A Quick Rule Of Thumb

I was reading a Facebook post the other day where the writer was describing the ‘training’ of her horse that ‘put up a performance’ when being wormed that morning. As the horse misbehaved she decided to tie it to the ‘tree of knowledge’ or ‘patience tree’ to teach it some ‘manners’ and ‘respect’. She went on to say that it was going to be a long day for the horse – much time tied to the post away from it’s herd to think about the misdemeanour.


The hundreds of comments that followed ranged from complete agreement of the method to absolute horror that an owner would punish a horse in this way. Isn’t it interesting the way everyone has such strong opinions about things like this? I also find it fascinating that the reasoning for such methods often stems from ‘it has always been done this way’ or ‘so-and-so does it this way’.

Last time I was talking about all the advice we get as riders and especially new horse owners or the less experienced of us. How do we judge these things quickly – a simple ‘I’ll try that’ or ‘I wouldn’t try that’ without going too deeply into equine cognition, learning theory and training ethics?

Here’s what I ask myself: Would I do that to my 3 year old child?

I think it gives me a good basis on which to make a quick decision. If the three year old child wouldn’t take the medicine, would I assume she was begin disrespectful? No, of course not. I would assume it tasted/smelt bad and she didn’t want it. I would need to find a way to convince her that it was a good idea to have it – perhaps give her a spoon of apple sauce first……Wow, that might even work with the horse…..

Think about this next time you are with your horse. Let’s say you are leading him to the stable and he is walking too fast. Rather than jerk on the lead rope, imagine you are holding that 3 year old child’s hand and gently close your fingers around the rope instead. By offering the horse the opportunity to react to less pressure you are sensitising him to pressure rather than desensitising.

How sensitive can you make your 3 year old child horse?