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Alpha Natural Horsemanship

‘Ask with lightness, encourage without forcing, correct with softness’
30 60 90 Days Training
Abuse NeglectRehab Part 1
Abuse NeglectRehab Part 2
Aids & Cues What are they
Assess Diagnose beforeFix
Are all horses trainable
Be safer use a Dummy
Behavior Retraining Tips
Behavior Solving Issues
Buying first Horse Guide
Buying Training Older Hor
Buying a Horse Part 2
Buying a Horse Mismatched
Buying a Horse Selecting
CalmingTrg 1 sided horses
How to Communicate Horses
How horses Communicate
Cycles and Pyramid Trg
Establishing Leadership
Exercises Warm Up
Flexion Lateral
Flexion Proper Training
Flexion Vertical
Foundation GroundTraining
Foundation Mounted
How Horses Learn
Liability Release
Motivating HorsesandMules
Natural Survival Instinct
OTTB Re Education
Overcoming riding fear
Saddle Fitting
Selecting A Trainer
Soft Inside Light Outside
Spurs How to Use them
Teaching Strategy
TRAINING Ask Properly
TrainingGreenRarely Handl
Training Guidelines
Train Outside the Box
Training Principals
Training Pyramid Natural
Transfer GroundworkSaddle
Turning and Neck Reining
Winter Training Workouts

Behavior Retraining Tips


You Can't Fool a Horse

In the dating world many men and women put their potential partners to a "dog test," whereby they introduce their date to their dog and see how the dog reacts to the stranger. If the dog reacts badly towards their date then a red flag is waved, whereas if the dog accepts the stranger instantly the opposite holds true. While many people look upon this test in a tongue-in-cheek manner, many dog owners actually do take it seriously. As they probably should!

Many animals, including horses, possess an uncanny ability to detect emotion as well as the inner nature of an individual. Whereas you may be able to slap a forced smile on your face and hide powerful negative emotions such as stress or anger from fellow humans, you won't find it as easy to fool a horse! In fact I consider horses to be natural truth detectors due to their ability to read a person's emotional state as well as their sincerity when it comes to a love for equines.

If one of my naturally friendly horses takes an instant dislike to someone out of the blue, 9 times out of 10 I'm going to respect my equine partner's instincts. Horses generally do not possess vendettas or have reason to target anyone for no real reason – they tend to call them as they see them. If a horse usually takes a liking to visitors but holds a sudden aversion to one in particular, clearly the horse sees or detects something that I may not have initially caught.


When a horse enjoys your company, you'll know it. When a horse trusts you, you'll know it. And when a horse actually dislikes you, he will make sure you know it. I often state that the world would be a much better place if people were as brutally honest as horses. A proficient horsewo/man at work should be cool, calm and collected; three essential qualities to maximize the productivity of a training session as well as create an all-around positive aura over human-horse interactions. Keep in mind that you are the horse's leader, and as such the horse will take his cues from you. If you are agitated the horse will recognize something is wrong and either feels you are angry with him or you are annoyed with something else he cannot detect but probably should be also be concerned about. The horse will not be able to focus on the lesson or your requests well at all, nor will he be able to draw strength from you when he becomes concerned about a foreign object or behavioural request.


It is essential that you try not to visit or work with your horse when you are in a negative frame of mind since these undesirable emotions will disturb your equine partner. Try to take a few minutes, or even hours if necessary, to collect your emotions and clear your mind of life's daily irritants. When we see a loved one is feeling down, it often puts a damper on our day too since negativity tends to breed negativity. The same will happen with your horse, so do not underestimate your horse's ability to detect your feelings.

Building Trust When working with this type of horse, building trust is vital, and isn’t something you attain once and then never think about again. Maintaining the behaviors that your horse sees as trustworthy is imperative. If there’s one thing all horses need; particularly an abused horse needs, its consistency—behaving the same way under each situation.


Inconsistency in humans is very damaging for horses, especially when the human wavers between the extremes of being buddies with the horse and later getting so mad or frustrated that the horse is yelled at, hit or worse. Our inconsistency results in a horse that becomes very distrustful and can lead to some very unpredictable behaviours.

Being dependable really helps them start to trust humans. Began by feeding, watering and cleaning pens at the exact same times every day. Then over time, handle the horses in the same consistent way. For wild and abused horses, and especially for those that are pretty far around the bend mentally, this absolute dependability is very important for them.”


When horses have been with people who use a dominant style of training, where demands must be carried out immediately and without question, and they are later placed with people who are less demanding and less consistent, their potential for explosion is much higher.


Change Your Mindset Horses live in the present. To help them the most, we need to do the same. Constantly thinking back to the pain or mistreatment our horses experienced does not help them move on to a better future. “If we start changing the terminology for horses with rough pasts from ‘abused’ to ‘mishandled,’ think how that changes our context,” Maureen Fredrickson-MacNamara suggests. “When we work with a mishandled horse, it puts the requirement on us to be consistent and fair, rather than sorry and pitying.”

It’s also important to recognize that a horse generally isn’t acting a certain way—spooky, for example—because he’s being silly or ‘testing’ us, He has a valid reason for his behavior, and we need to recognize that there’s something really going on for the horse.

I train abused horses the same way I do all other horses. “Everything I do is with their best interests in mind, but I don’t tiptoe around them because of their past. Doing that may worry them more than if I just go about our work in a calm and matter-of-fact way.”

Do you have Control of your horse’s Body Parts?

 On the ground and in the Saddle?

Learn Body Control!

Body Control is the art of developing independent control over each segment of the horse's body - his chin, neck, shoulders, ribs, and haunches are all separate entities that must learn to work individually or in unison as our riding commands.  Focusing on the displacement, flexibility and control of these separate entities is the mainstay of creating a horse that is willing, soft, supple and capable of moving his body any direction at any time, which in turn will help him to excel in any discipline.  Having control of the horse’s fivebody parts is more than a big deal it is everything. If you cancontrol the five body parts, then you can pretty much teach your horse anything; avoid, prevent and fix behaviour issues!.


Set Rules and Boundaries

Just as it’s important to move on from the past, it’s crucial to establish expectations for what is allowed and not allowed. “Just because a horse had a tough past does NOT mean he can step on our toes or walk over the top of us. I think a lot of people get problem horses and then make excuses for behavior because of what they have been through. The person thinks that making a correction will be overwhelming to the horse. The real issue is how you will respond if the horse does not do what you ask. Will you become totally unglued, unpredictable and punish or scare the horse? No, you’ll just quietly ask again that the horse stand still or pick up his foot or whatever, without anger and without taking it personally.


Let Go of Expectations and Time Frames

To help them start trusting, you feed at very consistent times and use food in a way that connects the human with something positive. Trust is earned eventually, little by little, and it can’t be rushed. You might sit in a horse’s pen, quietly, with no expectation that the horse will come up or allow the person to touch him. Putting the horse in charge of the interaction helps to build their trust.”

People who have had horses before may wonder why their abused horse may be taking so much longer to learn something than their previous horses did. I tell them that there’s just no set time frame. “If we can remember that it’s up to the horse, things go better.”



“You can’t rely on just a few techniques when working with horses. “You need to think on your feet and be able to adjust what you’re doing to what the horse needs, accepts and responses to.

Stay Safe You have to stay safe and your horse has to stay safe and at the end of the day, everyone has to feel a little bit better than they did when they started, and feel good about what they worked on together.

If you feel overwhelmed, frightened or out of your comfort zone, seek the help of an effective and compassionate trainer who is experienced in working with horses; particularly troubled horses. It is not worth you being injured trying to help a horse.


Forego Dominant Training Methods

“Although it’s decreasing, I still hear the comment ‘you’d better be the boss, because if you aren’t your horse will take over. That’s an attitude of creating submission that I think can certainly be abusive, and it’s sad because it’s not necessary. When we communicate with horses and give them a chance to understand what we want of them and we’re clear, they will be responsive to our request Then the relationship develops in trusting us to be their leader.”

I think another source of abuse is this trend nowadays of trainers labeling an animal as dominant. In the study of animal behavior, dominance is a rank; it’s not a behavior. Dominant animals use dominant and submissive body language, but often when you label a horse as dominant it’s giving people permission to be more coercive than they should be.


As you set out to gain respect from your horse, build his confidence and develop his skill set, you are proactively addressing the three areas that will make him a safe and capable mount. A “problem horse” usually refers to a horse that is lacking in education in one, two or all three areas of its Foundation Training; “Ground Handling/Ground Work, Round Penning and Lunging”. Horses lacking confidence are more likely to buck, rear, run away, be herd bound, affair of trailers, hard to catch, spooky etc.. Horses that haven’t had a proper education do not know how to respond to your cues, which makes them dangerous to ride and difficult to handle. Horses that do not have any confidence and proper relationships with humans because of lack of leadership.


Lead by Example

There's an old management adage that states to successfully lead one must lead by example. Truer words were never spoken, and this old truth holds true for horse owners and trainers also. Like many adages, most of us would whole-heartedly agree with the general concept if asked, but when push comes to shove some of us forget about it during the all-important critical moments of training or hardship.

When we work with our horses we expect them to behave in a cool, calm and logical manner at all times, yet all too often we have difficulties keeping our emotions under control. Keep in mind that horses are herd animals, and as such they adopt the behaviour (and to some extent emotional states) of those around them. This will not change just because you are working with the horse one-on-one; whatever emotions or bad habits you exude will very likely be picked up by, and absorbed by, your equine partner.

The old school of thought when it comes to horse training stated that the best way to train a horse was to dominate it with sheer physical and/or angry force. Horses are generally not conflict-prone creatures, so when faced with the overwhelming negativity they would first attempt to flee, and then submit if their path of escape was barred or unavailable. Does this theory work? At best you can say it can force a horse to do your will, albeit in an unhappy and untrustworthy manner.

Angry trainers produce angry or insecure horses. While such horses may submit to the will of their angry trainer for the time being, one of two things will inevitably happen:


Once the horse becomes more fearful of a person or situation than it is the trainer, the horse will freak out and very likely injure the trainer. Once the horse is sold or passed on to a gentle handler, chances are strong the horse will take out its pent-up anger on the innocent humans, becoming a risk.

Luckily in this day and age, few of us reading this would think to adopt such forceful methods of training, but don't dismiss the effect of subtle anger or frustration. Horses are extremely perceptive animals and can detect emotional states better than most humans, so even if you plaster a fake smile on your face, if you're becoming annoyed or frustrated at your partner's poor performance or confusion, you can almost rest assured your horse will pick up on those emotions. While he may not come to fear or despise

you with subtle negative emotional cues, you will compound the horse's confusion or difficulty for that session.

Fear is another emotion that can cause devastating effects during a training session, but unfortunately it's not as easy to suppress as anger. You can't just flip fear on or off like a light switch. Because of this, it's essential that you never push yourself beyond YOUR comfort zone with your horse, because as your horse is exposed to new and potentially frightening requests and environments he will look to you for reassurance that everything is going to be okay.

If you are sitting rigid atop your horse and holding your breath, fearful that your horse may spook at the car coming around the corner, then you created a self-fulfilling prophecy. When the car finally arrives, the nervous horse will look to you, see that you are also afraid and allow the flight instinct to take over. Your fear will validate the horse's fear. Although professionals riding horses are not as prone to being influenced by a nervous rider, it's not far-fetched to witness an experienced riding horse deteriorate by consistent exposure to a fearful rider. So remember at all times you work with your horse: if you expect your horse to behave in a cool, calm and logical manner, it's essential that you do so too.



Patience, inexhaustible patience, is necessary so the horse understands what we want of him/her. Patience is also equally necessary in order not to grow immoderately demanding.

Power of observation

The greatest asset we have in the entire process of training a horse is our power of observation. When a trainer issues a cue, s/he must study the response from his partner the horse. If we watch the horse, s/he will tell us if s/he understands what we want. Constantly observe your horse in an effort to understand his/her responses?


Importance of Thinking Time & Softness

I can not over emphasize the importance of “Thinking Time and “Softness”! You absolutely can not force, during the Foundation Education process you can create an experience for the horse through which understanding develops. In fact, we owe it to the horse to help them in this way to treat them as we would like to be treated.



Relaxation; it's just one simple word, yet it holds the very key to success for not only horse-handler relationships, but also life in general. Most people would agree with this sentiment on its surface, but fail to truly understand its importance when faced with hectic schedules or life's annoyances. Let's look at why it's essential for both horses and handlers to be relaxed before undergoing training or a trail ride.

The Big Secret when training, handling and/or riding

Horse owners are much like people of any other stripe or occupation: they often seek the magic bullet that will solve all their horse-oriented problems or questions in one fell swoop. The problem is, when faced with a scenario such as; "My horse, who I've owned one week, fights the bit when I attempt to ride him. Can you help me?" There is no single answer. There is no magic bullet. I try to help folks out as often as possible, but when presented with a vague hypothetical such as the above one, what magic bullet could you provide? What quick tidbit of advice could you impart that would instantly solve the horse owner's problem? If you know of such a magic bullet, you're a better person than I am.


Here are just a few of the questions that pop into mind when faced with the above question:  How old is your horse? How many years has your horse worked under saddle? What breed is your horse? How experienced are you as a rider or handler? What cues do you use while riding? Does the horse consistently have the behaviour problem? If not, can a pattern be detected as to when and where the horse fights the bit? Where do you ride – inside an arena, or out on the trail? How do you react when he starts fighting the bit? Before purchasing the horse, did you get a vet to check his mouth and physique that would rule out potential physical reasons for the horse's resistance? What corrective actions have you attempted when confronting the negative behaviour?


I'll stop there, but there are many other questions one would ask before being able to give a more specific diagnosis to the above problem, and even then such advice would be lacking without personal observation of the horse in question. But answering the above inquiry isn't the point of this article, so I won't attempt to answer it here. Instead, the above was to illustrate that there are no magic bullets when working with horses. It's not rocket science, or even particularly complex, but it does require observation, thought and knowledge.


But since so many horse owners, particularly newer ones, seek the big secret to natural horsemanship, I'll share it with you. It's not knowledge, as important as knowledge is. It's communication. Imagine that you were a third-grade teacher attempting to impart some mathematical skills to your young students. Training young children in mathematics can be a bit challenging, but it's certainly doable even without being specifically trained to do so.

Now imagine that you had very poor communication skills – when it comes to children, you're really not sure how to relate to them. Hmmm, that would make it more difficult, wouldn't it? Let's take this a step further. We know you're trying to teach young children a technical skill, and we know that you're not an expert when it comes to communicating with youngsters, but now let's imagine that you don't speak the same verbal language as your students. You speak Russian, and they speak French. Hmmm… this is getting pretty ugly, isn't it? It may still be possible, but it would be a much slower road since students couldn't pose questions, and you couldn't understand them – you only have the advantages of body language and numerical illustrations at your disposal.


Are you starting to get the picture? You can be the most knowledgeable mathematician in the world, but if you don't speak French and don't know how to relate to young children, you're going to have a very difficult time teaching those Russian children math. Lack of knowledge isn't your problem; communication is!


Now let's look at horse training.

Your horse is the French child, and you're the Russian teacher. You cannot speak to each other verbally – you don't speak the same language. Your initial attempts to communicate will be a learning experience for you both, since neither of you are quite sure how to relate to one another. But on top of those already

significant challenges you're faced with another: Since the horse isn't the same species, you don't even have the advantages of universal human body language! You can't detect looks of puzzlement, smiles, frowns, or any other human emotions that are expressed visually rather than verbally. Your last ace in the hole – body language – was stripped from you. Do you still think knowledge in and of itself will be enough? No. The big secret to natural horsemanship is communication. Sure, professional trainers are a wealth of knowledge when it comes to training techniques and horse handling, but first and foremost they have bridged the horse-human divide and learned how to communicate. Do not become focused on the technical aspect of horse training when first starting out with horses, because that is akin to not seeing the forest for the trees. All that knowledge, while helpful, will mean nothing until you learn how to communicate with horses.

In the past, the rugged style of breaking horse basically consisted of sacking out and slapping a saddle on a raw horse's back, jumping on it and having a showdown until the horse relented. Such "trainers," and I use the term loosely, believed it was the horse's responsibility to learn our language. They didn't care a whit if they failed to understand the horse's language. Natural Horsemanship takes a different approach. A natural horseman does hope to teach a horse how to better understand humans, they are first and foremost experienced communicators that understand the horse's language. Since they can understand how a horse behaves, they can better express their desires and impart their knowledge. They have learned, over time, how to speak the horse's language. Before you attempt to build upon your knowledge of riding techniques and other technical details, first take the time to better learn horse communication. Learn their body language. Learn their natural tendencies, and how they react to common scenarios. And once you have gained a basic understanding of horse communication, observe your horse and learn his personal quirks. Horses, like people, are individuals, and as such any attempts to communicate should be personalized in order to gain the greatest effect. Communication fosters a greater understanding between you and your horse, and with understanding comes success. There may not be a magic bullet when it comes to horse training, but good horse communication skills are as close to one as you'll find


Where do you start?

When faced with a “problem horse”, start at the beginning by building a relationship with the horse on the ground by doing an evaluation to find the holes and develop a horse specific training plan.  Then you may progress to leadership on the ground developing a responsive horse while asking him/her to move the five body parts that you must have control over.  We do this with the horse specific training plan and by sensitizing and desensitizing our horse to Body Control Exercises on the ground relevant to riding.  The Body Control exercises that we do are part of the; ground handling, ground manners, ground work, round penning, lunging and long lining exercises.


You will be amazed at how many of the horse’s issues quietly go away as you work gradually through the exercises. If you have an overly aggressive horse, herd bound or one that you are not comfortable handling, it’s time to contact a reputable trainer to work with both you and your horse. I don’t recommend just leaving your “problem horse” out in the pasture, letting him grow old without a job. The issue[s] certainly won’t be resolved by ignoring it and should you ever have to find a new home for your horse, you haven’t set him up to succeed! All problems have solutions; it’s just a matter of Time, Patience, Understanding, Communication and Knowledge.


There is no such thing as a short cut in the world of proper horse training! Training is all about time, working consistently to produce the required mental balance and physical development of the horse and it all starts with ground training. Evaluating a horse to identify what basics are place, if the horse is responsive or reactive to what we are asking is a must do if the retraining, rehabilitation or start is to be successful. During the evaluation it also enables the horse and us to become better acquainted and for the horse to build his trust and confidence in us, to realize that we are no threat and mean no harm. This we do asking the horses to respond to cues from our body language and exercises as well as working with the natural lines of influence and energy contained in the human and equine body.

How your horse sees you on the ground indicates exactly how he will behave under saddle. It is also why I do a few minutes of ground work whenever I handle or ride my horse until he is mature or is a horse of a thousand miles. Ground work begins the moment you go to get your horse from the paddock or pasture and ends only when you turn him loose again. It gives you regular opportunities to enhance the partnership with your horse, as well as the chance to make sure your horse is sound, he is focused on you and he sees you as the leader.


Behaviour Evaluation

Prior to embarking on this journey with your horse it is very helpful to evaluate and do a diagnostics where your starting point is! If you objectively assess what both you and your horse’s capabilities are at the present time, you can then easily gauge your successes as you progress through this training program I look at four things when evaluating a horse; safety, respect for the handler, overall confidence and skill level. When you work with a horse that has issues, is being retrained, limited handling or is just being started, he will score low on the diagnostics evaluations on these attributes. If your horse has had Foundation and/or saddle training, you will be in a better position to identify what areas need work and develop your Horse Specific Training Plan.

Predicting the Future? Are there any fail-safe ways to figure out a prognosis for a mishandled horse and discern whether he will recover to become a useful member of equine society? Unfortunately, there are no easy answers.


What Are the Expectations? While a horse may not be able to do what he was originally trained or bred to do, perhaps he can be happy and successful doing something different. I think successful rehabilitation depends on the situation. For example, if you have a horse that’s extremely noise sensitive, and he’s in a suburban area [with an inexperienced handler], he may not do very well. But if he can be placed in a quiet rural area with an experienced, quiet rider doing primarily trail riding, he probably could be saved.”

For me, as long as there’s try, you’ve got hope. It’s when the horse is shut down to the point he isn’t interested in even trying to work with you that the situation doesn’t look so good.


Are You the Right Person for This Horse?

Many of us can only have one or two horses due to time, space or money constraints. If a particular horse isn’t working out, there’s no shame in admitting that. While this horse may be able to be helped, it may simply be that you’re not the right person to train it.

“I think it’s good to remember that we are not always the best person for a particular animal. “We like to think we are, but sometimes another person will have exactly what that horse needs in terms of experience, personality and interests. It’s not personal, it’s just life.”

Other Options Sadly, some horses can’t be aided back into productive members of equine society. They may have such horrific pasts that they will always be unpredictable, not trusting, and usually dangerous as a result. Or they may have permanent soundness issues.

“If we’re dealing with physical issues and the horse is unable to be ridden, he may be able to be pasture sound and can be a wonderful companion or pet. Other options are retirement on acreage, preferably with other horses. However, don’t assume that a horse wants to be turned out and forgotten. Many horses still enjoy positive human interaction, and they want to be valued. Turning them out with no contact can be torture for some horses.

In some cases, horses truly are mentally unstable. If this is the case, and the horse is also dangerous on the ground or with other horses, we must take a hard look at the life we can offer the animal and what sort of life he is likely to have. Sometimes, the most compassionate outcome is euthanasia.

Moving Ahead Rehabilitating

A problem horse is a long-term project but can be extremely rewarding. While physical issues can be resolved relatively quickly, emotional and behavioural traumas will take time to overcome. “Over the years, I have trained horses that I thought I’d never get through to. They were so shut down and so afraid. But often in several weeks using Natural Horsemanship methods with them, I would notice a positive change; softening of their eyes, more calmness and more responsiveness. Success depends not on the amount of times but the quality time you can spend with horses and giving them the attention and praise they need for the smallest try. If you can be consistent, trustworthy, true to yourself and the horse. Also say what you mean and mean what you say, your horse has a good chance of recovering and being fine...