It was easy to think I knew it all when I was a kid being reckless on my pony. After all, I reasoned, who could know more about my pony than me? The one she carted around over miles of daily travel time together. The parents and instructors didn’t have a clue what us kids were doing unsupervised as we disappeared into the woods and water for hours. Truly, they wouldn’t want to know. So, how could they tell me the best way to ride my trusted companion? Too bad I didn’t realize the opportunities presented to me then. As the years passed, I spent a couple of decades thinking it was my job to answer to clients. Now, I realize it’s best to look to the horse for guidance on decisions. Hopefully, you’ll find at least a few items in the list below useful as you tackle challenges with your particular equine. These points are in no order of importance. Take care, Nanette

Top 27 things I’ve discovered in 27 years of starting young horses under saddle


  1. Every horse is different – approaches that work well for one may not be appreciated by another.
  2. Including the horse in the conversation is critical if you want to forge a meaningful partnership.
  3. The more horses I encounter, the less I feel I know.
  4. Some horses are just plain crazy.
  5. Horses do have disabilities, but even when their brain isn’t wired right (or eyesight or hearing or learning process or coordination is different), you can usually reach them and forge a great relationship if you figure out ways to present requests in a way they can understand (while avoiding triggers that create haywire responses).
  6. Ground work is key in setting the stage for a good under saddle experience early and always.
  7. Domesticated horses are wired to seek out jobs that include humans when they’re introduced to training in a kind and responsive manner. This was a huge surprise. We fenced in 26 acres at Halcyon Acres and figured the farm herd would literally run for the hills. To our amazement, competition for training selection was even fiercer than posturing with food or shelter.
  8. Confidence is vital in working with any young horse. If you’re concerned or tentative, your horse will be too. Slowing it down to a pace where both of you can proceed to the next step with comfort and ease is the smartest approach to reaching any training objectives.
  9. There’s a big difference between confidence and arrogance. Being able to ride out an explosion becomes less of a feather when you start to realize you created the horse’s angst.
  10. Incredible partnerships can result from some of the most difficult horses. Alphas will give you more than you imagine if you’re able to gain THEIR respect.
  11. Respect goes both ways. If you don’t know how to ask for your horse’s respect, you’ll never succeed in telling him you deserve it.
  12. Horses never forget but they’re quick to forgive.
  13. Formula training is a horrible idea if you seek to build a confident, comfortable and happy horse.
  14. Most true alpha mares don’t ask for the job, nor do they rule with violence. They’re followed by choice and rarely command. Consider this when you want to be seen as a leader in your horse’s eyes.
  15. Most horses that are hostile and domineering in (domesticated) herd environments are afraid. It’s rare that the meanest horse in the pasture will gain leadership designation. They may eat or drink first and might even claim shelter as their own (until the weather gets really nasty – then they’ll quickly be shown their place in the pecking order) but you’ll usually see horses in the herd prefer to avoid them rather than choose to follow.
  16. Observing how horses behave turned out in groups provides valuable information in crafting a training strategy to reach particular personality penchants.
  17. Horses can be better at teaching lessons to a young equine than humans. Turn the right instructor out with a cocky colt, timid youngster or violent filly and she’ll accomplish in hours (or minutes) what you haven’t been able to achieve in months – and it transfers to human interactions.
  18. Fifteen minutes is more than enough time for early training lessons with most young horses. Alphas require calm insistence when they get belligerent (which can take hours some days), but for almost all others, an easy learning experience they can understand quickly will accomplish quicker, more positive results that last a lifetime than drilling a horse for an hour or more.
  19. Some young horses process information better if they have a day or two to think about it. Consider training every-other-day (or less frequently) for a horse that seems to frustrate easily or view training time with uneasiness.
  20. All you do influences how a horse will respond to training requests. You’re communicating with a horse when you lead him, groom him, enter his stall, come to him in the pasture or paddock, interface with other horses or spend any time in his space. Everything counts.
  21. Food treats are a lousy way to train (bribe) a horse. Rewards are great, but try finding a favorite scratch spot, a word and voice tone that signals appreciation, a favorite place to enjoy together or an activity he relishes as a game at the end of a job request well done.
  22. Horses are safer if you encourage them to be included in the training decisions. Sure, you can condition a horse to be a mindless servant, but a thinking horse is a smarter bet when danger strikes and you need their help.
  23. Peculiar horses teach you more about effective communications than normal ones.
  24. Hills and trails are a better early training ground than arenas.
  25. If you instill a love for training in a young horse he’ll always be happy to see you.
  26. One horse’s idea of attention can be an annoying and pestering for another.
  27. Young horses can teach you more than people about effective training and partnering communication strategies – if you pay attention.