The Secret that keeps Horses Trainable!
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.