Updated: Aug 24
Often when I’m coaching my horsemanship clients, I’ll hear them apply human attributes to their horses. Some land and some I know are not technically true. A prime example is when someone says that their horse does not “listen” to them, and I’ll think they have it wrong, a horse doesn't operate off of language, they operate off feel. You need to get your horse feeling of you, not so much listening of you. And although I know this to be true, I still talk to my horses all the time.
But my clients aren’t silly or wrong for doing this. In fact, it’s so common that it even has a name. Anthropomorphism is the application of human traits, emotions, or intentions to animals. It is considered to be an innate tendency of human psychology and helps us to bond and make sense of our animal compadres.
Photo by Trent Schlamp Photography
We're all guilty of this. However, there are a few ways in which animals and humans are very similar, and knowing them can help you to better train your horse. These three lessons are principles I keep in mind when I’m working with horses, and they apply just as much to humans. I’ll find myself applying these lessons to both my horses and my students. I find they work especially well on my colts, and my High School Rodeo kids, although they’re enjoyed by all ages.
Repetition becomes tiresome.
So, we know that animals don’t communicate like us, but they still have plenty of similarities with humans. The biggest one being all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Which can just as well be said about the horse as the human. Horses learn maneuvers and skills through repetition and when you do the same exercise over and over again, accurately, you will get the results. How well you deliver the lesson is more important than the lesson itself.
But I'm sure we can all think back to something that we had to learn in our past and we had to do it over and over again until we got it right, that got real boring, didn't it? And we couldn't wait to move on and do something else? Right. Well, the horse is the same way. Horses, much like us, can get bored getting drilled and drilled on the same subject, over and over again. So the key here is to be accurate and consistent so that you don’t have to do the same thing over and over again before you see results. This brings me to my next lesson…
Photo by Alex Callaghan Photography
Know when to quit.
An old horsemanship saying, that I learnt a long time ago, comes to mind when I chat about this topic. “The most important thing about horse training is knowing when to quit.” So we already discussed that what we do with our horses can sometimes get damn boring for them, and so I always try to reward the horse as much as possible to keep it engaging. One of the ways I do this is by quitting as soon as he gets it right. Horses are always searching for a release of pressure, so they learn much faster by your release than by you putting lots of pressure on them for too long. This is a real balancing act but it’s something that you’ll learn to master when you practice it. Knowing when to quit is one of the components of accurate timing and it’s the one that ensures your horse doesn’t begin to resent you. Now, resentment is a human emotion that I’m certain horses experience as well. So the question then becomes how do we apply consistency to our horse training practice without boring ourselves or our horses?
Keep it fresh.
The third lesson that I feel is very important, is to change the subject once and a while and go do something else. I like to take my young horses out of the arena as much as possible and go for a ride in the hills. We’ll climb some hills, cross some creeks, they’ll eat some different grass than they get at home. We both enjoy getting out and doing something new and different! The old saying “a change is as good as the rest” is also as true for the horse and the human.
I think getting your horse outside the arena and back into the hills teaches them world skills and confidence that you just can't get from constant arena riding. But it doesn’t have to be the hills if you don’t have any in your backyard. You can also try a new arena, ride them out in the pasture rather than the arena, or sign up for a new event to try.
Photo by Trent Schlamp Photography
This is not only good for the horse but is also good for the human as well. There has been many a time when I have been working with a horse on some element of their training and we will be struggling to get it right. We will take a day off from the grind and go do something else and when we come back to the problem it has magically disappeared. Why is this? I believe the horse and the human both come back with a fresh look and feel. And the problem doesn't appear to be so big and daunting anymore.
With these three lessons, your horse will learn faster and enjoy your time together more. So remember to try and keep it interesting for your horse, quit once you’re ahead, and give them a break every now and then. Turns out they aren’t that different from us after all!
You can take my Key Ranch College Training Program horsemanship online-clinic inside the Cowboy Campus Club Group Coaching Program and master timing and feel! Join the waitlist and be notified when enrollment to the club opens on October 1st 2023 here → https://www.cowboycampus.com/join-the-waitlist