Follow the leader


There are so many reasons that horses are amazing.

Horses are generous, they can read us nearly instantaneously and they are so honest in their appraisal of us that it almost hurts sometimes. As anyone who rides knows, horses never ever tire of telling us when we don’t have things quite right. But the horse also looks, perhaps more than any other animal, for a leader which is one of the things that makes the sport of riding so fascinating.

Imagine, as we always try to do at Harrogate, how the world seems to a horse. Most everything is different and potentially dangerous and he is asked to go into these situations, not at liberty, but while carrying the burden of a rider on his back. This rider may be balanced or not, and they may have quiet hands, or not. But the horse is being asked to navigate around while dealing with all our possible shortcomings as riders. He might feel threatened at any given moment by the noises, sights, smells that he is confronted with. In nature, he would seek out his peers in the herd and determine whether or not the time to run had arrived. But now we ask him to tamp down that desire for flight. We ask him not to take notice of his peers thundering footsteps but to stay with us.

How can this be done?

Well there are a number of ways. One would be to intimidate the horse into believing that the consequences of disobedience outweigh the consequences of facing their fear. Unfortunately, a frightened, intimidated horse lacks confidence and a horse lacking in confidence is unreliable. At some point the fear of retribution will be outweighed by fear of whatever the heck is scaring him at that moment.

Another option would be to use severe coercive equipment on the horse…equipment that through mechanical advantage or pain/pressure could force the horse into compliance. But again, even the most restrictive equipment will eventually be no match for a horse that moves into full blown panic.

So, what’s a better option? Well, first it must be acknowledged that a horse is a horse and by nature unpredictable, quick, and fearful at times. But if the horse can have confidence in his rider, a sense that his rider is his leader, the results can be astonishing.

A leader is someone that the horse follows willingly, that the horse feels safe with. A leader is clear in his expectations for the horse and never asks the horse for things he is unable to do. The leader knows his horse’s limitations and strives to build the horse’s confidence and abilities incrementally.

I think it is always good to remember that the horse did not choose to be ridden. It is we who have decided to interact with him in this way. Any mistakes the horse makes are based on the fact that he is a horse.

It is we, who as riders and horseman, have to learn to understand his language, give him confidence and be the leader that he wants to follow.

There are so many rewards for approaching training this way. We discover that these skills are not only useful with our horses but transferable into all most all other aspects of our lives.




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