Why you shouldn’t put human values on to horses



Every horse person puts human values onto horses in some way, shape or form. We think some horses are better than others and some are prettier than others. We become attached to our horses and then we think that they love us back. We think our horses love to work for us and enjoy competing and winning prizes.

Human values are put onto horses in other ways as well. Horses are often labelled – quiet, wild, mad, bad, to name just a few. Fancy new labels are constantly being invented. These labels are just another way to blame your horse instead of blaming yourself, when things go wrong.

The truth is that horses don’t know or care what you think is good or bad. Horses simply do whatever’s easiest for them. If you make it easy for your horse to stop, kick up, pull the reins and run home, then that’s what he’ll do. If you make it easy for your horse to listen to you, to walk, trot and canter perfect circles and to try his hardest for you, then that’s what he’ll do.

This horse isn't bad, he's simply learned to resist.
This horse isn’t bad, he’s simply learned to resist.

Left to their own devices, horses couldn’t care less if their circles are perfect or not, or if they walk, trot and canter at the right time. However, every horse can learn to try his hardest. Every horse can learn to co-operate with you and to move exactly when and how you ask. And I’m sure that every horse will find this more enjoyable than resisting and fighting with his rider.

Horses simply learn what behaviours make life easy and what behaviours make life unpleasant for them. You must remember that a horse resists and fights because his training has been inconsistent and he doesn’t understand what’s wanted. It’s not because he’s bad, mad, naughty or lacks respect. Horses know nothing of being good or bad and they certainly know nothing of respect. Goodness, badness, respect and all the other labels are human values and horses have absolutely no understanding of them.

After a couple of lessons he learned to co-operate and try for me.
After a couple of lessons he learned to co-operate and try for me.

Always remember, there are no “good” horses just as there are no “bad” horses. Correct, consistent handling and riding will produce “good” horses. Incorrect, inconsistent handling and riding will produce “bad” horses.

Horses never change from being “good” to being “bad”. The only thing that changes is the horse’s training and riding.

It’s always the rider that makes a horse behave “badly”. It’s never the horse’s fault.


neil-daviesNeil Davies began training horses full-time in 1977. Over the next 15 years, he started more than a thousand horses under saddle and trained thousands of so-called ‘problem’ horses. [read more]

He is the author of Fear-free Horse Training – every step of the way.

Visit Neil’s website at www.fearfreehorsetraining.com.

Neil Davies

Neil Davies began training horses full-time in 1977. Over the next fifteen years, he started more than a thousand horses under saddle and trained thousands of so-called ‘problem’ horses. From $100 backyard ponies to thoroughbreds worth millions, Neil has seen it all. » Read Neil's profile

3 thoughts on “Why you shouldn’t put human values on to horses

  • September 28, 2015 at 4:17 am

    Ok…so I have had this horse for 8 years…suddenly,out of the blue,whilst standing on the mounting block ready with one leg half way over the horse, he turns around and bites me…I didnt do anything different and he has never done anything like that before…how did I teach him that???!!

    • October 5, 2015 at 9:59 am

      Well I think maybe your horse was trying to tell you He or She is uncomfortable. Maybe the saddle was pinching or they were not feeling well. I find horses will bite either because they are in pain and can not express it otherwise or you have a horse with a temperament that has some quirks to work out. I was bitten one day because I was helping a horse that fell. It was not the horse I was helping that bit me but a mate who was being dominant.So it is a toss up sometimes and a process of elimination.

  • September 28, 2015 at 4:49 am

    I do agree that we tend to anthropomorphize horses in many ways, but horses are complex and emotional beings with intricate social structures, distinct preferences, etc. — and they have vastly different personalities. I have raised and trained many horses, and one of the things I delight in, especially with the babies, is seeing what their core personality is. Some are naturally bold, some are cautious; some are jokers, some are serious; some naturally challenge authority, some are much more compliant. And, I do think that horses can have like certain people and want to be around them, and even show affection. A few seem particularly attuned to human emotion, approaching and offering comforting gestures when a person is sad or upset. One mini I used to take to a children’s hospice was infinitely patient with sick and physically challenged children, letting them do things (like pet his face) that he did not tolerate with “normal” people. Those kids could poke him in the eye and he would stand there and let them, whereas he was pretty standoffish and irritable with everyone else. So, I feel that horses (some of them) can be highly intuitive, and they can care about people. I had a really hard day last week, and when I went into the barn that night, my morgan actually came up to me and offered his muzzle right to my lips so that I could kiss his velvety nose. He knows I like to do this, but usually, I have to go to him to do it, and he just barely tolerates it. He did it several times that night, always with a very soft expression in his eye. He will also approach me at certain times and gently rub his lip on my arm or face, also with a particularly soft expression in his eye. I truly feel that he is showing me that he likes me, and that he is trying to do something he thinks is nice for me. He is definitely trying to express a bond of some kind. Maybe I am going overboard by saying he “loves” me, but it sure feels that way! : )


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