Psalm 51:17 reads, “the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken spirit and a contrite heart – O God you will not despise.”

I will hear people say from time to time, when they have a horse in training, that they do not want to have the horse’s spirit broken. This statement leads me to believe that they really do not understand how a horse thinks, or responds to life. I believe that when they say this they believe we can make a high-energy horse into a low-energy animal if we train them wrong. They might believe that we can take a creature with curiosity and spontaneity and turn them into a mindless robot.

Generally, horses’ energy levels and personalities are hard wired into them by our Creator, and there is not much we can do to change them. We can try to modify them, to balance them out better with varying degrees of success. On the negative side, we humans can sour horses, or make them lose confidence by being too crude, and or hasty and disconnected to them. This either bores them, and causes them to lose interest on one end of the spectrum, or creates anxiety on the other end of the situation. If this happens, it usually always can be remedied. We have to engage our minds to determine whether a horse is lacking energy because they are being soured, or just not used to moving consistently (no work ethic yet). The opposite situation showing nervous energy can have a horse lacking confidence from skipping steps or just a basic sensitive nature.

Mike Daniels

Mike Daniels

Certain “horseanalities” (personalities) make some horses bore easier than others. These are dispositions in which we do not want to do much repetition in the beginning. We will change to another subject rather quickly to be more provocative and make it more interesting. If I am riding a horse that has a slow walk, I will usually transition them to a trot, then to a walk, varying the speed of both. I will also tip them up to a run. I want to get their minds off their lazy bodies and onto our agenda.

We also have to be careful not to desensitize these easier going horses with our signals. We need to warn (with voice and/or body language) a horse before we spank them to go. When we do spank, it needs to be fairly sharp, because if we just tap they will easily start ignoring us. Warning is important because it gives them time to think. If we hit and tap too much without warning, we are not worried about hurting them as much as we are worried about getting them used to it and desensitizing them to our signals instead. These are the types of horses we are trying to make more sensitive or alive.
We need to calm a horse that is nervous and excitable and get it to better ration its energy. These horses need quite a bit more repetition and desensitization. We want to change subjects with these horses also to help them stretch their minds, but we will not reward them with something new until they are calm. We teach them that calmness and thinking are going to give them breaks from our workouts as opposed to wasting energy, and reactionary responses.
These types of horses are very much alive, they just need to learn self control.

In an earlier column, I equated God’s Seventh Commandment, “ no adultery,” with self control. Psalm 51 is a repentant passage of scripture from David after his adulterous affair with Bathsheba. The familiar scripture “broken spirit and contrite heart” comes from this. This is a great way to explain the broken spirit that God wants. I use God’s relationship to us as a close analogy to us humans relating to our horses.

I like to say “We get to play God’s role with horses so we have an idea what God is up against when he deals with us.” Whether it be God dealing with us, or us dealing with our horses, a broken spirit essentially means we have come to the point where we are finally ready to listen.

Horses and people are much more valuable when they are there. To get a horse there we will do much the same as God does with us. He will let us do things we would rather do, contrary to God, but through time makes us uncomfortable (as true believers) doing these things. This is the same thing we do when we are riding a horse that will not leave the barn. We work a horse harder in the barnyard and make them think they are on vacation when we finally leave the barnyard.

As I have explained in other columns, we work a horse harder where it wants, and then back off or rest it where it doesn’t want to be. I like to tell people that the horse has not won the debate until you quit. If you are a frail person and cannot keep a horse from doing certain things, then keep it uncomfortable any way you can until it is doing the things you want it to do.

In the next column I will go into more detail on how we help a nervous, high-energy horse exercise more self control.
If we think about it, a broken spirit should make us less of a mindless robot than we might assume. Less emphasis is now put on me, me, me. The usual motivation of food, sex, loafing and peer pressure becomes subservient to sensitivity to others. A broken spirit in horses and humans alleviates fear and paranoia that closes our minds and keeps us from trusting our true master. It helps us take selfless risks that help those around us who are dependent on us.

This kind of practical servant-heartedness was shown to us by the Creator of the universe when he took on a human body as Jesus Christ and conquered death for us. Rebelliousness is really much more selfish and common place than the uniqueness and teachability of a broken spirit and a contrite heart – just as the gospel of Jesus Christ is the true essence of this spirit and heart, and the most unique treasure out there.

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