Is Your Horse Getting What He Deserves or What He Needs?

I spent some time at a sanctioned/recognized horse show recently and was honestly appalled by some of the training techniques I saw being used by many of the trainers and riders.  Draw reins were used to pull the horses’ heads in to their chests.  Reins attached to shank bits with large ports were pulled and yanked upwards either to get the horse to raise his head if it was too low or to lower his head if it was too high.  I didn’t understand how all this pulling was “training” let alone how the horse was supposed to know the difference between the cue for raise or lower his head!  These techniques are accepted as “the way” to train horses for competition.  Had I asked a rider why he or she was being so hard on the horse, I am sure the answer would have been “he deserves it”.

There were one or two quiet riders working their horses in snaffle bits with quiet, consistent contact and riding from their seat and legs rather than from their hands.  But, quite honestly, these were the minority of what I witnessed.

We all learn what we are taught.  There are methods I used when I was competing on the Hunter circuit that I am not proud of.  These were techniques that the majority of trainers used and taught to their students.  They had learned them from their trainers and were passing along what they knew.  It was only when I met a horse that did not work well with these traditional methods that I looked for some more answers.  That is when I went to my first Chris Irwin clinic and my eyes were opened to a better way of working with horses.  That way that didn’t require me to be forceful or “tough”.  That way made the experience good – even beneficial – for the horse and much more rewarding for me.

It’s a long, hard road to change “traditions” especially when the techniques – at least on the surface – appear to work.  (If the training doesn’t work then, traditionally, the blame is put on the horse and the owner is encouraged to sell that horse and buy another one.)  I would like to see that thought process changed so that the horse gets the training he needs to become the horse the owner wants.  So, I will continue to show people that there is a better way to work with horses.  These methods don’t cause mental or physical stress to the horse.  In fact, they consider and improve the horses overall well being.

Which way do you choose to work with your horse?  If you aren’t happy with what your trainer is doing with your horse, ask questions.  Ask why?  Ask if there is another way that might take longer, but will be better for you and your horse in the long run.  Horses are extremely sensitive and intuitive animals.  They deserve better from us.  Give your horse what he needs and he will willingly give you what you want without compromise to his mental and physical well being.

When we know better, we do better.

If you would like to help spread the word about a better way to work with horses, please share this blog with 5 friends, send a Tweet or post on your Facebook page.  The horses thank you.

You are welcome to use this article in your newsletter or blog as long as you include my credit information: Written by Anne Gage, Confident Horsemanship (  I would also appreciate it if you’d send me a copy for my media files.


7 thoughts on “Is Your Horse Getting What He Deserves or What He Needs?

  1. Anne,
    You are so right and what a great post on an important topic. I stopped being able to stomach sitting at horse shows MANY years ago – to be honest watching such disgraceful abuse in the name of winning a $2 ribbon makes me run to the bathroom to throw up. Literally.
    But again, the important point you make that I cannot agree more with is that these riders (and ourselves at some point along the journey as well) do not see this until there is a reason to. Something has to happen to upset the norm in their daily routine with riding and training horses in this fashion before they will change. There is something to be said for the ‘impossible’ horse who usually teaches us the most valuable lessons; to look at the bigger picture and how our behavior and actions affect our horses and students.

    Thanks again for such a great post!

    • Thanks for your comments, Erica. I have been out of showing for a few years – even stopped running schooling shows at my farm because I couldn’t watch what was happening even at the low levels anymore. But, now that I have a client who does show and is willing to take the time to give the horses what they need to be ready for the ring, I am back at the shows with them. I give my clients full credit for being willing to do things differently than the crowd and taking some flack for it! But, the horses – and my clients – are happier and doing well. Change is slow, but it is coming.

  2. Sometimes I get upset that I have not grown up in the horse world and I am just getting into it in my late 20s. Other times, when I read stuff like your post, I am glad to be getting into the horse world when I am more mature and do not follow what others say step by step. I can make informed decisions for myself on what I feel is best and safest for my horse. I also get flack at my barn for not “beating” my horse or being overly aggressive with her. It is frustrating, but I do not plan on showing, so I am going to go about working with my horse the best way I know how. Thank you for this!!

    • Hi, Allison … There are advantages to getting into horses as an adult. Having the ability to question and not just do things because someone says “this is the way to do it” is one of those benefits. All horse people need to become more curious and ask “why”. All trainers and coaches should be able to answer questions with clear, intelligent explanations. You are definitely not alone!



  3. Pingback: Curb Strap with Snaffle

  4. Pingback: Do You Go to Battle if Your Horse Doesn’t Listen? | Confident Horsemanship – The Blog

  5. Pingback: Do You Go to Battle if Your Horse Doesn’t Listen? | Anne Gage ~ Confident Horsemanship

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