Making Cues Simple by Richard Thompson


Which cues?

Getting your horse to understand cues is often confusing and frustrating for both the rider and the horse. For that matter it is also a problem whether you are training anything from fleas to elephants.

I would like to discuss a few concepts that we need to better understand.

First is our old culprit anthropomorphism. No matter how hard we try to make our dogs, cats, and horses human, they just don’t have frontal lobes developed like we do.

Many of the current trends in explaining horse behavior using information from human models regarding their personality tendency is physically impossible. Horses frontal lobes aren’t as developed as ours.

For humans the executive function of the frontal lobes involve the ability to recognize future consequences resulting from current actions, to choose between good and bad actions (or better and best), override and suppress unacceptable social responses, and determine similarities and differences between things or events. Therefore, it is involved in higher mental functions.

What we have to do is look at life through the horses’ eyes with the brain they have.

The second concept is the horse’s learning system. Right now you find Equine Behavior Professors from Australia , to cowboys from Wyoming U.S.A  agreeing that a horse learns when you stop signaling or cueing them.  In other words a horse will learn to respond by repeating what ever it was doing when the signal cue was terminated.

This places the responsibility for performance on the trainer recognizing the horse trying to do what the trainer wanted. The cowboy probably isn’t going to teach with food rewards that are so common in training a predator mentality. The release of the cue stress or pressure is the prey animal’s reward.

Thirdly we need to make sure that make cues are clearly different for the desired response.

The average person gets on a horse and pulls on the reins and kicks the horse to go forward.

Then this same average person has been taught to pull harder on the reins and kick harder with the legs to go backwards. Then somehow the poor horse figures out what the human wants and responds.

A better way is to get on the horse, look forward, move the reins forward, and if necessary apply light lower leg (calf) pressure and go forward



A better way is to get on the horse, look forward, move the reins forward, and if necessary apply light lower leg (calf) pressure and go forward.



For the backup, pick up on the reins.




Then for the backup, pick up on the reins, lean back slightly, pull gently on the reins, and squeeze with the knees (not the calfs) and go back.

lean back slightly

lean back slightly


"pull" (gently) or squeeze on the reins


and squeeze with the knees (not the calfs) and go back.


With this set of cues for forward and back, there is now no confusion because there is no resemblance between the two set of cues.




The fourth concept for clarity of cue or signal is visualization.

You see or feel your horse executing the request in your mind before it actually does it.

I believe this is the essence of natural horsemanship.

Geese fly in formation, fish swim in schools, and horses run within herds parallel to each other. The followers somehow have the vision of the destination that the leader has.

For example a rider can be looking over its right shoulder to watch for pursuit and keep the horse turning to the left. Normally the horse would move to the right in the direction that the eyes are looking.

I believe that this confusing signal demonstrates  the intuitive part of signaling a horse.  Somehow horses have an instinct behavior system, which reads our minds.

A former international professional polo player, trainer of polo ponies and an award-winning farrier, Richard Thompson now travels the world helping people to look at life through the eyes of their horse, explaining the predator versus prey psychology of the horse and how he feels humans can and must develop trust and respect in their relationships with their horses.
His DVD “Achieving Oneness” is now available from his website. (see my review of the DVD in my post from 30th September 2011)


Use the comment box on the blog itself to send me your questions about horse training. You can also write in about any problems you might be having with your horse.Either I or one of the resident expert trainers will do our best to answer your questions.
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Always wear appropriate safety items of clothing, gloves, shoes and head protection when handling or riding your horse. There is always some risk involved in horse training for both you and the horse. Be sensible and stay within your level of training. This information illustrates the training methods and techniques I and my colleagues use. It is your responsibility to use it wisely. It is not intended to replace personal instruction from a professional instructor. Keep yourself and your horse out of trouble. if you wish to learn more about these methods contact us at:
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