FEAR PRESSURE and PEER PRESSURE–the roots of ALL horsemanship problems.

No Peer Pressure, No fear Pressure

On the left is my friend Russell Higgins from New Zealand.  I don’t know the exact circumstances regarding this photo, but to me, it looks like horses and humans are relaxed and the relationships between all of them appear calm.

I taught a clinic last summer and one of the things I asked participants to do was to line up stirrup to stirrup in a horseshoe so that I could address them.  I’m always amazed at the fear this can generate.  Why is that?  I’ll come back to this in a moment.

Another common example I see frequently is that, if I’m with a group of clients and we are trying out a new skill (say, simple lead changes), the biggest stumbling block is often the fear of looking stupid or silly, and so I credit the first person to give it a go a lot of credit.

What both of these situations have in common is that they include the universal issues of fear pressure and peer pressure.  When I first started riding my Thoroughbred mare Skigh, I was worried enough that it dawned on me that I couldn’t “hear” anything she was trying to tell me.  I was putting up my own force field of fear which blocked all incoming messages.  The rides would go okay, and from the outside, they probably looked good enough,  but Skigh knew the truth.  She wasn’t getting her message through to me.  We ask our horses to be mentally, emotionally, and physically fit, and we need to ask ourselves to strive for the same things.  What helps me is to consciously relax my butt cheeks and to sing.  Of course, this brings up the other issue–peer pressure.  Won’t people think I’m stupid if I’m up there singing to myself and my horse??  In the end, I’ve decided that I care more about what Skigh thinks than I care about how other people view me.   It took time for Skigh and me to get to know one another, and those techniques helped me get there safely.  She is still very challenging, and I still get scared, but I am confident and competent on her and I can control her.  I made it a priority to put an excellent set of brakes on her and those have been tested!  It came with time, small steps, and SELF-HONESTY.

If you impress your horse, you’ve won something better than any ribbon or recognition.  That’s my view.  If the goal is getting a blue ribbon, or winning money, that’s fine, too.  But those things are meaningless without the relationship being right.

Back to the clinic episode:

  • The fear part:  What if my horse interacts with other horses and I can’t handle it?  What if my horse bites, bucks, or kicks?
  • The peer part:  What if I look stupid or incompetent in front of all these people?

These two issues are often intertwined.  Many people would say, “I didn’t come to this clinic to learn this, I cam here to learn (fill in the blank)”.

My answer would be that (fill in the blank) is all part of horsemanship.  If you can’t safely handle your horse in a variety of situations, let’s fix that before we try to move on to something else.  In this particular situation, my answer would be that horses are gregarious and it’s natural for them to interact.  And, the most important aspect of horsemanship is respect; it’s mutual, but the human must ultimately be the one calling the shots, and the horse needs to know this at all times.  Even in an unfamiliar situation, the horse must respect the leadership that the human needs to be providing.  Finally, one of the biggest keys in all of horsemanship is preparation.  Ray Hunt used to say “confidence is being prepared for the unthinkable”.  So, if there’s a problem anywhere along the line on a daily basis, from trouble catching, or haltering, or leading, or tying your horse, you’ve gotta address those before doing the next thing.

That’s how I see horsemanship.

Here’s how things worked out at the clinic I mentioned:

horses together at clinic.jpg


What I Learned Today: Why Does my Horse Always Spook at the Same Stuff??

April 10, 2018 at 10:30AM

I went for a lovely long ride on Skigh today.  Warm!  This is a photo of one of my new Monel stirrups.  I have wanted a pair of these forever, and now I know why.  My feet were falling asleep in my trusty old leather stirrups, and sometimes they felt a bit tight around my feet if things were getting dicey and I was considering bailing.  Today, my feet felt great after two hours, and I can so easily slip my feet out of them.

Riding Skigh is sometimes like going to a laser show with a kid on a sugar high:  Every little piece of reality is something to look at, to spook at, and for sure, to speed up for.  A truck unloading a bed full of gravel, a blowing tumbleweed–and other stuff she has seen before in exactly the same setting.  So, I made a conscious effort today not to buy into these energy surges, and instead, I got heavier and more relaxed in my seat every time she got distracted.  You can see it was breezy, all the more reason to worry!  My plan was just to walk for 40 minutes, without breaking into a trot or canter, and see if she would relax.  It worked.  It was the conscious adding to my relaxation that did the trick.  Our energy melded and ended on a really nice feeling.

February 18, 2018 at 02:47PM

The Edge of Seventeen

Skigh munching

Cinco de Mayo is my horse’s birthday.  Happy Birthday to the best teacher I’ve ever had.

Annual Flying Lesson

I’ve been riding Skigh more and more, with more and more calm moments than ever.  I’m getting pretty good at riding through her unravelings.flying horse and jockey

(artist rendering)

Anyone who knows me or has ridden with me knows that I do my best never to pull on my horse’s face with both hands.  So, I must make this confession:

On Thursday, I was riding Skigh in a big outdoor arena, and one of her pasture mates came by with a rider on board.  They were walking along the lane next to the arena, sedately and slowly.  We trotted past, and suddenly Skigh whirled to look at the other horse.  I was riding on a completely loose rein, and I committed the cardinal sin:  I pulled with both hands.  Skigh’s front end went straight up, I quickly dropped one rein and began bending her, but I was a moment too late . . . and off I went towards the inside of the circle.  No harm, no foul, just a shiner on my right cheek.  (Yes, that one.)

In the three years we’ve been together, I’ve gone off three times.  The first two were full on buck-offs and I never had a chance of riding through them.  So, progress!

Playing on a Warm March Day


I’m not asking for this. She just loves to jump.



Elevation on a change from left lead to right lead.


3-Skigh taking a quick dip Mar 14, 2017, 4-27 PM 1080x1920

Nothing like a refreshing dip.

My Narrative of my Life with Horses

There is one being who can cut through the fuzz of my mind, and the circumstances of my life.   Only one who has the direct route to my uncensored, unbuffered emotions.

Skigh is my off-the-track racing Thoroughbred mare.  There are three things that she does that bring me to my center:

She is beautiful.  Most people agree that horses are pretty/beautiful/etc.  Skigh is a beauty’s beauty.  Her proportions and her movement are flawless.  Ask anyone.

Skigh’s feelings are right on the surface.  She is expressive with her body, her eyes, her voice, and all of her behavior.  When she is confident, she is light, bright, and responsive.  In nervousness, she becomes jumpy, lightning-fast reactive, and unsafe at any speed.

She is dangerous.  When Skigh came to me, I did some long, hard thinking about whether it made sense for me to take her on.  In the two years we’ve been together, my horsemanship is as good as it’s ever been, and during this time she has bucked me off twice.  Both times I found myself looking up at the sky with no idea how I arrived there!

So, these things about her persona make it very easy for me to stay in the moment when I’m with her.