defending themselves. If the horse is not listening to you, it’s because you are not worthy of being listened to – you’re boring her! Finally, horses never do anything just to make someone mad. They don’t harbor such vindictive and uniquely human defects. They are utterly honest and have no ulterior motives. No matter how much we would like to humanize the horse’s behavior, the horse is just a horse with one primary motivation – finding a safe place to be. His safety is foremost in his mind.

Safety comes before food, before sex, before play, and way before working and partnering with humans. In fact, all those needs must be met before the horse can focus on relating to a human being, and the feeling of safety must remain within the horse while he is doing whatever we may ask of him. Yet, horse people frequently ignore this fundamental fact.

No matter what job we want our horses to do for us our first task is to give them a safe place to be. Our second task is to keep them feeling safe while they do the job we ask of them. Tom Dorrance used to say, “They’ll get to feel like you could ride them up a telephone pole or down a badger hole.” They become that confident under saddle, if you keep them feeling safe.

That sounds easy enough, until you try it. How do you give the horse a safe place to be?

First, you must appear to your horse as a calm, assertive, and strong leader – in every situation. When the hurricane of terror sweeps him away, you must be the calm in the eye of the storm, totally unflappable, calm, assertive, and strong, even in the worst of storms. Second, you must direct the horse’s energy. You do not try to control or contain it. There are thousands of gadgets, tie-downs, severe bits, stud chains and the like, all designed to contain and control the horse. Using these devices is a recipe for disaster – an attempt to employ pain to control fear. Energy bottled up and contained with no easy outlet for release is the definition of a bomb. Horse people ride powder kegs all the time! The more you contain the energy, the higher the pressure builds, until it finally explodes. Do you know what riders say then? - It just came out of nowhere! It didn’t come out of nowhere. The energy was contained, wrapped up tight like a stick of dynamite -

- until the fuse ran out.

Direct the horse’s energy. Give it an outlet by giving him something productive to focus on. Use the energy – make something useful out of it. Shoot – most of the time we are kicking and poking, jabbing and spurring, trying to get some life in our horses – then when they get full of life we try to shut them down! When the energy is up – use it! Direct it! Be the calm, assertive leader and direct the horse’s energy. As you do, he will automatically become a calm, submissive follower, because you have given him “a safe place to be.”

The horse needs a safe place to be. It’s your job as a herd leader and horse owner to provide that safe place for him. Don’t get things confused. That safe place to be must be a place he sees as a safe place. See it from the horse’s point of view. Take just one example – a nice, cozy, well-bedded stall seems safe to us, but to the horse it’s a trap, a cave where predators hang out!

Look at things from the horse’s point of view.

See things the way your horse sees them and give him a Safe Place to Be.