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Blog Tales from the LOPE Ranch

Good Intentions and Cruelty to Horses


For ten years, I’ve been in the horse adoption profession. Before that, I had several years of other horse-related experience — ranging from owning horses, acting as a working student in assorted barns, teaching beginner riding lessons, and exercising horses for pay. As you can imagine, I’ve seen many types of horses, owners, and trainers over that time. And I have come to the conclusion that it is actually is a form of mistreatment to love horses so much that you spoil them.

Most people would assume that a worse equine cruelty would be to physically harm or neglect the horse in obvious ways (such as starvation, abuse or abandonment). Those are indeed indefensible actions and rightly should be condemned (as they are by everyone except the abusers themselves).

It is actually a form of mistreatment to love horses so much that you spoil them.

But there are many more spoiled horses in the world than overtly abused horses. The spoiled horses have no true advocates — few people (other than horsemanship trainers and clinicians) even perceive that these horses might need a group to petition for their better treatment. The people who spoil them rarely receive negative feedback from other equestrians or horse friends — and thus the mishandling continues unchecked in most cases.

Spoiled horses can be dangerous and have the capacity to hurt more people than most types of snarling predators. What’s worse, they have been encouraged and rewarded for their misbehavior by their unsuspecting owners. These horses are frustrated, unhappy, and unbalanced — and they act out from a sense of insecurity and overwhelming need for leadership.

To me, spoiling a horse means that you allow him to consistently behave without respect for people — and that you do this out of a sense of misplaced kindness to your horse. I know many people who pamper their horses by giving them the best vet, farrier and feeding care possible — and whose horses are better “dressed” (in terms of tack, blankets and saddle pads) than the owners themselves.

To me, spoiling a horse means that you allow him to consistently behave without respect for people – and that you do this out of a sense of misplaced kindness to your horse.

But spoiling is a different category than providing high quality care. When a horse is spoiled, the owner has rewarded the horse for evading, resisting, or refusing to perform the basic functions that are required to be a safe, reliable riding horse. Instead of giving the horse leadership and clarity in boundaries, the owner will default to what they believe to be more gentle and humane treatment.

Thus they avoid any interaction in which the horse is corrected and redirected into more appropriate activity. Instead, imaginary emotions are attributed to the horse — and the owner responds to these pretend equine feelings (which prevents the misbehavior from even being perceived, let alone corrected).

So a horse that nips at a coat sleeve is hand fed more grain — because it is seen as “cute” by the owner that he wants his food so badly that he “begs” for it. Or a horse that becomes barn sour and refuses to ride easily to the arena is petted and turned back to the barn — because it is too “stressful” for him to be separated from his buddies. A horse that refuses to stand still for mounting is gently cajoled and coaxed to the mounting block with treats — because he must have had a trauma from an earlier mounting experience and needs loving patience.

The owners of spoiled horses adore their equine pets. They make sure they have the easiest life possible (in the human’s eyes) — their horses are treated like giant, beloved lapdogs. A typical scenario might go something like this:

Is Storm sad? That must be why he is pinning his ears at me when I start to saddle him. Let’s not ask him to work today and get all sweaty in the tack. Leading Storm around the pasture while gently inserting treats in his mouth is a much more humane and enlightened way to bond with him anyway.

Plus it would be kind of scary to ride him when he is sad/angry/depressed/your adjective here — after all, he is telling me something is wrong, so I need to understand that and not ask him to be a good equine citizen (even though the vet says he is perfectly sound to ride).

Besides, we have a deep spiritual connection that transcends the mundane world of saddles. He knows my intention and that’s what counts. In a way, he is kind of like my soul mate/guardian angel/your term here.

The problem with this approach is that 1) it assumes a horse is something that it is not (such as a dog or a child); and 2) it rewards a horse for inappropriate and/or disrespectful behavior. Horses are noble, magnificent animals that inspire and awe me daily. They deserve respect for what they truly are — which is livestock (prey animals with hooves) of the highest order. Horses do have emotional and psychological needs — but those needs aren’t the same as the human equivalent. It is a form of disrespect and dishonor to treat the horse as anything else. And it harms them, sometimes almost to the point of no return.

I have heard several horsemanship clinicians and quality trainers comment repeatedly that the worst horse to deal with is a spoiled horse.

Why is it so cruel to spoil horses? It ultimately can nearly ruin them for any productive work and safe interaction with people. Over time, no matter how compassionate the owner believes their treatment to be, the horse will become insecure, neurotic, erratic, tense, and/or aggressive in nearly every activity that involves a person asking them to do something.

Horses like this have a high chance of then becoming abused or neglected in more obvious ways. They finally bite, kick, buck off, or run over the super nice owner (who has essentially trained them to do that) — and are sold off quickly or given away (thus heading into the lower levels of the horse market with little chance for enlightened ownership).

Sometimes the owners still keep the horses that hurt or frighten them. But they often then become ignored horses — put out in a pasture as being too unpredictable to ride or handle and left there indefinitely. While safer than being sold at an auction or through a “quick sale” Craigslist ad, that is still not much of a life for a proud, athletic animal with heart and intelligence.

The best-case scenario is that the horse will find an owner or trainer who can undo the damage that the incorrect handling and spoiling has created. However, this can be a lengthy process — because a spoiled horse has learned (and internalized deeply) the concept that people aren’t worth much consideration from him. This creates a very significant challenge for a trainer — who must work through the horse’s initially negative reaction to discovering that yes, in fact, people must be respected.

That negative reaction might range from surface irritation and snappish behavior (pinning ears, baring teeth, balking) to misplaced assertiveness on the ground (striking, kicking, biting) to outright aggression under saddle (bucking, rearing, bolting). And it might take days, weeks, or months to work through these issues – depending on each horse’s situation.

Most adult amateurs (who are the majority of horse owners) would find that to be a daunting challenge to take on. Usually a professional horseman is needed to help a horse that has been spoiled to the point where he has begun to intimidate or hurt people.

Over the years, I have heard several horsemanship clinicians and quality trainers comment repeatedly that the worst horse to deal with is a spoiled horse. Most would say that a wild mustang fresh from the range is easier as a training project — because they are simply unacquainted with people (as opposed to contemptuous of them).

I used to be one of those nice, well-intentioned owners. I constantly fed treats to my horses, avoided ever being their leader and loved them to death. Looking back, I am amazed that I lived through that phase.

I say all of this with such confidence because I used to be one of those nice, well-intentioned owners. I constantly fed treats to my horses, avoided ever being their leader and loved them to death. Looking back, I am amazed that I lived through that phase. Although it is embarrassing to admit this, I actually used to thrust a handful of grain into my horses’ mouths right before mounting them.

One horse began rearing regularly during our rides — he had made the connection that I was primarily a treat machine and there was no need to let me stay on his back (where the grain was out of the picture). Who could blame him for such a logical conclusion (from a horse’s perspective)? No amount of petting, hand feeding, astral mind melding or wishful thinking changed the horse’s behavior (nor did any vet exam pinpoint a physical cause). Each ride was scary and full of tense suspense for me — when would he rear and how high?

Finally, I gave up — and rehomed him to a professional trainer who specialized in problem horses and had the skills to deal with the situation. The horse eventually was successfully retrained and found a home with a much more experienced (and non-treat-feeding) rider.

In a very real sense, I came close to permanently damaging that horse — simply because I was inexperienced with horse ownership and proper horsemanship techniques at that time. Of course, I didn’t mean to do that — but I did.

And if you spoil your horse, you will too.


  1. Lynn Reardon says:

    I’d say your horse is pampered — not spoiled — based on your description above :)

  2. Lynn Reardon says:

    Hopefully the filly can be helped by the trainer! So sorry to hear about this experience for her and you. It is such a sad example of how much consequence can come from spoiling in extreme cases.

  3. Lynn Reardon says:

    I agree so much with your comment about taking the time to watch and be with the horses in their natural environment! They teach us so much that way. I’d also say that the concept of “punishment” is not one that we use here — our focus is on redirection instead.

  4. Lisa Thorson says:

    You use the word “spoiling” inappropriately. The folks you refer too are simply ignorant of what a horse is and is not. My horse is very spoiled and yet the most respectful horse I know. He doesn’t get away with unacceptable behavior but is spoiled when the time is right. I hand feed treats but he knows he will be “corrected” (for lack of a better word) if he ever tries to nip me for a treat, thus he is patient and waits for his treat. He has the best of everything and yes, he is spoiled BUT he is also a horse and is expected to act like a respectable horse or suffer the “correction.”

  5. Jen says:

    Amen! I am amazed how many people are resistant to the way you – and myself – think about horses. I board at a riding stable and see this frequently. They wonder why my horses ride right out, and come at a call without treats, or come out of the paddock with no halter and wait for me instead of heading for food. My horses ride out alone and do as I ask, and that amazes them because I’m firm with my horses! They don’t want advice though – they have a magical connection with their horses (even though they get kicked and can’t ride out alone). I may just post this blog up out there! Keep getting the word out, every person that wakes up = a saved horse. Thank you!

  6. Jack says:

    I like your statement and it makes sense to me. Although I do not use treats when working my horses, I do give them apples or carrots when they have given a good day of training or riding. Or sometimes it’s a nice message or grooming. Other times its just time for dinner. Whatever the case is its still part of the process of interaction with your horse. If I don’t have time to ride, I still groom, massage or exercise my horse to interact as much as possible. I feel interaction with ground work builds the respect and the relationship.

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  8. Sandra Steele says:

    Excellent article. I could not agree with you more. As a person who was reared around “old style” horsemanship, My father used our horses on our farm and they had important jobs. They understood that they had jobs and I believe that they appreciated the unique cooperation between man and horse that is necessary when herding cattle. I can not even begin to tell you how many folks I’ve seen “ruin” their horses in a similar way. It’s nuts! I am one of the fortunates who can lay hands on nearly anything with four feet, but I was raised to see myself as their master and HUSBANDER ( meaning one who takes care of ) and not as their equal. Being the one in charge is something that horses look for and EXPECT. Only one horse is in charge of the herd. When they get mixed signals they become confused and exhibit their frustration in bad behaviors. Some of their bad behaviors are potentially fatal to us two legged types. Thank you for your insite and thoughts.

  9. Lisa Barth says:

    I have been doing rescue work for years as well, and agree that allowing misbehavior and extalling human emotions on equine behaviors does the horse absolutely no good at all. What people don’t seem to realize, is that whenever you are WITH a horse, you are training it, so to say horses are “untrained” I think is inaccurate, unless it has been wild or completely unhandled. I have brought home wild and unhandled, as well as those concidered “untrained” even though they have been domesticated and treated as lap dogs for the majority of their lives. My preference would be the unhandled so I don’t have to “un”train poor behaviors that the horses have been “trained” by people who meant well.

  10. Denice says:

    Very good read. I’ve been trying to tell my daughter this for awhile now regarding her 2+ yr old gelding. Am sending this to her to read.

  11. Rusty Eldridge says:

    Very good advice! I see this sometimes too and it just leads to disaster!.. I make my horses mind and respect me.. and i am also good to them.. The have to have bounderies and respect for people.. or it just breeds trouble and dangerous situations. Thanks for the article.

  12. Ray Barnhart says:

    Outstanding article. I have been around horses most of my adult life but just bought my first horse 2 yrs ago. He is a now a 7 yrs old Morgan gelding but when i got him he was barely green broke. He fought with me to get out on the trail and reared up out of the blue. He has thrown me 3 times and was fearful when we would go out riding. But i never gave in and now he is a fairly well behaved trail horse. He still has his moments but i will never give up on him. I never give treats unless it is a afternoon snack and never while we are working. I made sure to avoid spoiling him and he shows it by not being a needy and huggie horse. He could care less if i come out to pet him and show him love…but i know he loves and respects me cause he no longer acts out and does as he is asked.

  13. Diane says:

    Same thing happened to me….see below. I would not have given the filly to this person had I known how inept she was. She led me to believe she had an extensive background in horsemanship…but it was not true. So sad…it’s not IF she or the filly get badly hurt, but WHEN.

  14. Diane says:

    What a great article! I recently had some horse drama take place and it was a result of a person that refused to take my simple safety rules to heart. I had a Paint breedstock reining-trained mare and her coming 4-year-old Morgan cross filly. They filly was born and raised here, halter broke, learning natural horsemanship games, she was kind, smart, willing and fearless. A friend took an interest in the filly so we gave her to her as a gift. I had not idea that she had absolutely no idea what to do with a green filly, let alone any horse! The filly was kept at my place, where the friend snuck her snacks, wanted the filly to “love” her, was not assertive with the horse, did not want to be “mean” to her. Well, the filly learned to bite viciously, trample and shoulder her out of the way, rush the gate, became horrible to catch, nervous to the point of jumping at the sound of my accidentally bumping into the corral pipe, flattened her ears, and tried to boss me. (Mistake, she learned quickly I was not to be pushed around…lol). However, the most horrible thing occurred when the novice friend got the filly to accept the bit and bridle and TIED HER BY THE REINS TO AN UNATTACHED 12-FOOT PIPE PANEL! To say the least, disaster struck when the filly pulled back, spooked and dragged the panel on her back all over my 2 1/2 acres, totally panicked, bucking and bleeding. The novice ran after her, calling her name, calling for her to stop. Sure! Lukcily the reins broke and the filly was free, but not before she received a bloody mouth and wounds all over her body. Now, with the horses gone and no doubt being spoiled even worse, the filly is in training to try to undo the damage. SUCH a shame. Newbie horse people can do as much damage as spoiling and combine the two, it is a recipe for disaster!

  15. Angelia says:

    So right on! Spoiling is the most dangerous thing a person could do with a horse. I’ve worked with these horses, and can see why they end up going to slaughter. Such a shame. Thankfully I learned this early in my horse adventure, and no longer spoil my horses. I love them dearly but the must respect me as their Alpha mare, first and foremost.

  16. Angelia says:

    Thank you so much for your article. I made the mistake of selling a foal to a new horse owner. I told her from the get go not to spoil her. She ended up treating her like a dog, instead of a horse. She ended up getting hurt because the yearling reared and came down on her shoulders. She became very dangerous. I went out and taught her some manners, but the spoiling continued. The filly eventually trampled a dog to death, so she gave her away. I tried to get her to rehome her earlier to no avail. It is sad to say that I think she’s not in any better of a situation now. I fear that the horse may be doomed. I feel partly responsible for the fate of this horse, because I did not take the time to get to know this lady better. It seemed to me that she was a good fit, but quickly learned that she refused to discipline the filly.

  17. Unfortunately when you have to retrain one of the “spoiled” ones, it is sometimes not pretty. They have tricks some people have never seen.

  18. It is about time someone wrote this article!!!! So may spoiled horses out there. The smarter the horse the more spoiled they become at the hands of loving gentle owners who desperately need classes on leadership. Being your horses leader means having their devotion and respect. They will follow you anywhere. Unfortunately these bright forward horses end up right where they want to be, totally respected (feared) by people to the point of being sent off to the slaughter house where they are never seen again. Education is the answer. A swing back for the pendulum from the “nothing but pets and love side of training”.

  19. Lynn Reardon says:

    I believe that force/intimidation is simply the flip side of the coin to spoiling a horse — both are bad horsemanship and have equally poor results. For me, it doesn’t require harshness to not spoil a horse. What it does require is consistent leadership, clarity in boundaries and discipline (for horse and human). Trust is built from that foundation (rather than from the spoiling behaviors that so many people mistakenly associate with kindness or “being nice” to their horses).

    We advocate good horsemanship here — which means neither spoiling your horse nor being punitive and using force. A trainer who uses punishment and intimidation on a horse is not worthy to work with horses at all.

  20. I see what you are referring to on a regular basis and you very clearly explain the phenomenon. Well done! But because I am in the performance (show) world I see a lot more horses that have been “mashed” on. These horses have so many layers of defensiveness and fear that at times I’m not sure I can get them all the way to relaxed and trusting. The latest project to arrive at my farm is a very classy, highly bred, intelligent, charismatic Arabian gelding that was severely punished (now missing front teeth) for being exactly what he was bred to be. He has used biting, striking etc to protect himself from the torture of the show ring “training” he received. He has even gone so far as biting himself in the chest when I pick up the reins.
    I know you see one side of the picture (which is very, very valid!) I just wanted to share and bring to light the other side. You CAN have a highly schooled performance horse without either extreme.

  21. Dallas says:

    I agree with the basis of this article. I might only add that for many training tools timing is the most important and overlooked. Whatever ‘method’ , equipment or tools you use what separates trainers from un-trainers is your timing for both punishment and reward. I have had to re-train quite a few spoiled and confused horses but it’s really the owners that need the help. Today I think we depend so much on out videos, clinics and trainers that we forget to simply watch and be with the horses in their natural environment. We can’t learn to ready and inject ourselves into our horses lives as a leader though a book or video. Timing must be felt. With all animals and kids boundaries and timing are key.

  22. Lynn Reardon says:

    Nice to hear that you and your horse are doing so well together! At the same time, clicker training is something that we feel would be counterproductive to the work we do here. It may well be that we have only seen it applied incorrectly — but what we have observed of it has been enough to keep us firmly on the vaquero/foundation horsemanship path instead. Thank you so much for your comment — and good luck to you & your horse during your competition season!

  23. Elaine R says:

    I used clicker training with my horse for various things I needed him to learn after we began competing in our sport. Once he learned what clicker training was all about he started learning 10x faster! It was as if he were saying “Why didn’t you tell me this to begin with? “. He began to catch on to things very quickly after that. Things that would scare the bejesus out of him quickly became something that was no big deal. Clicker training has its place in horse training if done correctly.

  24. Lynn Reardon says:

    Thank you so much for your interesting insights! I agree that mixed messages can be such a difficult thing for horses to deal with from people. Too often, people aren’t aware of their own body language — we have become too used to being in offices or sitting at the computer all day that we have lost touch with our own physical presence and how it might appear to a horse.

    I used to be very bad about stepping aside (in my mind politely) when horses came toward me in the field. I was treating them like human pedestrians on the sidewalk (who I naturally yield to out of courtesy). After learning more about horsemanship (and working out more at the gym, lol), I learned to change my presence and posture into one that the horses responded to with friendly respect. Amazing what a big difference such a seemingly small change can make :)

  25. Lynn Reardon says:

    Emily, it sounds like you and I have a lot in common! I also push myself and try to consistently assess my approach with my horses. And one of my horses (a 17 yo OTTB) has a similar temperament to your horse — he can have multiple modes at times :)

    One thing that has helped me with him is doing some specific exercises on those days when he is in a tighter mode. Short serpentines, simple shoulder-ins and turns on the haunches combined with bringing the front end over seem to really help loosen him physically (which also translates into him being receptive to emotional relaxation). The 7 Clinics DVD series with Buck Brannaman has some great footage of these type of maneuvers that I found really helpful.

    And if you have a good instructor in the area who can work with you that can also be a way to get useful feedback from someone on the ground. Sometimes I don’t realize that my timing is a little off or that I am being too tight with a leg aid — the right kind of instructor can spot that for you and help you change small things that might make a big difference on those tight days :)

  26. Lynn Reardon says:

    Thank you, Nikki!

  27. Lynn Reardon says:

    Thank you, Peggi!

  28. Lynn Reardon says:

    I definitely agree with you about not blaming the horse — at the same time, not blaming doesn’t mean that the horse can be permitted to continue its poor behavior simply because it’s not his fault that his owner taught him that people aren’t to be respected.

    Not all misbehavior is due to spoiling — but a good percentage of the troubled horses I have seen have been spoiled on some level. The owners never intend that to be the outcome, of course — they truly appear to be motivated by the type of misplaced kindness mentioned in the blog. But those good intentions don’t change the very negative consequences for the horse (and sometimes for the person too).

    I really appreciate your perspective and am glad you commented so thoughtfully on the post. I do respectfully disagree with you on food reward based training for horses though. From what I have seen, this is not the best way to develop a true relationship with a riding horse.

    It’s a great way to form a conditioned response based on food reward — but when I ride a horse or work with him on the ground, I want to know that the horse truly trusts and respects me (rather than is simply waiting to perform a move in exchange for a treat reward). To me, riding a horse is much different than being a caretaker or handler of zoo or marine mammals — and thus requires a different type of relationship (if that makes sense).

    Good horsemanship and riding based on those principles requires much work and commitment from a rider — it is definitely a long road in many respects. But it is so worth it in the long run :)

    The horsemanship teachers that I have worked with and especially appreciate are folks like Ginger Gaffney, Buck Brannaman, Tom Curtin and Peter Campbell.

    Thanks again for sharing your perspective.

  29. Lynn Reardon says:

    Lisa, I wish I had hired a good trainer when I first owned horses too! It took me a long time to figure out many of the mistakes I was making — and a good trainer might have helped me understand that sooner. Sounds like your farrier is a terrific trainer for you!

  30. Lynn Reardon says:

    It can be so frustrating to see how the horses will end up paying the price when owners don’t follow good horsemanship practices. Especially when the owner is even well-intentioned (like I was with my horse long ago that I mentioned in the blog post).

  31. Athena Perry says:

    It has also been our observation that people do the ultimate disservice to a horse by spoiling him. We are professional trainers, and have worked with many spoiled horses. And, no matter how much you show an owner how they are damaging the horse, usually they will not change what they are doing. Many contracts become repeat “tune-ups” as a result, where we handle the horse consistently, retrain it, give it back to the owner, and then the horse is back six months later having become unmanageable again.

    However, some of how we give our leadership away is not recognized by most people. In the herd, the only animal that comes up straight in front of the face of another horse, bends its knees, and reaches out to stroke the dominant animal’s nose, all the while making nursing noises, is the foal or very submissive horse. It is saying “I’m a baby, please don’t hurt me”.

    We believe that people are always giving the horse this message about their status and relationship when they go straight up in front of a horse, petting its face, and making kissing noises or chewing gum. Then they want the horse to trust them as a leader in scary situations and obey them! Also, grown horses move foals by pushing them where they want them to go, and this is what we see with people that have told their horses that the person is submissive.

    Instead, the way a dominant horse greets another is to blow in its nose. Then the submissive horse turns its head away and the dominant animal can come in and touch the other horse on the withers and the shoulder. The submissive horse does not reach around and sniff the dominant one without reprimand. The submissive horse is always the one that moves its feet while the dominant one holds or gains ground. We see horses constantly lunging their owners, getting in the owner’s space, and then the owner takes a step to get out of the way.

    Horses often will not even start any of the bad habits if it is always clear who is in charge. The problem is that people are giving the horses mixed messages about authority. The horses are confident and can handle scary situations if they know that they are being protected by a confident leader. By the way, we see the same thing happening in the troubled families we work with between the parents and the kids!

    Athena at Hand In Hand Farm

  32. Lynn Reardon says:

    Thanks for sharing this story! Sounds like you really took the time to understand what your horse needed that day…..

  33. Emily says:

    Great article, even if it did make me second guess myself a bit. Actually that’s a good thing. As horse owners we should regularly assess where our skills are at, what needs improvement, where we are getting it wrong and where we are getting it right. Both my boys are very respectful of me on the ground. They are both ex race horses and had terrible manners when they first arrived. I’ve worked hard with both of them who would barge my space, flick me with their tails and generally try to pretend I wasn’t there. Now I get compliments from my farrier, dentist, chiro on how well mannered they both are and what a pleasure they are to work with.
    But I’m not that confident a rider and my leadership comes unraveled when I’m in the saddle. I push myself constantly. My main riding horse has two modes, on any given day he could be laid back and super quiet or tense and spooky. I ride regardless of what mood he’s in, but I worry that my fear projects into him and am at a bit of a loss as how progress past this.
    I get him to do what I’m asking, even though I’m fearful, eg; we are going through that puddle whether you think it’s going to eat you or not. I don’t beat him up, I just don’t give up until he’s done what I ask. Am I handling that right?

  34. Nikki says:

    Excellent article!!!

  35. Peggi Harrington says:

    What a fabulous article, Lynn!

  36. May Snyder says:

    I also do rescue work. I think we’re both seeing the same thing — but we’re interpreting it a little differently. I also see many horses ending up in bad places, accidentally hurting people, or surrendered to rescues because of “behavioral issues”.

    Where I’m going to disagree with this article is that I don’t think the typical misbehaving horse is spoiled. I think he simply was NOT trained. Horses are not born knowing the rules of human society. They must be taught these things. And even among humans, the rules of “manners” vary quite a bit, i.e. one person’s cute is another person’s scary. The horse that accidentally hurts or scares people is one who was never taught the DESIRED BEHAVIOR. Either he is just trying what worked before in the past or he simply has no idea. I feel like I should not be blaming him.

    Part of it is getting owners to understand that almost every horse will need some additional training at some point in time, whether they can do it themselves or if they need to hire someone. Training is just as much a responsibility of ownership as food and medical care. Without it the horse may end up somewhere between not fun to ride to downright dangerous.

    Part of it is getting owners to also realize they need to pick a horse well matched to their skill level & goals. People buying based on flashy movement or pretty colors may be disappointed when their new family horse doesn’t work out so well for a husband/guest horse. How do we find a way to educate buyers so they really focus on the temperament/training aspect first, then look at cute face or pretty color lower on the list?

    As a side note, you mention treats. Food rewards are not inherently evil. Reward-based training is how most zoo and marine animals are trained. If a wild lion or killer whale can be trained to safely interact with humans using a reward-based system, why can’t domestic horses? They can and do respond well. The reward is a tool, just the way a whip or natural-horsemanship stick is. Used improperly and the horse gives frustration behaviors, doesn’t try hard, or remains confused. Used properly and the reward not only motivates the horse easily, it builds (via classical conditioning) an animal who sees the humans as a source of pleasant feelings — not just work. Gone are the days of horses who thrash their tail in unhappiness when ridden. For more info on structured training plans using rewards, look into Clicker training and/or Positive Reinforcement Training. Good trainers to look at might include Alex Kurland, Katie Bartlett, Peggy Hogan for horses; Karen Pryor, Ken Ramirez, Jesus Rosales (zoo/marine/all animals). Not saying that +R training is ideal for all situations. But it’s worth a look at, and it’s proof that merely including food in a training session doesn’t ‘spoil’ the horse.

    Thanks for letting me share my perspective.

  37. Lisa Walker says:

    Thank you Lynn.
    This is a life metaphor and I wish I had hired a trainer when I became a horse owner. A trainer showed up as my farrier and that was a timely gift.

  38. Shannon says:

    Thank you for addressing this subject. I am currently working with just such a case. I am so hoping I can undo the damage done because this equine is very sweet and good. She has become so inscure and has learned she can not rely on her human to help her though things. It is using every bit of horsemanship I have to even do basic things with her. But I have hope she will come around as I see small tries from her and go on to being a wonderful useful equine. The more I work with her the more upset I become with the owner who did this to her.

  39. Janelle Lear says:

    Love this article, especially the part about the horse that pinned its ears and the owner decided not to make him work. I have one horse who is difficult to catch even on a good day though once you catch him he is your friend. This morning I approached him with his fly mask and he took off bucking. Okay, we’ll play his game so I let the other two horses into a different pasture and left him standing at the gate for a few minutes. Then I got his halter….got ‘that look’ and he took off again. I stood my ground and waited for the right moment and approached him. I had not intended to ride today but thought this was a good learning experience. So I tacked him up (he stood quietly) and we rode around the property and the other horses as they grazed for about forty-five minutes, then I untacked and let him go. I saw this as a good time to let him know that whatever I had in mind was going to be a good thing for him.

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