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Category: Positive Training

A Simple Framework That Explains Your Horse Behavior

Discover why your horse does or doesn't do something to understand horse behavior.

Your horse's behavior might seem complicated at times and understanding what causes different behaviors can leave you scratching your head asking "why?". 

But, in horse training, it's important to understand how your horse's behavior works, how they learn a new behavior and whether or not a certain behavior will be repeated in the future. 

Discovering how to motivate your horse to want to participate with you and be willing to perform the different behaviors and skills that we do want to work on in a training setting. 

It boils down to asking these 2 questions:


Is my horse working towards something that she wants or desires? 


Is my horse working to avoid something that she doesn't want? 

With those answers in mind, what I encourage you to understand is that your work with your horses is not just about training behaviors. 

It’s also about the mindset of the trainer, the perspective and emotions you bring to the training. 

And stepping into that role comes with great responsibility…

Because we have the tremendous ability to influence the emotional state and outcome, experienced by the horse being trained.

Your body language and emotions change how the horse behaves

Your body language, emotions, energy and perspective have the power to change how the horse behaves

A simple framework to help you answer why your horse does something

I’ve called it the C-B-O framework Cue - Behavior - Outcome. 


  • A cue is the stepping stone of communication with your horse. 

  • Cues explain to your horse which behaviors you want, when and where

  • This is you “asking” for a behavior that you want

  • A key thing to keep in mind is that cues trigger an emotional response in the horse

  • These cues can be places, objects, sounds, smells, certain situations and other beings like you, me, your dog or the peacock that lives next door.


  • The behavior that we see after the cue is given

  • This is often what we are wanting the horse to “do” or "not do"

  • For example: backing up, standing at the gate, pawing, standing at the block


  • The outcome is what happens directly after the behavior

  • Also know as the "consequence"

  • This is either a “feels good” or “feels bad” experience 

  • That produced either something she wanted or something she didn’t want as the “result of” her behavior

  • Outcome/Consequences can be either reinforcement or punishment

But first it’s important to realize how emotions drive your horse’s behavior and why training from this perspective, changes everything. 

Emotion plays a key role in why a horse does or doesn’t do something.

The brain is continuously learning to help the horse survive and thrive. 

So, the brain is guiding the horse to become really good at paying attention to all the cues (stimulus) and signals around them. 

This is giving the brain information as to how it should behave.  

What's key here is this:

The brain is working to predict the emotional feeling and result this cue will have towards the horse. 

Simply put, the brain is trying to answer:  will this cue lead to good feelings or bad feelings?

Ultimately trying to determine; will this help me survive or might it harm me?

Something I want to feel again OR something I’ll make sure to avoid in the future

This is Emotional Learning at the heart of it.

Each time the horse hears, sees, or experiences a certain cue, the brain has learned to predict a linked feeling of a reward (something she wants) or a punishment (something she does not want) 

The more and more the horse experiences this cue, each and every time the behavior is repeated in association to the cue... and the outcome has the same emotional experience linked to it...the stronger the pathway becomes in the brain.

This neural-pathway will become automatic over time.

This is learning. 

Why a horse wont go into a trailer, explaining horses how wont load into a trailer

A great example of this is a horse who works extremely hard to avoid getting into the trailer. Likely, in the past the brain has learned and linked, the behavior of getting in the trailer will result in a “feels bad” emotional experience and the outcome was it’s on the ‘do not do list’. The horse’s motivation is simple, avoid the unpleasant, fearful, even possibly painful outcome that they’ve associated with the behavior of getting into the trailer. 

Now to circle back and bring this all together...

If you are trying to answer why your horse does or doesn’t do something... 

Whether it’s something you do want to see or an unwanted behavior you’d like to eliminate…

Your steps are to break down that specific C-B-O Sequence:


Identify the cue that triggers it all


Define the specific, single behavior 


Determine the outcome from the horse's point of view

Here is where you’ll be able to identify exactly, what is the underlining motivation for that behavior...

Because the horses behavior is driven by either:

Looking for a reward - activating the “feels good” regions in the brain


Avoiding punishers or discomforts to minimize negative impact and activation of the “feels bad” regions of the brain.

Whew! I know that’s a little intense.. But it’s so powerful

The more you can understand how a behavior works, where it originates in the horse and what the horse feels in response...and the more you can help your horse understand what you’d like them to do. 

And the more you can actually understand yourself too, and how you can become an amazing part to this partnership.

Downlowd Everyone's Fave Guide!

"My Top 5 - 5 min. Exercises to Strengthen the Bond With Your Horse"

Discover my top 5 exercises to begin strenghtening the bond with your horse. Short on time? No problem! These only take a few minutes each time, so fit them in as you can. They are straight forward, and effective strategies you can take TODAY to begin improving the bond you have with your horse. 

The Secret to Building (& Keeping) Progress With Your Horse

In 2016 I worked with horses in a very clear pattern of start-stop – start-stop (oh hey, confused horse.) I had no clear progress towards my horse specific training goals.

It all balanced out in the end (with plenty of great lessons), but it was exhausting and a bit too hype-y for my taste.

While free-lunging my mare Tilly the other day I had a *mega* Ah-Ha moment that helped me understand what I was doing all those years ago – helping me see why it is SO important to just slow down and keep movin’.

Basically, slow it way on down and get my turtle race on. Leaving the hare in the dust.

Spoiler Alert: run the turtle race because that guy wins!

If you’ve had a hard time keeping steady with your horse lately, you’re gonna like this one.

In this blog, you’ll learn:

  • How achieving the goals with your horse is like being a loose horse in the arena- fresh out of the stall
  • What I did to get my productive mojo back after numerous “stops” along the way
  • How to come to terms with your own seasons of life (without losing progress with your horse)
  • That our horses always look the happiest when they are able to be free and buck as they please

Click below to watch (or take a listen):

To Unsaddle this lesson:

There’s no denying it: Progress feels GOOD. Momentum feels GOOD

When we don’t take steps forward toward something we want- we deflate.

We feel directionless and disoriented because we ARE directionless.

When we pause and remind ourselves where we’re headed (i.e. look forward!), it’s SO much easier to keep moving forward.

If you’ve lost your momentum ( & that progress-productive feelin’), on your horse training goals…

Here’s how to get back in the saddle and on the track runnin’

  1. Choose ONE task you’d like to complete (or one goal you’d like to meet) in the next week (or month)
  2. Break that DOWN into teeny-bite-sized action items (steps). We’re talkin’ tiny steps, like little ears on a baby mini tiny!
  3. Commit to doing at least ONE of those items/steps the next time you see your horse. (And have the list ready of next steps in case you’re on a roll.)

Example: In the video above, I share how hard it was (mentally, physically and spiritually) to get back into a productive mojo with my horses after taking so much time away. I challenged myself to spend time with each horse every day for 10 days. I didn’t start with tacking up and riding. Literally- day one all I did was walk into the space of each horse, said “Hi”, and offered some scratches. BOOM.

Get the point here, friend?

THIS is being the turtle. And the turtle WINS.

Stick your head out of the shell.

Start. Walk, run (or trot!) your race.

Stay focused. You’ve got this.

Your Barn-Homework

I’d love for you to share:

1. What is ONE totally achievable tiny-step you will take next with your horse to start (or keep) building progress & momentum?



Here’s to productive turtles.