It's Always Up To You


 Training horses isn’t easy. When you set out to train a horse, the plain fact is that you’re going to have problems at some point. Different problems will arise at different stages with different horses.

No two horses have the same experiences and handling. Every horse will react slightly differently in any given situation. You must remember that your horse hasn’t read any books or watched any videos. He doesn’t know how he’s supposed to react. With every horse that you handle, there’ll be a new set of problems to overcome.

Things may be going along fine for you and your horse then something unexpected will crop up. There’ll always come a time when you have to work things out for yourself. When things aren’t going to plan, there’s no book, video or “method” that can possibly cover every situation you may encounter.

When things go wrong, the only thing you have to fall back on is your understanding of how horses think and learn. If your underlying thinking is flawed, you may use unnecessary pressure and force when you have a problem.

There’s no point expecting your horse to “work things out for himself”. You’re supposed to be much smarter than any horse and it’s up to you to teach your horse every step of the way.  

 I know it’s not your fault if a horse has learned bad habits before he came to you. However, it’s not the horse’s fault either. A horse’s behaviour is never wrong. He simply does what he’s been taught. The only way you can overcome problems and improve the situation is to blame yourself every time you work with your horse.

When you have a problem, always ask yourself, “What have I done to cause this horse to react in this manner? What can I do differently, so it doesn’t happen again?”

Here are some examples:

A horse may pull back when he’s tied up. You must remember that this is not the horse’s fault. The trainer has tied the horse before the horse was ready. It’s always the trainer’s responsibility to teach every horse correctly before he’s tied up.

A young horse may buck when he’s first saddled. Again, this is the trainer’s fault. The trainer has expected too much from the horse and saddled him before he was ready.

Every horse’s experiences and training are different. One horse may be ready to accept you picking up his leg but another may not be ready. One horse may be ready to be tied up and another may not. One horse may be ready to be saddled and another may not.


A horse may kick at you when you try to pick up his leg. The only reason that a horse kicks is because you’ve moved too far, too quickly. The horse wasn’t ready to have his leg picked up. You must go back a step and teach the horse to accept your hand on his leg. You must work in small increments without creating a fight. It may take two lessons before you can pick up a horse’s leg or it may take ten. It doesn’t matter either way.

It’s always up to the trainer to ‘read’ every horse and to adjust each lesson to suit. Don’t expect every horse to learn at the same rate. And don’t expect any horse to conform to a strict timetable.

  The horses on this video have been badly handled but it's up to me to overcome their problems.


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I have been following your blog for some time after finding it a while back. Today's expensive celebrity trainers cause horses and their owners so much grief by offering 'systems' that can't possibly cope with every outcome, or the individualities of every horse; so owners label their horses as 'problem horses' (as do the trainers) when things don't work out as they should.

I penned the following some years ago for a now defunct discussion group after finding an old 'Martial Arts' magazine. It is, I think, not too far from your point of view...

"What intrigued me though was an old one on the topic of Martial Arts. Now I have to say that I'm probably the most least violent person I know, and would derive little pleasure from having the ability to overcome another person using force, but there was an article in the mag about the legendary Martial Artist, Bruce Lee, his career and how he viewed Martial Arts.... along with a few of his quotes.

The first quote, I thought, demonstrated to a tee my approach to horsemanship and why I don't follow any of the 'methods' pushed by individual trainers and organisations. It read...

"The highest technique is to have no technique. My technique is a result of your technique; my movement is a result of your movement"

And that's exactly how I work, not following technique, but changing myself and my actions to reflect (there's that mirror again) how the horse responds and moves. Of course, in this short quote Bruce Lee was talking about his opponent, and how by following a technique he would always be trying to manouver his opponent into a place where he could use his own techniques... But, and this is the important part, by not following a set technique he never faced that disadvantage. He just responded to the opponent's techniques and moves and acted accordingly.

If we apply this to horsemanship, we immediately set ourselves free to respond to the horse's moves and attitudes, rather than trying to force it into a set of responses where we are comfortable. In essence we become more fluid in our responses, because we stop trying to please the 'system' that we follow, and instead of being thrown by the 'curve balls' that the horse sends our way (because the trainer we are following never described those actions) we welcome and respond to them. This surely must be better for the horse; because it's 'allowed' to make the movements that it feels are necessary at that time, instead of being rigorously restrained by the system we follow".

Colin B. April 4th, 2015

Hi Colin,

Thanks for your comment, it certainly made me think. There are similarities with Bruce Lee’s quote and my approach to horse training. Here’s my take on it:

“The highest technique is to have no technique.”

I agree that you must be adaptable to whatever the horse does in any particular lesson. Therefore, it’s the horse that dictates what the day’s lesson will be. Lessons must always be flexible to allow for whatever the horse throws at you at any given time.

“My technique is a result of your technique.”

At first, my technique is governed by the horse’s technique. In the early lessons, my response is determined by how the horse reacts. More importantly, my response to the horse’s actions dictates how the horse reacts to me.

“My movement is a result of your movement.”

Ultimately, the horse’s movement must be the result of your movement, not the other way around. The horse must respond to your movement in the manner you want, otherwise he’s out of control.

If your movement is the result of the horse’s movement, it means that the horse is dictating the outcome of any interaction.

I often say “The plan is there is no plan.”

However, underlying every interaction with every horse, I always have a strict set of outcomes to aim for. At first it may be for the horse to stand while I rub his neck. Next it’s for the horse to stand while I move my hand along his neck towards his head and ears. Later it will be for the horse to walk in the exact circle I ask. When I ride, I aim to trot the exact circle I want, at the exact speed I want. Next, to canter on the exact stride I ask. And on it goes.

You must be consistent and have a strict plan, otherwise how can the horse possibly know what you want him to do?


Neil Davies April 6th, 2015

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