You are here: Home Blog "You need to be a better leader for your horse"

"You need to be a better leader for your horse"

Do you need to be a better leader for your horse?

What does that mean exactly? "Be a better leader"?


Does it mean be better at upping the pressure at the right moment (and releasing at the right time) to be effective? 

That’s simple enough - just be firm when you need to be, right? Earn your horse's respect. Be a good Alpha/boss for your horse.

So, if it’s that simple, why is it not easier? Why can it feel like a perpetual grey cloud looming over you, or have you feeling down or (even) naggingly afraid you’ll never be good enough for your horse, or worse, that he doesn’t like or respect or trust (pick your poison) you?  Despite trying and trying and trying to up your skill and putting heart and soul into it. 

This feeling is so prolific among the horse-owners I meet, I named it the Ugh Factor. I like to name things that need to be undermined because it has a funny way of disarming their hold.

I mean... what happened? Wasn’t having an equine partner supposed to be FUN? I'm fairly sure, in my experience at least, the Ugh Factor does not qualify as fun.

Banishing the Ugh Factor

So what's the antidote?

Let’s dig a little deeper… are any of these true for you?

  • Do you “choke” a bit or feel hesitant at the notion of getting increasingly firm to achieve a result?
  • Do you get the feeling it sort of puts a wedge in the connection you keep hoping you can have?
  • Do you know from the feel of your horse that he/she resents you presenting yourself in that manner, or perhaps seems concerned, or gets a bit belligerent?
  • Do you tell yourself - or does someone tell you - your horse is “fine” or that he has to respect you, but deep down you know neither is true?

Or to put it another way…

Are you - by any chance - not a natural when it comes to being “Alpha” or “boss”? Is that a role you fully anticipated you’d have to Ace when you got into horses…? 

I’m guessing probably not.

The thing is, If you are seeking to be a certain kind of leader for your horse that isn’t really "you", your horse knows it. He's a master at sensing incongruence between what we present and what is on the inside.

The good news is, the meaning usually intended by that often heard advice “be a better leader” may not be exactly accurate. 

To Be or Not to Be “Alpha”

I'll go out on a limb and suggest that if this is resonating, you're most likely not a great “Alpha” because your level of conscious (or unconscious) awareness is drawing you beyond that role.

If you're finding "being a better leader" a challenge in your horsemanship, your doubts about this may be fuelled by what can feel like your horse's "low" opinion of you. And yet, it's more likely your horse has a higher opinion of you than you think and actually just wants you to Be You.

And get out of your own way, as it were.  

"When you doubt, your horse doubts with you" a mentor of mine accurately said. But in reality it goes further than that - when we doubt, we fuel our actions with doubt and play smaller than our potential, whatever the context.

So hold on to your hat!

More than likely your horse is waiting for the very thing you may be fearing he/she doesn’t want - more of you, more of your truth. Not so much that “Alpha act". 

And that's ok, because you don't have to be "Alpha" afterall.

I would say this has been Chase's biggest (and continuing) lesson for me so far.

Being a better leader boils down to offering a clear feel - but clarity can be offered in different ways. 

What kind of leader are you?


A raised awareness inspires a shift in Horsemanship -- coming soon in next blog.

Mark Rashid


"I see an 'opening' as anything that allows us to help guide, however briefly, an individual in the direction we ultimately would like to go. An 'opening' can be, and often is, a very subtle form of communication between horse and rider that can easily slip past us if we're not paying attention. 'Openings' can and do work both ways. [...] It amazes me just how small an 'opening' can actually be, whether working with horses or with people, and how easy it can be to create an 'opening' when one is needed."

Mark Rashid

"I truly believe developing the ability to see and use 'openings' effectively is only one piece of what one might refer to as the 'harmony in horsemanship' puzzle. When this idea of understanding 'openings' is brought together with the understanding of two other simlar ideas - making a connection with another indvidual, and the role distance plays in overall communication - I believe it is then that harmony in horsemanship becomes a much less daunting concept for us."

Mark Rashid

Leslie Desmond


"Bill knew about a place I did not know existed, or could exist, between a horse and a human being [...] Bill included each one of my horses in that information exchange. Over the course of many months,... he took each one by its lead rope and, later, by the bridle reins. Using what he called his 'better feel', Bill showed me and each of them exactly what he meant by what he did [...] It was not long after I made the switch from force when needed (often) to always customizing the feel I offered to a horse, that two tough horses I had misunderstood for years developed into my most reliable mounts."

Leslie Desmond

The lightest hands carry intent that is recognized instantly by the horse, as seen in the maneuvers he chooses to make with his feet. Whether that horse is ridden or handled, the lightest hands can purposefully influence the speed, direction and sequence of each foot with accuracy, in a manner that is reflected in the horse's body and on his face.

Leslie Desmond

Bill Dorrance


"The Real Masters Understood Feel [...] For example, De Kerbrech, (French officer in the cavalry of Napoleon III) really understood horses. He had it fixed up so the horse could succeed. [...] The first time I read Beudant's book was in the 1950s. The way he explained things, there was no doubt in my mind about what a person needed to do to get these little things working for them and their horse."

Bill Dorrance

“Feel, timing and balance: sometimes it’s best to talk about feel, timing and balance separately, and to learn how to apply each thing separately on the start. But when you apply these three things a little later in your training, then you see that each one of these things supports the other. They are interconnected and all three are real important. You really can’t get along without all three.”

Bill Dorrance

Faverot de Kerbrech


“ le deplacement du poids est facile dans tous les sens, plus l'equilibre est parfait. En vertue de ce principe, on dit que le cheval est 'en equilibre' quand de simples indications suffisent au cavalier pour modifier a son gre la disposition du poids sur ses colonnes de soutien”

Faverot de Kerbrech

[Translation: ...the easier it is to shift the weight in any direction, the more perfect the balance. By virtue of this principle, the horse is 'in balance' when a simple indication from the rider is sufficient to modify the distribution of weight across the columns of support (four quarters) accordingly]

Duke of Newcastle


"You must in all Airs follow the strength, spirit, and disposition of the horse, and do nothing against nature; for art is but to set nature in order, and nothing else."

William Cavendish, Duke of Newcastle

"A confrontational approach ‘Astonishes the Weak Horse […] makes a Furious horse Madd; makes a Resty Horse more Resty […] and Displeases all sorts of Horses’. The alternative however is not ‘to Sit Weak […] but to Sit Easie’, in the understanding that ‘The Horse must know you are his Master’"

William Cavendish, Duke of Newcastle