Help With My Horse

Balancing Energy and Mind for Optimal Performance

It is of the utmost importance to control your horse’s energy level, especially in high-intensity activities like reining, ranch classes, and cow work. The goal is to have your horse settle and stand quietly immediately after a strenuous activity. This control over energy levels is not just about physical training; it’s about mental conditioning as well.

The Misconception in Horse Training

A common misconception in horse training is that if the horse’s feet aren’t moving, training isn’t happening. Actually, just as much training occurs when your horse is given the opportunity to stop and stand and absorb the lessons taught. This approach accelerates training and teaches the horse to regulate its heart and breath rates, crucial for its mental engagement.

The Role of Mental Training

Training a horse’s mind is equally, if not more, important than physical training. A well-trained mind helps the horse stay focused, calm, and responsive, reducing the likelihood of triggering its flight instinct. This mental control is essential in managing situations where the horse’s energy and adrenaline levels rise unexpectedly or to a very high level during riding and showing.

Practical Steps in Training Horses for Energy and Adrenaline Control

Training a horse to manage its energy and adrenaline levels effectively is a gradual process that requires patience, consistency, and a deep understanding of equine behavior. Here are some practical steps to guide this training process:

1. Start with Simple Commands

  • Initial Familiarization: Begin by walking the horse around, allowing it to become accustomed to your presence and basic commands. This initial phase sets the foundation for more complex training.
  • Immediate Response: Train the horse to respond immediately to a stop command without resistance. This is crucial for establishing your control and the horse’s obedience.
  • Relaxation Cue: Introduce a simple hand gesture, such as a gentle touch on the withers, as a cue for the horse to relax and stand still. This physical signal helps the horse associate the touch with a state of calmness and the opportunity to stand knowing that as long as this touch is maintained nothing will be asked of him.

2. Control the Pace

  • Varying Activities: Alternate between walking, trotting, and loping. This variation helps the horse adapt to different levels of physical exertion while remaining responsive to your commands. If your horse gradually speeds up from whatever speed you put him then he most likely is not traveling balanced with his back end engaged under him. The blog, Mastering Speed Control: Engaging Your Horse’s Back End, will help you improve that.
  • Monitoring Response: Observe how the horse responds to changes in pace. The aim is to work the horse up to a level where it feels exerted but can still be brought to a calm standstill when asked.

3. Observe and Respond to Physical Signs

  • Physical Awareness: Keep a close eye on the horse’s breathing and heart rate. A horse that is physically overwhelmed will struggle to process instructions effectively.
  • Recognizing Overexertion: If the horse shows signs of fidgetiness or anxiety, such as excessive sweating or rapid breathing, it indicates that you may have pushed too far. In such cases, it’s important to scale back and allow the horse to recover.

4. Engage the Horse’s Brain

  • Attentive Relaxation: The horse should be in a state of attentive relaxation during these periods, ready and waiting for the next command but not tense or anxious.

5. Test and Adjust

  • Challenging the Horse: Gradually increase the difficulty of the exercises by introducing faster paces and harder stops. This tests the horse’s ability to control its energy and adrenaline levels.
  • Goal of Training: The ultimate goal is to reach a point where the horse can physically exert itself while maintaining mental focus and calmness. This balance is key to a well-trained horse.

Identifying Signs of Rising Energy and Adrenaline in Horses

Recognizing the signs of increasing energy and adrenaline in horses is crucial for effective training and handling. These signs are indicators of the horse’s emotional and physical state and can provide valuable insights into how the horse is feeling and reacting to its environment or the tasks at hand. Here’s a detailed look at some key indicators:

1. Increased Heart Rate

  • Physical Indicator: The horse’s heart rate accelerates as a response to excitement, stress, or physical exertion. This can be felt or seen, especially in the flank area.
  • Contextual Understanding: An elevated heart rate in a calm setting might indicate internal stress or anxiety, while during physical activity, it could be a normal response to exertion.

2. Heavy Breathing

  • Respiratory Changes: Like the heart rate, a horse’s breathing pattern can change under stress or physical strain. Heavy, rapid, or labored breathing can be a sign of heightened adrenaline.
  • Observation Tips: Notice the flaring of nostrils and the rise and fall of the horse’s sides to gauge its breathing rate and depth.

3. Body Language

  • Fidgeting or Restlessness: Signs such as shifting weight frequently, inability to stand still, or tail swishing can indicate discomfort, anxiety, or rising energy levels.
  • Muscle Tension: Tense muscles, especially around the neck and back, can also be a sign of stress or excitement.

4. Ear Position

  • Ears Pointed Back: Ears that are attentively flicking back toward the rider often indicate that the horse is listening and engaged. However, it’s important to differentiate this from ears pinned flat back, which can signal annoyance or aggression.
  • Ears Pricked Forward: This can indicate alertness and focus, but in some contexts, it might also suggest that the horse is fixating on something that could be making it anxious or excited.

Additional Signs to Consider

  • Eye Expression: The horse’s eyes can reveal a lot about its emotional state. Wide, ‘whites-showing’ eyes can indicate fear or high alertness.
  • Mouth and Jaw: A tense jaw or frequent changes in mouth movement (like chewing when not eating) can be signs of nervousness.
  • Sweating: Excessive sweating, especially if not proportionate to the physical exertion or ambient temperature, can be a sign of stress or anxiety.

Importance of Context and Individual Differences

  • Contextual Interpretation: It’s crucial to interpret these signs in the context of what is happening around the horse. What might be a normal response in one situation could be a sign of distress in another.
  • Individual Variations: Each horse may display stress or excitement differently. Familiarity with an individual horse’s normal behavior and responses is key to accurately interpreting these signs.

Controlling the Flight Instinct in Horses

The flight instinct is a deeply ingrained survival mechanism in horses, a response to perceived threats that can manifest as fear or excitement. This instinctual reaction, while natural, can pose significant challenges in training and handling horses, especially in situations that may trigger their fear or stress responses. Effective control of this instinct is crucial for ensuring the safety and well-being of both the horse and the rider. If you have a very forward or highly reactive horse then the video, Speed Control for a Hot Horse, would probably be helpful to you.

Understanding the Flight Instinct

  • Rooted in Survival: The flight instinct is a horse’s primary defense mechanism against danger. It is an evolutionary trait that prompts the horse to flee from perceived threats.
  • Trigger Factors: Various stimuli can trigger this instinct, including sudden movements, loud noises, unfamiliar environments, or even certain training situations.

Training Techniques to Control Flight Instinct

  • Desensitization: Gradually exposing the horse to potentially frightening stimuli in a controlled and safe manner. This process helps the horse learn that these stimuli are not threats, reducing the likelihood of a flight response.
  • Consistent and Calm Handling: Consistency in handling and training creates a sense of security for the horse. A calm and confident demeanor from the handler or rider helps the horse remain calm in potentially stressful situations.
  • Building Trust: Establishing a strong bond of trust between the horse and the rider is essential. A horse that trusts its rider is more likely to look to them for guidance in scary situations, rather than immediately resorting to flight.
  • Positive Reinforcement: Rewarding the horse for calm behavior in the face of potential triggers reinforces that staying calm is the desired response.
  • Pressure and Release Techniques: Teaching the horse to yield to pressure rather than flee from it. This technique involves applying a small amount of pressure and releasing it as soon as the horse shows any sign of compliance.
  • Confidence Building Exercises: Engaging the horse in exercises that build confidence, such as obstacle training, can help the horse learn to navigate unfamiliar or scary situations without resorting to flight.

The Role of Mental Conditioning

  • Cognitive Behavioral Training: This involves changing the horse’s perception of fear-inducing stimuli, helping them to react more rationally and less instinctively.
  • Emotional Control: Training the horse to manage its emotions better, especially in high-energy or unfamiliar situations, is key to controlling the flight instinct.

Safety Considerations

  • Predictability: A horse trained to control its flight instinct is more predictable, which is crucial for safety in various equestrian activities.
  • Emergency Situations: In unexpected or emergency situations, a horse that can maintain composure and respond to commands is far safer than one that reacts purely on instinct.


The Importance of Mental Training in Horse Training

Mental training in horse training is a critical component that extends far beyond the basic physical training routines. It encompasses a holistic approach, focusing on the horse’s psychological well-being, which in turn significantly impacts its overall performance and relationship with the rider. Let’s delve deeper into the key benefits of mental training for horses.

1. Improved Focus

  • Attentiveness: A mentally trained horse is more attentive to its surroundings and the rider’s cues. This attentiveness is crucial for effective communication between the horse and rider.
  • Responsiveness: Such horses are more responsive to commands. They can distinguish between different cues and react appropriately, which is essential in both training and competitive environments.
  • Concentration: Mental training enhances a horse’s ability to concentrate during training sessions, reducing distractions and improving learning efficiency.

2. Reduced Stress

  • Coping Mechanisms: Mental training equips horses with better coping mechanisms to handle stress. This is particularly important in unfamiliar or high-pressure situations, such as competitions or new environments.
  • Emotional Regulation: Horses learn to regulate their emotions more effectively, preventing them from becoming overly anxious or fearful.
  • Relaxation Skills: Techniques used in mental training, such as controlled exposure to stressors and relaxation exercises, help in reducing overall stress levels in horses.

3. Enhanced Performance

  • Consistency in Performance: A calm and focused horse is more likely to perform consistently in various scenarios, including training and competitions.
  • Adaptability: Mentally trained horses are more adaptable to different situations and challenges, an essential trait for competitive sports.
  • Peak Performance: Horses with a stable mental state can reach their peak performance levels as they are not hindered by anxiety or fear, allowing them to focus on the tasks at hand.

4. Safety

  • Predictability: A mentally stable horse is more predictable in its behavior, reducing the risk of accidents caused by unexpected reactions.
  • Control in Emergencies: In situations where quick reactions are needed, a mentally trained horse is more likely to remain under control, allowing the rider to manage the situation safely.
  • Trust and Understanding: A strong mental bond between the horse and rider enhances trust, crucial for safety. The rider can understand and predict the horse’s reactions, and the horse trusts the rider’s guidance in potentially hazardous situations.


Controlling the flight instinct through desensitization, consistent and calm handling, building trust, positive reinforcement, and confidence-building exercises is another critical aspect of training. This not only ensures the safety of both horse and rider but also contributes to a more predictable and controlled response in emergency situations. In the video, Control your horse’s energy. Prevent run away horses. Run hard then stand still, I am working a horse with these techniques discussed.

Ultimately, the importance of mental training in horse training cannot be overstated. It leads to improved focus, reduced stress, enhanced performance, and safety. A mentally stable horse is not only more attentive and responsive but also more adaptable and consistent in performance, making it a reliable partner in both training and competitive environments. 

My horse training journey has brought me from winning world titles to now trying to make every horse the best they can be and to help you to improve your equestrian knowledge.

1 thought on “Balancing Energy and Mind for Optimal Performance”

  1. I will be using many of the training recommendations in this article with my horse. Well written article. I really enjoyed reading it and found it very helpful. Thanks much!

Comments are closed.

Scroll to Top