‘Natural’ horsemanship…from one horse to another

Horse correcting Horse

Jac after being corrected by Popcorn, he was never even sore from it.

This is what Popcorn saying, “No” to Jac looks like.

Here is a version of a question I get all the time;

One of my friends says do NOT “strike” them for biting/kicking because a horse “doesn’t understand that.” I beg to differ, since he’s a 1200-lb animal that could put me in the hospital if he so chose…I realize timing is everything — so the “strike” has to seem as if the horse caused it/ran into it on his own. Can you give any other “pointers” on how to deal with this? Especially a kick — my first reaction is to move, of course…which is submitting.

My response: The easiest way to make the decisions quickly when biting, kicking, etc is happening is to think, “How would the dominant horse react to this?” Pretend you are the dominant horse. Would that horse duck the blow?…very likely. Would they come back swinging?….also likely. (I know this lacks detail but you get my point)
My dominant horse, Popcorn, even ‘holds a grudge’ for days or weeks and keeps ‘the offender’ on his toes during that time. Kinda like once the kids push you past the end….then you stay tough for days.
Horses will respond well to tough love…and terrible to abuse. Amazingly they know the difference. They don’t hold grudges for tough love.

Will someone tell me I am being to harsh? ………………Or that I am condoning abuse?


Do I? No.

I find that horses are much harder on each other than I am.

What is natural horsemanship? Is studying the relationship of one horse to another the ultimate in understanding horses? Jac was warned many times before this, for weeks, but he chose to keep pushing. The good news is that it hasn’t been repeated since!

Below is a video of the first time Popcorn and Jac met. At the end it shows Popcorn a month later getting harder on Jac (Popcorn is the one in the back doing the biting). The photo of Jac’s leg happened another time after these videos….Jac just wouldn’t back off.


  1. Guy Ramsey on November 27, 2014 at 1:44 pm

    I think I align with Patty Kramps above. Though, I know nothing of Tellington-Jones.

    I am reminded of a quote by one of the father’s of “Natural Horsemanship”, what ever that is. I refer to it as non-violent horsemanship.


    It is a quote by Ray Hunt. Maybe it was taken out of context. I don’t know. I wish I had been there when he said it.

    I am not a horse, I don’t want them to think of me as one. I would make one sorry little horse. I have not encountered this problem, maybe it is just dumb luck. I always thought it was respect learned, earned and maintained by ground work. They are never allowed to be pushy, period. When they come into my space it is by invitation only. And, they are invited often. It isn’t all kisses and hugs. A rope halter will leave a mark. But, it isn’t personal. It is a matter of choice, the horse must choose, the good deal, or not such a good deal.

    That said, based on all I have seen on this blog about ground work, and how it seems completely integrated into this approach. . . I must have been lucky so far. I allow them to nuzzle me when I groom them, none has ever put a tooth on me or any other human.

    We do have an old gray with melanoma and arthritis. When he’s not feeling up to par he probably would bite you. But, you would get a ton of warning.

  2. Sydne on November 27, 2014 at 11:27 am

    Here’s my question – anyone ever considered how feeding horses in stables might create tension later in the field? Unlike outside, the horses have no choice who gets their food first and will have to go with the order the human chooses (usually in a straight line down the stable). I wonder if they “realign” feeding order once back out in the field?

  3. Elizabeth W. on November 27, 2014 at 10:07 am

    I have been staying this for years!

  4. Katie Kurtz on November 27, 2014 at 9:59 am

    So why does my boss mare kick at the 2nd ranked horsewhen my 2 nd ranked horse(blind twh ) doesn’tdo anything to her? Also why do they “hate “eeach otherin the pasture but when I take one or the other out they both end up calling for each other and freaking out?

  5. Betti Victory on February 3, 2014 at 10:39 am

    I love your way of thinkinh. Confirms my technique I’ve been using for years. Look forward to more of your blogs. Hope my email adress keepse in the loop.

  6. Janette on December 14, 2013 at 6:32 pm

    Stacy, you ask.Q: What is natural horsemanship? A: The best marketing term the world has ever seen. THE MOST UNNATURAL THING YOU CAN DO WITH A HORSE, IS RIDE IT.
    Nature can be crual. I think we need to be better than that. We have the intelligence to be humane.

  7. Sarah Bernier on December 2, 2013 at 8:48 pm

    Wow. So much going on here — I LOVE this post!!! Not just because you used my question to start it off; it’s plagued me ever since I got my “new” horse a year ago…a very dominant young gelding I’ve had to work with a LOT to get him to the point where he won’t try to bite me when I just move to his off-side! We’re getting there…but now we need to work on the biting/kicking when I’m asking him to do something he does NOT want to do (and by that I mean properly use his hind end — most notably the inside hind when moving in a circle, taking off at the lope, etc).

    I grew up with the “School of Hard Knocks” type of training…i.e., if a horse ever went to bite you, you socked ’em one in the nose! That being said, we have a much bigger response to a bite/kick than if a horse just pushes into us or won’t move away from pressure. In fact, my mother will actually swish her head/neck towards our horses and they back off — because if they don’t, she proceeds to backing into them & throwing her leg back in a kick!

    Now, after studying from several people and trying to learn “natural horsemanship” methods (I use that term loosely, as it tends to have bad connotations!), I was worrying about “getting after” my own gelding and ruining our relationship.

    After watching how completely benevolent Popcorn was with this in-your-face stud colt, I’m realizing I can be even more firm! Interesting info about horses using their shoulders as a dominance “move over” gesture…my gelding does that 😉

    Thanks again for the post!

  8. Roberta Altman on December 2, 2013 at 12:10 am

    That’s for sure… coming from my farrier days when a horse would try to kick or bite me, and the owner would say something like ” oh settle down FeFe” are you kidding me?!?!? I have always had the connection with the horse, however there were a few (owners) that I should have just walked away from! Some people will never understand the term NIP it in the bud… because if you don’t… it will resurface at a price… most likely

    • Stacy on December 2, 2013 at 9:44 am

      Roberta….farriers have the best…and worst stories! Horse training is very similar regarding the owners being more of the issue than the horse…I might have to write a blog about that….

  9. Michael on November 29, 2013 at 11:36 pm

    Nice job! Very well said!!

  10. Julia on November 29, 2013 at 8:26 pm

    “Natural Horsemanship” where you don’t set any boundaries with your horse has always irritated me. I agree that it is not actually “Natural horsemanship’ – that phrase is just misused in that situation as an excuse to justify not taking the time and energy to learn how to be a strong, compassionate leader with fair and just discipline. I see the same thing frequently from fellow parents. I’ve watched some pretty nice horses (and kids) act like insecure, rude, pushy, and dangerous jerks because their owners (or parents) were afraid to set boundaries and enforce clear rules because they thought doing that “wasn’t nice”.

  11. Patty Kramps on November 29, 2013 at 5:57 pm

    As I work with many rescued, and formerly mistreated ponies…and over the last 40 years, many other “types” of horses…I have found the application of the Tellington-Jones method to have worked on, I dare say, ALL of them. If I were to utilize the herd…dominance…like a horse would do approach, especially with the wee ones, well, I think that even if I got it “right”…the three second thing, and smacked one “perfectly”, I would set myself back a year! I DO NOT want to be a horse, and I do not want the horse to see me as one either. I would refer to an old Chinese proverb…”he who strikes first blow, admit he run out of ideas”. Equine behaviour between each other…observably harsh – I am not ever likely to engage in it in any form.

  12. Noma Myers on November 29, 2013 at 4:57 pm

    Jac is still displaying “stallion” behavior. allow jac to exercise by running free in a turnout this will lower his energy level and allow him to focus on you. If he gets sweaty you can do the “cooling off” method.he will not see you as a threat if u pet and groom him frequently without inflicting pain. Personally i would not back an aggressive horse in a corner they have a strong “fight or flight” instinct. You have to remain calm should be no competition for food or attention from you. Jac will view u as a dominate herd member a “mare” follow & protect you.

  13. Fiona Anderson on November 29, 2013 at 4:44 pm

    As far as I’m concerned, if a horse tries to bite or kick me I have the right to become a death defying scary human on a rampage for 30 seconds and then I let it go. If they try it again I get REALLY big if you know what I mean.

  14. rabbit59 on November 29, 2013 at 3:01 pm

    I was taught by an old horseman that you should be as quiet as you can but as wild as they are. He also had a 3 second rule. He gave himself 3 seconds to respond to an infraction (like him being kicked or bitten), and said “hit ’em with everything you’ve got”, once hit more than once or longer than 3 seconds is abuse, and the horse may not know what he’s done with delayed punishment, so you gotta have timing, as well. I am aware that this sounds like abuse, too, and I don’t advocate hitting them with weapons or beating them with whips, but in your herd of 2 You must be the Alpha (dominant) horse, or your horse will be disrespectful whenever he wants. Horses do understand and will put up with and learn from “just” punishment.

  15. Janet on November 29, 2013 at 2:58 pm

    Biting, kicking stricking are killing offences and need to be delt with on the same terms as another horse would deal with. That is not too say you have to beat the crap out of them, but you deal with it quick and swift and it’s done. I have kicked back at my horses and broke a toe in doing so. The response from them is one of surprise. More at the fact I was limping afterwords, but the respect was put into place and the strike never happened again.

  16. Jennifer Canfield on November 29, 2013 at 2:24 pm

    I have run into too many people who have horses that are a little to much for them, turn to natural horsemanship and put themselves in dangerous situations. Natural horsemanship needs for the human to be dominant. Horses are quick brutal and to the point with discipline, and is sometimes not pretty. Beginners, first time horse owners, and children need the guidance of natural horsemanship trainers to remind them not to humanize the horse. You need to be in the moment react quick and then breath and let it go.

  17. Kathleen Stoughton-Trahan on November 29, 2013 at 1:39 pm

    Had a filly that bit. I tried everything everyone told me to try to get her to quit. I was holding her for the vet and she was tired of being fussed with and she reached over and bit me on the arm so hard and my first reaction was to bite her on the nose and I did. She never bit anyone again. So I decided that is how my old mare took care of such things and I followed suit.

  18. Mary on November 29, 2013 at 1:18 pm

    Hmm I have a gelding that had been fine with two other horses, one mare and another gelding. The neighbor beside brought in another new horse, and we live on small acreages side by side. I put my three in a smaller fenced area with some hay (separated from each other). There were some trees and rocks that were quite large in this area. When I came out, she wasn’t approaching me as usual and when I checked on the mare she was bleeding from bites and unable to walk. He had bullied her so bad, that he broke her coffin bone. Not sure how, maybe kicked a rock while trying to get away, or maybe he landed on her foot.
    I never put them together any more as it escalates. He is fine with the pony, who is another gelding, who doesn’t back down. It seems that the more she runs, the more aggressive he gets, to the point of being almost unstoppable.
    I was wondering if this is an issue of being proud cut? Or because she won’t fight back? I can’t turn him out with others for fear he might just kill someones horse. On the other hand he is the biggest chicken when he was initially chased around with the neighbors older gelding, to the point of almost sliding under the fence when he fell down.
    It looks to me like his aggression is fear based?

  19. C.C. Beaudette-Wellman on November 29, 2013 at 1:11 pm

    Usually abuse is from a human not being able to properly communicate with a horse or imposing human emotions into the mix. There are also many who are not as smart as their horse….
    Thanks again for pointing this important point up!

  20. Cheryl La Rue on November 29, 2013 at 1:11 pm

    I totally agree with you. Had a great visit with you at Road to the Horse about the Lusitano. I have a 2 year old Orphan lusitano stallion that has been with the geldings for 1 and 1/2 years. He is always trying to push his weight around but they keep telling him no as well. I would prefer that the herd teach him this language than myself all the time. They definitely become a better citizen !!

  21. J2B on November 29, 2013 at 12:29 pm

    Could not agree more. My husband says when I scold a bad manners culprit I remind him of the lead mare in the heard because my reaction is so fast and to the point. My horses and I all have a great relationship after the fact.

  22. Ann on November 29, 2013 at 12:27 pm

    Stacy: I continuously learn so much from you about these beautiful creations from our Father. This series on Jac has, so far, been a learning experience!! Thank you for sharing this experience with us!

  23. cheryle on November 29, 2013 at 12:24 pm

    wish more people would watch this

  24. Jessica on November 29, 2013 at 12:15 pm

    I love the way you see things, this is how I see things with dogs!! Keep it up, you are doing a great job!!

  25. smokeythemustang on November 29, 2013 at 12:15 pm

    Reblogged this on The Horse Mutterer and commented:
    This is a great read and video from Stacy Westfall. I wish there was a little more in the video of them in the one month scene, though. I’m always afraid tow horses will lose it on each other when they first meet, but it’s generally all well and good. All the “natural horsemanship” training we do comes from how they speak to each other and I think this is a good view of that. I love watching them interact, so long as they’re not killing each other!

  26. Ilene Roberts on November 29, 2013 at 12:08 pm

    I am thankful you posted this as I often wonder if me treating my colt as another horse would treat him is silly. He was gelded at just about 2 and he’s very mouthy. He has grazed me one time with teeth and I whipped around to face him and drove him backwards aggressively keeping him facing me with the lead until he dropped his head and started licking and chewing. When he’s being a brat I drive him away with my body language, or sometimes a smack in the shoulder if he’s being pushy. His initial response is always to turn and put his butt at me though.
    What do you do with a horse that does that, even lunging if he’s not been lunged for a couple days , he’ll get all sparky and turn his butt toward me and do little crow hops or he flings his head like Jac does or gives me this warning look and then races off sideways. I just push him harder and when he settles into a nice trot or lope and drops his head back down then I’ll stop him. After a couple times of this he submits and is back to his sweet self. During the summer I’d wait for licking and chewing which can sometimes take a few minutes of pretty hard running to get… right now it’s cold and I don’t want him to get all sweaty so I let him off with the easy shows of submission.
    Is this baby behavior as he’s only 2 and a half and he’s testing ME? Is this true aggression? I don’t think so as he never follows through and I get on his butt about it… Kind of at a loss as to if I’m doing something wrong! 🙂 He’s an awesome little horse though, I just want to give him the best start possible.

    • Grefg on November 30, 2014 at 12:40 pm

      If you have a round pen work him in there. Put him in with no halter and when he sticks his butt in your face drive him around the pen for a while both ways. Let him rest a second and approach. If he does it drive him around some more. Pretty soon he will get tired and figure it out. I put a lunge line on and work him again. But now stop him an tell himm come here and bring him to you. As you call him step back a bit. If you work at this pretty soon you can get his attention , tell him to come here and step back. He will turn and walk to you. Hope this helps

  27. Ilonka on November 29, 2013 at 12:05 pm

    Dealing with a mini horse in the midst of her terrible two’s who loves to bite and rear attempting to use humans as buddies I can only say this is so true! Nothing works to stop her from bullying people around except using “horse language”. The right body position, portraying leadership and “flapping” an arm where “she runs into it” when trying to bite is the only language she understands. I don’t say anything to her when doing this or even look at her, just have her run into a part of my body to make any biting uncomfortable enough for get to stop in her own. Works like a charm. If I say no or smack her she just sees it as an invite to play even rougher.

  28. Donna Sugg on November 29, 2013 at 11:55 am

    When between horses, I think you should let them work it out unless one is in grave danger. If you intervene, you are disrupting the herd dynamics. As far as horse and human, that kind of behavior is unacceptable and you must take the leadership role or better yet, the alpha horse role and correct it. A couple of times of running into your elbow or hitting their nose against your boot will usually let them know that they don’t want to do that. Mind you, I never hit or kick the horse. I just let them run into it on their own. It’s their idea and they decide not to do it. lol!

  29. Jim Holland on November 29, 2013 at 11:28 am

    Well said, Stacy. Establishing leadership is important….to horses and to people. My three Arabian geldings have learned that any kind of aggression toward me (or any of the other horses) is unacceptable in my presence. How they handle their herd status among themselves I don’t care. I have seen situations where the owner could not pass out treats in a herd of horses, because they would, depending on their status in the herd, chase the other horses off or become “pushy”. My horses all come over together and stand politely waiting their turn for a treat (and not invading my space) because I used the exact same technique to teach them what is acceptable and what is not.. If you lay your ears back at me or another horse, you get driven off to the perimeter and don’t get anything….just as a lead mare would do with an unruly young horse in a herd. It doesn’t take long for them to figure it out. My herd leader, Magic, is much like Popcorn. He a strong, but benevolent leader and will put up with quite a bit of play (nipping, etc), but at some point if the other horse becomes too aggressive, he will reprimand him. It’s amazing what you can learn from watching horses….and emulating that behavior works well for people!

  30. http://theenglishprofessoratlarge.com on November 29, 2013 at 11:10 am

    In human terms, Jac is being the annoying kid and Popcorn the one who has had it and is now correcting the behavior? Amazing how raising horses and kids is not too far apart.

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