Horse Sense logo 2

Just train my horse

Sometimes I receive horses to train that owners expect me to get ready for a beginning rider (them).

I try to communicate to horse owners that the disposition of a particular horse determines far more than the training. I communicated in prior columns that horse training involves finding problems and then solving them. A beginner’s horse is one that has very few problems to start with. It has a disposition such that it doesn’t get bothered with much at all. It might not have enough energy to be a very athletic horse, but sometimes it does. Horse breeders have been selecting for disposition for quite a while now, so there are a good number of horses that are fairly gentle to start with.

Mike Daniels

Mike Daniels

Certain horses can gentle over time, but most horses are not logging many hours in today’s world , so that is generally not a modern option. If a person has a horse with a challenging disposition, I tell them that the training needs to go into them more than the horse. This is a good reason for the owner to rise to the occasion and become a better horse person. When horses are more sensitive to situations and have a tendency to overreact, then it’s important to train the riders much more than the horses.

This is a great comparison to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Most of us would much rather have the other guy change rather than us, but the most workable situation is for us to change and get better instead. The first point of the gospel brings this out when it demands that we admit that we are the sinner. We can no longer blame everything on mom, the U.S.A., the teacher, the dog or even our horse. When we admit we are the sinner, we can climb out of our hammock and get to work. We can actually get busy and do something constructive about it. This is why I can get so excited about true religion. It puts us into the driver’s seat to be ready to learn and get better on a down-to-earth basis, while at the same time we are absolutely convinced that we will be in paradise with the down to earth God in flesh “Jesus Christ” when we die. True religion has always risen to the occasion when others were too lazy, scared, mad, sad or whatever.

Famous horseman, Pat Parelli, would say, “People want me to train their horses to put up with their inadequacies. Frankly, I will not even try to do it anymore!”

My worst situation like this involved a very overweight woman who wanted me to train a horse for her. It was not a very gentle horse to start with, and the owner could barely lift her leg a foot off the ground, let alone over a horse’s back. I should have told her from the very beginning that it would be an impossible situation unless she did some serious “biggest loser workouts.” I never had any serious issues with the horse while I put 30 hours of training on him. But the horse did not do well with anyone related to the owner. The owner herself physically could not even get on the horse, even with a stepping stool (probably a good thing). The biggest problem was that they could not be convinced that they needed any training (no sinners here!). The horse and I were the “heathens” and they could do no wrong.

My best situation involved a group of college kids from Campus Crusade for Christ. Their attitude was very open-minded and humble. They were all ears for listening to me about how to communicate with horses, and rolled up their sleeves and got to work as well. They are the ones that got me going back to church. They impressed me deeply about what true religion was all about. They were definitely not too heavenly minded and nor earthly good. They had a good picture of the mud, blood, sweat and tears that exemplifies Jesus Christ.  I’d like to thank Jon (a recent student with a horse), who rolled up his sleeves also.

The greatest thing about heaven, will be the humility present in the people who are finally ready to let God work on them. That is besides the horses and beautiful country.

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


In my last column I mentioned that many trainers do not give treats to their horses, in large part because treats are abused by horse owners.

I will treat for five reasons:

1. To motivate horses to come into the corral.

2. To turn something scary or boring into something fun.

3. To get a horse to put on its bridle.

4. To get a horse to stick with me better at liberty.

5. To relax away from home.

Mike Daniels

Mike Daniels

Last time, I explained the treat-work balance, motivating horses to and in the round corral out of the pasture. This time, I will go through the others, starting with turning something scary or boring into more fun. I have commented many times that our modern society has turned into a “mama society,” but it’s really more like a “grandma society.” The answer for everything seems to be more handouts. Our horses can suffer from the same imbalance.

The famous Pat Parelli said, “watch what people normally do, then do the opposite for more excellent results.” Of course, the Bible originated that thought, which permeates both the old and new testaments. The way we do that with horses is to get them to catch us rather than us catch them. We don’t bribe them with treats, but give them rest, or relief with treats interspersed with work in order to develop patience and respect. Somehow we can seem to equate love with bribes, rather than sweating together. This is why I do not feel worship is confined to my nose in a Bible or my rear in a pew, but rather everything I do.

Specifically, we can condition horse to relax around scary things by treating them with grain or cubes, when we do something scary. All horses that come through my training system get grain with me waving a bag on a stick at them. Some will actually nicker when I come flying at them like a madman waving a stick and a bag. Of course, I slowly get them used to it, then step up the scariness as I go. My horses – Buddy and Holly – are both used to me running up to them before they get a treat. The opposite of this of course, is walking up to our horses as though we were on eggshells trying to bribe them.

Horses that bore easy can be perked up with treats in between workouts. The trick is to not do it all the time, but keep them guessing. I also want to reward for effort in that they are more likely to get one when they do what I want with either more gumption or more patience, depending on what is required of them at the time. But just as in real life, horses, as well as us, learn to do things out of habit and because it is right, regardless of whether we are rewarded or not. So we might treat more in the beginning and back off through time, with splurges in between. This keeps things interesting and keeping us all thinking.

The third way I treat horses is to help them put on their own bridles. I first teach them proper head positioning to accept reins (nose through bridle with chin hooked on bit), then accepting bit, then increasingly lower head position, allowing right hand and arm to push head downward. After the horse understands submission to pressure with respect, then treats will help horses put their heads in the best position to help bridle themselves. I offer the treat down low so horses are conditioned more easily to bring heads down and toward us. Once the bit slips through the teeth, I will present the treat. Along with humans learning to have more finesse when bridling, horses can appreciate the bridle more this way.

The fourth way I treat a horse is to stick with me better at liberty. When I hay my cows two to three months out of the year, I fire up the tractor every other day. I unroll the second day’ s hay in another pasture and close the gate. I ride one of my horses out there the second day to open the gate to let the cows in. I let my horse loose as I go around kicking the hay around better (I hate to see cows walking on the hay path, dropping cow pies as they go). My horses are aware that I usually have treats in my pocket, so they stick close, or are easy to call back to me (you can’t train a machine to do that). The rest of the year, I can unroll or roll in poly lines on horseback for rationing pasture, but when setting step-in posts or rolling in a frozen reel, I usually do that on foot. This is another time when it is easier to have my horse at liberty beside me or near me so treats can be more rewarding to them than the forage that is there.

The fifth way I will treat a horse is somewhat related to the last in that it rewards a horse in the field away from home. I like to either treat or let a nervous horse graze away from home, so they can be conditioned to be a little less barn sour. Any time we can set up a home away from home with rest, treats, grass or whatever, we can help equalize the “food-work balance.”

This is the type of horse sense that will help goodies to be a good thing again – for the human as well as the horse.

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

In my last column, I spotlighted Psalm 51:17, which has the “broken spirit, contrite heart” passage.
I pointed out that a broken spirit was not meant to create mindless robots, but instead set horses and humans up to be in a better position to listen, and become more sensitive to true “Providence,” pointing us toward true growth. I focused on self-control, equating it with God’s Seventh Commandment, “no adultery.”
With horses (we humans should also take note), the lazier ones need to be conditioned toward more sensitivity, and liveliness. Yet the livelier ones need to be convinced to ration their energy. Here are some more details on high-energy horses.
Our goal is to have a spirited horse moving with a rider on a loose rein. Sometimes this seems impossible, especially if we are not concentrating on the realm of self-control and responsibility. Many riders will hold the reins tight on these horses, babysitting their mouths so the horse never learns to control its speed on its own. It reminds me of classroom situations where teachers spend more time trying to keep kids under control rather than actually teaching them.

Mike Daniels

Mike Daniels

When we become irritated with these horses, we are inclined to jerk on the reins and yell at them. We are right in that we need to make the wrong thing uncomfortable, but we are wrong when we jerk and yell, because this will excite them more. We need to do what I call a reverse jerk. We do this by increasing pressure steadily when they lean on the bit, then release our reins quickly when we feel them back off. We usually have to do this repeatedly for a while, because they will initially think they should go faster when we give them a loose rein. This pull and release, timed closely with their take and give is the basis for improvement. It also helps to show them a slower body movement with our own bodies.
To give us a break from our constant pull and release, and help convince a horse that a loose rein is better, we can ask them to travel sideways when they surge into the bit. Of course, it needs to know sideways movement first. When we are moving sideways, we are shortening one rein, pulling its nose the opposite direction we are traveling. It is easier on us to have one rein tight while the other rein is loose.  When the horse backs off of the pressure, we let it travel straighter, otherwise we keep that one rein cranked around forcing it to work harder in a sideways position. We need to always communicate that a loose rein does not mean more speed.
To simulate with horses how God works with us, we can give a horse a loose rein in a round corral, or in a wide open space and not pull on it until its lungs start convincing it that it might be more comfortable taking it easy for a spell. Pat Parelli (a famous horse clinician) talked about a guy who was training a team of six horses to pull a stagecoach. He said the team tried to run off with him, so he just let them go for it. He just guided the reins enough to let them run a big sweeping circle out in the desert until they were out of breath, then he asked them to move some more. They learned to listen to the driver and respect his wishes after that episode.
To go along with a loose rein, we must also teach horses not to try to outrun our seat and leg pressure. I will do what I call the stick exercise, applying pressure to their side with my seat and leg, holding a stick on the same side asking them to move over with the reins loose. When they try to speed up, I will use rhythmic pressure with the stick to crank them down into a tighter circle until they slow or stop, then I take the stick pressure away (some times it takes awhile). There are many other exercises we can do in an arena or open area to get a horse thinking about turning, stopping, backing, or sideways rather than the one track mind of go, go, go. Usually these dance lessons will rest horses in the centers or corners of these areas, getting horses to value “whoa” as much as “go.”
It is a great feeling to ride horses with high energy that have the self control to not need to have a rider pulling on their mouths most of the time. They are so responsive and sensitive to our signals, yet are very responsible to think on their own, maneuvering through, over and around obstacles. This allows us to throw the reins loose so we can concentrate on other things while we are doing ranch work or any thing else that requires us to have our hands free while the horse shows responsibility on their own. This is a great picture of a valuable horse that truly shows power under control.
Mother Theresa used to say, “when we make a difference in this world, we are a pencil in God’s hand.” She knew that and did not mind giving God the credit every time. When we humans model this horse as we show the humility of a broken spirit and contrite heart, we are ready for God to pioneer through us the true edge of life. We have in a sense, laid aside the blunt child-like plastic swords of wine, women and song, and have picked up the razor sharp sword of God’s word and put it to use. We are then ready to fight the true fight that makes a difference for eternity.
Ephesians 6:10 says, “finally be strong in the Lord and his mighty power.” Verses 12-17 say, “for our struggle is not against flesh and blood…and the sword of the spirit, which is the word of God.”
Mike Daniels is a horsemanship trainer and barefoot trimming specialist from Raymondville.  Email:     

My experience with horses could probably be labeled as intermediate.

My ability and knowledge fall somewhere in between that of world-class trainers like Buck Brannaman or Pat Parelli and people whose only exposure to horses comes from western movies. In other words, I probably won’t be breaking a totally green stallion in only 20 minutes any time soon, but I also know that not all riders can fire a .45 caliber pistol from the back of a horse that’s in full gallop and that not all horses want to be in full gallop while someone fires a .45 from their back.

In still other words, I might not be ready to hop on the back of a spoiled gelding I’ve never before seen that “acts up” every time its owner tries to ride it and have it suddenly look like it’s ready for Olympic dressage competition, but now and then I can let go of the reins and make a horse turn right or left using only foot and leg pressure or get it to stop using only body language.

But while my overall horsemanship prowess is light years short of expert, I have – if nothing else – learned that horses have very distinct and defined personalities and handle each and every situation in their very own, unique way.

No two of them react the same to being bridled, loading in a trailer, taking a bit, or being offered a treat. None of them share identical likes and dislikes, and none act entirely the same around people or other members of their own species.

And just like human beings, they display varying characteristics and behaviors when exposed to particular circumstances.

Doug Davison

Like being separated from a companion.

Last week, my wife Wendy and I found a buyer for a quarter horse gelding we had been hoping to move for some time now. We had nothing against Levi, we had simply determined he didn’t fit in our future plans. He was too big for my wife, and I already have Big Sur, my big-old Arabian, to climb aboard.

Only a day or two later, we brought in Bennie, a registered Tennessee Walker gelding whose official name is Beam Glow and whose size and calm demeanor are a good match for Wendy.

During the transition, we became witness to a fascinating bit of equine nature, as our other Arabian gelding, Sean, went through a gamut of emotion.

After Levi was taken away, Sean basically moped around like a little boy who had lost his favorite teddy bear. You see, General Sur is the self-appointed alpha male at our remote outpost and bosses around anything with hooves that happens to be in his proximity. But Sean had sort of made the slightly younger Levi his horse – not to boss around, but rather to nurture and even protect from the resident older tyrant.

When Levi went missing, Sean looked for him and waited for his return, often staring out over the barbed wire boundary that lay between him and the last place he saw his buddy as he was being trailered away. Poor Sean didn’t take it well, and eventually became one angry Arab.

When Wendy took one of his favorite snacks out to him (like some carrots or ginger snaps), he wouldn’t take them and literally turned and walked away.

“Traiter! You sent my horse away!”

Then Bennie showed up and Sean’s devastation was immediately replaced by elation. His countenance did a complete turnabout and his change of attitude was amazingly thorough.

Sean could easily have been like, “trying to bribe me with this nag won’t help; where’s my horse?”

But he instead seemed to hold no grudge against us, and was like “welcome, friend!”

Meanwhile, General Sur did his duty and established his superior rank by kicking up at the probee.

“Listen closely, soldier. I don’t know how they did things where you come from, but in this outfit I’m the law. Remember that and might just make it past the first week.”

Conversely, Sean went into welcome committee mode and graciously showed Bennie around the available acreage. Having previously lived in fairly confined space without much readily available fresh forage or water, Benny appeared to be impressed.

“You can graze on the grass over here, over there and over there, and here’s the spring head where you can drink water any time you want. Oh, and around behind the house, it’s OK to eat any apple you can reach on the on lower branches of that tree right there.”

“Get out!”

“No, really, they won’t mind.”

“Wow, this is going to be great!”

“Well, I’m just glad you’re here.”

“Me, too! This transfer might be the best thing that ever happened to me.”

Now that the transition period is past, Sean and Bennie hang out together almost continuously, and Sean even grooms his new BFF’s back once in a while. They’ve know each other for a length of time that could easily still be measure in days, but they’re alreday like two peas in a pod.

This weekend, Bennie will get his first chance to go trail walking in Texas County. I expect he and Sur will both have a good time.

But I’m also pretty sure Sean will have a conniption when he sees the general and the probee both loading into the same trailer in the morning. But then he’ll be on cloud nine when they return in the afternoon.

Sur will probably have to step in at that point.

“Wipe those tears off your face, soldier. You know there’s no crying in this outfit!”

“Sir, sorry, sir. I’m just so happy to see Bennie again, sir.”

“Well, we’ll let it go this time. But if you’re going to be in my command, you’ll have to grow a spine!”

“Sir, acknowledged, sir.”

Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald. Email: