Horses are creatures of habit. And the habits they learn can be
good ones or bad ones depending on who’s handling them. And whatever
habits or patterns they have when they come to you can be changed
if you go about it in a methodical, horse-logical way. If memory
serves, one of the horses that taught me this was a Morgan stallion
that belonged to a friend of mine. This was back in the ‘60s and
I don’t remember the horse’s registered name but we called him Little
Now my friend Ray was raising a few Morgans and when breeding time
rolled around, he’d call me to help him handle the stallion. Little
Brother was always very, very easy to handle. He had a favorite
wife named Quaint. When she was in season and ready to breed, my
buddy would hold Quaint on a lead line out in the pasture. I’d go
to barn and bring Little Brother along. The stallion would nuzzle
and tease and do his job then I’d take him back up to the barn.
I never needed a chain shank or anything. Little Brother knew Quaint,
she knew him, they liked each other and there was never any fuss.
One year Ray fell off another horse, broke his leg, and decided
to skip breeding that spring while he healed. Somebody asked him
about leasing Little Brother to use on his mares and that sounded
like a reasonable idea to Ray, given the circumstances and all.
Little Brother was leased to this other guy and, at end of breeding
season, he came back home again.
The next spring Ray’s leg was fine, Quaint came into season, Ray
took her took her to field, and I went and got Little Brother. This
time, however, instead of going to nipping and loving her, he started
eating grass. Quaint let Little Brother know in every way she could
that she was interested in him but he just ignored her. Ray was
pretty upset. He figured the stallion was ruined. But I was at the
beginning of thinking about training from the horse’s point of view
and I thought I knew what might be wrong. So I took Little Brother
back to his stall.
When I got Little Brother back to his stall, I put chain under
his chin and picked up a whip. I slapped and jerked and screamed
and made a huge fuss. Sure enough, Little Brother got all excited
and in no time at all, he was ready to breed Quaint before he even
got out of stall door. So I took him back to the pasture, he served
mare and then he went back to eating grass.
Now, in those days, everybody knew that every stallion in any barn
was just naturally mean and ornery. If you didn’t knock ‘em around
and show ‘em who was boss right from the get go, you were sure to
get hurt. So I figured this other guy had probably handled Little
Brother like he was afraid of him. I figured that he’d probably
fought with the stallion to show his who was boss before he took
him to breed. So the fellow taught Little Brother that a big fuss,
there was going to be a party. But, horse-logically, Little Brother
had also concluded that if there was no fuss, there wasn’t going
to be a party. So each year we did a little less fussing in the
stall and in a couple years, Little Brother was back to being the
laid back breeding stallion he’d been before.
Horses are so very pattern-istic. The patterns or habits that they
learn can work for you or against you. So it’s important to think
through what you’re teaching a horse from the horse’s viewpoint.
You can try to physically dominate a horse to control him or you
can psychologically control him by becoming the safest, most comfortable
place for him to be. One big difference between the two systems
is going to be how events unfold when something physically scarier
than you comes along.
When things get scary or confusing, you want a horse that responds
to a familiar pattern that creates a feel of a safe place that he
can go to rather than fleeing or fighting. That’s why we start our
training out on the ground and under saddle using rhythmic exercises
that create relaxation in the horse. When rhythm habitually creates
a feel of relaxation in the horse, a rhythmic pattern becomes a
safe place for both the horse and rider to go to whenever things
start falling apart. Then the horse gets excited or upset and the
rider goes to any exercise that reestablishes rhythm, habit will
help the horse relax so he can listen to the next thing the rider
This makes a lot more sense than using big bits and sharp spurs
and going back to fighting over who’s the boss. But it took me a
few years and a few horses before I unlearned my old habits of loud
and startling communication with horses and learned a better way.
If you or your horse have poor communication habits, be sure to
allow yourself plenty of time to learn some new ones.
If you’re younger than they are, don’t get discouraged. Take your
time and be as patient with yourself as you want to be with your
About the Author
© 1997-2004 Meredith Manor
International Equestrian Centre. All rights reserved.
Instructor and trainer
Ron Meredith has refined his "horse logical" methods for communicating
with equines for over 30 years as president of
Meredith Manor International Equestrian Centre, an ACCET accredited
equestrian educational institution.