Good Horsemanship Principles


Essentially, the teaching philosophy we strive to employ is based largely on our study of Ray Hunt’s horse training and philosophies. At no point in time have we sought, or received any endorsement from Mr. Hunt or any of his family, however we make a concerted effort to share insight gained from our study of and application, and in some cases misapplication of these techniques in our experiences. We try our best to employ this way of going each and every day, through every circumstance, and attribute any success we’ve had, to it (and dumb luck).

These are things that interns here at the ranch can expect to learn, and those who come for clinics or horsemanship vacations may well find themselves “immersed” in these principles as well.

1. It’s not just about horses.
While many folks can and will find fulfillment simply enjoying their horses, the reality is that very few will find themselves in a circumstance that allows them to have interactions with horses be their sole or even primary occupation in life. As such, we use the thoughtful interactions with horses as the the subject matter for teaching what we call “lifemanship” or this “way”. Application of these principles in everyday activities, be they school, the workplace, familial relationships, or even in interaction with strangers can reap benefits far beyond the saddle.

2. The horse is never wrong.
Never, not even then. The question that comes after this statement is usually “yeah but what if…” and the answer, in this “way” is “Nope, never, not even then.” Horses, unlike humans, do not seek drama, or fame, or glory or fast times. The reason? Horses have no ego. When the ego of a human gets in the way of a horse/human relationship, or a human/human relationship for that matter, motives become clouded and results are often less than favorable, and rarely enjoyed by the horse. When you are working without an ego in the way, you are able to stay in a helping mode, help the horse find the answer, encourage it to try. When your ego becomes involved, it’s almost invariably bruised, and therefore you feel the need to defend your actions, or increase your intensity (bigger bits, tie downs, spurs, etc.) to prevent further bruising. Egos are too fragile as a rule, and are one of mankind’s greatest encumbrances to existing in harmony with anything, let alone horses.

3. Make the right thing easy, the wrong thing difficult.
While this would seem to be a “no-brainer” humanity seems to be ingrained in a train of thought wherein “hard work will prevail”. Hard work is often a critical component to success, but it is not the be all and end all. We’ve found that in teaching horses, and teaching and interacting with people, that “this way” has a multiplier effect on that hard work. It is the job of the teacher to set the environment to stimulate learning and be patient through the learning process of the student, not try to force it on them. The teacher must improve overall situational awareness, and develop a high level of empathy for the perspective of the student because regardless of the presentation, the student’s perception of the lesson presented is the reality; and that ultimately will dictate the pace of the learning. Given humanity’s propensity to do more, it’s critical to note that in the beginning of employing this particular technique, that for the sake of the student, more emphasis should be placed on making the right thing easy, rather than creating the difficulty. The more practice one has at making the right thing easy, the more effective one can become at the proper use of difficulty as a teaching tool.

4. Perception is reality.
When trying to create an outcome in a relationship with another being, their perception is the reality you must deal with. Horses are more pure and untainted than most of humanity in this respect, and are consequently an ideal medium for demonstrating the efficacy of this way. In any human-horse interaction, a horse can only do one of two things.

  • A. What he thinks you want him to do, because it will lead to comfort and release (and/or relief), or
  • B. what he feels he must do simply to survive at that moment in time.

The horse is entitled to the latter, and we’re not entitled to the former. It is incumbent upon us, since we desire an outcome, to improve our presentation in hopes of causing our outcome.

5. Teaching does not equal learning.
This ties directly to the perception listed above. Teaching can be done at any pace, but learning will only happen at the pace of the student. We make every effort to be cognizant of this perception because if the efforts of the student (hereinafter “try”) are not rewarded, the student is likely to shut down. If we are aware of, and reward the try, the student or horse is more likely to look see the positive effort as a solution to come back to next time.

6. Reward the slightest try.
See above. Try is a proactive thing, not a reactive thing. You’ll see the difference in attitude and expression that clearly indicates which is happening. In horses the eyes are soft and the ears are flicking or focused forward, the tail is relaxed and flowing, trying. When a horse is complying, you’ll see the ears back, eyes are hard, lips are tight and the tail is likely swishing. By rewarding our horses or our students when they try, we’re teaching them to be proactive and thoughtful in any given situation.

7. Do as little as possible but as much as necessary.
Again, in the beginning you’ll do a little and wait for a result. The horse can feel a fly land on him, so to think that we have to inflict a great deal of discomfort on them to convey our message is wrong. What makes a fly successful in his relationship with the horse is that he is consistent. We can learn from that. Flies can control the horse’s feet, and that is basically the essence of horsemanship; if we can’t move or direct the feet, we are not getting through. Flies do this because they are 100% consistent.

8. Be Consistent.
Become a fixture in the world of your horses (or students). If you show up in one frame of mind one day, and in a totally different frame of mind the next, you’re giving your horse nothing to believe in, nothing he can count on. Endeavor to be the same (ideally optimistic and happy) in every situation; it can become habit-forming for you, and it will lead to more trust being put in you by your horse or student. As an example, I ALWAYS have my horse arrange itself around me when changing sides. To my horse, I want to be as permanent and consistent as the post in the corral. You very rarely see a horse in a panic run into a post, or kick at a post, or run from a post. A post has a few innate qualities: it is going to be solid, it is going to be neutral, and it is always going to be that way. In the rarest of circumstance you may see a horse go over or through or into a post or a fence or some other thing that has these qualities. I’d like my horse to see me in the same way. He should become accustomed at an early age to arranging his life around me, knowing that there will be no discomfort offered if he does so. This will keep your horse from running you over at feeding time, or using you as the path of least resistance when it deems an escape is necessary, and will translate into respect for you. And how did you build it? Simply by being consistent.


We know this got long but we sure hope you hung on to the end. What are some principles you’ve learned from your horses?

Smile and Ride!

4 thoughts on “Good Horsemanship Principles

  1. Hey, one of the important lessons the horses in my life have taught me is to not make assumptions. We humans are often opinionated (“the horse is lazy, the horse will rear, the horse pulls back”) and forget to just open our eyes and observe with a blank mind. If we assume that the horse will react in a certain way, we often set him up for failure – before we even started. We owe so much to horses – they are amazing creatures. I love your page by the way!

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