Be humble

Patience is required in working with a horse. Now a lot of people say that they are patient, but then there are competitions, ribbons to be won and ego gets in the way. Every horse has its own learning curve and it varies. They don’t know anything about our plans, expectations or the economic value they might have.

Loving your horse is very important. Even more then the ability to ride him. There are many examples of maybe not so good riders who did really well, because they formed a strong bond with their horses, based on love. Because they were always patient and lovingly, the horse tried his heart out to understand. Because that’s how horses are.

Its humans who betray the trust, not horses. Take your time to find out what personality your horse is, what pleases him and what his fears are. Don’t always go to him to ride. Groom, cuddle, play with him. If a horse does something you don’t want, try to ignore him. Ask him something he understands, so he can give the right answer and you can reward him.

Its humans who betray the trust, not horses.

But how do reward him? Give him a pat on his neck? Does a horse see this as a reward? And on that subject, how do you punish him? Let me tell you something straight away: punishment doesn’t help to improve something. It teaches them not to do something. So if you want to improve, let’s say, a shoulder in, it doesn’t help to hit him with a schooling whip. Now this is something different then pointing things out for which a whip, used the right way, can be a good instrument. We’ll get back to the use of a whip later.


We hardly think about how we reward horses. But it can make a lot of difference in training. You can teach a horse things in two ways: reward them if they do something you want or make them avoid something. And by that we mean the release pressure. An example: if you push with your right leg, most horses will move to the left, because they find the pushing feeling unpleasant. So they try to avoid that feeling. It doesn’t mean it hurts them. They just don’t like the feeling. As a reward, you take away that pressure, in this case, stop pushing your right leg on.

You can’t teach anything with punishment. It’s scientifically proven. Punishment can stop them doing something, but only when applied at exactly the right moment. So if your horse refuses to jump, you have lost your balance so you ride a circle to get back in front of the jump and then you give him a good whack, he really doesn’t understand that whack is because of the refusal. Such punishment shows the inability of the rider and it makes a horse very insecure.

A kiss on the cheek is also a sign of affection, but to dismount all the time…

So reward it is then. But if you never taught your horse a pat on the neck means he’s done well, how is he supposed to know…? If you do this to a foal for the first time, he’ll react frightened. It doesn’t matter how you reward: patting, scratching his withers, sweet talk…as long as you teach him what it means. And you can do it by combining the action with a treat. After a few times you can leave the treat, he’ll know. Now a lot of natural horsemen people state you can’t reward a horse with treats, as he eats grass, so his food is everywhere. It’s no incentive. But if I see how mine react to a treat, I beg to differ.

Some horses like the patting on the neck after a while, some are more into scratching the withers or no touching but just sweet talk. Find out what it is with yours. If it isn’t yours, ask the owner or handler how to reward the horse. Patting comes natural to humans, we are all about using hands. But it can be anything. Although a kiss on the cheek is also a sign of affection, but it’s a bit far out to dismount all the time…


You can use rewards to stimulate good behavior. But don’t overdo it or it will lose its meaning. Or it can turn into bad behavior. Especially with treats you got to be careful. If you give them all the time, horses are inclined to take it themselves, biting you or pulling out your coat pockets.

If you reward constantly the horse no longer sees it as a reward. It’s like clicking your tongue all the time without thinking. He won’t go faster.


You can also reward by another way of releasing the pressure. If he does do something well, give him a walk on a free rein. Let him relax and stretch his muscles. Or if he has worked really well for half an hour, do something you know he enjoys to end the session. It can be a walk out in the woods, or some jumping. Or an exercise you know he can do really well and he like to do it. I’ve got a client with a nice warmblood who really likes half passes. It sounds strange, but you can see his ears go up and more bounce in his strides. So after a good work out we let him do a few half passes, and he goes back to the stables feeling happy with himself.


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