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ONE STEP HORSEMANSHIP: A sensible approach to horse handling

Man has utilized horses throughout history. Horses have served as a source of food, as a beast of burden, as a war machine, a tiller of land, and as a companion. In order for man to dominate them the horses were usually “broken,” instilling fear of reprisal and abuse to get them to cooperate with man’s wishes.

It has been only in recent years that scientific studies have investigated how a horse’s mind works, what makes it tick, how the horse understands, and why horses react they way they do. Research scientists have been studying horses in their natural habitat as well as in the research labs, watching their movements and charting their actions. Meanwhile, I have had the opportunity of working with horses “out in the field” on a daily basis as part of my vocation and profession. I wish to share with you my accumulation of over 50 years of experience working and learning from these horses. It is my hope that by explaining some very basic understandings of man’s relationship with the horse, that the horse will benefit as much as man.

“One Step Horsemanship” is an applied working philosophy so utterly simple, it is all too frequently is overlooked. There are a few basic concepts which I now believe to be true. Horses typically outweigh us 6:1, frequently 8:1. We are not able to out muscle them. Period. However, the human brain is approximately six times larger than the horse‘s. If we could crawl inside their brains and understand what they thought, then maybe we’d be better able to convince them that our requests are, in fact, reasonable.

Now visualize the horse as a brain, like our own, only dressed in horse clothing. Acknowledge the horse as an animal which thinks, understands, feels, and has emotions. This is paramount to understanding horses.

Relate to a horse just as we would to another person. We all have friends we enjoy. We like being with them. But we also have people we know who upset us, who “push our buttons.” We don’t like being with them. If given a choice, we always choose to spend time with the people who make us feel good.

It's the same with horses. Allow them the opportunity to choose us as a friend, and give them a good reason to want to be with us. We should treat our horses as we would our friends. Always be honest, always tell the truth, never be rude, let them know when they have done something unacceptable, and especially, tell them when they have done a good job. Praise and reward them for a job well done. Build a solid relationship based on praise, good feeling, and honesty. This is the key to “One Step Horsemanship.”

Now envision a horse contained within an imaginary frame or box. The horse is relaxed, his head and neck in neutral, his spine longitudinally straight and neutral. He is comfortable. Then consider the spine of a horse much like a long spring. (I always think of the long thin spring attached to the old fashioned screen doors.) The spring is always seeking straightness. If you put pressure on one end of the spring, pushing or pulling it out of straightness, it pulls or pushes against you. By placing the spring in an abnormal position you create energy within the spring, and that energy seeks straightness. So it is with a horse. If we move a horse out of his neutral position, out of that imaginary frame, and change the position of the spine out of straightness (bending the spring), an energy is created wanting to regain “neutral.” “One Step Horsemanship” is based on this concept.

It can be challenging when we ask a horse to take a step forward, and the horse is not at that level of education. It seems a horse’s natural tendency, maybe based on survival instincts, is to resist when being pulled. The challenge is showing the horse that by taking a step forward, he will be rewarded and will find comfort.

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