Help With My Horse

Our Biggest Obstacle to Better Horsemanship is Ourselves

Our journey to improve our horsemanship often stalls, riders get frustrated and our horses pay the price. To correct this, this realization is crucial: the biggest barrier to better horsemanship is often ourselves. As riders, we might spend countless hours in lessons, absorbing methods and techniques, perfecting how we ask for movements and responses. Yet, in this well-intentioned pursuit of skill, we can unwittingly fail to address the most critical part of our interaction with horses—communication that resonates with them.

Understanding Equine Language

From the earliest stages of horsemanship, we learn specific ways to interact with our horses. These methods are passed down from instructors whose expertise we trust. Over time, they crystallize into habits. These habits shape every command, from the use of our legs to the pull of reins. However, what if the language we’ve been taught to speak is one our horses barely understand? The issue here isn’t just about the clarity of commands but about the adaptability of our communication.

Imagine repeatedly asking a non-English speaker a question in English, growing frustrated as they fail to understand. This is often the scenario we unknowingly create with our horses. We persist with cues and aids that our horses do not grasp, expecting them to bridge the communication gap. To evolve as horsemen and horsewomen, we must flip this script.

Adapting to the Horse’s Needs

The essence of better horsemanship lies in our ability to adapt our methods to better suit our horses. This adaptation involves rethinking not just the way we give commands but the physical and mental framework we create for our horses to understand these commands.

Customizing Training Techniques

Every horse has unique physical and mental capabilities. A technique that works for one might not suit another. For instance, consider a young horse that struggles with lead changes. Instead of insisting on the same method that might have worked for other horses, a thoughtful rider would use a different technique. A technique that specifically helps the specific issue the horse is having will be the difference between accomplishing the maneuver or not. Understanding the mechanics of what you are asking your horse to do is critical for setting your horse up for success. The rider’s ability to do this doesn’t just teach a skill; it builds confidence and understanding between the horse and rider.

Revising Tack and Equipment

Just as a craftsman selects tools that enhance efficiency, so should the rider choose tack that complements the horse’s physicality. Bridles and bits are not mere equipment; they are vital communication devices. Using a bit that communicates the desired movement in a way the horse can understand will make a significant difference. For instance, a horse that is heavy on the forehand will benefit from a bit that encourages a shift to the hind end. Such adaptations help the horse perform tasks with greater ease, enhancing overall performance.

This applies to all aids used to communicate with your horse. You may have been taught to use a specific something, and that was right for that horse at that time. That does not mean that is right for this horse right now. Be willing to work outside of your comfort zone. A piece of tack that you think you would never use on a horse might be what this horse needs.

Physical Positioning for Better Horsemanship

Positioning plays a pivotal role in how effectively a horse can execute a command. Training routines should focus on exercises that naturally guide the horse into positions that make tasks easier. For example, when teaching a horse to move a specific foot, asking for that movement when the horse is balanced on the other 3 feet makes that movement easier. Asking your horse to move his front left foot while he has weight on that foot will cause your horse to become frustrated and distrust your commands. This may require you to change what you are normally focused on. Often this change of focus is a big eye-opening moment.

Fostering a Culture of Continuous Learning

As riders, our learning should never cease. Learning should not be confined to riding lessons. Learning should continue as long as we are interacting with our horses. We should learn something every time we interact with each horse we encounter. Observing and understanding the unique ways in which each horse perceives and responds to our cues is as important as mastering any riding technique.


True horsemanship does not come from a rigid adherence to traditional methods but from a fluid, evolving interaction with our horses. Better horsemanship comes by adapting our communication, techniques, and tools. Then we open up new avenues for understanding and cooperation. This journey requires patience, humility, and an unyielding commitment to learning and adapting—not just from our instructors, but from our greatest teachers: the horses themselves. Through this adaptive approach, we not only overcome our limitations but also empower our horses to reach their fullest potential, achieving a harmony that is the true art of horsemanship.

The journey in equine partnership is a path of continual learning and growth. Adopting this proactive approach will pave the way for a rewarding and fulfilling experience with our equine companion. If you need professional help with your horse, you might consider an Equestrian Virtual Lesson. This is a great way to get a private lesson from Tim Anderson. 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 improve your equestrian knowledge.

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