What level of understanding does your horse have?When training horses I am always observing their level of maturity. Sometimes this is measured by the number of correct responses that they have to training situations but other times it is measured by their general demeanor. Horses, like people, mentally mature at different rates. It is tempting to measure a horses maturity by ‘testing’ their knowledge of physical cues and knowledge of physical cues is one level of maturity.

Take for example the horse in this photo. She is making one of my favorite mistakes. I say ‘mistake’ because in reality she is taking the cue very literally and she is not reading the rest of the situation. I am standing on her left side but I have the line attached to the right side of the bit. I have been asking her to do inside turns on the lunge line but I have left the line attached to only the right side of the bit. I am testing her maturity level.

At this point I have asked for inside turns, left, right, left, right, around twenty times. About eighty percent of the time she gets the answer correct and does inside turns because most of the cues are coming from my body position. When she is focused on my body she is able to determine that, although the rein is attached to the right side of the bit, the pressure can mean more than literally ‘turn right’. When she is distracted she makes the mistake of regressing to a lower level of training, as she is doing in this photo, and she tries to turn right.

Eventually with practice she will be able to ‘read between the lines’ and make consistently mature decisions. Decisions that are based on more that the literal translation of ‘pressure on the right side means turn right’ which is a good thing….because neck reining and many other advanced maneuvers require a higher level of maturity and an ability to ‘read between the lines.’