There are too many myths floating around the horse world today. In this article, we will address the top 8 horse myths, explain what they are, and why they need to be debunked. These misconceptions can severely hinder and stagnate your well-intentioned horse training efforts.
Myth #1 | Heavy hands make heavy horses and light hands make light horses.
You’ve probably heard people say that if you use more than a small amount of pressure on your horse, it will make him heavy. To debunk this myth we will create two different scenarios.
Imagine you’re walking along on your horse. You pick up the reins and, with the lightest touch you can manage, ask him to come to a stop. But the horse keeps walking. The rider maintains that one ounce of pressure. He is afraid to get any heavier with his pressure. The horse has now walked 30 more feet. Because of the lack of clarity from the rider, the horse starts trying random things to make the pressure go away. For instance, he may toss his head. That jerks the reins from the rider’s hands, or at least causes some slack in the reins. The pressure goes away. Instead of learning to stop, the horse learns to toss his head.
Now imagine you’re walking along on your horse again. You pick the reins up lightly and give the horse a few seconds to respond. The horse keeps walking. He doesn’t even try to gear down and start stopping. You increase the pressure to 6 or 7 pounds and he slows or stops. You immediately release the pressure. This gives the horse a clear idea of what you were asking him to do when you first applied the one ounce of pressure. You are giving him a reason to respond lightly the next time you ask. The goal is to teach the horse to get it done before the rider has a chance to get heavy.
In the second scenario, the rider did momentarily get heavy with the reins. In that instance, it is what the horse needed to understand what the rider was asking. Now if the rider had not released the heavy pressure when the horse responded, that could definitely make a horse heavy. Likewise, not amping up the pressure when that is what the horse needs will also make him heavy.
The key is in the timing. The rider should consistently be adjusting the pressure on a sliding scale depending on what the horse is doing. So don’t believe the horse myth that heavy hands make a horse heavy and light hands make a horse light. It’s all about the timing of when the light and heavy pressure is applied.
Listen to my Rein Management Podcast here: Rein Management
Myth #2 | More desensitizing is what makes a horse not spooky.
To debunk this myth, we actually did a poll. We asked horse owners if the hours and hours they had spent desensitizing their horses to different objects made a huge difference. A vast majority of them said no.
Suppose you had a horse that was afraid of a tarp. You could offer him repeated exposure to the tarp and he would eventually get okay with it being around. Next, you expose him to a pool noodle and eventually get him used to that. You introduce several more objects and desensitize the horse to those as well. But now the horse is spooking at the leaves blowing in the trees. The myth proves to be wrong.
A spooky horse is inwardly lacking confidence. He doesn’t know what’s expected of him. He doesn’t know how to handle pressure. Until his inner anxiety is changed into confidence, there will always be something else he is afraid of. Desensitizing does have its place and is a good thing to do. But trying to desensitize a horse to every single thing he may encounter is an impossible task. Building confidence into the horse is a much better option.
A horse that isn’t confident is looking for a way to be safe. He may feel safer at the barn or with his buddy, so those become magnets that attract him. But a timid horse can be changed into a brave and confident horse. This requires the human using clear communication with good timing. We give the horse the answers he is looking for. We make him feel good inwardly.
Myth #3 | A bigger bit gives you more control of your horse.
A more severe bit may give you a false sense of control, but there are trade offs. Suppose you have a horse that bolts. So, you switch to a bigger bit and use more force to better override the mental anxiety that is causing him to bolt. It may cause him to stop, but he may also rear over backwards from the increased bite on his face. You really don’t have control.
Find out why the horse is thinking he needs to bolt. Why is he so unsure that he’s resorting to drastic measures to feel safe and comfortable? Work on treating the disease and not just the symptoms. If you need a bigger bit for more control, your horse is not understanding what he needs to do. It is likely that your hands are not operating with good timing. If the horse is in a neutral frame of mind, you will not need an overabundance of control.
A bigger bit will amplify what is already there. Good and bad. If the horse is a head tosser, a bigger bit will make it worse. If the horse is already light and responsive, a bigger bit can make him even better.
Myth #4 | Bit A works differently than Bit B.
A bit is a means of communication between the horse and rider. Of all the types of headgear available today, from a rope halter to a hackamore to a snaffle to a spade, the same basic concept applies. You get in their way to send a message and get out of their way when it comes through.
If you have always ridden in a snaffle and want to switch to a traditional hackamore, the basic concept will be exactly the same. Suppose you want a horse to back up. No matter what is on his head, you will get in his way to ask him to back up, and get out of his way when he begins to do it. You can do that in any type of headgear. Sure, in a hackamore, you may use a more rhythmic motion and use a more direct signal in a snaffle, but the concept is the same.
The rider’s hands are much more vitally important than what is on the horse’s face. Every piece of headgear is designed to transfer a signal from your hands to where the horse can feel it in some kind of way. With good timing of pressure and release, a horse will positively respond in Bit A and in Bit B, dispelling this myth.
For more info about headgear, watch this video: Headgear Video
Myth #5 | Trotting back to the barn is bad.
If a horse is in such a terrible mental state that trotting him back to the barn causes him to run off, then something in his training and understanding is missing. Any horse should be able to trot back to the barn without randomly speeding up and without becoming barn sour. And he should be able to trot away from the barn with that same amount of life and energy. A horse that is in the habit of being ‘with’ the rider will not have an issue trotting to or away from the barn.
Myth #6 | Spurs and bits are cruel.
This horse myth is absolutely false. A spur or bit is no more cruel than a rope halter or syringe or flag or reins. But they can all be cruel in the wrong hands. Spurs and bits are aids of communication. Whether you approach the horse using these aids in a good or bad way is entirely the responsibility of the human.
Suppose a rider did not have on spurs, but was slamming their legs into the horse’s belly to get him to go. The horse moves forward like the rider asks, but the rider continues slamming his legs into his belly. That is bad timing. That is confusing to the horse. And that is what’s cruel.
Myth #7 | You have to go very slow when training a horse.
You hear this myth a lot in the natural horsemanship circles. For example, a horse is started when he is four. Now that horse is ten. He still can’t stop well, he can’t back up fast, he can’t lope a balanced circle. The excuse is that the owner is taking it slow because the horse needs years and years to learn how to correctly perform the basic fundamentals. In reality, it is amazing how fast a horse can learn and progress with the correct timing and approach. A colt with 30 rides should be able to do all these fundamentals and more.
You also hear that it takes a long time to erase bad habits. That is also a myth. It is often used as a crutch or excuse. The problem is that the human is not stepping up to the plate and improving their horsemanship skills to help the horse replace the bad habits with good ones.
Myth #8 | Horses are disrespectful.
When a horse doesn’t behave the way we think they should, they are often labled as disrespectful. This horse myth assumes that the horse has human emotions and is trying to get the best of you. But a horse’s emotions are instinctual and they live in the present moment. They gravitate towards what feels good and avoid what feels bad.
A horse that is labeled as disrespectful is more likely just confused. He has no idea what you are trying to ask him to do. So he resorts to instincts.
It’s easier to blame the horse for being disrespectful than to take responsibility for not effectively communicating my idea in a way that it becomes his idea. An honest horse owner will admit when they have not given the horse a clear reason to respond in a positive way.
A horse owner should have the attitude that everything the horse does good is a human’s fault. And everything the horse does bad is a human’s fault. A horse is the byproduct of how he has been handled and ridden.
‘My horse is just disrespectful’ is not a valid excuse.
Let this challenge your thinking. Throw out these horse myths. Experiment with some ways to make your idea become your horse’s idea. When that happens, he will willingly execute whatever you ask. Assume full responsibility and remember that your horse has no idea what you want until you clearly communicate it.
To listen to my Podcast go here: The Top 8 Horse Myths Debunked