The most important obedience factor for a 1,000-pound horse is that they be very aware of their human leader and respond to their body language without delay.

The next most important part of a horse’s obedience is the development of responsibility, and consistency. The third part is to not be intimidated, distracted, or impressed by things that keep them from listening to the human.

The worst real life fear we can have of a horse is when they choose to ignore us, or become distracted by a “false god.” The next worse thing is to have them move us rather than us move them. Basically, this can be summarized as a half-ton or more of attitude on four legs that does not have respect for our frail human bodies. Just as a horse learns not to lean on an electric fence, sharp nail, or run into a fan, they must be very aware of where and what the human body is up to.

Mike Daniels

Mike Daniels

Unless a human enjoys letting a horse use them as a mat to walk on, they must simulate the sharp nail or fan when a horse does not respect our space. A horse must learn to mirror our body language and move away when we push, or come when we pull, through suggestive body language. This is why horsemanship should be compared to dancing. This is exactly what this mutually respectful picture will look like, and it is a very realistic goal, as a horse tunes into their master. I always like to point out that one of the major differences between good and evil is that good communicates and warns, whereas evil does not. This is why the mercy of soft communication is such an important precursor to the discomfort of judgment, yet if this judgment of discomfort is not timed right, communication will not be clear to the horse. To compare this with God dealing with us, it seems that he is slow to pronounce judgment on us, especially when we are not interested in him. I think it is because we have more capacity to reflect, and when one day God plays back the DVDs of our life to us, we will recognize how stupid and selfish we really were (for a long time) when we thought we had it all together. It will also show how patient God was until he intervened. It seems like he intervenes quicker to those who love him, and want him to correct them. This is why we must correct our horses in a timely fashion to prove we truly care for them.

Sometimes we think we are obedient when we obey sometimes, but not all the time. This is in a way worse, because it shows we cannot be trusted. My horse Buddy tends to be more consistent and responsible than my other horse Holly, so I can allow more liberty with him. I can treat him more like a partner, and know that when I give him liberty he will not ignore, or be slow to respond to me. I can keep his attention most times on me, even when he is hungry, bothered, or bored. I hardly ever use a halter to catch him anymore. He trots beside me to the saddle shed. I put his equipment on so I can make use of the saddle horn to move mineral, water tubs, or poly lines for the cows. In situations that he is used to, he will guide with body language alone (this comes in real handy putting out poly lines). Since he is a high-energy horse, I have my bridle on him to check him down if I need to when he is fresh. I think this dimension of obedience is so valuable that it far outweighs actual skill. I can see why Jesus is quoted in the Bible as saying, “the first shall be last, and the last shall be first.” People who are consistent and trustworthy, and know how to keep promises and be responsible will far outshine actual talent, and skill when they meet God one day. I can see God taking talent from those who squandered it, or abused it and giving it to those who used it selflessly (see the parables of the “talents” in the gospels). I should remind readers at this point the fundamentals of liberty work with their horse. I will do a column exclusively devoted to liberty in the future. Basically it entails starting out acting like we do not have equipment when we really do. We give them a chance to work with body language and we are ready to correct with our equipment when they do not respond. The round pen, 12-to-14 foot lead ropes, and a four-foot stick and six-foot string are great tools here.

Next time I will cover the third part of obedience in horses dealing with distractions.

Mike Daniels is a horsemanship trainer and barefoot trimming specialist from Raymondville. Email: