WRANGLING ON THE RANGE #122
FROM HORSE AND RIDER - JULY 2011
CLINTON ANDERSON'S PHILOSOPHY
UNDERSTAND YOUR PREY ANIMAL
You are a predator, your horse is a creature of prey. Here's how
to make that relationship work.
BY CLINTON ANDERSON, WITH J. FORSBERG MEYER
0NE OF THE BIGGEST MISTAKES you can make when working with your
horse is to forget to take into consideration the underlying
It's easy for us humans to forget that we're predators. We're
surrounded by other predators - our family members, friends,
co-workers, pets (dogs and cats), and so on. We get accustomed to
interacting with them and forget that when we're around our
horses, they don't think the same way we predators do.
In fact, until we teach them otherwise, our horses by their very
nature view us as a threat.
I'll explain what sets you apart from your horse, then give you
tips on how to use this information to communicate effectively to
avoid setting off his preyspecies anxieties.
Here are the key ways that you are different from your horse:
* Thinking styles. As a predator, you're a direct-line thinker -
you think and then act. If you want something, you walk straight
over and reach for it.
As a prey animal, your horse tends to act first and think later.
He's also much more hesitant and indirect in how he approaches
things, because his first concern is always his safety.
* Vision. You have eyes at the front of your head, which gives
you binocular vision and good depth perception. These abilities
help predators to locate and zero in on fast-moving prey in order
to catch them.
Your horse has eyes toward the sides of his head, which gives him
monocular vision and the ability to see all around with each eye
separately. This is useful for an animal trying to "keep an eye
out" for predators. It's why your horse can see and react to
something off to the side or behind him - things you haven't even
* Predictability. Predators are creatures of habit and rarely
change their routines. Your horse's overriding need for safety
means his behavior will be less predictable. He's dominated by a
startle response (running away from what frightens him) and a
desire to stay with his barn or herd mates (where he finds safety
* Standing ground. When threatened, a predator will fight rather
than run away from danger. A predator retreats from a dangerous
situation only when he feels he's losing the fight.
Your horse's first choice is not to fight but to flee. He stands
his ground only if he can't escape (but at that point he'll kick,
bite, strike, or do whatever he can to survive the situation).
* Motivation. Predators, including people and dogs, love to be
praised for their accomplishments. They also like to collect
material things - for example, dogs will squirrel away a bone for
Your horse's primary motivator is "safety first." Comfort, food,
and stimulation also motivate him. Unlike a predator, he doesn't
think about the future or collect things; he's too busy just
surviving right now.
* Curiosity. When a predator is engaged with something new, he
goes directly to it and wants to play with it or perhaps eat it.
Your horse also wants to investigate new or unfamiliar objects.
But rather than approaching directly as a predator would, he'll
circle the object, smell the air around it, paw the ground, and
so on. He's performing his own "safety check" - and he always has
an escape route in mind in case he needs to flee.
Now let's consider at how we can use an understanding of these
differences to communicate more effectively with our horses.
PREY VS. PREDATOR
Flight or Fight Reaction
Safety in Numbers
Motivated by Safety, Comfort, Food and Stimulation
Motivated by Praise,
Recognition, and Material Things
'SURVIVING' EACH OTHER
Working successfully with your prey animal requires both of you
to compromise a little.
First, you, the predator, must strive to act less like one
whenever you're around your horse. One of the most important ways
to do this is to avoid becoming emotional. When you get angry
with your horse, he stops understanding anything you're "saying"
and simply views you as a dangerous predator to be escaped.
Horses can't learn when they're frightened because they can't
think of anything but their fear. Keep your emotions in check,
and your horse can keep his mind on learning.
(I agree with this to a point, to the main large point. The point
being as stated "keep your emotions in check." Example: My horse
Goldie one day decided when I was leading her out of the stall
(I'd turned her around) she would not go - just stood solid -
"ain't going today" attitude. No matter what I did (telling her
to "walk girl" - trying to move her sideways and etc. She just
had in her mind "I ain't wanting to move." I had to take my crop
and give her a swift and hard smack on the rump. She then decided
to listen and was quite willing to move forward with me - Keith
Also, dilute your "predator-ness" by using "approach and retreat"
rather than a direct-line method when introducing your horse to
anything new. This means withdrawing the stimulus (say, the
clippers or the saddle blanket or the plastic bag) as soon as
your horse stops moving and shows a sign he's relaxing. (Signs
are lowering his head, licking his lips, cocking a hind leg,
taking a big breath, and/or blinking his eyes.)
That gives him a moment's respite where he feels safe. Then you
can present the stimulus again and repeat the cycle, in that way
making progress over time. The "retreats" help your horse not to
feel overwhelmed - the way a prey animal under attack does - so
that he can become desensitized to the object.
(And that is the exact way the "mounted police" train their
horses to not be afraid of anything - rioting down town, fires,
explosions, fighting, cars blowing up and on fire and etc. -
Now, what's the compromise your horse needs to make in working
around the prey/predator relationship? Learning to behave less
like a prey animal that thinks everything in the world is out to
And how does he do this? With help from you, via groundwork
exercises that move his feet, which in turn stimulates
the thinking - rather than reacting-part of his brain.
The more consistent you can be with groundwork, and the less you
act like a predator, the less your horse will behave like a prey
animal, and the more he'll become like a willing partner.
This series is adapted with permission from Clinton Anderson:
Philosophy, the book that accompanies his new "Fundamentals"
training package. For more information on educational materials,
or to learn about Clinton's clinics, appearances, training gear,
and horses for sale, go to DownunderHorsemanship.com. Catch his
"Downunder Horsemanship" program (filmed at the ranch in
Stephenville, Texas) on Fox Sports Net.
Review your groundwork know-how by searching with that word at
To be continued from time to time