I used to work as an editor for a regional newspaper. When dealing with freelancers I always tried to grant them as much freedom as possible. I didn't want to order them around or be too narrow with my asks. Just because if I'd been a freelancer I would have wished for being treated like that. I would have wanted the editor to trust me that I will deliver on time - without him having to tread on my toes and micromanaging me. 

My intention was a good one - but it didn't always work out in everyday work life. I made the mistake to project my needs onto others. Of course, some people need freedom and responsibility. But others need clear orders and boundaries - and with my rather lax attitude I didn't live up to the needs of these freelancers.

I think, with horses, it's similar.
There are some horses that demand more room for themselves. And there are others that yield willingly to the human and make way for him to decide for the two of them. 
If I am that type of human who has clear expectations and demands and I meet a horse from the first category, we might end up fighting. Because I am not quite flexible enough to adjust to the horse's needs and to grant him more say then I would like to. I think a horse of the second category will have an easier time to accept strong leadership. 
I, with my "I'll grant you freedom"-attitude on the other hand will probably confuse a horse of the second category because I don't communicate clearly enough. My behavior creates misunderstandings.
Freiraum, Grenzen, Pferde verstehen Blog
Asking questions is part of communication.
 As is being clear. Photo:Nadja

Like a few weeks ago, when I was working with the project horse from the ground. I wanted to send him out on a circle to the right. Instead he came in with his ears pricked, posing a question. I like questions as they prove that the horse is mentally engaged and communicating. This is why I consider it rather rude to answer with a "no, get the hell out of here on that circle!". But if I wait too long giving the horse a pause in the middle with me I create confusion rather then do good to our relationship. Because my initial aid "please go out on the circle to the right" turns into "yes please come in" for the horse. 
If I ask for the circle the next time, the horse will likely offer to come in again instead of traveling on the circle around me. If I then send him out with energy, the misunderstanding is complete. Once I said "go" and was okay with "whoa". The next time I said "go" and insisted on "go". 

This is a mistake I make quote often. I want to support the horse's mental engagement and I dont' want to be overly critical. But over this I become wishy washy with my signals. A response like "no, this was not the answer, try again" in the end is more helpful to the horse than having to correct him in the end because I accepted something I actually didn't want in the first place. 

Just to give you another example of this: A few weeks ago I was riding a friend's horse. The mare had experienced some bad handling and wasn't too keen on backing up. Too much pressure on the bit she usually comments with rooting the head. I wanted her to move out from a standstill. But she shifted her weight back and offered to back up. Instead of keeping up my aids until she found the forwards, I released. Because I was happy how willingly she offered the backup. Asking her to move out again, she naturally offered the backup again - and already I had created a misunderstanding. 

Do you also have mistakes that you make over and over again?

Hi there,
I know, it's been a while since the last post. 
The reason: I've been preparing a small ebook for you guys. It will be about reading horses and about 15 pages long. 
It sums up everything I know about reading horses and covers 

- relaxation and tension
- contradicting signals and 
- behavioral patterns.

Most important for you: it is not for sale but a gift for you readers. 
I'll deliver it with my next newsletter in a few days (and the future newsletters will contain a link as well so you can access it whenever you want). 
If you would like to read and/or download it - just sign up for the newsletter (which comes twice a month and is free too).


This is the cover of the ebook. Picture: Nadja



What is most important being with horses? Fairness, patience, leadership skills? The right method with the right techniques?
I think all of these are valid ideas. But for me, the basis is something different: Our awareness and our attentiveness. Not only for the big but especially for the subtle things. For nuances in body language - our own and the one of the horse. 

I find that if we become more aware of our behavior and the behavior of the horse, we observe us and we collect information. Which in return helps us to make good decisions - meaning decisions that enhance our training and our relationship with the horse. 

This is why I recommend to spend time with the horse just focusing on observing and feeling. Don't aim for something apart from attention and having a closer look than usual. I think that is beneficial no matter if you are a horsemanship newbie or an experienced horse person. 

You don't have to do anything, just be with your horse and ask yourself (some of) the following questions. 



basis, good horsemanship
Both horses are attentive but
focusing in different directions. My
legs are relaxed, but my upper body
still has some tension. My belly button

is turned away from the horses.
Photo: Marko
How do I use my body?
Think if you are tense or relaxed and how you breathe. Do your arms and legs hang casually or are they braced? Where have you put your weight? How do you hold the rope? Check if you are looking at the horse or if you can feel where he is and what he does without actually watching him. 

Where am I respectively to my horse's position?
Check if you are close next to each other and if you feel crowded. Are you standing next to your horse's head or further back, maybe at his withers? Have the two of you moved? In which direction does your belly button point (yes, this is important)?

What does my horse do? 
Is he relaxed or does he want to move around? Check where his attention is and how he carries his head. Does he adapt to your movements? 

I think the range of observations we can make without actually doing something is quite amazing. 

Last year, I attended a clinic with Leslie Desmond. The participants were standing next to their horses when she advised one to shift her weight from the leg nearest to her horse to the other leg. Instantly, the horse lowered his head and breathed out deeply. We underestimate the importance of these small details - when we are aware of them that is to say.

Of course, you can observe your horse whenever you want and not just standing still next to you (we actually do it every day). I just think that starting out from a stand still is the easiest way to do it deliberately because you can fully concentrate on it without having to manage anything else. Which would be the case if you'd actively ask something from your horse. 

At the beginning it is not important which questions you ask and which answers you'll receive observing your horse and you. It's also not about scrutinizing or judging the answers
I think the important thing is to observe the horse in different situations, to get used to it and turn it into a habit. In the end, we are not only aware of the horse almost unconsciously, we also learn to react correctly without having to give it much thought. 

Interestingly enough, we don't have to actually look at the horse to observe it. This is helpful when leading the horse, for example. For me it's important to know where he is at (in terms of place and emotions) without  having to turn constantly. Horsemen and -women don't want you to turn your head neither. Pat Parelli says "Don't look back, he won't change color", and Leslie Desmond indicates that a human that turns his head often when leading the horse casts doubt in the horse if he actually knows where he wants to go.  

Also, it's not that hard to sense where and how the horse is walking behind us - we just need to concentrate on and direct our attention to it: We can look from the corner of our eyes, we can listen to the hoofbeats, we can observe the horse's shadow on the road (if the sun is in a good position) or we can just try to sense the dimensions of our bubble and if the horse is outside or crowding it. 


Have you ever thought about the level of your awareness around your horse? Have you tried to feel and watch closely? Or has it become something you do automatically without thinking?