Have you ever seen someone working with horses who just seems to get them? They work with almost no contact and little glances heading the horse’s way gets big, correct reactions. These people correct when they should, and the horse actually listens! This is called horsemanship.
It’s not that these horse people have a “gift,” though horsemanship comes more naturally to some people. It’s because these people follow simple rules of horsemanship and speak clearly to their horses, avoiding the drama that gets horses confused.
But horsemanship doesn’t have to be some big secret. Check out this list of 20 horsemanship “rules” to live by that will transform your relationship with your horse.
*these horsemanship “rules” are not in any order of importance*
Be A Parent, NOT A Best Friend
Would you allow your child to push, step on, or yell over you to get someone else’s attention? No? Then why do people who own horses allow their 1,000 lb. horse to do this? The same kind of relationship, respect, and attention that you demand from your horse as you do from your child.
Speak horse, NOT human
Take a moment to watch horses interact within their herd out in a pasture. If you watch their interactions, everything is give and take, black and white, alpha and beta, pressure and release. The alpha mare flicks an ear and the rest of the herd scatters. She steps towards any other horse and they step away. The same horse that won’t work for you quickly scatters away from the alpha-mare in the pasture. It’s not about aggression or power, it’s simply about respect.
Keep It Simple, NOT Complicated
K.I.S.S. – Keep it Simple Stupid. We often try to overcomplicate how horses think and interact. The simpler and easier you can present information to a horse, the quicker they will be able to understand. Nothing a horse does is complicated. It’s a series of tasks and maneuvers stacked on top of each other to create the end goal. Advanced horsemanship isn’t something that happens overnight or that is created in learning one move.
Treat The Horse Like The Horse You Want Them To Be, NOT The Horse They Are
If you treat a horse like a victim due to past circumstances, it will always be a victim. Ask for the same respect and behavior that you’d ask from your perfect horse.
Use Persistence, NOT Power
If you are having to physically work to do something with your horse, you need to stop. Try a different approach. You will never win the physical batter. The power and weight of a horse surpasses humans 10:1. By trying to stronghold a horse, you’re creating a bigger battle. Try pulsating pressure in this type of situation. Make sure to give large, immediate releases when you get the result you are looking for. The bigger and more immediate release, the quicker the horse will learn. Give the release and then go right back to it for repetition of the proper behavior.
You’re A Trainer, NOT Just A Rider
Every time that you interact with a horse you are training that horse. Whether you’re feeding it or competing it, they are learning. They learn from every interaction that they have with people sometimes good things and sometimes not so much. So be intentional with everything.
Release Of Pressure, NOT Over-Adding Pressure
If a horse isn’t doing something that you want, think more about giving big releases. Release at the slightest try instead of adding more pressure to get it perfect. A lot of stubborn horses only get more stubborn with added pressure. This type of horse does better with big releases for the slightest try in the right direction.
Set A Goal, NOT A Timeline
Not all horses are the same and the amount of time it takes you to teach each horse varies. Not all horses learn the same way. You have to be concrete about your goal, but flexible in your teaching to get there. Don’t ever feel pressure that someone says it will take you “x” time to do a maneuver with your horse. This will vary, not only by the horse but by the ability of the rider. As long as you’re willing to figure it out and learn, there isn’t much out there you can’t teach a horse.
Start With A Difficulty Level NOT Above Your Comfort Level
If the horse’s difficulty level is above your comfort level, you will not fix problems you have with your horse. The horse learns from the release of these bad behaviors and continues to get more difficult. In this situation, it is best to either seek assistance from someone who has a comfort level that can ride this horse through this difficulty. Consider sending your horse for training or purchasing a horse that is ready for your current ability level.
It’s A Commitment, NOT A Hobby
Owning a horse is a commitment, not just a hobby. If you want to have a good relationship and riding career with your horse, start with making sure the horse is receiving the proper nutrition, vet work, and conditioning for the environment you want to use your horse in. Often times the issues that horses have are something as basic as being underfed, having gastric issues like ulcers, sharp teeth that need dental, improper equipment, or being unconditioned for the task at hand. These are very simple checklists prior to working on any issue a horse may have.
Set Up For Success, NOT Failure
If you don’t feel comfortable doing something or going somewhere with your horse or if you feel like you are second-guessing it, seek or ask for help from someone who doesn’t to get you to that point. A negative experience will only set back you, your horse, and your confidence. Preparation is the key to success.
It Should Always Be Fun, NOT Scary
If you’re not having fun on every single ride you take with your horse, and you’re not getting paid to take those rides, you need to change something. The reason you get a horse, love a horse, and take care of them is to be able to have an enjoyable time with them. Evaluate your specific situation and consider getting help to train the horse, sending it for training, or buying a horse that you don’t have to worry about fixing while you’re riding.
Command Respect, NOT Fear
There is a huge difference in teaching a horse to respect your space and your body than there is to teach a horse to fear you. Establishing respect is as simple as asking the horse to back out of your space without any physical pressure. If you are always ready to turn and surprise the horse when they aren’t paying attention, they will quickly learn to keep an eye and an ear on you at all times. This will change the game in safety!
Use Proper Equipment, Not Breakable Tack
If the equipment you are training with breaks for any reason, your horse will learn from that release of pressure. Everything from the quality of halter and lead rope to the off billets on the saddle and tie ring or post at the barn, little parts of your horse’s daily routine can easily become a big problem in the wrong situation Find quality products to work your horse in.
Teach From Cold, NOT Hot And Sweaty
Horses have the amazing quality of being sensitive. To some trainers and horseman, they don’t see this as a positive quality, but it makes it to where you are able to train a horse with such clarity. Imagine if you went out and ran a mile (very similar to the traditional natural horsemanship of wearing a horse out to get what you want) and then tried to sit in a classroom to learn Calculus, it wouldn’t work and you wouldn’t learn. By working the horses from the cold, they are in the best position possible to learn and enjoy doing so.
Tie And Stand, Not Stand And Be The Tie
The greatest gift you can ever teach your horse is to stand tied. Not only because they understand how to give to pressure, but also because they learn to be calm and patient. Remember, a horse who does not/cannot tie, will also be the horse you cannot stop or control in a situation where they get uncomfortable in hand or in the saddle. You are not doing your horse any favors by always holding them in hand or tying to something that gives them releases for getting uncomfortable and trying to do the wrong thing.
You’re The Kamikaze Of The Horse World, NOT Just A Trail Rider
Those who plan to take their horse into the show ring or competition know exactly what situation they are taking their horse into, including the crowds, fencing, footing, distractions, etc. As a trail rider, you are saying that no matter what happens when you take that horse out into the wilderness, that your horse is going to take care of you and keep you safe.
Learn To Ride On A Loose Rein, NOT Constant Contact
Imagine your best friend Becky who just talks and talks and no one ever listens, but your friend Rose (who never talks) opens her mouth to say something and everyone stops to listen. This is the same way your relationship with your horse goes. If you always have constant contact with no release and constant talking with your hands, they get numb to what they are actually supposed to listen to. By training and getting comfortable doing anything on a loose rein, your horse is ready to actively listen anytime that you touch the reins or pick them upfor any reason.
Flex In Motion, NOT Just At A Standstill
A steering wheel is great, but in a parked car, it isn’t very relevant. You want to make sure that your horse’s ability to flex and give their head can also work while in motion.
Get On And Stand Still, NOT Get On And Go
If you get on and go, get on and go then it won’t be long before they go before you get on. Practice getting on your horse, flexing one time in each direction at a standstill without your horse moving their feet, and wait for one of the three signs of relaxation – let out a deep breath, drop their head below their withers, or prop a back leg to rest. Only then should you continue on your ride forward.
What do you think? Did we miss any horsemanship “rules?”