Of Horse

Created by Horse enthusiasts for Horse enthusiasts

A Lesson Well Learned:  The Power of Positive Introductions
Facebook Tweet Google+ Pinterest Email More Sharing Options

A Lesson Well Learned: The Power of Positive Introductions

"If your horse says no, you either asked the wrong question, or asked the question wrong." - Pat Parelli

Today I want to share the importance of politeness with your horse, and how this affects their willingness towards you and training overall.

The Circumstance: A friend and I recently spent a sunny afternoon at the barn to groom another friend's geldings. It had been several months since we last visited these horses, and I was unsure how our presence would be received after such a prolonged absence. We endeavored no matter what sort of welcome we received, that we would leave on good terms –even if that meant not accomplishing what we initially planned to do.

The first horse we visited was a bay named Maverick. Maverick quickly came up to us upon entering his pen and we took a moment to reacquaint ourselves with him, blowing into his nose, talking to him, and stroking him. Since he had a particular fondness for my friend I told her she could be the one to halter him. But as soon as the halter was raised, Maverick's curiosity dissipated and he backed away from us and retreated to the far corner of his paddock.

Some people might have interpreted this as disrespectful, but I knew in this case Maverick was retreating from insecurity, not out of spite. So we didn't pursue him. The horses in adjacent pens were now watching to see how we'd respond to Maverick's flight, and I knew if we chased after Maverick they'd want nothing to do with us.

Instead, we went to the next pen which held a chestnut gelding named Doc. He seemed pleased at our arrival but made no move to approach us. Mindful of his body-language we politely approached. However, once we came within twenty feet of him he took on a sour expression and laid his ears back. We immediately stopped. I wanted him to see we would respect his requests and stay out of his space. As soon as we halted his ears pricked forward again. We gave him a moment to process this then came forward once more. His ears immediately went back again. So we stopped and backed up until he didn't feel we were trespassing on his space. His ears then came forward.

This continued for several minutes, Doc, my friend, and I experimenting with each-other's space bubbles to see how each would respond to the other's presence with body-language.

It was through this I realized the offending article was neither my nor my friend's presence, but the halter in our hand. When we set the halter on the ground and moved away from it, his sour glare remained fixed on the halter –not on us. Absorbing this new piece of information, we collected the halter and left for the third paddock.

The third horse we had never met before. His name was Junior. Having closely watched us interact with the other two horses from the fence, I was curious to see how he received us. He walked right up to meet us. Being mindful of his body-language, we tentatively stroked him before walking back to the barn. I wanted to see if he would follow on his own. Sure enough, Junior followed like a shadow. Both Maverick and Doc watched from their pens as my friend and I continued into the barn, Junior willingly in tow, and proceeded to groom him.

After this the other two horses approached us upon entering their pens and allowed us to pet and groom them.

The Conclusion: These horses taught me the importance of polite introductions and remaining polite even if I was not initially received.  It also showed me if I remained consistent with my actions, their initial suspicion would subside, they would become willing partners, and be glad for my company.

If horses want you to set aside your agenda there is often something of much greater importance than you had in mind to be revealed.

Just as we train them to respond to subtle aids and develop a willingness to learn, so horses want us to be attentive to the subtle signs they communicate to us through body-language, and be willing to alter our plans based off what they are communicating.

Through this experiment I learned that horses are more than happy to comply with our requests if we demonstrate the values we are trying to instill in them, because we will be more attentive to the subtle signs they express if they aren't physically or mentally ready to do something we ask.

Nuno Oliveira expresses this concept beautifully in his quote: "A horse will never tire of a rider who possesses both tact and sensitivity because he will never be pushed beyond his possibilities."

When we allow a horse to express itself with subtle body-language and respect it they will not have to go to such extremes as bolting, kicking, biting, bucking, etc. to get a reaction from us. Our horse will be much happier to work with us because he has a voice we listen to and does not feel forced to shout in order for it to be heard.

Through this we will have greater success in our training goals because we have a basis for communication and an animal that will not be difficult or evasive to our requests because he knows he won't be pushed beyond his abilities. This is what enables horse and rider to rise to greater heights than either could have previously imagined.

Application: The greatest thing you can is to simply spend time with them without an agenda.

  • Read a book in their pasture. If reading isn't your thing clean the water trough, check the fence, pull some weeds, or pick rocks.  Anything that keeps you busy in their presence without directly interacting with them unless the initiate it.
  • One of my personal favorites is to eat a meal with them. After feeding them their breakfast or dinner I settle down close by and eat my own plate of food.
  • Take them for a walk. Planting treats at various points along the way will build his curiosity and confidence.
  • Sometimes simply going to the barn long enough to give them a treat and a few kind words is enough.

The goal is to establish with your horse that he is not simply a tool used for riding. When you break up the amount of riding you do by spending time with your horse, he will eagerly anticipate your arrival because he looks forward to being with you.

Recommended Reading:

  • True Horsemanship Through Feel by: Tom Dorrance
  • Become Perfect Partners by: Kelly Marks

Questions or comments? I'd love to hear from you!

Is there a specific topic, training method, or question you would like me to write about? Feel free to share it in a comment below -it may choose it as the topic of my next post!

Yes! Send me a full color horse trailer brochure from Featherlite.

Thanks! Your brochure will be on its way shortly.
  1. Michelle Jane
    Michelle Jane
    Voted! very true!
    1. Barnboot Bailey
      Barnboot Bailey
      Thank you for your vote, I am glad you enjoyed it! :)
  2. Rene Wright
    Rene Wright
    Voted. I love this, and use this type of training with Cookie from the very beginning and it works great!
    1. Barnboot Bailey
      Barnboot Bailey
      Thank you! Its always amazes me how enriching it is to our relationships with horses, and how effective it truly is as a training tool. Thanks for reading.
  3. jst4horses
    Very good article. I trained with Pat and Karen at their then ranch in Stockton years ago. He now of course has his own ranch in Sarasota Springs, with wife Linda, and Karen has her Natural Hoofbeats program and ranch with husband Jim. That tiny act of "the horsey handshake" they teach is so easy, yet breaks the ice in a horsey way. I teach all of my students in the first 500 hours of NativeAmericanNatural Horsemanship to do what you have said, see what side of the stall the horse is on (Pat-ism) and just hold out your hand and give the horse the respect to see what side of the barn you are on. Because I have worked with and trained performance and race horses that HAVE to go when they are asked, there is no saying no. My method is to train them fast to expect their daily routine and a continuous change of grooms and handlers, and riders. Some big stables are on a rotating swing program that is a bit hard on horse and human, especially grained up performance horses. So, we trained them with as much diversity as possible to minimize those who know mean and abusive ways of "making" them mind. It was Pat who told me, it is not anything great that you are the only one who can handle a horse, it has to be trained so anyone can handle that horse safely. I thank him for that advice, both for me, and for horses I have trained over the years. One horse in particular was a syndicated Kentucky hopeful, he broke down, and was sold down. I found him years later and the trainer told me, he had come in mean and vicious, but as soon as she showed him her Naturalhorsemanship ways, he turned right around. She said "someone loved this horse once". She was so right. But someone had also been horrible to him somewhere and he had learned to defend himself. Your article points out the importance of letting a horse make a judgement about you, rather than just fighting with the horse! Thank you.
    1. Barnboot Bailey
      Barnboot Bailey
      Wow, thank you for sharing! Your story was a great illustration for the point I tried to convey in my article. "It is not anything great that you are the only one who can handle a horse, it has to be trained so anyone can handle that horse safely." I think I will post that quote at the barn I work at. It breaks my heart that trainers sometimes forget this -myself included. A great trainer can teach a horse to be forgiving of their handler's mistakes -no matter their experience level- so they can improve their skills with a safe and understanding animal. One of the things I love about Pat's training program is that he has put so much effort in providing an abundance of material for others to learn horsemanship. He is definitely an inspiration. :)
      1. jst4horses
        I went to my first Parelli class with a friend. I had been brain injured by a high fever disease. I was so disabled I had to sit on the ground, I would fall off a bench. Over the years of training horses with my younger son, we decided to get some paper, so we went to Pat's ranch in Stockton. In those old days a rider brought a tent and slept in the field. We ate while classes went on in the classroom/diningroom and then went back out to the arena. Really great trainers no one really has heard of just came and shared, and many people, such as Dr. Robert Miller, and the then lead Mustanger for the Bureau of Land Management came and taught us. You never knew who would show up at a clinic and just give a few clues. It was a lot of fun. Following cancer radiation that ate part of one of my hip bones, and two major car accidents, one two years ago where two young guys racing hit me enough to further injure my back, I have not ridden for almost three years, but continue to train with a younger trainer, she wanted to learn Natural Horsemanship and I needed what I call the "upsy" person. Some years prior, when I had been hit by a moving van that went out of control on the freeway and broke my back I was off horses for some time, and trained with another rider who had sever arthritis and could not do ground work. So we established our "upsy/downsy" method of training and kept right on training some of the worst abused, and meanest horses people could find to challenge us with. I used to love a bucky, natural horse, just full of life. I had one three year old Polish Arabian and a big Griffin (a dog also called a wire haired springer-a curly haired hunting dog) We would go out on the trails and mountains and the two would play and hide behind trees, and bushes and rocks and jump out at each other, me just along for the ride. Now, I love my calm old trail horses that have worked with kids for years as I begin to ride again. I got up on one of my old barrel racing horses, I could feel her excitement, she has been working with kids for a few years since she broke her leg. I could feel her say, "Let's go", I said "Let's not!". Thanks to my back, my leg on one side just gives out, and off I slide, and on other days, my back locks up and I can not get down without going to a shed roof, and holding on and asking the horse to move away. Enjoy while you can, everyone, it is so amazing, and I am so glad it has been such a part of my life, and that I get to share it with so many other riders.
        1. Barnboot Bailey
          Barnboot Bailey
          I think it is wonderful you still find ways to work with horses and others even with so many physical limitations. It sounds like you have had some amazing experiences with horses and trainers in your lifetime! If you were to write some of these memories into blog posts I would be very interested in reading them. :) One of my favorite ways to learn (and I'm sure others do as well) is through the stories and experiences of others. It really helps cement the concept being taught. Thanks again for sharing!
  4. arabobsession
    Wow love your blog, please read my article Finding the right button for you. You have captured what I have just had my light bulb moment from.

Sign Up to Vote!

10 second sign-up with Facebook or Google

Already a member? Log in to vote.