My Philosophies For Life With Horses

I have coached and trained a number of riders and horse’s over my years as an equestrian and there are a few things I find myself saying over and over and over again. And no, it’s not “keep your heels down”.
Here are my favourite pieces of advice that I’ve given not only my students but also myself. Time and time again.
My Philosophies for Life with Horses

“Correct when necessary, reward often.”

I see a lot of riders who are really quick to correct their horses, which isn’t a bad thing so long as it’s necessary and makes sense to the horse. If you are constantly correcting your horse for every little thing they do “wrong”, you are confusing them. I believe that every horse has an innate desire to please their person, but too much correction and not enough reward will snuff that out very quickly.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s correct, reward every try.”

Whether we are training a green horse or teaching our older horse something new, it is so important to reward your horse when they try.  Many riders will reward their horse when they get it right, which is a must, but between the time you start and the time your horse gets it right, they have tried to do “it” a number times. If you reward your horse for even the smallest try, even if it isn’t exactly right but they are trying to find what you’re asking for, you’ll find your training moves a lot faster in the right direction. Horse’s work to please us, but if you don’t acknowledge the moments when they are trying to figure something out they will become frustrated. And a frustrated horse is not a happy or willing horse.

“Act like you’ve got all day and it will take 15 minutes. Act like you’ve got 15 minutes and it will take all day.”

This is actually a quote from Monty Roberts and it sums up life with horses perfectly. Horse’s are extremely sensitive creatures and they can feel what you’re feeling. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a terrible ride because I was in a rush. See the thing is, a horse can’t be rushed. Horse’s don’t care about time. So your “rushing” translates to frustration and confusion for them. Often because you’re not taking the time to reward their tries or trying to force them to do something they aren’t prepared for.
Obviously, this quote doesn’t just apply to riding. I love it because it applies to everything we do with horses. Whether it’s trailer training or riding or feeding them their dinner, if you don’t check your agenda at the door you’re day is not going to go as planned.

“Do less.”

I once had a coach who said, “you’re asking for too much at the same time”. It may not be a profoundly insightful comment but it struck a chord with me. I find that a problem so many riders have is that they are asking for too much. They get on and they want their horse in front of their leg, in a frame, with flexion through the ribcage and working in a rhythm. And while, yes, I agree that that is what we should be aiming for, we usually don’t realize that all of those things are separate. You have to break apart what you want your horse to do into bite-size pieces. So instead of putting your leg on, wiggling your inside rein, moving your outside leg back and swinging your seat at your horse try instead just getting them moving off your leg and into your hand, frame or not. Then start using your seat to adjust their rhythm a bit. Then add some contact and so on and so forth.
If you find yourself fighting with your horse and you can’t figure out what’s going on – DO LESS. Literally. Scale it waaaaay back to basics and focus on one thing only. Then you can add on from there.

“Be specific.”

This piece of advice is in the same vein as “do less” but it’s not exactly the same. If you want your horse to do something correctly, are you sure you are asking them to do it? If you are kicking them forward and wiggling your reins and moving your seat, what are you really asking for? When I’m riding, or working with, horses I have a very specific movement in my head and I do only what is necessary to do that movement. That way, it’s black and white for the horse. They understand that yes, this means this and no, that doesn’t mean that.
If you find you’re running into a communication roadblock with your horse, I suggest first, do less, and second, remember what you’re trying to do. What things can you remove from your ride that will help you reach that goal? That may mean adding a whip to help your horse understand what it means when your leg comes on or holding the inside rein slightly until they bend around your leg. Whatever the ask is, make sure it is very clear to your horse.

“Ride the horse you’ve got.”

We put a lot of expectations on our horses. But one of the biggest issues we have as equestrians is we aren’t riding the horse underneath us. Instead, we are riding the expectation we have of the horse underneath us.
Say, for example, you and your horse have been progressing amazingly well in your training. You’re happy, your horse is happy. Then one day you get on and your horse has seemingly backtracked a hundred steps. You feel like you’re right where you began. But instead of acknowledging that and riding your horse at the level they are at that day, you instead push them to perform the way you know they can.
I understand this process well. Rozee and I have had a million amazing rides and a million and one setbacks. But we never truly started to progress until I ditched my expectations and let her dictate the ride. If she feels amazing and is happy to work, we amp it up a bit and try some more complex movements like gymnastics, intricate pole work or lateral work. If she feels sticky and tired, we stick to simpler things like transitions and stretching. The goal is to have a ride that both you and your horse feel good about. So if that means it’s a hack day or a walk-trot transition day, then so be it. I guarantee your horse will move out of their funk faster than if you had forced them to what they are capable of.

“Ride like it’s not your horse.”

Similar to “ride the horse you’ve got”, this is another one of my favourite teaching quips. And this philosophy was born by a moment in time when Rozee and I were. not. clicking
Yes, if you can believe it, such a time did exist.
It was when she was around 5 or 6 and she had turned into a devil toad, basically. She was dirty-spooking at everything, rearing, bucking and bolting. And I had no idea what to do. I took it personally and felt like I was doing something wrong. How had my perfect angel turned into this monster? Why did she hate me so much? I ended up halting her in the middle of the arena (or trying to, hence the bolting) and bawling almost every time I rode.
Then one day I was training a client’s horse and they were being naughty. So I went back to basics and figured out what was going on and by the end of my ride, they weren’t being naughty anymore. No fighting. No crying. And that’s when it hit me – I need to ride Rozee like this. D’uh, right?
I remember my next ride with Rozee, she tried pulling her usual dirty-spook and instead of getting upset with her and wondering what I was doing to cause my perfect horse to be so bad, I just rode through it. I corrected her. I told her no. I rewarded her for when she did things right. I road her like she was a horse I was training, not a horse I knew could behave differently.
And just like that, she was different.
So if you find your horse has turned into a maniac overnight, instead of getting emotional and taking it personally, just ride them like you would any other horse. It’s simple and effective.

“Spend more time speaking your horse’s language and less time teaching them yours.”

My. favourite. thing. to. say.
We spend so much time (and money) trying to get our horses to understand our aids or training our horses to do what we want, and almost no time understanding how they think or feel.
Nearly every rider I’ve worked with in the past didn’t understand horse psychology (or had very basic knowledge). They didn’t know why their horses react the way they do. And that’s not because they didn’t care. Most of my clients are people who care deeply about their animals. But horse psychology is not a very common teaching in the horse industry. Which is backwards and dumb. But I digress.
I urge my clients, and anyone who is reading this blog right now, to take some time out of their crazy training schedule and learn about their horses. Learn how they learn. The more we know about how horse’s, and how your horse specifically, learn, the better you will be able to ask for things in their language. Horse’s are “yes animals” when asked correctly. Try it out, you’ll be amazed at how much better your connection will be with your animal.

“Screw the good note.

This one will be a doozy for many of you. I don’t believe in ending on a good note.
Shock. Awe. Terror. Hear me out.
Something we do as equestrians is strive to end our ride on a “good note”. We might take that fence one more time to perfect our distance. We might do one more transition to really drive our aids home. And this isn’t inherently bad. In fact, if your horse is game, and you are choosing when and what you do appropriately, I think it can be a good thing.
Here’s the thing – horse’s don’t associate the end of your ride as a good or bad thing. Ending your ride is neither a punishment or a reward for them. So if they do an incredible job jumping that fence and you’re like “Excellent, we are done” and you start cooling them out they don’t actually make the connection between that jump and the coolout. They are just…done working.
What I would like us to do instead of “ending on a good note” is ending when your horse is done. Because when you’re pushing your horse to do another jump when they clearly aren’t feeling it, I have to ask – who’s this “good note” benefiting? If you’re being totally honest, probably not your horse.
Now don’t get me wrong. Sometimes we need to push ourselves and our horses in the interest of fitness and practice. But if you or your horse just can’t get it right, find something else to be your good note. Maybe you had a really nice corner. Maybe your horse is walking around relaxed and chewing. There are plenty of good notes in your ride that you can celebrate rather than pushing to perfect that one thing you just can’t seem to get.
That is how to be a respectful partner to your horse. It’s simply listening to your animal, respecting their energy levels or thought process and trying again tomorrow.

And that’s all from me! Do any of these hit home with you? Anything you want to add? Let me know in the comments below or hit me up on Instagram!