A Horse's Nature

Horses are two things. They are the way they are and they are the way we think they are or want them to be. Many of the struggles we have with horses stem from those two things being very different. Only occasionally are those two things the same thing.


I believe that most people want more from a horse than just a working relationship. It certainly seems to be true of almost everyone who reads this page and comes to my clinics. Most people want to have a good relationship with the horse(s) that extends more into being a member of the family than just a utility to be used when needed. People take their responsibility to the emotional and psychological welfare of their horse very seriously. And I am happy to help anybody who cares about this aspect of owning a horse.


But I am sometimes bothered when I hear of people who anoint a horse with altruistic motives.  It’s not unheard of for owners and teachers to prescribe virtues to horses that I truly don’t believe they have, but which people want to believe they have. I think of it as the Black Beauty syndrome. It works great as a piece of romantic fiction, but it is still fiction.


There is no question that horses are amazing. Their nature allows us to do all sorts of unpleasant things to them from being thrown to the ground to being charged (and sometimes gorged) by bulls, yet they don’t plot their revenge. They allow us to use tortuous devices, work them when they are sore, separate them from the safe haven of a herd, transport them in tin cans on wheels etc and all because we can. Their nature lets us, and we exploit that.


However, let’s be honest here. Horses are not altruistic. They don’t live to please us or to get along with us. If they knew what was ahead, no horse would volunteer to go into a training program. But when the choice is taken away from them they mostly submit to the role we choose for them. This is the true nature of a horse and it is why we train, ride and drive them.


In horsemanship, we are always talking about ways to make our idea the horse’s idea. When a horse has an idea to do something it takes almost nothing for it to happen. So the easiest way to get a horse to do something is to implant the idea to do it in its mind. Simple!


However, a horse does not set out to please people. Its mind is constantly occupied with ideas on how to make its own life better and often that those ideas conflict with our ideas.


A horse is not sitting around waiting for us to issue a command. Their minds are always busy thinking about something. All the real estate in the thinking part of a horse’s brain is constantly occupied. For a horse to have a new thought requires the elimination of a thought that is already occupying space in the brain. Therefore, for us to implant a new idea means we are in competition with the thought that has already set up house in the horse’s mind. This is always true. Anytime we want to change a horse’s thought, we are in competition with the rest of world that is bombarding our horse with new things to focus on.


In time and with good training, a horse can learn that people offer a good deal and life is okay when they let the primates run the show. But it takes a lot of good work before that becomes a way of life in a horse’s thinking. And even when we get to that stage of our relationship, it only takes a time or two of letting the horse down that things return to a conflict of ideas between human and horse.


There is a lot more I could say on this subject, but it would almost certainly land me in a serious conflict of ideas with some of you and I’m not feeling particularly feisty today.


Our role as horse trainers is to find a way that a horse is comfortable with placing the human at the top of ideas list. People and the tasks we present should ideally occupy the most important place in a horse’s thoughts. We should not have to topple every other thought to be important to a horse. Instead the world should have to topple us out of first place for the horse to give it much concern.


To end on a very minor feisty note let me say that this does not happen because we shy away from creating a little trouble in our horses in times when it is needed to unseat one idea and replace it with another. The non-altruistic and submissive nature of a horse that allows us to do what we do is also the nature that requires a ruffling of horse feathers from time to time.


Photo: My wife, Michèle riding Callum. We are always competing with outside influences for a horse to be able to hear us.

What's Your Problem?

I am rarely content with the way things are between a horse and myself. I know there are always things to improve and I am constantly looking for them.


One thing that I have been working on for years is to keep remembering to not round my shoulders. I even do it when I walk, so it is a bit of way of life for me and I guess I will be working on it forever.


But my latest project comes from a recent awareness that when I ask my horse to change down in transition I put a little more weight in my left seat bone and push down into my left stirrup. So I have been consciously working at lifting my left leg upwards ever so slightly to break the habit. And it’s working just fine. I am now pretty much at the place where I can forget about my left seat and remain neutral in the saddle in the downward transitions.


I am curious what you are working on or feel you need to work on in your journey to self-improvement.

Interview With An Australia Legend

A little while back I interviewed well-known horseman, Ted Clueless. Here is a transcipt of that interview.



I’m here today with legendary Australian horseman, Ted Clueless. Welcome Ted and thank you for your time.



No worries mate. Always glad to have a chin wag.



Now Ted you come from a long line of expert horseman. Is that right?



Yeah, sure mate. There have been generations of Clueless horsemen. My father, his father and his father before him were all great Clueless horsemen. We’ve even had several Clueless women as professional horse trainers. A lot of people in the horse world claim to be Clueless, but our family are the real McCoy. No question.



Well, as a little background why don’t you tell our readers what sort of horses you prefer.



Sure mate. Well, I like horses that don’t buck. I also like horses that don’t bite. And I’m really fond of the ones that don’t bolt. I sure wish I owned one.



No, no. I mean what breed to horses do you prefer.



Oh. Sorry mate. Well, I prefer the breeds that don’t buck and the ones that don’t bite. I’ve also got a soft spot for the one that don’t bolt.



So you’re okay with horses that rear.



Oh no mate. I forget about the breeds that rear. Yeah, I don’t like them much either.



Right. I see. Well, I guess that’s enough about you. Maybe we should go onto something else.

A lot of my readers would like to know what you consider to be the fundamental principle behind your work.



Well mate, I sort of agree with Ray Hunt when he said, “it’s all about the feet.”

See Ray understood that ridin was about gettin a horse to go somewhere. It’s that simple. The more they go somewhere the better they are.

The trouble is that so many of them blokes that followed him missed what Ray really meant by “it’s all about the feet.” A lot them aren’t ya genius types and Ray not being great on givin detail left them hangin confused by what he meant.



How so?



Well, I reckon what Ray really meant when he said “it’s all about the feet” is that it’s all about how far you get a horse to go. If Ray had been born in say Europe, he’d have said “it’s all about the metres”. But he didn’t. He didn’t tell people that he was not talkin about the horse’s feet, he was talkin about the feet between point A and point B.

So that left all those poor buggers that hung on his every word thinkin Ray was goin on about useless stuff like hindquarter disengagements and lateral flexion and two-beat backups and connectin the reins to the feet. But Ray’s gone now and those drongos are still confused.

I’m tellin ya it’s all about the metres.



Well, that is certainly an interesting take on what Ray was saying.



I know mate. I am a deep thinker like that.



Well, what are your thoughts about the idea that of getting a change in a horse’s thoughts should come before getting a change in their feet, erm I mean metres.



Look, I know where ya comin from. You’re a good bloke and ya heart’s in the right place. But gettin a horse to change his thought? Really????

Have you seen my mare over there? If she had one thought she’d need a week’s rest and 12 month’s therapy. She’s as thick as two short planks. If I waited until she had a change of thought nobody would be ridin her until my grand kids had grand kids. I’m as old as a dairy cow’s fart and I don’t have that much time to wait.

Nah mate. Ya mean well, but ya ideas are so off the beaten track that I sometimes think ya have a roo loose in the top paddock. Maybe ya should get checked out by a professional shrink.



Are there any other important principles you think people should consider when it comes to working with horses?



Well, another thing that Ray said that I reckon people should take on board is “make the right thing easy and the left thing hard.”



Um don’t you mean “make the right thing easy and the wrong thing hard?”



No, no. I’m sure it’s “make the right thing easy and the left thing hard” because I distinctly remember my mate Harry had a horse called Easy and he was always tryin to make ‘im go right.



No I think you’ll find that Ray said “make the right thing easy” as in simple, “and the wrong thing hard”, as in difficult.



Are ya sure? That don’t sound right to me.



I’m sure. You can look it up if you like,



Blimey! Well, I guess that could make more sense. It would explain a few things about the way my horse goes around her turns. But it is sure going to bugger up how Harry’s horse goes.



Well, thanks. I don’t want to take up too much of your time. Thanks for your novel and um colourful explanations on some those important principles.

I’m sure our readers found them to be really something.



No worries mate. Always ready to help. Don’t forget, it’s all about the metres!

Remember Ted’s the name, Clueless is the game.

Now I had betta take care of a deadly Tiger snake.



Really! Where?



He’s right behind you lookin to set up house in ya right trouser leg.





Photo: This was taken immediately after my interview with Ted. One picture tells how many words?

Who Do You Want To Thank?

Because a lot of what is discussed on this page are not ideas that belong in the mainstream of views, I feel that often there is a negative tone to the discussion of the more popular concepts practiced and taught by other professionals.


In an effort to present more balance, I invite you all to tell me about the people who have been hugely influential in your horsemanship journey. They can be friends, authors, professionals, family members – anybody. They can be past or present. Perhaps they are somebody you want to work with in the future.


They may have introduced you to a monumental realization of a particular technique or simply taught you how to love a horse for what they are and not for what you wanted them to be.


If they are a professional person, feel free to name them and add a link to their web site or FB page or video clips to give other people an opportunity to check them out too.


The only thing I ask is that you do not name me as one of those people. If you are reading this page we can assume you already are interested in my work. I want this to be about other horse people who have been important to you and will always hold a special place when you look back on your horse career.


So I’ll start.


I can name several really important influences in my life.


I have talked before about my friend from Finland, so I won’t revisit my stories about that wonderful old man.


Then there is my American friend. Many of you know Harry Whitney. In my view, he is the best of the best, but he doesn’t need me to tell most of you about his amazing ability as both a teacher and a horseman.


Less known than Harry is a fellow called Ton Ernst. He gave me a job at his riding school when I was a kid. I shoveled shit all day in return for a riding lesson. Nobody in my family or circle of friends could understand what was the attraction, but it was a wonderful time in my life.


Ton taught me the basics, but perhaps the most important lesson I learned from him was the power to be an effective communicator. Others taught me to sit correctly, apply my aids correctly and plan my rides. But Ton taught me that all that was less important than being an effective communicator. He could sit on a horse like a rag doll and get things done that nobody else could. He broke all the rules of riding and yet horse’s never failed to give their best for him. He loved them and they loved him.


I haven’t seen Ton since I was 16 years old. I don’t know if he is still alive. But I will never forget his legacy to me.


There have been other people who have been a huge help to me, but that’s a good start for now.


So now it is your turn. Tell me about the people you’ll never forget and your horses will always be thankful for.


Photo: I was very young when I read how Alexander The Great as a boy tamed his father’s horse, Bucephalus. It inspired me greatly at the time. This statue of Alexander & Bucephalus by John Steell is located in front of Edinburgh's City Chambers. Modelled 1832, cast in bronze 1883, presented to the city by the subscribers 1884.

Clinic in Ripplebrook, Victoria

I am told there are still some spaces available for my clinic in Ripplebrook, Victoria.
For people near Melbourne and west Gippsland, this is the perfect clinic for you. The facilities are first class and the learning is even better :)