Understanding Your Horse Can Improve Training

Horses are intuitive pets that respond well to positive interactions. Taking the time to understand their main needs will build your relationship.

We all have goals when it comes to training our horses. Common ones include your horse letting you put their girth on easily, getting them to respond to leg aids, or mastering their trot-canter transition. As humans, we can become so focused on our objectives during training that we forget to consider our horse’s perspective.

This can result in our horses communicating through behaviour that we interpret as naughtiness. A good way to prevent this situation is to try and put ourselves in their shoes.

All of our horse’s outward actions start with their mind. If we don’t understand and address their unmet needs, we can end up with an emotionally, mentally or physically ill horse with behaviour problems. By understanding that our horse is simply telling us if they are uncomfortable, scared, agitated or bored, we can help relieve their negative emotions and reduce unwanted behaviour.

That’s why it’s so important to understand our horse’s needs, identify what makes them happy and relaxed, and reinforce this.

Horses have a different brain configuration to humans, including lacking a large frontal lobe. This means they have only three primary needs.

1. Safety

Horses are prey animals by nature, which means they actively seek safety and security from potential predators. Without safety, horses cannot function to their full capacity, as they will continuously be in a flight (run away) or fight (defensive) state of mind.

If a horse is forced to remain in a situation that causes them fear, they will become agitated, stressed, and panicked. This, in turn, can create a dangerous scenario. On the other hand, if a horse feels safe they will enjoy learning, be much healthier, and have a far better relationship with their trainer or rider – providing their other needs are met too.

2. Comfort

Once a horse feels secure, their next concern is what’s going on around them. An example of this is a horse moving forward as a result of the driving pressure from a lunging whip behind them. Horses are very sensitive to the space around them, so when their comfort is disturbed, they will move to get away from the pressure.

A good way to train your horse is to focus on comfort. When pressure is applied (discomfort) and the horse responds with the action you are looking for, removing the pressure creates relief (comfort). Because horses are so smart, repetition will teach them what you want and they will start moving readily towards the comfort that this brings.

3. Play

Horses are very playful creatures that respond well to playing with their trainers or owners. This relieves boredom, increases bonding, and allows them to express themselves safely. Horses seek play and enjoyment, and as owners of these creatures, we should find creative ways to train them that meets this need.

Do you have ideas on how to make your horse happy? Let us know on Facebook.