Training

Two Tips for Better Communication With Your Horse

Improve your horse-training skills by becoming a more effective communicator with your horse.

From America's Horse

Patiently and consistently applying pressure while training leads to responsive, trusting equine partners. Journal photo

Horseman Curt Pate is a well-known and trusted clinician and trainer. Here, he shares two important tips for improving communication with your horse.

1. Never think "predator-prey relationship"

"Predator-prey" has become a buzzword among many clinicians, and it's true that horses are prey animals. But we as humans have a choice to act like predators or not.

Have you ever seen someone in a round pen chasing a horse around with a flag or throwing ropes? That person is showing the horse he's a predator, and really, he's just teaching the horse distrust, because there is pressure there the horse wants to get away from.

In the Training Your Horse for a Better Relationship e-book, Curt Pate explains his key concepts, further building on this article. Want to learn more? Get the e-book! .

A horse like that, when the going gets tough, he's going to think about leaving - escaping the pressure - rather than getting through the situation with you.

So instead of putting on an excessive amount of pressure, I think we can give the horse a lot more confidence if he sees humans as a safe place. He doesn't have to think of us as predators who are going to frighten him.

2. Teach your horse to accept pressure

Groundwork and, especially, round pen work can come in here. We can teach the horse to move forward off pressure, but there always has to be somewhere to go to get relief, or else we become predators and he gets suspicious of us. The idea is to teach the horse to accept a certain amount of pressure - and respond to it appropriately - without feeling threatened.

What you want to do is apply pressure in small-enough amounts where the horse can think his way out of it. For example, if you want a horse to move off in the round pen, step toward him behind his withers and then adjust your positioning, speed, etc., to get the response you want.

The goal when working with a horse is to achieve mental and physical balance. Curt Pate expands on this in Training Your Horse for a Better Relationship. The e-book is a must-have for every horseman’s library.

The opposite of that would be to throw a rope at a horse to get him to move off. The horse would move off, but it would be just a reaction, and he wouldn't have thought about what he was doing. He wouldn't have learned anything. But by stepping toward him and allowing him to think about what you want, the horse will quickly start reacting to smaller and smaller amounts of pressure.

In short: Try to avoid thinking of you and your horse in terms of "predator-prey." Your horses can learn to accept pressure - if you teach them properly.