Callie King Image

I have heard a number of trainers talking about using “intention” when working with horses. I did not understand this concept until my lesson with Carolyn Rider last month, but after I realized what it really meant, I found that it made a lot of sense and I had already been using it more than I realized. I believe that the initial response when many people hear about using “intention” in training is one of skepticism and confusion, but if you understand what is really meant by this term and how to apply it, you may realize that it is something most of us use to some extent but could use a lot more for much lighter and better responses from our horses.

So what does it mean to use “intention” when working with horses? Essentially, intention means thinking about the result you want before acting. For example, when riding, if you want the horse to go from trot to walk you will have a smoother transition if you first think stop, slow your riding, and sit in the saddle then if you just leaned back and jerked the reins. The former is using your intention to give subtle cues instead of just “making it happen.” An example on the ground could be taking your horse through a gate. Instead of just opening the gate and hauling on the lead rope to pull your horse through, you can look where you want your horse to walk and motion with your hand, again thinking about the result that you want and giving subtle cues.

Its not weird horse whisper stuff. Using your thoughts and intention to get results from your horse and your training is simply acknowledging that horses are intelligent animals and giving them the opportunity to think and learn rather than just always reacting to physical pressure. The more I make a conscious effort to use intention in my training, the more my horses look for it and try to please. Horses that are not used to receiving subtle cues will need time to learn to look for them. I believe that any horse can be light and responsive, but we make them dull. So as trainers, we also need practice consistently giving those subtle cues.

So how to start? Always use your intention first, riding and on the ground. Think about what you want and your body will naturally start to communicate it. In the beginning, you may often need to follow up with more pressure, but if you consistently give the subtle light cues first your horse will learn to listen to them. Try it out, you may be surprised!

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One Response

  1. Nice read Callie, I so agree that it is so important we think about what terms such as intention mean so we can ensure that we are consistent in our associated behaviour and very aware of our demands and the clarity of them. Sometimes it seems we want to believe that just because we want something the horse should get it, as if just because it is clear in our heads it will be clear to the horse. As you so well describe, it is like a pre-cue that becomes associated with our primary cue. Being aware, such as the at a gate example you provide, helps to make our interactions fairer for the horse, helps us to be always ‘with our horse’ and is just the right thing to do! Thanks for teasing out these ideas and notions that otherwise can be so misused and misunderstood and it is the horses who either suffer or benefit depending on our depth of understanding.

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