Sign-up for our newsletter to receive news, updates and more from Nanette Levin!

Young Horse Training

Horses and pressure – how about making it parley?

It seems you can’t follow an online group thread pertaining to horses, read an equine blog or talk to a horse trainer these days without a comment that references pressure. Those who use the term seem so clear in the meaning (most don’t really get it – but have adopted the buzz word others have coined or watched a DVD to make them experts). The idiom is used so freely these days, it’s become the catch-all to most horse problems (simply apply or release). I don’t like the term pressure because it implies force and is too nebulous in its overuse. A better concept to grasp (and it accomplishes a better end) is listening.

When trainers or product pushers use the word pressure with horses, they’re usually referring to space or contact issues. The problem is, solutions tend to be given as pat answers for every horse, and that just doesn’t work. The only way pressure is effective with horses is when it’s coupled with quick responses that consider your horse’s reactions and needs. Pressure is such a dictatorial term and seems strange in a horseman’s vocabulary.  So, if you don’t like listening, how about parlay?

When most use the term pressure, it involves negative reinforcement that causes the horse to seek to avoid the experience. Whether it’s getting in their space in an uncomfortable way, applying leg, seat or hand to encourage the horse to do what you want so the annoyance stops or sending him away, it’s a process that relies on avoidance for results. That’s fine when the end goal is positive reinforcement, or the release. Unfortunately, few seem to recognize that you get the response from eliminating the pressure as the reward and incentive.

Thinking horses shine with approaches that make training a game you and the horse play together. To do this effectively, you need to hear the horse in ways that show him you recognize and consider his input. Wouldn’t you rather have a horse that can jump in to contribute to solutions when you screw up (it happens to all of us) than one who has been conditioned to shut down and wait for your instructions on all decisions? This doesn’t happen when pressure is applied as a means to teach a horse to conform to your will.

If you look up pressure, synonyms include force, anxiety, demands, burden, coerce and bully. Ironically, while this term is thrown out there as a kind training tool, these words accurately describe what you do to a horse when applying formula training techniques offered as pat answers to all problems. This doesn’t usually make for happy horses or humans. It’s a bad term for what is used by most horsemen to describe body language, but is understandably misunderstood by the novice masses. Let’s say we start a movement to replace the term pressure with a better word more easily interpreted by the uninitiated? I’ve thrown out listen and parley as possible alternatives, but imagine there are better alternatives. What ideas do you have for a clearer way to describe guiding a horse in training?

9 quick tips to catch a horse

  1. Keep to a routine with training, feeding, turn-out and handling. Horses will be more comfortable and cooperative if you help them by adhering to a schedule.
  2. Have a young horse that’s started asserting himself with a refusal to come in at night (or in the morning during bug season)? Call his bluff and leave him out – alone. Ensure he has ample hay and water, but withhold grain until he decides it’s time to be led to the barn for a meal. It’s amazing how quickly this trick works with most cocky youngsters coming of age. Most decide to run to the gate when they see you the next time.
  3. Are you dealing with a horse that’s aggressive with the herd and now tries to control you by refusing to be caught? Send her away (this works particularly well when you’ve given hay to the herd) and don’t let her near the other horses. Often, in a matter of minutes, she’ll be begging for you to let her come to you. In fact, this technique is quite effective with most horses. The key is not to approach them – keep driving them away from you until they decide to ask for relief.
  4. Call horses by name. Granted, most of the equine scholars cite studies indicating auditory cues are unnatural for horses, but we haven’t found that to be the case with our herd. If we need help managing others in the pasture, we have a few go-to-gals that will gallop to our location when they hear their name. This works well too if you’re trying to cull a particular horse out of the pasture and seek to avoid a group charge to the gate.
  5. Use the lead mare to help direct the herd. This isn’t necessary the one most would classify as the alpha (aggressive and hostile with the herd), but, instead, the one you see all others following. Moving horses to another location, bringing them to the barn, or catching a selected equine is a lot easier once you have the lead horse in hand.
  6. Loose horse? Grab another to lead them home. Whether on their back or in hand, often simply grabbing another herd member to lure one who refuses to be caught back to the barn or pasture is the easiest solution.
  7. Call on the herd to correct bad behavior. Often, it’s easier to let horses school or guide a bad actor. Whether you use others to discipline or serve as an example, getting creative in how you exploit your equines to help address a challenge can save a lot of time and headaches. When you’re dealing with an obnoxious, arrogant horse, sometimes merely moving them to a herd that knocks them down a few pegs will resolve any prior poor attitude, including trouble catching the horse. Once a young, cocky colt has spent a few days with some older boys – or a pregnant mare – you’ll be amazed how happy they are to come to you with a much more humble demeanor.
  8. Reward your horse for coming to you. Find a spot where he enjoys being rubbed, give him a few minutes of grazing on lush grass, use your voice to express appreciation or find something your horse really enjoys (preferably not something that turns him into Pavlov’s proof positive that we should be producing canine equines) to recognize his effort in a way he appreciates and can note your pleasure.
  9. Make training fun for the horse so he wants to be engaged. If you listen to your horse and ensure lessons are interesting and rewarding for both of you, your horse will likely be eager to see you and go for a ride.

Whisper, shout or click – is your system hearing the horse?

Friday’s Opinion

“A gun gives you the body, not the bird.” -Henry David Thoreau, naturalist and author (1817-1862)

Getting a horse to do what you want is usually a pretty easy task. Most horses succumb to treats, threats, routine or demands if they understand your message. Still, there’s a difference between compliance and engagement. Today, there are a lot of training systems being touted as universal. Sadly, when template solutions are applied without regard to the particular horse’s needs, they tend to diminish the equine soul. Do you want a horse that responds to your demands, or a partner that is ready, eager and able to jump in and protect you when you face trouble or err? If your goal is building a partnership, consider how you can make your horse feel a part of the team.

Is it really a good thing to have a horse licking and chewing prior to turning on the training juice?

Kudos must go to those who have spent time with wild herds and offered to share their observations and experiences. They’ve given us valuable information to apply as we interact with our horses.

Domesticated equines, however, seem to have a different dynamic than those born free – at least when it comes to rapport building with humans and horses. Certainly, it’s valuable and useful to look at what others have learned from integrating with wild herds, but what seems to be missing from these teachings and lessons is the realization that each horse is different in how he learns and responds to human interaction. Sure, you can model training around creating a submissive horse that will respond to you demands, but is that the best way to develop outstanding team-players and performers?

The most respected domesticated alpha mare seems to earn a following with an understanding, protective and fair approach through a calm confidence that earns vs. demands respect.
It’s a rare moment when she asserts her prowess – usually done only to intervene if another is being victimized or to respond definitively when being attacked – as kindness and wisdom is her norm. Those that rule by violence and or intimidation and achieve submission get their way when it comes to first dibs on feed and water, but they’re avoided, usually feared and rarely followed.

This begs the question – what kind of horse do you want to develop? Sure, you can gain compliance with techniques designed to present you as an inflexible, hostile, demanding alpha – but do you really want to train your horse to drearily accept your demands? Wouldn’t it be better to foster a relationship that responds to the horse’s indicated needs and learning preferences? It might take a little more time, but the associated mutual respect you build will last for the lifetime of your equine partnership.

I see young foals licking and chewing when they approach some of the older horses in the herd (certainly not all – it’s the aggressive ones they feel a need to placate), but don’t see this from horses after they reach a year or two of maturity. Of course, one of my rules for permanent tenants here is that they get with the program – and part of that includes getting along with the gang. So, if a new member decides to be unnecessarily violent and the herd isn’t able to force a behaviorial correction, this critter is the last to be brought in from the paddock and the last to go out. If that doesn’t send the message and they continue to harass unnecessarily, they’re provided walking papers. It’s a rare equine that doesn’t get the message and come around quickly between the herd help and the human ‘alpha’ component.

Dominating trainers will sometimes prevail

Granted, some seem to go too far in the horse consciousness mantra, but those who continue to see violence, pain and domination as a good way to create willing and effective equine performers hit the other extreme. There’s a big difference between standing your ground and getting a horse to comply through fear, pain or immobilization.

Sadly, some who see horses as an animal to be conquered and beaten into submission are successful equine professionals. Some horses will succumb to mean handling and go on to be standout performers. Of course, this begs the question, how special could they have been if handled with kindness and understanding?

Do you click to deliver equine treats?

Few horses wag their tails in anticipation of a food reward. Most will, however, learn to do your bidding once conditioned to expect a treat for a trick. Sure, this provides a quick and easy way to ‘train’ your horse to ‘perform,’ but at what cost?

Domesticated dogs seem to relish the idea of begging for food, but horses tend to prefer to choose to bond with a human that offers some understanding and allows the horse to decide they’ve earned respect. Personally, I’ve found there’s few greater rewards than those that come from allowing a horse to be heard and understood in a way that makes them part of the conversation and associated training decisions. I’m not suggesting letting the horse walk all over you (far from it – few horses respect a push-over, let alone one who defers the decision making to the horse due to fear), but, instead, an approach where the human is steadfast, yet observant enough to respond to what the horse is trying to tell him. Sometimes, with the more challenging cases, the message may be ‘I’ve been taught to hate humans and want to hurt you,’ but even with those extreme scenarios, treats and clicks may gain compliance, but they won’t create a partnership that’s reciprocal. You need to decide if you want to ‘break’ a horse or ‘find’ him.

Do you want to really hear your horse?

There are a lot of books, DVDs, television programs and clinics that boast a method that will work for all horses and all people – if you do it right (experience a failure and it’s your onus).  What I’ve found in working with various horses over the years (and sure, I’ve logged a lot of mistakes along the way), is that the best training approach for every equine is customized. Some horses are timid. Others are scared, confused, frustrated, bored – whatever. It seems the majority that come to Halcyon Acres deemed dangerous are merely alphas that have either been permitted to rule by intimidation and/or misunderstood. In each case, spending time on the ground getting to know the horse and building a rapport pays huge dividends once you hop in the saddle. It’s important to try to recognize the issues your horse may be carrying as baggage from prior experiences along with developing a keen eye for concerns and issues he may be facing. Be a firm, kind, confident and responsive leader and you’ll find your horse may surprise you with how talented he can be once appreciated as an individual and given the opportunity to express his penchants.

The next time you feel the need to preach to another (or your horse) a proven method that is universal, consider hearing what your horse may be trying to tell you. Listen a little bit and you may find a gem you never imagined.

You can possess the horse fully – but do you want just a body with an empty heart? Some like trophies that allow them to boast dominating accomplishments. Those who strive for horsemanship, however, understand the greatness that can come from encouraging and engaging the personality of the particular horse with approaches that let him live fully and individually with a human partner that listens and understands.

Somtimes horses are just plain crazy

Sneak Peak excerpt from Turning Challenging Horses into Willing Partners. Due for public release in 2010.


Red came to us after having been “broke” by a girl who had little experience and less heart. She gave up after this four-year-old filly began flipping immediately following her hopping in the saddle. Apparently this went on for awhile, and this steed learned she could immediately and successfully end the lesson

with this strategy.

We spent some time on the ground with Red, as it was apparent she needed some preliminary guidance that had been skipped. We also wanted to establish communication benchmarks. She was actually responsive and compliant when we proceeded to under-saddle lessons in the round pen. Once we moved out of the confines and routine of this space, however, the flipping penchant resurfaced. In this case, we were able to step off as she went past perpendicular and hop back into the saddle while she was still on the ground, staying with her as she returned to her feet. That was the last time she flipped.

We had another week or so of good progress with this filly before her behavior deteriorated, and this time, she decided to lay down after we stirruped up. She was flat out on the ground and wouldn’t move. We sat on her neck (this is usually referred to as sitting on their heads, but that’s not really where you want to put your weight – horses cannot get up without their head and neck to use for momentum and the back of the neck is the safest place to be for both you and your horse) to immobilize her with a strategy designed to discourage this behavior in the future.

Horses tend to panic when they can’t get up and trapping an intentional flipper immediately generally teaches these horses to never go there again. She didn’t care. Red lay there, on the ground, perfectly content being stuck. This was a first. There was something really wrong with this filly. We didn’t have

enough information to determine if there was some major underlying physical problem that was causing this behavior (she traveled sound and seemed to be unencumbered by pain, but we didn’t dig too deep) or if she just had a major screw loose.

Either way, this was one of the few we quickly determined was best to toss back. We called the owners and admitted defeat.

They decided to forgo any future starting attempts and bred her instead. We’ll let someone else tackle that progeny beauty when it’s time to start riding lessons.

Turning Challenging Horses into Willing Partners sneak peak

Turning Challenging Horses into Willing Partners due for public release in 2010. Discounted bulk pre-publication orders now being taken.



Chapter Eight

Sometimes they’re just plain crazy

On occasion, you really do find yourself burdened with a nut. While preliminary bad breaking definitely exacerbates problems, when you strip it all down and finally get past the baggage, there are times you must admit that the horse you’re working with is simply just not right in the head. Interestingly, these critters can be very predictable in what sets them off, but how they react is never a given. Surprisingly, they can usually handle distractions and circumstances that should make a sane horse blow, but freak out with stuff that shouldn’t be a concern.

Crazy horses rarely give you an opportunity to completely relax. There will always be issues that make them occasionally frustrating and often dangerous. Horses that are totally governed by fear rarely consider their own welfare when reacting, and this is a common trait of equines who are nuts. Mean horses are always limited with what they will do by a self-preservation instinct, making them at least predictable in how far they will go. Not so with crazy horses. They’ll crash through fences, impale themselves, flip, run off on unsafe ground, and have occasions when they go deaf, blind, and oblivious to immovable objects that cross their panicked path, while reacting to ghosts in ways that make no sense.

Sometimes, you’ll encounter a psycho that has so much talent it seems worth the effort. Usually, it isn’t. Still, we’ve had some success with crazies, and some failures too. Most, ultimately, leave you shaking your head on the time and money spent to get them two strides forward and ten steps back, wondering if the sanity issue extends beyond your equine’s behavior and if there’s a white jacket in your size.

While it seems prudent to try to recover your investment, sometimes it’s best to cut your losses. Time and money gone is just plain lost — and putting good money after bad is rarely a good idea.

If you’re determined to proceed, the anecdotes below may help guide you in your quest.

Flash — hurdler extraordinaire

Flash was a narrow, five-year-old, 15.1-hand Thoroughbred that somehow wound up as a lesson horse at an area riding stable. He was a terror with students, running off at will and occasionally unseating the brave kids who dared to try to conquer him. One of our former riding instructors asked us to take a look at this horse. She was considering buying him. He was deemed unsuitable as a lesson horse (imagine that) and was on the block. We hopped on him in the arena, and after a brief flatwork primer, pointed him at a 2’6” line (there was something about this horse that squealed natural talent over fences). He cleared the fences easily, correctly, and with a ton of finesse. He had never jumped. We leapt off immediately and said “buy him.”

She didn’t, and we landed the prize for $500.

The next three years netted unimaginable nightmares. We figured he had just been mishandled, poorly started, and conditioned to react inappropriately. Certainly, with patient and skilled guidance, he’d transform into a cooperative steed. We were wrong.

We’d spend minutes or hours working with this horse one day, progressing to a new understanding, only to find those lessons not only lost but problems magnified by the next day.

Compounding the frustration was the fact that this horse would willingly clear jumps of any size placed before him, but was out of control after hurdling the fence, not to mention during flat exercises. We progressed to the point where we were competing in events, and if we didn’t get eliminated in dressage (this was a common occurrence — he had no qualms about hopping over the arena perimeter, particularly when the judges used a horse trailer for shelter), we were sure to go clean during cross-country and stadium, almost always finishing in the ribbons. Consequently,

we were thrilled if we were able to complete the first phase. We were also convinced his incredible talent over fences made it worth the temporary embarrassment and extreme frustration borne while we worked through his issues.

Turning Challening Horses into Willing Partners sneak peak book excerpt

Sneak Peak excerpt from Turning Challenging Horses into Willing Partners. Due for public release in 2010.

Horse Sense for sour equines

• Rule out physical issues that may be causing pain and the horse’s associated frustration in his failure to communicate.

• Do not continue to push a sore horse, or you will only make him sourer and could turn him mean. Give him the help and the time required to heal prior to resuming training.

• Figure out whether routine or varied activities are the preference of your sour horse and give him what makes him happiest.

• Be patient, flexible, and accommodating with a sour horse when their behavior is justified. Conversely, if you’ve taught a horse to be sour by rewarding bad behavior, resolve to stop the pattern or get some help.

• Try getting a horse out of the routine with some fun activities, trail rides, and long walks if his sour behavior is likely due to too much of the same grind. Some sour horses will bounce back pretty quickly once relieved of the drill that has made them bored and cranky.

• It is rarely effective to discipline a sour horse for his behavior. If a horse has come to resent riding, punishing them aboard only reinforces this conviction. Instead, try finding an easy activity they enjoy and rewarding them for their cooperation. Once you’ve gained a rapport, reintroduce them to the discipline training in lighter doses and with greater rewards for their achievements.

• Horses that have turned sour rarely become standout competitors (unless you change their career to something they learn to enjoy), nor fun pleasure horses. If your aim is to put them back into the routine that created their sour nature (unless this is due to pain you address and correct), you are likely to be disappointed. Consider a different project.

• Find some riding activity that’s really fun for your sour horse and reward him with this after every positive response to a lesson (this could be trail riding, jumping, riding with a companion horse, going fast, going slow, a long rein, a swim in a pond – each horse is different and you need to figure out what makes your horse happiest).

• Know when to call it quits. Sour horses are some of the toughest to turn and sometimes there is no reward for the effort. If you come to hate riding or working with this horse, it may be time to say goodbye. Quality of life (yours and theirs) is something worth considering with these projects.

Horse Sense for encouraging a timid equine

Sneak Peak excerpt from Turning Challenging Horses into Willing Partners, due for official publication in spring, 2010

• The round pen provides the close quarters to begin to develop a rapport and trust with a timid horse. Here, you can establish some basic body language cues supported with voice commands to present yourself as a confident, kind guide while you encourage and reward your steed to tackle future requests with courage. While many contemporary horsemanship methods advocate considerable training time in the round pen, we’re not convinced this is a good approach, and have found it is not effective with timid horses. It’s a good starting point for a few days to see and guide the horse, but not the best environment to bring a timid horse along. Exposing them to various concerns in differing environments with a steady and unflappable nature is more effective in helping these horses blossom.

• Timid horses tend to respond much better to praise than punishment. Most timid horses love a pat or an encouraging voice when they face and conquer a challenge. Conversely, a stern voice and/or training that incorporates stimuli designed to discourage behavior tends to make them more wary.

• Take your time with timid horses. Their condition is often the result of too much, too soon. It’s important to gain their trust, and bolster their confidence, by encouraging them with your steadiness to tackle easy tasks they can understand and learn to enjoy.

• Make early lessons quick and easy for an immediate win. Timid horses blossom and excel after just a few sessions if they have a confident hand and are rewarded for their effort.

• Buddies can be a good tool for encouraging timid horses, but don’t overdo it. While another horse can help avoid some challenges, it’s equally important to establish a trust in the human handler to keep them out of harm’s way. If all issues are resolved by another horse leading the way, the timid equine will not gain the confidence in themselves and their rider/handler to excel.

• Give timid horses the time to process a lesson. Rush them and they will become more concerned and less trusting of you.

• Be fearless with timid horses. They will sense your concern and react. If you can’t be confident, patient and calm in all situations you introduce them to, find someone who can.

Sour horse approaches

Chapter Seven

Turning a sour mount

There are a number of circumstances that can make a mount

sour. One who has been drilled too hard in the arena and given

little opportunity to relax in different surroundings can often

be transformed by backing off of the flatwork and jumping.

Simply choosing a varied routine that gets them fit and supple

on the trails or in other new and interesting environments can

quickly improve your mount’s attitude. If your horse is sore and

hasn’t been forced to the point of resenting the mere appearance

of a rider, giving him time off to heal and adopting a subsequent

sensitivity to their pain can work wonders. Some horses

are inadvertently taught to refuse. If there’s been a pattern of

curtailing every lesson as soon as the horse starts acting surly

toward requests, this behavior will escalate, and the horse will

object more frequently and dramatically to even simple tasks.

These equines can usually be corrected with the aid of a seasoned

and clever trainer, but this will often require that you

watch on the sidelines initially, proceeding with closely monitored

riding lessons after the horse is sufficiently schooled to

discourage this behavior.

If you’re dealing with a horse that has learned to resent with a

vengeance the competitive arena for which they were intended,

however, it might be time to find another project. While turning

these animals to a point where they get the job done is possible,

they’re generally not very much fun to work with or be around.

Plus, their attitudes leave them performing short of their potential.

If they’ve turned mean, they add a considerable degree of

danger to the mix. Mean horses that have learned that violence

and refusal is their only recourse for avoiding pain are almost

impossible to completely turn. You can make a lot of progress

with them and often diffuse much of the mean behavior, but

if they are sour and have been taught that belligerence is their

only relief, they may be tough to tackle.

With any sour horse, it’s important to be creative and responsive

in how you approach the training and communication



All deemed Studley a lost cause, except his insightful, reticent

trainer who wasn’t ready to admit defeat with this horse and

his green owners, who were enamored by the idea of having a

racehorse stallion. The moment he arrived, we began to question

our creative capabilities with this monster, not to mention

our sanity. As noted earlier (see Chapter Six — Turning Mean to

Green), he was a vicious stud who had a history of maiming the

humans he encountered and a quarrelsome attitude that rendered

training attempts at the track impossible. After we developed

a strategy and system that, over time, was effective at dissipating

the meanness, moving from a survival to a success focus

to address his sour nature became a priority. Ultimately, it

was clear we’d have to work around his bad attitude to get this

beast fit enough for speed training.

Ten Quick Tips for weaning babies

  1. Make sure your foal is ready – just because the calendar says it’s time doesn’t mean the mind is prepared. Know your baby well enough to recognize when he is independent enough to be able to handle separation.
  2. If you’re nursing mare is in foal (again), sometimes you need to step up the timeline to keep her healthy. Make sure you spend ample time with the foal from the onset to prepare him for an early separation. Pairing him with foals that are more independent and using them to help encourage behavior can help.
  3. Weaning foals on the same property where mares reside can be challenging, but this is often most easily done in the pastures (vs. stall confinement). If you have enough land, put the mares where the foals can’t see or hear them. The buddy system makes this a lot easier (often foals will bond with another – keep them together when you wean).
  4. If stall separating is your only option, sometimes it’s easier to put the foal in a stall adjacent to the mare. Make sure the walls are tall enough (this may require building them to the ceiling) so the baby cannot jump into the adjacent stall (or get hung up trying). With other foals (you should have a good read on their temperament by now), it’s necessary to get the mare as far away as possible from the foal. Sometimes, putting foals together in a stall can help all through the process for a couple of days.
  5. Keep an eye on the mare and watch her bag. Some absorb the milk quickly, others may have challenges. It’s important to give the mare ample daily exercise to ensure mastitis doesn’t set in.
  6. Teach babies to lead, accept human handling and get familiar with their intended new herd prior to weaning. The more familiar and comfortable they are with what will be required of them next (and don’t rule out the need for a possible vet visit from resulting injuries as a result of the weaning process), the easier it will be for both you and your foal.
  7. Ensure your foals trust, like and look to your for guidance and confidence. This can go a long way toward helping them make this tough transition.
  8. Start separate foal graining rations early. There are a number of feeds designed for foals (and this does not include mare & foal labelled products – look for those that include a milk supplement) to ensure your foal gets the nutrition he needs early. Mare’s milk starts deteriorating between months two and three and you should start addressing this with special and separate feed for your youngster at this time.  Suddenly throwing grain at them when weaned produces growth spurts that aren’t healthy.
  9. Check recently weaned foals daily for injuries and issues.
  10. Give your foals the trust, lead and confidence to see you as a  guide through this difficult transition. This needs to start early, but the benefits that result from your time and attention will pay considerable dividends in making this process easier for all.

Have you learned to be humble with horses?

If you have a thirst for knowledge, horses will teach you a lot. So can equine professionals (and a good number of horsemen who may not be professionals) who get the learning process never ends. Interestingly, it’s usually not the celebrated achievers and gurus who can teach you the most. Sure, they’ve done amazing things and are held in esteem for accomplishments most of us only dream of, but teaching requires its own skills, takes time and doesn’t work very well with formula approaches. Sometimes you’ll find the most lasting lessons come from the strangest places – including people and horses with messages you may miss if you’re not open and attentive.

If you work with young or challenging horses on a regular basis, and learn to really listen, they’ll teach you more than you can imagine. A seemingly difficult and talentless horse can morph into a star with just a little bit of responsive guidance. Others will show you something you had never considered that winds up being a lasting aid with horses you encounter for decades to come. Some will school you hard and fast or fall short of their potential if you don’t hear them or try to force them to comply with your regimen. Conversely, those who are understood and encouraged to trust and respect a handler or rider will strive to shine and exceed expectations. Bloodlines and talent aside, none of this will come to you through arrogance, but instead, is only available to those willing to don a bit of humility.

Good trainers/instructors also learn from their horse and human students. The best instructors/trainers are open to new ideas, willing to listen to both horse and rider/owner, invigorated by opportunities that provide a new approach to success and enthusiastic about improving their knowledge and arsenal. Similarly, you’ll grow much more as a student if you leave your ego (or studies – a quick way to really piss off an instructor or trainer and lessen the value of your or your horse’s lesson is to call them wrong because their methods do not conform with the formula teachings of the latest book you read or video you watched) at the door and focus on what’s being presented to you.

As to the difference between trainers and instructors, most assert that training pertains to the horse and instruction relates to the rider. How can you separate the two? An effective trainer needs to understand what demands will be placed on the horse and be able to impart knowledge to the rider specific to the horse under tutelage. Solid instructors need to be able to work with the horse to help the rider communicate in ways that are easiest for the particular mount to understand – and be able to know how to adjust the lesson if something’s not working. How about accepting that being an effective equine coach (whether your primary focus is on horse or rider) requires an ability to understand the needs of both the horse and the rider and leaving the turf wars at the door?

Smart students (and teachers) are modest enough to always be looking for an opportunity to learn from the horses they see and the people they meet.

Einstein was working on a unified field theory to put the entire universe into a mathematical equation when he was about 50 years old. He refused to talk to all reporters, sans one from The New York Times. Carr Van Anda, the editor, had found an error in one of Einstein’s equations. Instead of being offended, he was impressed and welcomed the opportunity to be proven wrong.* Could you? Every horse and human student can teach us something new if we are willing to leave our egos behind and welcome new ideas and approaches – no matter how green the source.

Thomas Edison built 1,000 prototypes for the light bulb that didn’t work. A reporter asked Edison how it felt to fail 1,000 times. Edison replied, “You misunderstand. I did not fail 1,000 times. I successfully found 1,000 ways that the light bulb would not work.” Attempt 1001 resulted in the light bulb we still use today. Edison, like Einstein, did not view failure as bad, but instead as a good way to learn and grow.*

Those who resort to bravado with horse handling, training, riding or instruction usually don’t know what they don’t know. The wise are humble and eager to learn from new insights and the experiences of others. The best in their field stand on the shoulders of giants, meaning, they gather their knowledge from others who have travelled the road before them artfully and successfully. If your teacher asserts only one right approach, or you have been guilty of close-mindedness when presented with learning opportunities, reconsider if that’s working for you. Better yet, realize how much this might be costing you if your goal is to grow as an astute equestrian thinker.

*Source: Ron White’s Ezine 11/25/02209 – subscribe at