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Top All-Around Trainers Discuss Ways to Gain the Respect of Your Horse


“All I’m asking for is a little respect,” sings Aretha Franklin in her famous song ‘Respect.’ We can all empathize with the singer as she asks for respect in her relationship and from her peers, but what happens when we want to ask for a bit of care from our horses?

How do we gain their respect without being able to tell them that is what we need from them? We sat down with top all-around trainers Evan Knapp, Kayla Kohler, and Alyssa Casa to glean their advice on how to earn more than a bit of respect from our horses, in and out of the arena. 

Ground Level

At its most basic level, respect is a matter of safety; at its highest level, respect allows you and your horse to perform incredible things in the arena. Casa shared that horses are born with unique personalities that can make gaining their respect easier or more complex, depending on the individual.

“Some horses are born that way and want to do their job. Good horses want to be good and stay out of trouble,” Alyssa says. “So, you must convince others that they like their job and are obedient.”

Respect begins by gaining control of your horse’s feet. If you watch a herd of horses, the alpha horse can push others around the pasture or away from food with subtle body language. He is controlling their feet, and they respect him by complying.

As horsemen, we can follow that example to control their feet by moving them forwards, backward, left, or right. Knapp encourages his riders to gain their horse’s respect from the ground and work towards achieving it on their backs.

“Whenever a customer gets a new horse, I’m a firm believer in having them start with just longing and handling the horse on the ground. If they can’t make it walk, trot, lope, and stop on the longe line, I don’t think they have any business getting on them,” Evan shared.

Once he feels that his clients have gained their horse’s respect on the ground, he will have them mount up and play a game of Simon Says. He finds this to be an excellent way to ensure the rider can control the horse’s feet on command. “I’ve never ridden a horse and thought, ‘I wish it didn’t listen and follow my directions so well.’ If you can control their legs, you are much closer to earning respect of the horse.”

Requires Maintenance

A respectful relationship with your horse is in constant need of nurturing to bear the fruits you desire. Our experts agreed that respect must be regularly reinforced when dealing with horses. “Just like any relationship, it requires maintenance. Unfortunately, it’s easier to break that trust than it will be to fix it,” Kohler explained.

Kayla believes that respect will follow through with the consistency of your cues and expectations with your horse. She explained further by saying, “I like to make sure that the client asks the same way every time. Horses learn by creating habits, so if a rider is asking differently every time, it can cause confusion and break that trust.”

If this sounds like a daunting task, know that it does get easier through time spent with your horse. Evan shared an example of how that hard work, in the beginning, can pay off, “Once you create a strong bond of mutual respect, it is something a horse remembers for the rest of its life. I’ve had horses turned out to pasture for years that I could hop on, and it was like they never left the program.”

When the time comes for you to step into the show pen with your four-legged partner, the time you spent earning their respect will pay out in dividends. The level of care you have achieved and expect at home and in the warmup pen will undoubtedly be reflected through the performance that you experience in the arena.

Expectations

Knapp will explain this to his riders before heading out to a show. “I always tell my riders that they need to have certain expectations for their horse in the show pen and that the expectations for them in the warmup will directly reflect how they perform in the show pen. We want a willing and obedient partner, and that takes a level of mutual respect. I want horses to be in the show pen, so I don’t ever expect or ask more from them in the class than I do in the warmup.”

If you encounter an issue in the show pen, it can likely be traced back to a problem in the warmup pen. Respect was lost along the way to show time, and it is up to you as a rider to return to the warmup pen and reestablish a respectful relationship.

“Once the horse starts making their own decisions in the arena, we correct them and go back and do our homework in the warmup to truly fix that issue,” Evan adds. “We all have to school our horses, but the show pen is not the place to gain our horse’s respect. Unfortunately, we lost that someplace out in the warmup arena.”

Gaining control of your horse’s feet from the ground up is a great way to have fun with your horse and build a respectful relationship that will withstand the test of time. Kayla leaves us with this lasting remark, “Horses are just like people and have different personalities. Not every horse is going to learn the same way.” Keep this in mind as you experiment with different ways to move your horse’s feet and gain their respect. It will be a game-changer!


About the Author – Lauren Stanley of Tulare, California, is an avid all-around competitor who loves to bring young horses to the highest level. She enjoys writing articles and publishing children’s books about horses when she isn’t riding.

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