Spirits in Unity Column 20 – Part 7 Confidence and introduction by Garry “Horsetalker” Meek

CFN – This Column of “Spirits in Unity” is being published by CFN for the community of Stormont, Dundas & Glengarry.

Take The Time It Takes
In the traditional world of horse training it is normal for handlers to get impatient. It is normal for horses to be broken instead of started. It is normal for horse not to get a good foundation. It is normal for race horses to be racing at the age of two years. It is normal for cutting and reining horses to be competing at the age of three. It is normal for handlers to use artificial aids in order to shape their horses the way they want. The list is endless.

Have you seen people with thoroughbred race horses you can’t steer, reiners that can’t trot, jumpers that can’t turn, dressage horses that you can’t ride on a trail ride, trail horses that can’t be ridden by themselves, horses you can’t catch etc. etc. etc.

What is lacking in the training of these horses? It’s the issue of confidence especially the emotional part of the horses training that most approaches do not address.

As prey animals, horses naturally default to fear. Lack of confidence is the first element of fear so it is normal for horses to descend quickly from lack of confidence to fear. Unless you learn how to develop confidence in your horse, they can spend their whole lives living in fear or they become so desensitized that they just give up. Sometimes it can take 10 to 20 years before this happens.

You see fear is like a wild animal out of control, but it’s one that can only be killed by knowledge and understanding. Fear is despair. It is about looking into a deep darkness and not being able to see the light.

The more true knowledge you have about horses, the more predicable he will become to you. Getting that knowledge is not like flipping and on-off switch. It is rather more like a dimmer switch that you slowly turn up the brightness. When you get that dimmer switch turned up all the way, that’s when you can say to yourself that there isn’t a horse anywhere that you are afraid of. What a relief that would be.

There are still going to be horses that you know will take a cautious approach. Caution is calculated, the calculated risk if you wish.

When you look at this week’s photo and see the two kids jumping bareback double over the barrels you might think that is a foolish thing to do. It would have been two years ago, but now it is for them a calculated risk that knowledge has allowed them to take. And they are able to take that risk because they are able to predict what the horse is going to do.

Many people tell you that getting to the point where you have absolutely no fear of horses is too high a mountain to climb. Buck Brannamam says, “That depends on how well you like climbing.”

So many people today don’t even want to take the first step on that learning climb. Gaining confidence and losing fear is about embracing the idea of life long self improvement. And yes that takes time.

The mental and emotional well being of a horse is our responsibility, therefore, building his self-confidence and confidence in us is vital to a safe, happy and successful relationship.

There is no quick fix in teaching horses. It takes hours, weeks, months, years to carefully develop a horse and when you rush the process and skip over important elements of his learning, it is only a matter of time before his confidence is shattered, he blows up and is considered a failure.

For too many horses we don’t give them a solid foundation of skills to successfully handle competition or specialized pursuits. I have encountered a number of horses who were damaged because of this lack of good foundation or have been asked to do too much too soon. When you ask too much too soon they just shut down on you mentally.

Have you ever experienced that with teachers who try to give you so much information that your brain just gets overloaded and you shut down. If that keeps up you just end up walking away from the teacher either physically or mentally.

It is about making learning interesting, engaging and fun. With horses it’s about the release of pressure and that means absolutely no pressure at all. When that release comes there is absolute calmness between the horse and the human. And that takes time.

If you are pulling on your horse with 50 pounds of pressure and you lower it to 10 pounds, that’s not release. Release means NO PRESSURE, PERIOD.

These damaged horses are many times as hard to get them to fully trust a human again. They have to be renaturalized.

For some horses that have gone through our horse restart program, I have seen it take over a 100 hours of renaturalizing training to bring them back to fully responsive and trusting animals again. For some who have had that basic foundation properly applied from birth I have seen it take as little as 12 hours to complete the starting process and be ready to ride safely very quickly.

In the traditional world, people tend to start performance sports long before they should. It is like eating the icing before you have baked the cake. Remember, the more you want your horse to do for you, the more pressure he is going to be under and the more confident he needs to be.

I have seen people do the same thing over and over and never take the time to do it right in the first place. I remember a lady who visited our barn telling me about her interest in dressage and yet even though she had taken two lessons a week for 10 years, (that’s an astounding $62,000 worth), she and her horse still did not have the confidence to go on a trail ride together and in ten years she had yet to experience the joy of riding her horse without her coach being present.

Now as a business model this seems like a lucrative deal for the instructor, but a bad deal for both the human and horse.

Depending on the talent level and complexity of the horse and the talent level of the trainer, a foundation can take anywhere from 2 to 4 years.

Taking the time it takes means be thorough, not skipping steps. Develop a blueprint for training your horse. Don’t rush at it but don’t be slack either. Lack of progress can be just as detrimental as too much progress. It has to be a balance. Put the relationship first. And do it right the first time so you don’t have to redo it over and over later on.

Recently I watched as one of my students worked with a difficult mare who was having a bad day. She desperately wanted to get her horse to run with the pack and have fun with the other riders, but the thing that impressed me most is that she took the horse back to basics and eventually got the horse to stop fussing and kicking out. Sure she was probably feeling a little frustrated, but her patience and persistence paid off. She was willing to take the time it took. And her next session with that horse will probably be much better because of her efforts.

In the second photo today you will see a young lady cantering her horse while standing (Roman Riding). While this may look like a stunt, the thing that is impressive is that she took her horse through the foundation process in only two years and is now able to do these kinds of things safely and her horse enjoys the experience.

Remember take the time it takes.
Be sure to click on the ‘like’ or ‘dislike’ buttons to let us know that you have read today’s column. It is an honour to have you as a reader. I welcome any comments, questions or topics you would like me to discuss. I hope you enjoy reading about the wonderful world of horses and the impact that natural horsemanship can have in making it a better world for both horses and humans?

In our ‘Spirits in Unity’ program we believe in developing a trusting relationship and a true partnership with a horse before even thinking about getting on his back. He probably prefers it that way too.

Whether you are just a horse lover, have dreams of owning a horse someday, or already have one, I hope these columns will give you some insight into the true nature of these magnificent creatures. I hope you will find them both informative and inspirational.

Until next time…
May all your dreams come true,
Garry “Horsetalker” Meek



  1. WHOA, just a minute!

    Feel free to tell readers the experiences you have encountered with your own horses, but I do not think it is appropriate for you to imply to speak on behalf of the entire equestrian industry, unless of course you are an expert and have the credentials in an array of horse disciplines and breeds.

    What might seem as an appropriate conclusion for “your” own horse barn certainly may not apply to other stables throughout North America and the world.

    There are thousands of horse handlers and trainers out there, and they are spread over many disciplines and breeds. Please don’t lump all handlers or trainers under the category of “impatient.” And, you say, “It is normal for horses to be broken.” I don’t know what individuals you have been associated with or may be referring to, but the multitude of horsemen and horsewomen that I know are professionals who “train” horses for their livelihood, and they take the time to train horses properly with the ultimate care. They have to do it right in order to bring their horses along to win the top awards at the highest level of horse shows, the Regional and World Championship competitions.

    I don’t know what brings you to make a comment, “It is normal for a horse not to get a good foundation.” The trainers and showmen I know are excellent, and their numerous clients over the decades wouldn’t take their horses to them if they weren’t the best at what they do.

    “Specialization” in a certain disciplines and within certain breeds is common. For example, thoroughbreds and standardbreds specialize in racing, that’s what they are bred to do. Please remember, it’s better for a horse to excel in one particular field than try to be a jack of all trades and master of none.

    You refer to “jumpers that can’t turn” but jumpers must proceed over a course that requires turning, so I have no idea what jumpers you are referring to that have “steering” problems.

    I do agree with this part of your sentence, “It takes hours, weeks, months, years to carefully develop a horse.”

  2. I sent a mare that I could not handle to a trainer, After a month 6 & 7 year old kids could ride her, any were they wanted too.
    So I don’t agree with Mr. Garry Meek at all. Most horses are trained in different disciplines . It depend what you want your horse to do. If it is jumping or racing, reining.

  3. I had a mare that was hard to handle , I sent her to a trainer, after a month , the trainer had young kid 6 & 7 year old riding her,
    So I don’t agree with Mr Garry Meek . Certain horses are tained for different disciplines, trail riding, reining, racing. jumping.
    The horses are going to excel in what they are trained to do.

  4. Thank you Calvin for your reply to my latest column. And no I don’t try to set myself up as speaking for the entire horse industry. And thankfully, there are as you say thousands of excellent trainers and true horseman professionals like yourself out there who have proven themselves to have the interests of the horse first and foremost in their minds. But I also know that there are many more who are a disgrace to the horse industry. I see them at every fair or horse show I attend and many of North Americas top horse masters would agree with me.

    The really successful and great horsemen who engage in any of the over 200 specialization sports with horses for the most part do believe in foundation before specialization.

    Yes thoroughbreds and standardbreds are bred and trained to run, but what happens to a race horse after his racing days are over? Visit some of the numerous horse rescue centres and see first hand what some of these so-called professionals are capable of doing to these horses.

    The reason I am able to see what is going on is because I was as normal as anyone at one time and I too ended up torturing my horses. Thankfully, someone came along and straightened me out.

    I compliment you and other horse professionals like yourself who have made a valuable contribution to the well being of horsemanship and horses. But I will certainly not shrink from commenting on the poor practices of the rest.

  5. Thank you Ernie for your reply to my latest column. I am truly glad that you found a horse and trainer who delivered a safe and reliable animal for your 6 and 7 year old.

    For some horses, though, because of the treatment they have suffered from humans, it takes a lot longer to get that reliable horse. But if you are lucky and get a horse from a really good breeder who understands how to start horses properly it is not unusual to accomplish a good foundation in a month’s work.

    Yes it is true that horses are trained in different disciplines. This is called Specialization. But the ones who are most successful are the ones who have been given a chance to build a good foundation first. Sometimes the horse you thought was going to be a great jumper turns out to want to chase cows and becomes a good cutting horse. To just train a horse for a particular discipline without discovering what his true talents are first could end up being just a big waste of time and money.

    Maybe that is one of the reasons we have hundreds of thousands of unwanted horses in North America today.

    It is sort of like trying to determine what your child is going to do in adult life when he is a child. They often turn out differently that what we expect, but just as wonderful.

  6. Whoa Calvin;

    1) How do you justify charging someone $62K if they can’t leave the arena on their own ?

    2) My first horse was a thoroughbred who was raced when she was 3 years old. She blew her lungs. I didn’t even know what a “bleeder” was until I tracked down her original owner.

    3) Did you ever stop to think that it would take LESS time if you went at it slower and more naturally?

    Of course then you wouldn’t make $6200/yr would you ?

    At my first riding school, the horses were led from the stable to the arena and back. Or from the field to the arena. “Hacking” was forbidden, because it wasn’t “safe” …

    One last thing that Garry didn’t mention was that at Droghega, a one hour lesson is one hour long! Not 15 mins of tacking up and brushing, 15 mins of un-tacking and more brushing, with about 20 – 30 mins of riding around in circles being told what you are doing wrong. Oh, yeah and you can spend as much time with your horse as you like.

    Instead of being complimented on what you are accomplishing …

  7. Mr. Pretty,

    Why are your comments addressed to me? Your comments have NOTHING to do with the comments I made.

    It’s nice you are a loyal supporter of the horse stable you attend.

    Enjoy your horses ….. the more experience you gain, the more educated you will be.

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