what’s in it for my horse?

There are many forms of natural horsemanship out there and I enjoy studying them all. I read all the time and try to fill my mind with knowledge so I will have lots of options when things go “wrong”.

Something that has been on my mind lately is:

What is in it for my horse?

Why should he want to do what I’m asking?

Am I asking for something that will help him feel better or be better?

Am I asking for something that really doesn’t matter and is irrelevant?

Then I head on out into the world and join new Facebook groups so I can read and learn. I read more blogs by other natural horsemanship trainers, I soak up what I believe in and skip over what doesn’t resonate with me.

But one question is still niggling at me.

What is in it for my horse?

When I think about it, I wonder how the horses that are being shown in reining, dressage, jumping, cutting, barrels, western pleasure, roping (the list could go on and on) feel about what it is they are being asked to do. I truly believe that ranch horses understand their jobs and enjoy working together, with their human, to accomplish a job. However I’m not so sure that the horses that are being asked to perform in the show ring, understand anything they are doing. And of course we witness so much abuse around horses that are shown for money and to obtain fame for the human, that it does end up being quite a turn off.

I know there are many horses treated kindly in the training barn. I understand there are many wonderful people out there offering the best they can for their horse and thanking it for performing for them, while choosing to be in the show ring.

But when I think about what’s in it for the horse I can’t see how showing them is EVER in their best interest.

This can really bog me down, causing me to re-think every single thing I do. Wondering if there is anything in it for my horse. Ever.

This can actually be quite debilitating. Causing me to completely shut down. When I’m shut down you can bet there is nothing in it for Billy.

I think there is a good middle of the road here. If the horse had his choice would he want to go for a trial ride, or stand around and eat all day? We ‘think’ we know the answer.

But are we right?

Yesterday I took the dogs for a walk. I figured because it was bitterly cold out, the wind was howling and I wasn’t going to be out very long, I would leave Billy in the field to eat. Just what he would choose if he had the choice, right?


As I walked down the driveway, Billy spotted me, whinnied and came trotting over to the fence line along the driveway. I said, “Hi!  I see you!”  (This is something I always say to him. I feel it honors the fact that he is attempting to connect with me. I got it from the movie “Avatar” the one with the big blue people.) He nickered again, then proceeded to follow me along the fence. He followed the dogs and I as far as he could, walking along the fence line, trotting to keep up, walking quickly, flicking his ears at me the entire time.  When he got the end of our property, he stood and waited for me to come back down the road!

Clearly his choice would have been to come along on our walk. I thought I was making the “right” choice in allowing him to eat.

How interesting. What’s in it for Billy? I guess it’s the chance to connect with me, to be with me.

Sometimes the answer really is as simple as that.


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