Understanding horse psychology is so critical to understanding and working with and around horses effectively.  Our understanding of it, or lack thereof, affects all we do to the core and base foundations and therefore needs to be understood if we are to be successful in our equine related endeavours, whether it just be for pleasure, or for competitive purposes.

Currently the global understanding of equine psychology is seriously lacking and full of mis-beliefs.  This in turn is the basis of the current harsh and ineffective training and handling methods apparent today.

We need to be aware of the facts when it comes to how horses see and interact in their world and in ours and their mental capacity and functionality.

For example: 

Horses don't feel safe when they are not in a herd, however will view you as their herd IF you build a respectful relationship of trust with them. 

Then they will be confident as if in a herd.  If you dominate or use "method" without building a trusting bond, horses will not see you as the herd and will therefore be flighty, want to not listen to you, want to get away and back to the herd, be nervous, be spooky, work against you. 

Horses if fearful have an in-abilty to focus, think or learn.  If you are training a horse and it is fearful, all it will learn and remember is to keep away from you and to be scared of you.  A horse that is fearful will kill itself without a thought, is irrational and lacks the ability to self preserve. 

Horses have mental planes.  Relaxed, slightly nervous, and fearful, you should always be working hard to keep them on the relaxed mental plane at all times, keep them alseep, switched off, to maximise learning capacity and to keep yourself safe. 

In a herd environment when horses are fearful they will go into stampede mode and trample all in their path.  They won't think, they will run through fences, into traffic, into brick walls and kill themselves.  It is essential that people understand they are not safe ever on a fearful horse.  It is also essential for people to understand they must always keep a horse in a calm and relaxed state of mind at all times.  This is achieved with a gentle relationship, a pat, a reassuring gentle word, allowing time for the horse to do everything slowly and calmly.

When riding, handling or around horses it is never ok to be boisterous, abrupt, rough and rash, as with small children.  This will always make horses nervous.  Around horses we must always behave calmly, quietly, smoothly, and gently.

Horses understand a lot more than we think.  They watch us and learn how we behave so they can work out what we are likely to do.  The classic example of this is when nervous riders are out on a ride and see something up ahead they know their horse will likely be scared of, and so before their horse has even seen it they start to nervously say whoa, whoa or, it's ok, it's ok etc, in a high pitched nervous voice. The horse soon learns every time he hears his rider panicking there is something to be scared of around or coming up and so starts to panic too.

It is a myth horses can smell riders fear.  This is just not true.  You can be terrified on horseback yet act calmly, faking it and horses will not think you are fearful and carry on as per normal oblivious.

What horses do pick up on is your cues, changes in your behaviour that you do every time you freak out at something, this is what they learn to pick up on and what freaks them out.

You should NEVER act fearful around any horse.  It is like a parent freaking out in front of their child, you just don't unless you want your child to freak out too.  Horses and their humans are very much on par with the Parent Child relationship.  Horses will not be confident if you are acting scared.

You are their leader, the one making them go places and do things.

FAKE IT.  ACT calm, half asleep and be aware and force yourself to not change anything about what you were doing to make horses think you are freaking out, like start gripping their sides or reins, but when they are right there by the scary thing, and do freak out, be honest with them and up front and soothe them, be aware of your tones, soothing them is not a freaking out high pitched squeaky voice, this will make them think you are terrified, it is a slow, steady, long, low, half asleep, soothing voice.   

Let them see the thing but don't focus on it, let them look at it then turn their head slightly away, them allow them to look at it again, a good boy and a pat on the neck or a gentle steady unflappable hand on their neck in between the scary thing and them is the biggest safety tool you have in your arsenal for shying, USE it, it WORKS. 

Communicate to your horse that you are not scared, it is no big deal, don't stop and focus on it, just keep going as you were.  There are times with less scary things you might want to take your horse up to have a look at things like a scary sign etc, but make sure you are making him more confident not creating phobias, it should be done in the context of exploring things rather than going from A to B, got freaked out then focused on it too much.

Horses understand almost all English.  A lot like dogs do.  You should show your horse respect when you do things by first explaining what you are doing and giving the time to process it.  For example if you are transporting a horse away from it's friends for the day, don't just go and catch him and drag him onto the truck and go with no explanation.  This will create fear.

We do the right thing with dogs, we say do you wanna go for a walk?  We don't just put a lead on with no communication and drag the dog out the door, we talk to it, because it understands.

An example of a better way would be to go, give your horse a pat and say "we are going to go for a ride on the truck today mate, but we'll be coming back soon and I'll get you some feed over there".

That way your horse has time to mentally prepare for this dramatic change taking place in his day and will be less freaked out by it all, what will also give him confidence is the respect you have shown him and so he will know he is not going to have things sprung on him out of the blue, but that you are going to take time to let him adjust to things and you are going to give him fair warning when things are about to change.

Building a strong relationship and respectful trust with any horse will get you through the hairiest moments.  The horse will be fearless when around you, and would jump through a fiery hoop for you without a second thought.  On the horses I have built trust with, they can have things like a dog jump out and run at their legs biting them, and they don't even blink or react, they are so trusting I will know what to do.

Or a big sign flap up right behind them and they don't even care.  I have not trained them or "conditioned' them to it all I have built trust. The whole idea of terrifying horses repeatedly with bagging and whips and sticks and tarps etc doesn't achieve this trust, it breaks trust and those horses are the first to shy when something unexpected happens.

It all comes down to what is going on mentally.  A horse you are throwing a plastic bag around is thinking you are to be avoided in future, not to be trusted, and you could put it in scary situations without warning at any time.

A horse you build a relationship of respectful trust with when something scary pops up is thinking, eh, whatever wheres the grass at.  My friend is here, he's not scared. ;)

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