There are probably as many jokes about getting a mule's attention
with a two-by-four as there are pickup trucks in Texas. When you
are teaching your horse to heed, you must keep bringing its attention
back to you. But you don't want to use a two-by-four. You don't
want do a lot of exciting or loud things that will cause the horse
to do a lot of exciting or loud things. You want to use body position
and body language that is noticeable to the horse to keep its attention
or send it in the direction you want. I call this "heeding."
For example, stand at the horse's front legs with your belt buckle
facing its shoulder as you scratch the horse. Continue to keep the
line through your shoulders parallel to the horse's body all the
time you are scratching and rubbing him. If you find a place the
horse really likes being scratched, you have his attention on you.
Your goal is to captivate the horse, to keep the horse heeding everything
you do, paying attention to everything you do. And everything you
do, you do in a perceivable pattern with a calm attitude.
Horses only pay attention to one thing at a time. Their eyes are
out on the sides of their head to see any approaching attacker and
their instincts tell them to constantly look out for those attackers.
This superb peripheral vision is what makes it so easy to get horses
to heed your body position. They can see all the way to the back
of their hindquarters with just a slight tilt of their head. But
what gets their attention keeps changing all the time.
When their attention goes away from you, your goal is to get it
back. When something in their environment puts a question in their
mind and diverts their attention, you want them to come back to
you for the answer.
The younger a horse is the more it perceives anything sudden or
unusual as dangerous because there is less information in its memory
bank. Natural defense mechanisms and instincts are more likely to
control its behavior. So if you're teaching a really baby horse
to heed, its attention just normally darts all over the place. It
will shift its attention from one thing to another suddenly. It
will jump quickly if it notices something it didn't see before.
It will stop to observe something carefully, to take it in completely,
before it's ready to give its attention back to you or something
else and move on.
With a baby horse, your plan is to get noticed at least half of
the time and eventually the horse will develop the habit of bringing
its attention back to you. Which means that it will start coming
back to you for the answer of how to respond to that last thing
that grabbed its attention.
When your horse trusts what you are saying with your body language,
heeding becomes a sort of auto pilot system. You are calm, your
horse heeds the fact that you are calm, and the horse takes its
cue from you. When you change positions, it indicates a change in
how things should be and the horse will change position with you.
After your horse has learned to heed your body language, he will
not only heed you, but also anyone who speaks the same language.
Everything you do, as far as your position, should be horse logical.
For example, when you have your shoulder line parallel to the horse's
side then turn so your shoulder line runs through his shoulders
and step forward, the horse will automatically step with you. You
don't have to force the horse to walk and pull him along. You also
won't have to jerk on him because he's walking too fast. He'll just
start walking at the same speed you do because you have taught him
to heed your body in a horse logical manner.
There's a corollary to having the horse pay attention to you. You
must pay attention to your horse at all times and create a calm
working environment. If someone comes along that you want to talk
to, finish with your horse, put your horse away and then talk. Don't
take your attention off your horse.
When you are cleaning the stall, you still have to pay attention
to what your horse is doing. If your horse bites, put a drop noseband
around his mouth. You can also attach a lead rope to him and lead
him around with you as you clean. Or you can put him in a keeper
stall. You must make the horse feel like doing something you suggest
without making a fight about it. That is how you gain mental dominance.
Teaching heeding builds a communication link between yourself and
the horse in the horse's language. That is why it does not require
strength to take horses to the highest levels. There is a MythUnderstanding
that men are the best trainers because they are stronger than women.
In reality, training has nothing to do with strength. It is about
mental games. Horse training is a mental game played in a physical
Your primary objective as a trainer is rhythm and relaxation. What
the horse needs to achieve this is steady, physical work at a mental
level that you create which is alert enough to pay attention to
you but not frightened and not tense. You have to be open minded
and calm in order to study and understand. And it is exactly the
same situation with the horse.
An awful lot of people think that if they do something to the horse
that makes it act more excited, that the horse is going to learn
faster or respond better. The truth is that the horse may not be
responding at all. It may just be reacting. Reacting is overdoing.
An aid that gets a reaction instead of a response has been avoided
just as effectively as if the horse didn't respond at all.
Never attack or punish a horse for being "disobedient." Just put
him back to work. He's just looking to have a good time and that's
what we're trying to teach him to do--to have a good time playing
our game. There is no such thing as a disobedience if you're not
telling the horse what to do. There may be a lapse of obedience
but when that happens, you simply interrupt with instructions of
what the horse ought to be doing. No fighting, no loud or excited
reaction, just a calm request using your horse-logical communication
About the Author
© 1997-2004 Meredith Manor
International Equestrian Centre. All rights reserved.
Instructor and trainer
Ron Meredith has refined his "horse logical" methods for communicating
with equines for over 30 years as president of
Meredith Manor International Equestrian Centre, an ACCET accredited
equestrian educational institution.