People trained by their horse- learning to work around our horses

When I come across individuals who are experiencing difficulty in earning their horse’s respect, both when on the ground and when in the saddle I try to review with a student how they catch, lead, go out the gate, groom, mount, etc. their horse, to search for where the unwanted behavior is beginning. 

Here are some common remarks:

I let him graze while I shut the gate, so that I can shoo off his pasture mate.

I have to tie him at ___________ so that he won’t paw or worry about _____________.

I have to mount him here; otherwise he might try to __________.

I have to hide the halter/bribe with treat, so that he doesn’t run off.

I have to put him in the horse trailer ______________ so that he doesn’t cause a problem.

You get the idea.  In all of these scenarios, the horse through unwanted, dramatic and perhaps dangerous behavior, has “taught” the owner how to avoid a “situation” by pacifying the horse and by limiting the human’s requests or expectations of their horse.

All too often, the horse does not initially “come with” problems; but when trying to be nice to their horse, owners unknowingly are teaching their horse how to take advantage of them.  In the beginning the horse’s behavior may not seem “all that bad” but it can soon evolve to the point where the horse has become unreasonable or difficult to deal with.  And in many situations, people don’t search for help until the horse has caused harm or scared the human.

A lot of horse owners have limited time with their horses and many people are not exposed to multiple horses and so their perspective and understanding is limited.  I on the other hand more often than not am “called in” AFTER worst case scenarios have occurred and see how the inconsistency of owners’ interaction with their horses can create major problems.

I cannot recall how many times over the years as I try to offer students an overview of their behavior (or lack of) and link together the seemingly “separate” incidents their horse has presented, that an owner has commented that they are realizing they are behaving the same towards their dog, children and spouse.

I often use the analogy that if you had a child who asked for something and you replied “No,” but if the child kept persisting until you finally “gave in” and said, “Yes,” you have then taught the child to wear you out with future requests, until you give in to their desires.  The same goes for horses and owners.

A combination of a lack of awareness and understanding, not being equipped with quality “tools” to communicate with their horse, and often due to time constraints, rarely do horse folks follow through with an initial request of their horse.  So just as with a child, the horse quickly learns how to “wear down” their owner, until the horse gets what it wants.

The following are a few of what I have found to be underlying issues contributing to dangerous horses:

The owner’s initial desire to be their horse’s “friend,” rather than leader.  Many cases of trying to be nice, often lead to the human being taken advantage of.

Owners not understanding that they can have a “standard” when they work with their horse, such as the horse being respectful of the human’s personal space, learning to wait patiently, physically responding softly to a human’s communication, etc.

Humans are distracted whether it is from stress of life, work, family, etc. more often than not the person is not mentally present when working with their horse.  And the animal senses it immediately.

A lot of people tend to live in the “gray area” rather than operate in the “black and white-ness” of horses.  A horse is either mentally and emotionally okay or he isn’t.  When he asks for guidance, direction or support, and the human offers a “gray answer” it doesn’t help the horse believe in the human’s leadership, and so the horse takes over in decisions made and with his actions.

Often in dramatic scenarios human try to react passively, this doesn’t help the horse.  And many humans don’t believe a situation can get as dramatic or dangerous as quickly as it does.

People often misinterpret what is typically classified as “bad, stubborn, and resistant” behavior displayed by a horse, when really the animal is asking for help.

So the next time you experience or hear of someone complaining about their horse’s unwanted behavior, take a moment to assess both the person and horse from the beginning of their interaction on any given day.  You’ll probably start to notice certain behavioral patterns in both the person and horse, which can often hold the answers of what needs to be initially addressed in order to get a change in the horse’s behavior.

The moment to address the unwanted behavior is not when the horse is at his peak of emotional and mental stress, but rather when he is still reasonable and has the mental availability to “hear” what the human is offering.

It does take thought, effort and experimentation to learn how to influence changes in our horses which people tend to resist trying.  But if you keep offering the same communication in the same way, your horse is going to keep “answering” with unwanted responses.

Good Luck,



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