The Trainer

Why horses should be happy to be with us? Is it a matter of leadership or friendship?

To answer these questions, people often us concepts of leadership borrowed from the heard structure. To them, horses are willing to accept us as the ‘alpha’ and stay light on the aids and follow our requests. In reality for the horse the relationship and ‘togetherness’ is stronger than leadership, in the herd. Horses’ priority over leadership is to find a ‘best friend’ to help feel comfortable.

Two more concepts need to be introduced to understand how to maintain the horse light on the aids, which are related to how horses learn; Escape behavior and Avoidance behavior.

The Escape Behavior is easy to understand. The horse will learn to repeat any movement that allows him to free himself from pressure.

With the Avoidance Behavior, if we associate a warning signal to indicate the pressure is coming the horse will learn to perform the behavior when the warning signal is omitted, avoiding the applying of the pressure. The horse will learn to do the behavior when the signal is performed, and before the pressure is applied.

In our case, the warning signal is a communication code created by the combination of the aids. For example, to turn left the code is; right leg close to the girth, left leg behind the girth with pressure, right hand slightly open and left hand close to the neck. Repositioning the hands, the leg and the body weight in different combinations, we are able to create many warning signals. Each warning signal can be related to a specific behavior request from the rider to the horse.

If we are conscious of this concept and are accurate in using the aids as a code, the horse is happy to follow our requests because he understands what is being asked and knows that if he follows the requests correctly he is able to avoid the use of the whip, spurs and the bit. In nature, this code corresponds to how horses interact with each other in their herd. Horses have a bite threat or a kick threat which corresponds to our aids. If the request is not followed then the horse gets bitten or kicked. In our case, the pressure coming from the bite or the kick is substituted by the pressure of the bit, spurs, or whip.

Therefore, the riding time is no longer a stressful situation because the horse knows perfectly which movement he needs to do to avoid the primary reinforcement. We must remember that in nature, horses walk an average of 40 miles a day. For these two reasons the time riding becomes more enjoyable because the horses’ need for movement has been met. Furthermore, if we work in the company of other horses while trail riding or in a ring we reproduce the group structure, although not perfectly, giving the horse the opportunity for socialization that is limited by life in a stall.

The knowledge of this is the secret to having horses happy and light on the aids. As time progresses the horse and riders communication will become so precise that we could work on a long rein or eventually without a bridle and the horse will continue to follow our requests and will be happy to spend an hour with us, as friends.


Light on the Aids

The dream of every rider is have a horse that is happy to follow all of our requests and be light on the aids.

With conscious horsemanship, this can become reality. You do not need to learn any new techniques, change the discipline, or forced to do ground work that is not related to work you would do while in the saddle. You must become conscious that the horse you are riding communicates with you through the use of the aids (hands, legs, balance) and these aids need to be organized following the operant condition rules. For better comprehension of this concept contact Angelo Telatin to set up a clinic at your facility. You will be able to see these concepts demonstrated on your own horses.


Ethological Reasons

The horse is able to feel a fly that lands on every part of this body and it is also able to select with his mouth the smallest piece of hay or grass among many things. Why does a horse often not become sensitive to hands or legs; up to the point where we have to use severe spurs and strong bits? The answer lies in the wrong timing of thee aids in relation to the horse behavior.

What do we do wrong?

Example: A horse that tosses his head. This behavior is not a natural behavior of the horse. We teach him this behavior by not properly using our hands. When we start a young horse, the first time we hold the rein the horses reaction is to pull his head to the ground in order to free his mouth of pressure. Our instinct reaction is to close our hand and pull in the attempt to avoid the horse pulling the reins out of our hands. This increases the pressure on the bit which in horse language means, “do not lower your head.” At this point the horses tries to toss its head, usually this behavior causes a lack of contact between the horses mouth and the riders hand, resulting in a release of pressure. In the horses mind this means that whenever pressure is put on the horses mouth he should toss his head because before, the pressure being released was the reward so he is doing what he think you are asking to receive that reward. The wrong use of the aids usually depends on two reasons: 1) beginner riders 2) inability to structure the aids by following the rules of operant conditioning. Operant conditioning is what makes an easy and effective language of communication between you and the horse.


The beginner rider has not yet acquired stable balance which is the prerequisite of achieving the independence of the aids. It is normal that every time the rider loses balance the hands and legs are used to reestablish a stable balance in the saddle instead of being used as an instrument of communication. In this phase, it is important to use a good school horse because the school horse normally knows to perform the riding patterns in a stable and a predictable way without really paying attention to the movement of an unbalanced rider. This helps the inexperienced rider to become rebalanced without the horse stopping the exercise. This is the first step in learning the independence of the aids. As soon as the rider has improved his balance it is time to begin teaching how to coordinate the aids. The most common mistake that happens at this point is to teach the students following a pattern of synthesis work instead of analytical work. To make an analogy while you are learning to swim freestyle once you learn to float the instructor does not teach you rotate arms, kick the legs, and rotate head to breath all at once. This type of synthesis work comes only after you have learned each one individually with use of a kick board.

Unfortunately you can not stop everything and use a kick board. Therefore, it is difficult to do one thing at a time while riding because you are steering the horse, keeping the horse going, and controlling your body parts all at once. In summary, from now on in teaching horse techniques, synthesis is used. Conscious horsemanship by Angelo Telatin has arranged a series of exercises to perform while you are riding that allows you to do analytical work so that you can use hands, legs and balance individually. This work helps achieve independence of aids. This is the starting point to achieve a good communication with the horse which will lead to the lightness of the aids.

How to use the Aids

The use of the aids follows the rules of operant conditioning and in particular the techniques on the uses of pressure and the release of the pressure. The key component to use this technique successfully is the knowledge of the temporary line that correlates the starting of the pressure, the omissions of the behavior, and the release of the pressure. The independence of aids is important because once the rider has applied pressure it has to remain constant until the horse omits the desirable behavior at which point the pressure is released. Looking back at the example that refers to the horse tossing his head if we want to teach him to lower his head and remain round we start applying pressure with our hands to the horse’s mouth using the bit. At this point the horse will try a series of behaviors to find out which one will obtain the release of the pressure. The most common behaviors are; tossing the head, bracing with the jaw against the bit, or become inverted in the neck. If we have achieved a good independence of the aids our hand will be able to follow in an elastic way the movement of the horse’s head without losing the pressure. At a certain point, among the variety of behaviors the horse will omit the desired one, which is relax the jaw and lower the head. In the specific instant we need to release the pressure. In this way the horse learns that lowering his head and remaining round will lead to a light contact. Therefore, it is important to understand that the horse does not lower his head because we pull it down but it is a voluntary behavior that the horse does because he knows that by lowering his head the contact will be released.

Up to this point we explain how to best use the aids to improve the communication with the horse. What what is the mental mechanism that makes the horse happy to follow our requests?