50 Shades of Horse Training

50 Shades of Horse Training

Proving our great leadership by controlling every step with micro managed total domination, and demanding complete subservience.

A blog is doing the FaceBook rounds that explains about pressure and release training in a sensible way, but then goes on:

Every time my horse wants to do something that is his idea…then immediately make him do the opposite…. if he walks off 4 steps after you stopped him then immediately back him up 4 steps…


Now if you are trying to back him up and he is braced against you, head in the air, fighting it and you at that moment release the pressure then you just taught him “OH if I put my nose in the air and fight it then I get relief from pressure.


Remember WHOA MEANS WHOA not “ok sweetie we are gonna whoa now but if you want to take a couple extra steps after I say whoa then thats ok with me cuz your my baby smooch smooch”

No questions asked, you are the boss, that horsey is a sneaky little critter, one step on his own and he will be the leader!

Really?  Surely leadership isn’t about power and domination, leadership is about listening, it’s fluid, and thoughtful and complex. Any idiot can dominate a horse!

What our blogger doesn’t do is question why the horse is resisting a rein back, or failing to stop on the w of whoa.

Horses are generous by nature. .. if they don’t do something it is generally because they have no clue what you are on about or they physically can’t do it, or it hurts.

To me this dominatrix attitude is where the rot sets in… horsey won’t rein back, he puts his head in the air, he opens his mouth, so the great leader of horses keeps the pressure on until the horse gives in, or rears up and fights more violently, so then what, the great leader of horses mustn’t be beaten at any cost… so they put horsey in draw reins and tighten his noseband and force him to do it.

But what if the horse didn’t do it because he didn’t understand… wouldn’t it have been better to go back to teaching it on the ground, just one baby step at a time, maybe with a little pressure and release, but definitely with a positive reward, a kind word a scratch on the neck… he’s generous, he wants to please, that was a good experience, he wants to do it again.

NO!!! You cannot LOVE them into behaving. You have to be a strong and confident herd leader and you will have an obedient and secure horse!

But just supposing he didn’t do it because he’s in pain, now he’s in even more pain, he can’t tell you about his pain because you have now bound and gagged him, he has two choices fight or give in. So he shuts down, he gives up. He puts up with the pain, because your great leadership has overpowered him, you won’t know about it again until his body starts breaking down… but then you can claim on the insurance to get him mended, or sell him on or put him down… and then you can get a newer model.

The saddest thing of all is all the likes and endorsements of this blog, nice people who love their horses have now realised it’s okay to get some spurs and to make their horses obey them. It’s so much easier to blame the horse for being naughty than to question why the horse isn’t doing as it’s told, and if he isn’t lame, well heck, he can’t be in pain, and heaven forbid that we should question our own riding ability.

Interestingly this blog is on a horse sales site, it bemoans well dominated horses being sold to weak people, you know, the ones who won’t use force, and sure, the horse needs to know his boundaries, you can’t be having a horse kicking and biting you and napping and bolting. But surely the answer is to go back to basics to establish a respectful relationship, and to explore the possibility of misunderstandings and pain related behavior, to listen to what the horse is trying to tell you, to hear the whispers way before he is screaming… surely that’s leadership.

and to those who accuse me of being on my high horse and preaching… this is just my opinion, just like you are entitled to your opinion.  I am not saying I am a great leader, or that I know all the answers. I am learning, and you know what… the more I have learned, the more I realise how little I know.  But I sure as heck know that relationship and leadership isn’t about absolute control. One of the prerequisites of dressage is submission, it’s dictionary definition is ‘the action of accepting or yielding to a superior force or the will of authority of (another) person’. I am so grateful that I have found so many fabulous horse people from around the world who are ditching what in my opinion are these outdated and dictatorial ideas, and if the sentiments expressed in this blog resonate with you, then join me and other like minded horse lovers at www.concordiaequestrians.com.   Together we can change perceptions.

“It is through cooperation, rather than conflict that your greatest successes will be derived” Ralph Charell


Photo with free to use licence – full details at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Gag_bit.JPG 



About Milly Shand

Founder of The Concordia Connection www.theconcordiaconnection.com Peace & animal rights campaigner, and an equestrienne who is looking for better ways to work with our equine friends www.millyshand.com

10 responses »

  1. you really took it a ran with it didn’t you. Amazing how you could turn it into something else like you did. I am a Behavior Specialist by trade working with Children with Disabilities. I AM a very kind person with a very soft hand with horses. This is not NEW to me like it is to you. This is a lifestyle for me and has been my entire life. If you do not understand the language that horses speak to each other when it comes to leadership then YOU should not be doing this for living. If you have never observed a lead horse guide the herd with PRESSURE than you live in a fantasy land. If YOU tell little children to allow a 1000 pound animal to do whatever it wants then you are a DANGEROUS person. Behavior is Behavior with ANY living creature. Let me teach YOU a little Science. The ABC’s or BEHAVIOR. A for ANTECEDENT: which are the events and circumstances that happen just before the target behavior. B for BEHAVIOR: the behavior that is your target. The one that you wish to change. C for CONSEQUENCE: what happens right after the behavior. The outcome. The only way to CHANGE behavior (good or bad) in any living creature is to change the A or the C. When analyzing the target behavior you have to find out if it is feasible to change the ANTECEDENT for example :: the horse always carries rider back to the gate and the wont leave the gate. So we ask: Is it feasible to plan to NEVER be near a gate. Answer :NO. so since we cannot change the ANTECEDENT THEN WE MUST CHANGE THE CONSEQUENCE. Remember the BEHAVIOR is unwantedly going to the gate, stopping there and refusing to leave. The REWARD CONSEQUENCE is that the rider ALLOWS IT and thus increases this negative behavior. The consequence in order to correct this behavior (in my opinion) would be to work circles at the gate so it is not such a desirable place of rest and also start choosing a different desirable place (get off and loosen cinch somewhere else in the arena and rest there every day) BUT one thing ALL EQUESTRIANS should know ABOUT CHANGING A BEHAVIOR IS THAT YOU WILL ENCOUNTER AN ‘EXTINCTION BURST. Which is the animal or human exhibiting a temporary burst of the negative behavior when trying to accomplish their desired outcome. It takes 21 days to finish molding a behavior. Always expect behavior to get a little worse before it gets better. THIS IS THE SCIENCE OF BEHAVIOR which is true in all living things. Horsemanship has come a long way since the days of BREAKING them. The language of the horse is better understood. Horses learn ON the RELEASE of PRESSURE. They do NOT learn from the PRESSURE. So when you push with your heal to guide them and RELEASE your heel at the right time they understand that their response was correct. the RELEASE WAS THE REWARD. If you want to steal someones WORDS and slap them in your petty little blog you should make sure the words came from a person who is NOT PASSIONATE about the subject and is NOT educated about behavior. Your hoping for brain dead followers to just bow down to your words and mindlessly nod their heads and praise you. Folks,, get outside with your horses and observe. Learn from their relationships with each other. Pay attention to subtle head nods, nips, ear position, hip bumps, head drop, relaxed poses, and yes …even kicks to each other. Watch the lead horse and learn how to lead your horse.

  2. Oh I see that you are not posting my reply. I KNEW that you wouldn’t because you do not want YOUR readers to see the truth. People like you are classic Narcissistic. ” I am the GURU and its all about me, me, me” any other opinion that might get your readers THINKING is not accepted.

    • Actually Donna, I have been at a meeting this afternoon and have only just read your ‘comments’. I think that anyone who reads how angry you are and how rude and personal your comments are will come to their own conclusions. I deliberately didn’t share your post or your name as my point is about those very sentences that I have quoted. When you write your opinion and publish to the internet you have to know you are open to interpretation and criticism. .. just like I am now. In my opinion your post is about domination without thoughtfulness. You may well be very kind and have soft hands, but that is besides the point. I wanted to discuss these good examples of well known terminology used in the equestrian world that I believe are narrow and thoughtless. My biggest concern is the amount of people who cannot see the harm in this leadership by domination philosophy of horse training. I suppose it may come down to your belief about the very nature of horses. If you believe that horses are constantly testing you to take over your lead position then you will have a need to dominate. However if you believe that most horses are generous by nature and wants to please you then that is quite a different scenario. People may share my blog and say what they want.. I hope it will start discussion. They may well quote me in their blogs and disagree with my sentiments… that is to be expected when you put your personal views out there.. especially when you are saying quite passionately what you think is wrong. Which both you and I have done. Having a disagreement about something is not about being nice or nasty.. it is about different beliefs. My beliefs are fundamentally different to those of the quotes from your posts. Obviously horses need boundaries, they need to know what is an isn’t acceptable, they need to be safe to handle and ride. But my impression of your post was that there was no questions asked regarding why the horse didn’t do your bidding, you appeared to expect subservience at all times. At no time did I question the effectiveness of pressure and release, so I have no idea why you feel the need to give me a little lesson in it. I also didn’t say that you should allow a horse to do whatever it wants, which would obviously be ridiculous. My blog was specifically to encourage discussion, which I am completely open to. Bi the way, when you use other peoples words it is called quoting, not stealing.

  3. Lovely blog post, Milly.

    The quote you have of “…back him up…” fits right in with my blog about “Let’s Talk Punishment.”

    And it’s always fascinating to me the people who are trained in animal behavior and know the ABCs of behavior still manage to twist into what they already do rather than learn from it and change their own behavior.

    Carry on. 🙂

    • Thank you Laurie, your kind words are much appreciated after DH’s comments. I would like to read your blog but I can’t find the link to it, please could you share the link.

  4. What a great post Milly. Its a shame that DH is so threatened by the idea of treating a horse with respect and kindness!

  5. Personally I like Beudant who wrote that usually the horse does EXACTLY what we ask them to with our body and then gets punished for it. The corollary being if we do not like what the horse is doing, we should try changing our own behavior first.

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