The Art of Learning

I love learning. I find it endlessly fascinating to find out about things that interest me and to read and to share what I have learnt with others. I like the whole process and that moment when things click into place. But that moment can sometimes come from an unexpected source. Sometimes the best things that I have learnt are ideas or ways of being that I can transfer across from one to scenario to another. So I use tips for how to deal with a toddler on my puppy, and tips for how to house train my puppy on my husband…

I was reflecting the other day on the conversation that always occurs around Monty Roberts. People will always say; my horse won’t … but on being asked if they thought it would do it for Monty, the answer was usually “yes.” This is the training aspect of Understanding Horse Performance; Brain, Pain, or Training that we refer to, and one of the questions that we ask is “will your horse do what is asked if someone else asks him?” This is not saying that you are bad, or not good, just that you might not have progressed as far in your learning as another individual. If the answer to this is yes, then it is simply a case of training yourself, before you train the horse.

I saw this scenario beautifully illustrated in a dog training class the other day. A lady with a collie said she couldn’t groom her dog, it wouldn’t let her. She handed the dog over to the trainer. 30 seconds later I turned back to see the dog sitting patiently while the dog trainer groomed it. It was a classic “Monty Moment”. It was such a clear example of how we get ourselves in a muddle. She was convinced she couldn’t do it, so therefore the dog couldn’t do it. Once the professional had shown the dog what was required, he could then train the owner to do it. Once she had seen him do it, she knew she could do it.

So remember to ask for help, and take every opportunity to learn something from someone else.

Is the weather driving you mad?

We wait all winter for the summer, plodding through muddy fields, dragging wet rugs off horses, cursing the short day length which renders it impossible to get anything done. All winter we look forward to the summer and its endless hazy, sunny days where we are going to be able to spend hours playing with our horses under a gently glowing sun…

Then summer arrives, and after lulling us into a false sense of security, we are inundated with torrential rain, turning the entire countryside into something resembling soup. It is rubbish!

However, short of saving the planet, reducing the effects of our consumerist society and slowing climate change (but that is another story!), there is little we can do about the weather. The first thing to do is to accept it. Yes it is raining again, but being cross isn’t going to help. Yes, it would be lovely if the sun was out – but it isn’t.

Next make a flexible plan. You probably only have a few hours in your day where you could ride, so you can’t ride around the weather, but you can decide what you are going to do if it too wet to ride. You could sit inside, eat biscuits and mope, or you could spend some time with your horse inside. Why not give him a massage, (take a look at our book and DVD set Horse Massage for Horse Owners to get you started!), do some stretching exercises with him (Activate Your Horse’s Core has brilliant exercises in it!) or simply a really good groom?

You could maybe consider hiring an indoor school (share with a friend to keep the cost down) if you are too frustrated, or simply go riding – remember there is no such thing as bad weather, simply bad clothing!

Whatever you decide to do – enjoy it!

My all time favorite books on dressage

By guest blogger Stephen Forbes of Solo Equine

I’ve compiled a list of my all time favorite books on Dressage. All of these books have had an influence on my approach to training Dressage horses.

1) The Complete Training Of Horse And Rider by Alois Podhajsky

This was one of the first books I ever read that was about Dressage. To this day I still recommend this book to anyone wanting to learn the fundamentals of Dressage training theory. It covers all of the essentials in an easy to understand format.

2) Reflections on Equestrian Art by Nuno Oliveira

This is a super simple and fun to read book. It introduced me to Nuno Oliveira, and subsequently a 3 month trip to Portugal to study the Portuguese system of riding. Nuno’s deep love of horses and his devotion to the art of training for the pure beauty of it has always been an inspiration to me.

3) Riding Towards The Light by Paul Belasik

Paul Belasik takes storytelling to a whole new level when it comes to Dressage. His passion to learn and share this knowledge in the way humans were designed to learn, through engaging stories, is second to none. Often as much philosophical as it is a training guide, this book will sit well with the thinking rider.

4) Gymnasium Of The Horse by Gustav Steinbrecht

I don’t believe there is a more thorough book on the technical aspect of Dressage training than this one. The chapter on Shoulder-In itself took me a few days to get through. While dry, this book digs deep into the details that make Dressage what it is.

5) Misconceptions and Simple Truths In Dressage by H.L.M. Van Schaik

This is another fun book to read which covered some cool things I hadn’t heard of before. An example of this would be how some old classical masters taught a 2 beat walk before teaching piaffe. Some interesting stuff!

6) Academic Equitation by General Decarpentry

This book was written by a member of the Cadre Noire who eventually wrote the first FEI rulebook on Dressage. I found this book super fascinating as its the first book written on Dressage from a “Classical Dressage” trainer with a passion for sport. There are some really cool insights from his observations of watching the Olympic Dressage competitions of the early 1900’s.

7) Art Of Horsemanship by Xenophon

This book blew me away as it was written in 400 BC. Xenophon describes training horses in much the same way we approach training nowadays. So many principles he discusses are still relevant, which shows the deep understanding Xenophon had of this art. Impressive.

8) Breaking And Riding by James Fillis

For those of you interested in the French school of training, this is a fascinating book. Fillis studied the methods of Francois Baucher but I find Fillis’ books much easier to understand than those I have read that Baucher wrote.

9) Lyons On Horses by John Lyons

While this book isn’t dedicated to the sport of Dressage, this book made me think about my approach to training horses probably more than any other book. It delves deep into the nature of horse psychology and helped me understand why horses react the way they do.

10) The Nature of Horses by Stephen Budiansky

This book helped me understand horses from a more scientific perspective, again which helped me clarify some of my approaches to training. Some cool studies are discussed in this book which gives lots of food for thought!

So if you are looking for some summer reading, you won’t be disappointed in any of the above books!

Happy Reading!

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What is it with women and horses?

By guest blogger Sue Palmer

Over the years I’ve met many incredible horse men and women, and I’ve been very lucky to build a great network of people I can turn to for advice on a wide variety of equestrian subjects.  We don’t all need to ‘follow’ the same people, and this blog is about being open minded to many different approaches to horsemanship, as long as those involved are, as I aim to be, doing their best and actively engaged in ongoing learning.

One of my favourites is friend and mentor Kelly Marks of Intelligent Horsemanship.  I’m jealous of Kelly’s insight in choosing the name ‘Intelligent Horsemanship’, as to me this says it all! Kelly has an apparently insatiable appetite for reading and learning, and embraces the emergence of science into horsemanship. The Intelligent Horsemanship magazine is always a great read and I highly recommend it. This quarter’s edition includes:

What is it with women and horses?
Dr David Marlin:  ‘Roadwork’ – Get the FACTS
Intelligent Horsemanship Debate – What comes out best – Man or Machine?
Lameness – Are we looking at it all wrong?
IH Training – The Angel is in the detail.
IH Training – Bonding with your new horse
Monty’s Spring 2018 tour report
The totally INSPIRATIONAL Tim Stockdate Big Interview
PLUS all the usuals AND
Do you know someone who could be our IH Young Equestrain Photographer of the Year?!
For details of IH Membership and entry to the competition go to

Phone sensor predicts when Thoroughbreds will go lame

By guest blogger, Sue Palmer

I couldn’t help it, the title of the article caught my eye!

I don’t have full access to this article, which was published in 2010, but the basic premise is that attaching accelerometers to a horses neck could provide early warning of lameness.  I’d add that learning to listen to the horse more carefully, understand his behaviours, and become more aware of the feel of his movement, would all help.  Although the title could be taken as a bit of a joke, I do actually believe that using technology where it is useful is an excellent idea, and the reality is that if technology could provide early warning of lameness (i.e. if it could predict when a horse was just a little bit lame, rather than waiting until it’s hopping lame), then further more serious injury could in many cases be prevented.  It’s all very well to suggest that we listen to our horse, get to know him better, etc.  But as the saying goes, ‘common sense isn’t all that common’, and there’s a huge pressure to somehow develop ‘common sense’ around horses within a short time of owning your own, which in my mind is impossible unless you have been around horses for many years beforehand.  It’s impossible to know what ‘normal’ is if you only get to see / feel your own horse, or perhaps yours and a couple of friend’s horses, and that’s why it’s important to gather a team of experts (vet, physio, farrier, equine dental technician, saddler, nutritionist) around your horse to advise you.  When I was 32yrs old I studied for my Masters in Veterinary Physiotherapy at the Royal Veterinary College.  I had been riding since I was 3yrs old, working with horses since I was 12yrs old, and competing all my life.  And yet I still struggled to ‘see’ the asymmetries (sub clinical lamenesses) that others could apparently see.  I’ve developed this skill over the years watching literally thousands of horses move.  And even now I find it easier to trust my findings from ‘feel’ than from vision.  So actually I’m a great believer in the technology that has been and is being developed around measuring lameness in horses.  As a great friend once said, ‘If I can make it easier or better for my horse by ‘cheating’, then why wouldn’t I cheat?!’.


Many vets now have technology that helps them to assess lameness in the horse, and if you’re interested in applying the techniques to your own horse, why not give your local vets a call and ask them about it?

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Getting started

By guest blogger Sue Palmer

Recently I received an email from a lovely lady asking for help with her horse.  She bought him just a month ago, and everything was going great, but over the past week he’s misbehaving in his ridden work.  The lady suffers from anxiety, and she’s really worried that she’s going to ruin her lovely pony.  I reassured her that actually, it’s very difficult to do that.


There’s so much advice on the internet and on the yard that it can be difficult to decide who or what to listen to.  Science says one thing, the book you just read says another, your coach says something different, and the person who owns the horse in the next stable says another thing altogether.  Where do you start?  One suggestion is to start by avoiding analysis paralysis 🙂  If you’re like me, you’ll know someone who has literally given up and sold or retired their horse because they just don’t know what to do.


Analysis paralysis or paralysis by analysis is the state of over-analyzing (or over-thinking) a situation so that a decision or action is never taken, in effect paralyzing the outcome.” Wikipedia July 2018


Here are a couple of articles, if you like reading around a subject (one of my favourite things to do!), please note I have no links with any of these sites and am not specifically recommending them, I just picked them from a google search:


Sometimes I find the best thing is just to get going.  Feel the fear and do it anyway.  But when it comes to my horses (or my child, or my work, for that matter), I often feel as though I’ve only got one chance, and I’ve got to get it right.  It seems like ‘right now’ is the only time this opportunity will ever come up, or if I don’t make the correct decision ‘this time’, then it’ll be a downwards spiral from then on.  This feeling is rarely accurate, and looking back, it seems that we usually have a second and third shot at things if needed.  If it takes so long to train a horse to do something we do want him to do, why do we think he will learn something we don’t want him to do so quickly?!


My latest project is to familiarise myself with the science that already exists on pain related performance and behaviour in horses, and to share that knowledge with you as I learn through my blog at I struggle with always being able to see ‘both sides of the fence’, and having some science to support a decision definitely helps me. The science I’ll be sharing is from peer reviewed published papers, but I’ll also be sharing anecdotal evidence through blogs and case studies. I’d love for you to come on over to the site and take a look, plus of course feel free to share if you know others who might be interested 🙂

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Sue’s Standpoint

Guest blogger Sue Palmer talks about her new Patreon project.

Click here to find Sue on Patreon

Do you want to make a difference to horses throughout the world? Would you like to help owners and riders who are struggling? No horse wakes up in the morning and thinks “Today I’m going to be naughty. Today I’m going to be deliberately difficult.” What we see as ‘problem behaviour’ is the horse’s way of asking for help. I’d like to lead a conversation around pain in horses, and to search for the proof that pain affects performance. 


If you’re struggling to understand how pain affects our horses, how to explain this to others, or even how to persuade people that pain does affect horses, then I’m with you, and there are many others in the same boat. There’s a saying that ‘many roads lead to Rome’, and no matter which road you’re taking towards improving the welfare of the horse, you can be part of this conversation. I want to harness the power of numbers to raise awareness, in a way that no one individual can do on their own, of the fact that horses can only communicate pain or discomfort through their behaviour or performance, and that as owners, we can learn to recognise pain, and to find the right help for our horses. 


There are sore horses in every walk of life, from happy hacker to Olympic eventer, and their language is the same, no matter what their ‘job’ is. Every horse owner I’ve every met wants the best for their horse, whether that’s to enhance his life as a ‘field ornament’, or to compete successfully in 160km endurance rides. I have chosen Patreon to begin this discussion because I want a safe place to be myself, to share my thoughts, and to learn from others. Social media is no longer a safe place to do this as openly as I would like to, and my thinking is that because you choose to sign up to this page, we are all coming from the same place of wanting to share our knowledge and experience for the good of the horse. I’m not sure where this conversation will go, what it will lead to, but as the saying goes, ‘a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step’.


In 1986, Zimmerman described pain in animals as “an aversive sensory experience caused by actual or potential injury that elicits protective motor and vegetative reactions, results in learned avoidance and may modify species-specific behaviour, including social behaviour.” It is clear to me, and to many others, that horses modify their behaviour (and their performance) in response to pain. Yet on a day to day basis working as an ACPAT and RAMP registered Chartered Physiotherapist, I see examples of this behaviour modification being ignored or misunderstood, and this pains me. My other qualifications as a BHSAI (Stage 3 Coach In Complete Horsemanship) and Equine Behavioural Consultant (Intelligent Horsemanship Recommended Trainer) mean I’m ideally qualified to drive this discussion, and my passion for the subject brings me here.


I have a dream that one day a sore horse’s plea for help will be listened to, understood, and acted upon. 


I have a dream that one day, people will ask the right questions and search for the right answers, rather than try to extinguish a behaviour with force or violence.


I have a dream that one day, horse and rider will work together in harmony to overcome difficulties, rather than fighting each other.


I am lucky enough to be surrounded by a network of people who share these dreams, and have similar dreams of their own. The seeds of change have been planted, and they are growing throughout the world. To continue to grow, these seeds need ongoing care and attention. For these dreams to become reality, our horses need you and I to play an active part in the revolution. We must share our passion, our knowledge, our ideas and our experiences, for the love of the horse.

I see sore horses every day, and am extremely priveleged to be in a position to help them directly, but to reach more horses I need your help. That is why I have set up this page, in the belief that our shared compassion can create a better world for the horse. To lead change, you need to be the change, and our horses are reliant on us to step up to the challenge.


Above is the information on the opening page of my new project,  Sign up from just $1 per month to learn while I learn, as I share my knowledge on the research exclusively with my Patrons.


P.s. Please note that the amount is in American dollars because this is an American site.  I picked an American site because there isn’t the equivalent English site yet.  There are no extra bank charges for converting to English pounds, but the amount you pay will vary slightly each month depending on the exchange rate.  For example, if you pledge $1 per month, you will pay 76p this month, but next month it might be 74p or 78p.  Payment comes out on the 1st of each month.  I know this partly because it’s what Patreon say, and partly because I am already a Patron of The Horse’s Back, so I see my payment of $5 go out of PayPal on the 1st of each month.  I have given this information in response to initial concerns from a couple of people, please contact me directly if you have any other concerns.  Thanks 🙂


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Why we so desperately need “brain, pain or training” taught everywhere

By Lizzie Hopkinson


This a quote from a public post on Facebook:
“No it just rears bigger I don’t need any natural stuff bloody thing needs to be told.”
By “natural stuff” I’m assuming the writer means: thought, respect, intelligence, problem solving…the qualities that most people value, which most people aspire to. “Brain, Pain, or Training?” was conceived out of comments such as this. Years of listening to people discussing how they had beaten their horse and then discovered it was in pain, its saddle didn’t fit, it was in foal, the reasons went on, but force or violence had often been used somewhere down the line.
I am reminded of the policing of Gene Hunt in the hit shows “Ashes to Ashes” and “Life of Mars”. This was standard fare in the 70s and 80s, beat up your suspects first and question them later. This was also the era of sexual harassment in the workplace being commonplace and acceptable. This is an era which now seems so outdated it belongs to a different world, and not one that we want to return to.
Whenever I stumble across comments such as this, I am so saddened that in our enlightened times, in an age when the access of knowledge is merely a click of a button away, people still fall into re-acting with violence, rather than considering with thought.
Take a moment and ask yourself – is this behaviour abnormal? Has something changed? Is it in pain?
Personally I will advocate the “natural stuff” every day over spurs, whips, ignorance and violence.
Please share this and help improve the welfare of horses everywhere, one horse at a time.

Why massage is so good?

By Lizzie Hopkinson

We all know that massage is good for us, and for our horses too. We enjoy it, we feel looser, more relaxed, more supple afterwards. In a perfect world many of us would love to have a massage every day. But while we probably can’t manage to achieve that, we can try and give our horses a basic, simple and quick massage everyday. It is possible to build a period of massage into your horse time without too much effort.

In the olden days, grooms used to spend hours strapping their horses. This time they spent was amazingly beneficial for the horses. The grooms would know every inch of their horses and be attuned to any changes long before that change might have translated into a problem. In our fast paced modern life that is simply outside the realms of most peoples’ lives, however using a few simple massage techniques can give us, and our horses, some of the benefits of hours of strapping without the time expenditure.

Regular massage prevents the build-up of tension in the muscles, encouraging the muscles to relax. This means that over time the horse has less chance of becoming tighter on one side than the other, which can lead to asymmetry and in the long term can lead to further problems.

Just as massage has a beneficial effect on our mental state, so to do our horses find massage relaxing. Watch a horse being massaged and you will see in the movement of the muzzle and the ears that horses find massage deeply relaxing. Just like us, horses will find themselves more resilient in the face of stress if they are starting from a point of relaxation not stress.

Massage is surprisingly easy to learn to do, why not take a look at our “Horse Massage for Horse Owners” bundle deal to get you started?

And finally, massage is a lovely way to spend time bonding with your horse.