Too much pressure can easily overwhelm a sensitive horse and cause an
emotional meltdown. Sensitive horses are often extra-fast learners. They can be
complicated to train because they learn even unintended lessons.
Colder horses are less reactive to stimuli. As a result, they make better horses
for beginners and riders who lack confidence. They’re more tolerant of unintended cueing (like riding with your heels up, then pulling on the reins when the
horse speeds up) and changes of balance in the rider.
Although it’s not a given, sometimes cold-blooded types are lazy. They may try
and get out of working if they can.
/ Under Pressure /
We train horses with negative reinforcement because they are all sensitive animals—as a species, horses must be sensitive to their environment so they can stay
safe and get away from predators.
Negative reinforcement simply means releasing all pressure the instant the
horse begins to respond. Horses learn quickly when pressure is used correctly and
released at the precise moment. Finding the right amount of pressure to motivate
change is important and it varies with every horse.
When it comes to correcting a horse or motivating him to change his behavior,
it is important not to use too little pressure, which could teach him to disregard
your authority. Cueing lightly and reinforcing with adequate pressure and timing
are the keys to success with a horse.
You must know how sensitive your horse is and how much pressure to apply
if you’re going to have the best possible relationship. If you apply too much pressure, you’ll create an adversarial relationship. If you don’t apply enough, you’ll
have a horse that doesn’t respect you or your space.
JULIE GOODNIGHT shares her lessons on her RFD-TV show, Horse Master (also online at
tv.juliegoodnight.com), and through clinics and expos. HEIDI MELOCCO (www.whole-picture.
com) is a lifelong horsewoman, equine journalist, and photographer.
Keep in mind you only want to use
the amount of pressure necessary to
motivate change. If you’re asking a
horse to move forward under saddle,
the cue you use on a high-energy,
sensitive horse is much different than
the cue for an unreactive, quiet horse.
However, even a lazy horse can be
trained to respond promptly to the
smallest cue if he knows that cue will
/ Working with Sensitivity /
A highly sensitive horse will respond
to the slightest pressure and is best
handled by someone with a lot of
experience and confidence. It’s important to keep your body language
calm and smooth and move in slow
motion when working with this type
of horse so you can detect the earliest
response and release the pressure.
BORN THAT WAY
Not all horses are bred to react the same way. How much they react can depend
on where their ancestors came from.
Desert horses were small and lean, with features that helped them to keep cool;
horses from the frozen north were heavier-bodied with long hair coats designed to
survive in that climate. Once horses were domesticated some 5,000 years ago,
humans started selective breeding and developing different horse breeds from
these various types. Certain breeds not only have specific body types, but have typical temperaments that are predominant because the temperament genes go along
with the body-type genes.
Today, there are hot-blooded breeds—such as Thoroughbreds and Arabians—
which tend to be high-energy and reactive horses. On the opposite end of the spectrum are cold-blooded breeds like drafts, and horses that fall more in the middle of
the spectrum, such as stock horses and warmbloods. These breeds tend to be less
reactive and less sensitive.
Of course, there is still variability among individual horses. I have known a few
lazy Thoroughbreds and some reactive draft horses. Although a certain breed may be
considered “hot-blooded” or “cold-blooded,” there may be more or less sensitive individuals within that breed. It just means that most horses in that breed tend that way.