Horse Training – Demanding vs. Earning Your Horse’s Respect

I recently read an article by a Well Known Clinician in which she was offering tips for training a horse that did not want to go out on the trail alone. I agreed with her on several points:

  • The reason this is such a common problem – horses are reluctant to leave the security they feel with their herd mates.
  • That it would not be an overnight fix, but would take at least several weeks of training to resolve.
  • That the work would have the benefits of making the horse safer and more willing.
  • That ground work must be the starting point of the re-training.
  • That the horse needs to have his attention on you (the trainer/rider) rather than on his herd or distractions in the environment.

But, I disagreed with the Well Known Clinician’s instructions to:

  • “demand respect”,
  • not let him “get away with” small disobediences, and
  • “make him walk through” things that he is avoiding.

The words we use affect our behaviour.  What feelings and thoughts come to your mind when you hear the word “demand” or the phrase “don’t let him get away with …” or “make him do it”?  What comes to my mind is aggression, force, conflict.  There is a winner and a loser.  It feels dictatorial and unsympathetic to the needs and feelings of the other party – whether that is a human or a horse.  This way of thinking, in my mind, sets up a “master/servant” type of relationship.

When I work with horses, my aim is to create a willing partnership based on respect, trust and cooperation.  These elements are much stronger when they are earned rather than demanded.

Respect is earned by having clear, consistent and appropriate boundaries.

Trust is earned by paying attention to what the horse needs and then giving him that.

Confidence is built by decreasing his stress and helping him to feel calm and safe.

I want the horse to choose to follow me not because he is afraid of me, but because he feels safe with me – mentally as well as physically.

Behaviour is communication.  If the horse is not behaving or responding the way I would like him to, I don’t consider that as “disobedience”.

Rather than “not letting him get away with small disobediences”, I consider why the horse has a certain behaviour.  For example, if he won’t stand still for mounting I consider possible reasons.  Is he experiencing pain, anxiety or fear?  When I address the reason and give the horse what he needs to be calm and relaxed, then he will be able and willing to stand quietly.

Rather than “making him walk through things he is avoiding”, I consider his perspective as a flight, prey animal.  If he is concerned about a particular object, I will work with him in his “comfort zone” and gradually expand that area while I help to keep him in a calm, level frame.  In this way, I build his trust in me and his confidence increases.

When you earn your horse’s respect and trust, he will become more willing and confident – naturally.   You horse will feel safe, calm and relaxed whenever he is with you – even when he is away from his herd mates.

Click here to watch a short video (6.29 min) to see how I apply these principles when working with a horse in-hand (leading in contact) to build trust, respect and confidence.

Please do post your comments or questions below.

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Written by Anne Gage, Confident Horsemanship (  I would also appreciate it if you’d send me a copy for my media files.
Anne Gage
Confident Horsemanship

6 thoughts on “Horse Training – Demanding vs. Earning Your Horse’s Respect

  1. I agree with you on your post. Many times I find that people believe that old saw about ‘making sure (the horse) knows who is the boss.” Horses that trust you do so when they learn than they can trust you AS A LEADER. One can be the ‘alpha mare’ , the leader, or the dominant one in the herd of two, but being dominant doesn’t mean being a dominatrix. “Clear, consistent and appropriate boundaries” sums it up so well. If you do something (as simple as asking for a hoof) in a consistent manner, you will get the results you want from the horse.
    I’ve found that breaking a task (or a request) into small little steps helps me as well as the horse.
    Great post! Thank you!

    • Hi, Margaretha … You make a good point. We need to remember that just because a horse has given his trust or respect, it does not mean we can assume we have it forever. Both trust and respect can be shaken and lost. And, then we must do the necessary work to re-earn them again.

      Enjoy the journey.


  2. I am very happy to find this post. I have been looking for a teacher who I can learn from to be able to work happily with my horse, and I can’t stand the ‘make him’, ‘don’t let him win’ stuff. But since I have no experience, only what my heart tells me, I work on my own, following videos by Alexandra Kurland on clicker training, which I understand very well, and which is working beautifully with my horse. But I need some more ideas as what I get from her videos is sometimes beyond my experience as well, and this video with the bridle and working on the ground is perfect for me. I will incorporate it with my clicker training. To get on his back and try to get him comfortable when he has had so much of the usual force treatment in the past, does not seem like a good idea to me. so thank you, and I am looking forward to reading all about you on your website now, and seeing what else you have to say out here on the web. Thank you for taking the time to share, you’ve reached someone who has been looking for help, so your effort is worth it!!! Thank you,
    Angela in Lithia FL

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