Horse Training From The Ground Up

If You Listen to Your Horse With More Than Your Ears,
You Will Hear Him Talking to You

My name is JudyRyder Duffy; we live in Arizona and have several breeds of gaited horses including Missouri Fox Trotter, Tennessee Walker, and Icelandic Horses.

We use several different/combined methods of training our horses. We take a little of this and a little of that, and whatever works best for each individual horse.

We have several email lists totalling 2,000 subscribers. One of the lists is totally dedicated to Gaited Horses, another for equine massage/complementary therapies, and others. For links to the lists, check here: Email Lists

Whether you have a new baby or a new adult horse, all training should start with ground training. It will form a foundation for your relationship with your horse.

Before starting to train, be sure that your horse has the proper nutrition and food. Grass hay is much better for horses than alfalfa hay. Grain should not be fed to horses unless they are working very hard every day and/or have jobs such as roping, jumping, racing, etc.

For horses who might be a little nervous or spooky, be sure to give them enough B vitamins and calcium/magnesium. These supplements have a calming affect in regard to stress.

Before going on to the Groundwork section, please take a look at Dr. Deb Bennett's Commandments.

Many great horsemen have allowed us to use their articles on this website. We have information from the best of the best! They are glad to share the information for the good of the horse. I thank them very much for this.

While I do not necessarily agree with every single thing each person writes, uses, or endorses, the material is presented so that each person can make their own decisions as to what is best for them and their horse(s). There will be several different articles on the same subject (i.e. trailer loading) to enable owners to see their choices, experiment with different methods, and to pick what they are comfortable with.

By Robin Hood:

I always encourage people to look at lots of things and find out, not only what works for them but, what feels okay for them. You can always make any method better. I have a suggestion for anyone observing a clinician/trainer at work-- ask yourself the following questions:

Is what they are saying and what they are doing really the same? (I read many books and all the methods sound nice but in reality are not always like that.)

How does it feel to you in your heart and in your gut?

If you were in the horse's shoes-- how would you feel or what would you be learning?

And one of the most important questions: What do they do when their method doesn't work? Do they have other tools or do they just continue to escalate the pressure?

If you are watching a video-- turn off the sound and see it without hearing the words and you can also do the opposite - listen to it without seeing - you might be surprised at the incongruencies that occur.

Lisa and Erin, Teamwork Equine Services:

Natural horsemanship is a holistic approach to working with horses. Instead of looking for a quick fix to mask a symptom, you try to address the cause of the problem. For example, if the horse is taking off and running away with the rider, charging jumps or spooking, many people will go to a more severe bit or some other mechanical device. In natural horsemanship you may determine that the cause of the problem is fear. If the cause is fear, the horse is having a natural flight response. He is not being "bad." He is not being "silly." He certainly isn't "just having fun." The horse is probably afraid of being ridden or of people in general, and the situation may be frightening him as well.

Instead of wrestling with the actual problem, in natural horsemanship you would probably start from scratch with groundwork to build a foundation of trust. You'd help the horse to relax while you are touching him with your hands and other objects all over. You'd help him to relax while you acquaint him with scary objects, such as spray bottles, measuring tapes, tarps, beachballs, etc. You'd help him to feel comfortable and safe walking over ground poles and through tight spaces. You'd learn how to move each part of the horse very precisely (forehand, hindquarters, head up and down, going forward, backing up, going sideways, turning. . . until the two of you flow together like partners dancing.

Many people claim that fear isn't the problem with their horse, but, if you have a trained eye, the horse's body language may be telling another story. One way to check if he is really comfortable with the saddle, for example, is to put it on him when he is not tied to anything and see if he stands still. It is important to learn how to read the horse's signals and be able to recognize when he is just starting to feel tense (LONG before he starts bucking, spooking or whatever) as well as when he is just starting to relax (so that you can know when to reward him).

Another big difference in natural horsemanship is the reward system. Most people reward their horse with verbal praise and/or clapping the horse on the neck. In natural horsemanship, the view is that this kind of reward is appropriate for a predator (such a in dog training), but because a horse is a prey animal, all he wants is a release and no further stimulation the INSTANT he does something right--this is "comfort" to him. When you are first starting with groundwork, this might mean stopping your request instantly while backing away from the horse looking the other way, then breathing deeply and being as depleted of energy as possible for as long as a minute or so. Giving the horse his space (comfort) is what the reward is.

Instead of training the horse through repetition to do a specific thing, the goal of natural horsemanship is to help the horse to be calm and relaxed, yet at the same time fully attentive and mentally prepared to respond to any request you may make at any given moment. It is an excellent foundation for any discipline and extremely therapeutic for horses from both a mental and physical point of view.

Natural horsemanship requires a lot of patience, time and commitment. There are no miracles to it. It is a slow approach (just as in housepainting, it is very long on "prep work") but in the long run, if you want to get extraordinary results, it is well worth it.

A relationship based on respect without fear

We would like to share with you a way of living, thinking, and feeling about horses. It is based on learning to understand the natural instincts of your horse so that you can build a relationship that is based on respect without fear. In this process, you will find that you will spend more time working on yourself. You will learn how to communicate with your horse in ways horses understand, how to interpret what your horse is telling you, and how you can work together in harmony.

Teamwork between "predator" and "prey"

We believe in taking the time and putting forth the effort to achieve mutual understanding. In order to achieve a relationship that goes beyond the norm you first must understand and respect the horse's basic need for self-preservation.

A horse is by nature an animal of prey. He is designed to flee from danger. Before you've had time to blink, he can already be halfway across the arena. On the other hand, we humans are predators by nature. We have the look, smell, and feel of predators. It is natural for us--as humans--to behave in ways that alarm horses. And it takes a lot of patience and persistence for us to prove to horses that we are trustworthy.

A horse's instinct for self-preservation is stronger than any bit, tie-down, or restraint. Mechanical devices such as these not only induce pain but are cruel and cause anxiety because they prevent a horse, who is claustrophobic by nature, from having the ability to flee. Horses can learn to want to be with you because they trust you and feel a bond, not because they are tied to you physically.

The goal: braver horses, smarter horses

Horses instinctively run first and ask questions later. Our goal is to earn the trust and respect of our horses so that they remain cool, calm, and collected--but most importantly--so that their capacity for thought is increased, not decreased. A stressed horse has a diminished capacity for thought. A stressed horse can be dangerous--an animal who is at least ten times your weight, who is not thinking, and is only in survival mode can be extremely dangerous. Tapping into horses' natural instincts as followers

Horses in the wild have survived by looking to their leaders and following their cues. If horses had not evolved with such extraordinary grace, sensitivity, and skill as followers, they would all run over each other at the first sign of danger! Even newborn foals learn to move off a cue as subtle as a look within the first two hours of life. Humans can also learn to use this natural language. We can even go beyond this and earn a position of leadership naturally by learning the body language horses use to establish pecking order. It is a path full of great challenges and discoveries.
Copyright 1996-99, Teamwork Equine Services. All rights reserved.

C.W. Training believes that horses have an inherent desire to perform for their handlers, but are usually confused by unclear signals or are locked into undesirable behaviors that were never corrected. In 20 years of horse training and competition, I have concluded that there are no problem horses - only uneducated horses (and handlers). All horses are trainable; all horses are salvageable. The most enjoyable horses are those with good manners that have been patiently built through a solid training foundation (conditioned response).

Once the foundation is established, the horse becomes a quick, willing student who is eager to learn and please. In many ways horses are just like people, with different characteristics and personalities. Each one learns at a different level and length of time; some horses learn lessons more easily than others.

Some are physically built to perform better than others. Those with conformation that fits a particular discipline may learn more easily. But all horses can be enjoyed. All horses can do arena work and be on the trail in a relaxed manner. Just like us, horses are always learning every day. Horses are not golf carts, where we turn the key and go. Just like us they have good days and bad days. If we go on vacation for two weeks, we don't perform on our first day back like we did just before we left. So why should we expect our horse to be any different when it has been laid up for any length of time?

Most problems arise by skipping over the basics of the horse's education. You may want to do upper level (10th grade) work , but the horse is at 4th grade. From that you get a confused, nervous horse that rears or bucks, which are just two types of misbehavior that are the byproduct of skipping ahead.

There are three Golden Rules that I train by when working with your horse: (1) You can't get hurt: the technique you choose should not put you in any danger. (2) The horse doesn't get hurt: training is of little use if your horse is lame or hurt. (3) The horse is calmer after the lesson, telling you he is comfortable and understanding the lesson.

There are three parts of the horse that need to be trained: Physical, Mental, and Emotional. We work with all three.
Reprinted with permission from Charles Wilhelm Training

Challenging the Alpha Theory, Mark Rashid

Building a Foundation by Al Holloway

Gadget-Free Training by Dan Gilmore

Relationship Training

Thinking the Way Animals Do

Discussion on Equine Intelligence

Frank Bell Philosophy

Considering the Spirit

Articles by Laura Bell

Epona, Icelandic Horse

Visit the BookStore:
Equine Research Inc. Horse Books &

Rick Lamb, The Horse Show


Disaster Information

"Being a leader, and being a "boss" are not the same thing. Both are positions of authority. But there is a level of respect, IMO, given to the leader that the "boss" will never attain. That respect has to be earned. It can be lost. It can be regained. But it always has to be earned. "

"In normal riding, we let the horse go forward and cause him to stop. Ideally, with natural horsemanship we cause the horse to go forward and allow him to stop." ~~Parelli

What is "Feel"?

Perhaps feel is developing the ability to connect with our horses using the languages of thought, touch and energy; a refined level of clear, non-verbal communication based on understanding and empathy coming from the heart, tempered by the mind and reached only through time, practice and a passionate desire to achieve it in the first place.~~Sue Terrell

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