Forming an Understanding: The Nature of the Horse

By Stevi Weissbach

Time spent with horses adds to your life. Stevi and Wendy
Photo by Darrell Brewer

Have you ever felt that you and your horse should be able to form a better partnership? Do you want the horse to look at you as someone he can trust his life with, as well as a buddy, partner, and a creative individual who does “fun stuff?” There are so many ways to do this, but you should first have a basic understanding of the nature of horses: how they react to situations they see as dangerous, what they look for in a leader, and some qualities horses appreciate. We would create a better relationship with our horses if we try to understand their intentions.

The horse is a simple animal. It is by nature built, bred, and brought up to survive. This means that if the horse is uncertain or feels threatened, he or she will do everything possible to leave the situation, by either leaving physically or dissociating emotionally. What dissociation means is that something traumatic has occurred, so part of the animal’s soul has left its body for a period of time. Have you ever seen a horse with a “glazed over” look, or a horse completely panic stricken? A part of his soul will have left his body because he is no longer safe, given the situation. Human examples of this may include rape, physical abuse, or a physical trauma. There is a point where a person’s life is so deeply threatened that he or she will not want to be in their body because the trauma cannot be handled. This piece of them will usually return once everything is safe, but it doesn’t always. The horse is a very sensitive animal and should not be pressured to the extent that he or she needs to leave. Since we have taken away the safety of the herd, it is our responsibility to give them the safety they need, where they can look to us for guidance. With this guidance they will return to their bodies if they trust us to keep them safe and feel respected.

Most horses are looking for a leader that will take care of them. Even though the leadership role in a herd is stressful, a horse is not willing to hand his life over to “just anyone”. The individual that assumes this responsibility needs to be someone who can take care of the herd - not to own them, but to respect their likes and dislikes, and guide them in the areas with which they have trouble coping.

The horse is so concerned about his survival that he will test a person who claims to be “boss”. In order for you to be accepted as the leader, the horse will need to trust you, your judgment, and your respect for him or her. When a horse tests you, keep in mind this is for survival purposes, no matter what he is doing. This is where you can earn a lot of respect. Your horse needs to know if you will lose your temper or give up on him. If you do not follow through consistently, he will know that HE needs to be the leader. His life depends on it!

A quality that horses respect is truthfulness. How many times have you heard “leave your problems at the gate”? When you leave your problems at the gate, other people may not know about it, but your horse, who is very sensitive, knows you are hiding something. He or she will not know what to expect and may not trust you. They will respect you more if you show or tell them what you are feeling inside, and they might even want to help you work through your problems. Keep in mind that some emotions are threatening to a horse, such as anger or uncertainty. It will help you a great deal if you pay attention to how your horse deals with your emotions.

Horses try to escape pressure, and learn from the release of pressure. This comes with their survival skills and can be used for training. In order to communicate, one way is to put pressure on the horse - whether it is a mare shaking her head, a leg or rein cue, or guidance from a halter or a dressage whip - and when the horse moves in the right direction, the pressure is taken off. The quicker the release, the faster the horse will learn, therefore be aware of what you are training your horse to do. It is something anyone can do. Here’s the only trick. A person needs to feel, with his heart, what the horse needs in regard to guidance, fun, and creativity. New skills and a nice ride (enjoyed by both the human and the horse) can come from “play time” instead of from a "schooling session".

Offer them your heart and with it, tell them of your spirit, your dreams, and what you want from the relationship, and they will tell you what they want if you are listening quietly. Horses are meant to live as equals with humans, as they are another spirit journeying in a world we all get to share. We need to take the time to truly convince them that we too can “play” with trust, respect, and fun. On this two-way street of respect, we can form the most amazing relationships ever dreamed possible.

If you are interested in learning more, or want to visit our retreat, visit us online at:

Stevi Weissbach
RR 1 Site 5 Comp 10,
Princeton BC, Canada , V0X-1W0
(250) 295-0569


About the author:

Stevi Weissbach has worked with many horses, philosophies, and dynamic instructors. She has found that horses respond best when their behaviours are seen as a potential for growth, respect and trust. Stevi uses natural horsemanship techniques for teaching horses. She also uses a more spiritual and energy based approach to connect with animals to find a common ground to work with them.