Thursday, September 3, 2015

"A Compliant Horse or a Willing Partner—There is a Difference"

Howdy Friends,

There is a difference between a compliant horse and a willing partner. A horse trained into compliance by the use of dominant tactics, force or stiff unrelenting repetition and gadgets will always feel the need to test each new rider, owner or caregiver. They will not test out of rebellion or defiance; rather they know no other way to understand what is expected of them.

Kessy walking on a loose lead in a circle, in good posture with her inside shoulder up. Note her left ear to me, happy and willing. To see more exercises see my blog, "Restarting your horse" HERE
Never knowing the connection that comes with existing as a willing partner, the compliant horse understands no other feeling than worry. The compliant horse worries ceaselessly about “getting it right.” That limits their ability to welcome their person into their heart. It limits their ability to truly soften, think and become the partner they could be, and want to be.

Worry may not always be easy to recognizes, horses hide worry. But simple things like tight lips, ridged or semi ridged posture, distant eyes, sensitive to touch, crowding, hurrying when leading, dancing about on the lead or when tied—anything that seems restless, unsettled, IS restless and unsettled. Yes, with what folks commonly call discipline, training, gadgets and “firm” commands a worried horse (too often referred to as a “disobedient” horse) can be made to be compliant.

Repetition in training (I despise that very word), schooling, perfecting movements, over correcting, over schooling, our impatience, all build roadblocks to creating a willing partner. Those things build walls around the horse that prohibit her ability to see you as someone with whom she would like to partner ... Don’t get confused here by thinking, “My horse loves to drill and practice.” Sometimes a horse will give flashes of willingness and excitement during repetitive drills and practice, because they have become familiar with them. It can actually become a safe place for the compliant horse ... But the softness, contentment and ability of a truly deeply willing horse will far outshine the ability and contentment of a compliant horse.

But what of another paradigm? One of, putting the horse first. Yes we have horses because we want to do things with them. With them should mean, “With them.” With their willingness, happiness and love of being with us, playing with us, competing with us. That is putting the horse first.

How do we do that? How can we have a willing partner? A major component to building that partnership is to “put the horse first.” Ask yourself, “What’s in it for the horse? What will my horse get out of this?” We all know what we want ... Why should our horse care or want it if they are not our partner?

Little things like allowing the horse all the time she needs to understand. Whenever I work with someone and there horse the first thing I say is, “We are now on horse time, not people time.” We must always, “Ignore the negative and celebrate the Positive.”

Our human instinct is to correct, we must stop that. Replace correcting with leading. Gently show her the correct way—replace correcting with leading, show her what you are asking and give her time to understand. And be sure to reward the slightest attempt with grand celebration. NEVER, ever not a single time, scold or interrupt or discipline. Go with it; allow her to progress with encouragement—do not push her with force, harsh words and demands. To do that is the very definition of rude behavior. Never be rude.

Everyone who knows me knows I believe the most important thing is giving to the horse. We must give more than we ask, we must meet them more than halfway. A part of building any relationship with our horses I believe must be their housing, diet, exercise and comfort. I believe a regular routine of release and relax exercises (Peggy Cummings Connected Groundwork®) that encourage proper posture and movements do so much to “give to the horse” and build that bond—they truly do give to the horse and ask nothing in return.

The secret to having a willing partner is really no secret at all ... Be one yourself. In everything put your horse first.

Gitty Up, Dutch Henry

P.S. If you’ve not yet gotten my book, “It’s for the Horses: An advocate’s musings about their needs, spirit gifts and care,” you can order it HERE 

P.S.S. If you’d like to schedule a Dutch Henry clinic email me


  1. You just described my horse and me to a T. What a wake-up!
    I can't even describe George, my TWH, as compliant. Not all the time, anyway. Once we get going, he's fantastic. Trails, parades, obstacle courses, other horses, trailering, ground manners, all awesome. He's a sweet, quiet, gentle boy, and I'm blessed to have found him. However, I have three issues that we struggle with. One, he's insulin resistant and food-obsessed, especially grass, which he can't have. Two, he's willful. I'm exhausted at the beginning of every ride from arguing with him. Unless we're headed for home or back to the trailer, he just doesn't want to go. He's not herd-bound, because he's the same way when my other two horses are with us. Three, I have no dirt area to work with him, only five acres of grass that my husband won't let me remove for a round pen or arena. Any work we do I have to do on our road, but it's only 10 feet between him and grass, so you can imagine how little training we actually accomplish.

    I'm frustrated. I thought I had an awesome horse until I read this. Now I realize I have a sometimes-compliant horse, not a willing partner.

    1. Robynne, you did sum up your problem ... You do need to do groundwork, but not the typical round pen stuff- which I am most opposed to, I do not like round pens. ... Your boy, and You need to master the exercises I so often write about, and have in my book. Everything, I mean everything comes from the horse being in proper comfortable posture, self confidence and self aware. Distractions are happening for a reason, And I suspect I know why. I recommend you find a way to convince your husband to allow you to create a track system for your horses.~ Gitty Up, Dutch

  2. Thanks, Dutch. He finally relented to letting me install the PP track. I already have almost everything we need, I just have to mow down the grass on the proposed track first. It's very hilly and somewhat wooded, so I know they'll all enjoy and benefit from it immensely, especially George and my two mini-donks. My pasture is already a big dry lot, no grass whatsoever. Letting them out on a lush grassy track is the last thing they need, even my two not-at-risk horses. I definitely have my work cut out for me. In the meantime, I'd love to hear your suspicions.

    1. Great, Robynne!! You will love - and so will your horses- their new PP! - not sure what you mean about my "suspicions"? Keep in touch on FB if you have any questions! You can PM me for my phone #.~ Gitty Up, Dutch

    2. "Distractions are happening for a reason, And I suspect I know why."

      That's what I meant :)

  3. p.s. I just ordered the (kindle) book ☺

    1. Great! I promise you'll love the journey! ~ Gitty Up, Dutch