Skip to main content

Manual of Horsemanship

By June 27, 2011August 19th, 2015Blogs, Manual of Horsemanship, Words of Wisdom


Although it can be difficult to translate theory into practical action, we think that if your intentions are right they are likely to govern your actions responsibly. We have learned many phrases which we use as guidelines in different situations. In the end, most of them boil down to, ‘Don’t force your horse’- much as that admirable Christian moral teaches, ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto yourself.’ By imagining you are your horse, if you can see things through his eyes, you will usually come up with better answers than if you attempt mechanically to manipulate your horse the way a manual might advise, in a way which you mightn’t like to be manipulated yourself.

There is a problem with writing about the theory of horsemanship. All the writers tend to say the same kinds of things, but they don’t do the same training as each other. In each others’ eyes another horseman is usually either really awful or really amazing with little in between. The human capacity for self-delusion is limitless. (Fortunately, though, self-delusion is something which never happens to me.)


– The order for training is as follows: CALM- FORWARD- STRAIGHT. (General L’Hotte).

– Don’t train the outside of the horse. Train the inside. (Mark Rashid). Because if you get the inside right, the outside tends to be doing exactly what you wanted.

– Less is more. (Anon)

– There’s no such thing as teaching, only learning. (Monty)

– Adrenaline up, learning down. (Monty Roberts)

– It’s not what we [think we] are teaching, it’s what they are learning. (Mark Rashid)

– For every force there is an equal and opposite force. (Sir Isaac Newton)

– Make it comfortable for the horse when he’s doing what you want, and uncomfortable when he’s doing what you don’t want. (Monty Roberts). It doesn’t take much to make some horses so uncomfortable that their adrenaline gets too high. Anything we do in an effort to ‘correct’ them has to be something that does not make matters worse by causing a loss of calm.

– Catch the horse doing something right and praise him for it, rather than catching him doing something wrong and punishing him for it. (Monty)

– Aim for lots of little successes, rather than one big success. (Kayce Cover)

There is no such thing as failure, only opportunities to learn. (Monty)

Practice does not make perfect. Practice makes permanent. Only perfect practice makes perfect. (Mary Wanless)

Mistakes are better seen as actions with unintended consequences. (I’m not sure who that’s from)

These quotes may not have originated with the people I have attributed them to. My apologies if I’ve given credit where it isn’t due!

Some of our own ideas now:

It is not our job to control the horse. That’s his job. Our job consists mostly of learning to control ourselves. We must make sure we don’t put him in a position where he cannot control himself easily. We are responsible for the environment we ask our horse to perform in.

I (currently) believe that there are only five things we need to be good horsemen (as well as health, dedication and an unbelievable amount of time and money).  They are:

Knowing exactly what you want. (MAKE DECISIONS)
Knowing whether the horse is doing it or not. (MONITOR THE HORSE)
Being effective at communicating to the horse what you want him to do with gestures and movements. (UNDERSTAND BODY LANGUAGE)
Being effective at communicating to the horse what you want him to do with pressure, through reins, ropes, hands and legs. (UNDERSTAND RELEASE OF PRESSURE)
Knowing everything you can to minimise health and safety risks, regarding stable management, feet, saddles, bits, teeth, pastures, diet, anatomy, breeding, sports science, bodywork, etc, etc. (EDUCATE ONESELF ABOUT HEALTH AND SAFETY).

So, all you need to do is

Make appropriate decisions
Monitor the horse
Communicate effectively with body language
Understand release of pressure
Educate yourself about health and safety.

There are five things to work on to make a horse. They are to increase your influence over his:

-Adrenaline (up or down)
-Elevation of head, neck, wither and back (up or down)
-Flexion (left and right and ‘simple’, i.e. bending at the poll)
-Turn on the forehand (disengaging the hind quarter), left and right
-Turn on the hind quarter (pirouette), left and right.

Simple! But that doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy!

The first three of these get you all the gaits, impulsion, rounding, forwards, halt and backwards. The last two get you all the lateral movements, when combined with control of flexion so lateral movements can become shoulder in or half pass. It’s a bit more wordy than Gen. L’Hotte’s version but hopefully this list has a bit more to it as well.

There are two languages which are used in horsemanship. The first language is the language natural to the horse- a language of gestures and movement. On the ground this principally involves movement of the feet, and on board, allowing movement of the seat bones; also the posture or position of the horse and rider, both on the ground and on board. Motions of a rope or whip come into this category for me, too. The second language is artificial, involving things the horse does not readily understand, such as pressure from a rope, whip, reins or the leg, clicking on a clicker device, or voice commands. The better you are at using the first language, the less you will find it necessary to use the second.

I think it is useful to point out that there are only three states which exist on the ground: One, where the horse is immobile (STANDING); you and the environment are not stimulating the horse to move. Two (LEADING), where you move away from the horse and he moves to you. Three (DRIVING), where you move toward the horse and he moves away. There are two forms of driving; one where the horse goes forward, as in long lining or lungeing. The other, where he goes backwards.

All groundwork falls neatly into one of those categories except one act: turn on the forehand (disengaging the hind quarters). This has an element of all of the three states- the head moves towards you, the foreleg nearest you is stationary, and the hind end moves away. It’s what a lot of people get when they are trying to send a horse away from them on the lunge. They almost always are asking the horse to do exactly what he’s doing.

All horsemen, indeed all teachers, essentially use the same method. They break big tasks down into increments and build understanding bit by bit. The best horsemanship involves using increments of a suitable size, worked on for a suitable duration, so the horse enjoys learning and works with you instead of feeling bored or stressed. This always involves learning to understand the horse. It tends not to look very exciting, in that it’s rare for anyone to fall off and generally there’s not a lot to write home about.

I don’t think there is anything else people do with their horses, but I also know there are probably lots of people who disagree with much of what I’ve just written. At least you got it for free!

Leave a Reply