As you likely know already, horses have at least 10 times our strength. If they also had our intelligence, they would probably be riding us humans. Fortunately, horses cannot reason like human beings and therefore will never have superior intelligence.
Since they don't have reasoning abilities, horse training becomes a challenge because you now have to understand how their intelligence works. You have to know what works and why to really be effective.
The biggest secret that makes it so we can train a horse is the fear of pain and/or punishment that our creator instilled in their mind. We can use that built-in fear to our advantage and teach the horse what we want him to do.
The trick is to not push the horse too far with his built-in fear. We must never abuse this knowledge because it will backfire. Once it backfires then we will have problems with the horse we're training.
How does it backfire? Let's take a novice horse owner who fulfills his dream to have horses and train them. Unless he's studied a horse's nature he will probably get into big trouble with his horse because of the delicate balance of the horse's built-in fear.
For instance, the very first lesson you must teach your horse is to have confidence in you. If your horse doesn't have confidence in you, he will neither trust you. Both are enormously important to horse training.
Think of confidence in this way. If you're a child who's just seen a scary movie on TV you probably want to sleep with Mom and Dad for the night. They'll protect you. You'll be safe with them. Hopefully, you know these things to be true because you have experienced it with your own parents.
But if you didn't feel like they'd keep you safe you wouldn't have confidence in them, would you?
A horse's thinking is similar to that. He must have confidence in you when you're working with him.
A horse can be taught confidence in different ways. I prefer to the Jesse Beery confidence lesson.
Jesse Beery, a famous horse trainer from the 1800's, uses his confidence lesson as the beginning place of training his horses. He said, "This is the most important lesson of all." To learn more about Jesse Beery go to:
Interestingly, it's also the easiest.
How nice it is that the most important lesson is the easiest to do.
Essentially, the confidence lesson takes advantage of (but never abused) the horse's built-in fear. In a way, the fear is harnessed and carefully used to get the horse's confidence in you. It's akin to getting a child to watch a scary movie and being there to protect him or her when they get scared.
When the horse experiences the fear, you're there to save the day. You make it so he depends on you to be his superhero.
When the horse gets fearful, you have to be there to tell him everything is okay. You do that through petting him. Talking to him in a soothing manner. Using a pleasant tone of voice.
I have a friend, Gene, who loves his horses but when they don't do certain things he think they should do, he punishes them. (By punishing, I don't mean he hits or whips. A horse can feel punished just by a threatening tone of voice for example)
Anyway, I rode with a group of people one day and Gene was in our group. We came upon running water. You could call it a small river or a big creek. It was about 30 feet wide and varied in depth from a foot to three feet.
Every horse crossed the water but Gene's. Gene got so upset that his horse wouldn't cross that he began booting his horse in the ribs. That poor horse wanted to comply with Gene's request but the running water scared him. The horse was spooking.
The horse paced back and forth, occasionally sniffing the water but never crossed it. The whole time Gene's legs were wildly kicking the horse trying to get him to cross - yet the horse remained spooky.
What Gene didn't realize is the horse was fearful and needed his help. Anytime a horse is fearful of a place or a thing he should be reassured with pleasant, soothing voice sounds and/or petting him.
If you do what Gene did, you just gave your horse another thing to fear. Not only does that horse fear crossing running water, now he fears he's going to be punished for it. And it's likely that anytime the horse comes upon running water both fears will crop up and Gene will have a horse that would like to comply but his instincts are so powerful that he probably won't (unless Gene figures out what to do)
Think of it from the horse's point of view.
You're a horse that cannot reason and you're instincts are self-preservation. What keeps your self-preservation in check is the built-in fear. Fear makes you run from danger. Fear is what keeps you alive. If you don't understand something you fear it even more.
Now knowing all that, imagine you're the horse and you're standing at the edge of the river. You won't cross it because you think there's danger in it somehow. On top of that, someone is on your back, pissed off and kicking you in the ribs because you won't go forward.
Not only are you scared of the water, but now you're getting kicked in the ribs and feeling punished. You want to be obedient and go forward but your instinct is too powerful and tells you not to.
It would be like telling a scared child who just saw a scary movie that he had to sleep in his own damn room.
But what if Gene had understood his horse was scared? What if he helped his horse deal with his fear.
How would he do this?
When Gene and his horse approached the water he could have spoke to his horse in a pleasant, soothing manner. When the horse was getting scared Gene should have recognized it as fear and not as disobedience.
He could have petted his horse to reassure him all is okay. He could have talked to his horse in a pleasant manner. He could have let his horse sniff the water and check it out on his own.
Instead, the horse was now confused, scared, feeling punished, less trusting of his rider, and who knows what else.
But if Gene would've recognized the fear in his horse then he could have helped his horse overcome it. Gene lost the awesome opportunity to gain a significant amount of the horse's confidence and friendship in that river scene. Too bad too. That's a beautiful paint horse.
Andy Curry is a nationally known horse trainer and author of several best selling horse training and horse care books. For information visit his website at www.horsetrainingandtips.com. He is also the leading expert on Jesse Beery's horse training methods which can be seen at www.horsetrainingandtips.com/Jesse_Beerya.htm.