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Do you Ask or Tell?

Don Jessop

Understanding mastery horsemanship.

Take a deep breath with me, this is a big topic, but rest assured, I won't cover all of it all at once. In fact, I'm just going to highlight one particular element of true mastery horsemanship.

I want to talk about cues or commands that we give our horses. Specifically, how in training, we shouldn't always cue them. Instead, we should present options and allow the horse to choose. When the right option becomes apparent to the horse they will find our rewards.

Let me make it simple. Most people tell their horse to get in the trailer or pick up the canter or follow them at liberty. Don't always do that. There are special instances, especially in early training, where commands are too abrupt for the horse and they will lose trust and confidence, or worse, resent you for not giving any options.

One of the grand ideas of mastery is not to tell the horse to do something, but instead, ask if they "want" to do something. By presenting two options, the horse learns to choose your ideas. Your idea becomes his idea. Here's a good example...

At liberty, loose in the arena, with no rope or halter, I can position myself to ask the horse to turn toward me, or... leave me and run around. I want him to choose. If he leaves me, I'm okay with it, because he'll just run around a bit and exhaust that option. If he turns toward me, he'll find rewards. One option is more desirable. Most people in this scenario will try to prevent their horse from leaving or deliver heavy consequences for leaving. It's better to let them learn without heavy consequences and instead, allowing time to cause them to choose something easier. All horses learn to follow me within twenty minutes or so, simply because they exhausted one option but never felt trapped or forced and found great rewards in the other option. It becomes their idea to be with me and it's pleasant and fair.

Here's another good example. Instead of telling the horse to canter while riding, try instead to set them up to either choose the canter or trot faster. If they trot faster, just slow them down, recompress the spring, so to speak, and set them up again. After a few attempts they will choose the canter. It will be their idea. It will be smooth and elegant as apposed to rushed and tense.

Presenting options doesn't work for everything, especially in emergencies, but it is a mastery horsemanship tool we use often because we want our horse to choose us, to want to be with and respond to us, to be content and relaxed in our endeavors. I hope I've inspired you to explore this idea. Tell me how you go with it. I always love your feedback.

Sincerely, ​Don Jessop

Don Jessop - Blog Welcome

Hi! I'm Don Jessop

With Mastery Horsemanship

I write to inspire, educate and encourage you on your horse and personal journey.

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Don Jessop


Don opened up a community, full of people on the same journey you are!
To share LIVE Q&A's and help people and horses transform Confidence.

Don Jessop


Don shares his  passion for writing with his passion for helping horse owners see the horse and themselves for who they truly are.

Don Jessop


Don believes every horse owner should have access to the Principles of Horsemanship and he shares them freely here.

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