Former President Ronald Reagan used to say “trust but verify.”

It is common for horses to be bought, or brought to a trainer without really knowing what it is that the owner has, or what the trainer has done. There are some basics that we need to check out to avoid surprises when we get a horse home. These are the same basics that trainers should show us when we leave a horse with them, and then again when the horse is being picked up when they are done.

We should never bring a broke horse home without saddling them, and we should never, ever saddle a horse without testing it first. Whenever I visit a training prospect, or it is brought to me to train, I will spend from 20 minutes to two hours evaluating it, and usually working on weak points I find. The owner needs to see where their horse is at, and how I go about working on them. This also drives a stake in the ground so we can see how the horse has progressed during the time it was with me. We can get an idea of the horse’s personality and how they learn as well.

Mike Daniels

Mike Daniels

To get started, I first like to see how easy I can halter a horse. If a horse wants to leave when I come up to them with a halter, someone has skipped an important basic. A horse needs to know that they should never show us their rear end unless we ask them to. After I halter a horse, I will test how well they give to pressure. Do they give easily to pulling pressure forward or laterally through the halter? I also test how well it moves over through pushing pressure with my fingertips. This tells me about steering, brakes, and all around maneuverability, way before I get on a horse’s back. After testing the responsiveness of a horse, I will see how well it lets me touch and pet it all over (including feet), starting slow, then picking up speed. I will then try to stress it to see if certain movements will intimidate it. The two basic kinds of movement are repetitive (like jumping jacks), and spontaneous (like the crack of a whip). This involves me or my equipment swinging or bouncing around a horse, starting slow, then building up speed to see the effects. I make noises with plastic bags, whip-cracking and other things. Generally when we find stress areas in a horse, we need to remind it not to pull away, push into us, or lean on our frail bodies in any way. This is when I will test the response to rhythmic pressure to find out whether a horse knows and respects it.

“Rhythmic pressure” complements “pure pressure” much like “dad” supports “mom.” If a horse is spoiled, pushy or disrespectful, it is usually because dad (rhythmic pressure) is either missing, or sitting on the bench. This “hitting air” before “hitting horse” (dad) motion should begin any time a horse is ignoring, or leaning on gentle pressure (mom) we are applying to the horse. Before I get on a horse, I want to make sure that we have a clear communication system established between mom and dad. We will get hurt from a horse through either fear, or disrespect. If a horse does not clearly understand that they must not turn their rear to me, or invade my space through fear, or run me over through disrespect, then I am foolish to saddle and ride.

There are two more things I will test before I get on. I will test a horse’s work ethic by seeing how well it circles on its own without me nagging (on line, or at liberty). I will also see how comfortable the horse is moving beside me. I call this the Jesus Christ principle (the God down-to-earth partnership test). If a horse is nervous about me riding it (on the ground) with my arm over its back, it does not make much sense to put a leg over its back until it is calm, partnering with me on the ground first.

Next time I will go over testing maneuverability while moving next to horses, then saddling them during “break time.”

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

Last time I pointed out three areas of horse obedience, focusing on the master, consistency, and minimizing distractions. This time I will focus on distractions.

We might think that to be distracted is not really disobedience, because we are not willfully disobeying out of disrespect, or anger. This realm does not cover direct disobedience through anger or stubbornness. It actually covers much, much more. It involves fearfulness on one end, moving to boredom on the other end. Fearfulness is not very creative. It tends to run from its problems rather than stick around to solve them. On the boredom end of things, it chooses entertaining itself with short lived basic pleasures or comforts that are excessive, and/or out of time and out of place. These choices at least stagnate growth, but can accumulate and become long term repercussions.

Conquering this area of disobedience virtually hands us the first two areas, gaining focus and consistency as well. This kind of disobedience is not necessarily unknowledgable about what is right or what the master wants, it just has not been convinced that it is the most “abundant” path to take. Trust may be lacking. In the gospels of the Bible, one of the thieves crucified beside Jesus, still was not convinced even on his day of death (like many others). The other thief on the other side of Jesus was convinced and that alone got him eternal life with the creator of the universe.

Mike Daniels

Mike Daniels

With horses and humans, fearfulness causes them to want to leave an uncomfortable situation rather than stick around and use their brain to think out, cope, or solve a dilemma. In dealing with fear in horses, we can work on three areas. One area involves simulating noises or movements that might intimidate them. We would gradually escalate these until we became confident that they no longer distracted our horse. Another area gets our horse listening to our commands, asking them to do certain maneuvers that they know so as to divert their attention from the distraction. This is why I instruct all riders to know and use all the hovercraft movements, such as front end pivots, hind end pivots, backing, sideways and combinations thereof. I also get them “praying” (doing lateral flexion) quite frequently. This involves asking a horse to bring its nose to our knee while on its back, or bringing its nose to its tail while we are on the ground. If a horse is fearful of an object or a location, I will use all these “dance steps” to work them out away from the scary situation, then give them rest increasingly near it. We need to flip-flop the usual scenario to give a horse break time near things that intimidate them, while we give them a workout away from them. Remember that people usually work horses near scary situations and rest them away from them. The third area involves the above strategy, but adding timing to it. We must always set it up so that the horse receives comfort and reassurance when we see them thinking, experimenting, and trying to hang in there, encouraging curiosity.

On the other hand, keep them busy responding to our requests for hover craft movement, when they do not want to hang in there. When we are simulating noises, and movements, we need to keep them up until the horse relaxes, always facing the situation. If we stop before they show signs of hanging in there, and relaxing, they will not get better, and may get worse.

In the boredom sector, when a horse chooses to eat, rest, or socialize with other horses, rather than respond to us, we need to be sure and shape their world so that they get more work when they act that way. Conversely, when they respond to us, we need to make sure they get rest by us. The tools that help us correct them from further away, are smaller fenced in areas, and longer ropes.

To encourage horses to want to be near us, we need to get good at grooming them, getting them to relax as we massage their muscles, with curry combs and brushes. This is a great habit to get into, further emphasizing to a horse how restful it is to be near its human. A horse’s relationship to us is a great mirror of what our relationship should be to the Creator. The Father who brought us here, The Holy Spirit that maintains us, and Jesus Christ who will bring believers to their incredible permanent home one day. Just as a horse can be far more effective in all ways with a good master, we are far more effective in all we do by focusing on our creator, keeping our desires in balance, and minimizing distractions that keep us from living the most abundant life possible. John 10:10.

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