Over the years as I have progressed as both a person and a horseman, I have come to recognize
a certain process in which horses make a breakthrough. After telling a friend about this process
that had been swirling around in my brain, he had told me it’s no different than the way that
humans process a breakthrough. He explained that the two were congruent, and after we had
talked further, I came to understand that the only real difference between the two processes
is the time required to make a change. When I say “breakthrough,” I am talking about the
way we adjust to change, whether that be personally (physically, mentally, emotionally) or
When a behavioral modification is introduced to humans or horses, the natural reaction of the
subject is to resist the change as a way of rejecting the new behavior. There is an initial spike in
resistance in the form of the old behavior, at which point the behavioral modification must be
firmly reinforced with a physical pressure. If a person were to misread this spike in resistance
and allow his pressure to lapse, he would only encourage the old, undesirable behavior. After this
spike in resistance, one must maintain a consistent level of reinforcement that will allow the new
behavior to take place and subsequently solidify into a permanent behavior that can be modified
in the future. As the new behavior starts to be exhibited, the pressure can slowly decrease as a
reward for the correct behavior and as an incentive for the behavior to continue. Most behavioral
modifications fail due to an inability to effectively counter this rise of resistance, so it is crucial
to stand steady until you see the light on the other side of the tunnel.
I think we all know how humans respond to behavioral modification, but I will try to clarify
a few things on how a horse proceeds to go through the different phases. Horses may show
resistance through either of the two key survival tactics that have allowed them to survive as a
species: fight or flight. Depending the age or past experiences of the horse, fight or flight may
manifest in countless forms of resistance. A young horse without any human contact will be
very flighty, trying to survive the weird ways of the human species and live to see another day.
In a situation where a horse had been previously mistreated by humans, it may turn to its fight
instinct, meaning that it will try to resist the human’s pressure by whatever means necessary.
This phase would be considered the spike, to where the horse is resisting the change by whatever
means known to them. No matter how the horse exhibits resistance, if the rider lessens his
pressure, the bad behavior would only become further engrained in the horse making it even
harder to get a breakthrough the next attempt.
After the struggle of the spike, a horse will start to search for a different answer to the rider’s
question that will relieve the pressure. During this phase of the process, the horse needs to be
subjected to steady pressure allowing it to experiment until the answer becomes clear. After it
discovers the correct movement, the horse will proceed to solidify it into a permanent behavior
that can continue to be modified by the rider in the future. If a person were to misread this phase
and stop, they would have only accomplished confusing the horse.
The final phase of the process is the gradual diminishing of pressure as a reward for the correct
behavior. By this point the horse should be solely working off of feel, and there should no longer
be a need for physical pressure.
After comparing the two creatures (horse and human,) I have come to believe a horse can make a
complete turnaround in minutes where humans take years to make a change if they ever even do.
I personally think about the daily opportunities that arise in my life and try to proceed forward
through change as a horse would. And if you have ever heard someone call a horse stupid, you
should probably tell them to think twice about that one. I feel we could all learn so much more
with a mind that is open to change and to learning from others, whether human, non human,
dead, or alive. Everything that happens is just another opportunity to progress or challenge
ourselves, but it all depends on how you look at those specific moments that determines who you
are going to become.