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Values for Performance

Updated: Jun 6, 2023

The reason for understanding what horses value is a practical one. It can assure you success in the show ring or just going down the trail.

What is most important is you will have learned new tools for your tool box. The tools that we teach at Moving As One are for any discipline any time anywhere.

What do you Value?

A person’s values might include: Reliability, Autonomy, Bravery, Efficiency, Hard Work and Fun.

Wikipedia says, “Values can be defined as broad preferences concerning appropriate courses of actions or outcomes. As such, values reflect a person's sense of right and wrong or what ‘ought’ to be. ‘Equal rights for all’, ‘Excellence deserves admiration’, and ‘People should be treated with respect and dignity' are representatives of values.”

That is not what we are referring to here. The small prefrontal lobe of a horse’s brain cannot entertain abstract ideas, have good intentions or plan for the future. For them every thought, every decision concerns only what will increase their chances of survival in a risky world- full of predators.

We can, however, know what is important to horses (what they value). They value: Safety, Clarity, Resources, Comfort, Connection and Protection. Knowing this, you can support and acknowledge the horse’s concerns- creating a space where they can find their own “calm/curious” brain state conducive to learning. Thanks to Sharon Wilsie (Horse Speak®) for developing this concept.

Safety - Means a better chance of survival:

  • Being in a calm herd

  • Having your insides match your outsides

  • Rhythm and consistency

  • Alert herd mates (that includes you)

  • Clarity (each step if necessary)

  • Physical Space (bubbles and boundaries)

Clarity- Horses value clear communication. This includes:

  • X and O - Sympathetic (X) and calm homeostasis (O)

  • Core energy - your core (your belly button) has a energy that can direct your intentions

  • The Line- Like in Ghost Busters the movie you don't want to cross the energy streams

  • Levels of intensity - Asking for movement in Phases

  • Aiming in a defined direction


Horses value resources:

  • Sharing hay

  • Enrichment- A ball, walking the trails with their person, performing a task, etc.

  • Water

  • Shelter

  • Access to their friends

  • Access to you – grooming, greeting ritual, graining


Horses value comfort

  • Horses seek to feel comfortable especially if they have pain

  • They need to feel comfortable for rest and repair

  • This includes physical, emotional and mental comfort

  • Confusion is a form of discomfort

  • They find comfort when in the parasympathetic nervous system

  • Physical space


Horses value connection:

  • Friends

  • Relationship

  • Spending time with their person

  • Physical space


Horses value protection:

  • The watcher horses in the herd

  • The Stallion always watching

The Story of Joe-

About 20 years ago I bought a horse named Joe. He was and old-style Tennessee Walker. Strawberry Roan, big-boned, with a long head and a long, relaxed easy stride.

I first met him at a ranch in Temecula California. They were part of an organization that regularly brought young healthy Walkers from Tennessee to California 20- 30 at a time. The day we went to look at Joe he was quiet and subdued. He had only been at the ranch for a week or so. This was going to be my husband horse. As you can see, he looks very friendly and willing. He had a wonderful attitude when he was ridden, and he was perfect with very little kids. They could hang on him brush and go under his belly and he’d never move. He was amazingly patient- ever so cautious not to step on or hurt the kids. He was watchful.

Back In the day I loved getting an oxytocin hit by hugging on the horses. Most of the horses would stand quiet and indulge me while I hugged them. I never got the feeling that they actually liked the way I held on to them, but I didn’t know any better, it felt good to me and they put up with it.

Even though Joe looked like a huggable horse I could tell he did not like being touched. Thinking there was something wrong with him I even took him to a Parelli trainer and asked for help. I wanted him to like being touched. When I arrived at our first lesson, I got Joe out of the trailer and took him into the arena so I could show the patient trainer what was wrong. I threw my arms around him and he stiffened like a board. I said, “See what he does?”. She looked at me and very gently said, “If I were you, I would stop trying to hug this horse”. And that was that. Joe was letting me know that he Valued “space and clarity” more than cuddling. I value closeness and just wanted to feel like he liked me. What I valued and what he valued didn’t match up. So, I stopped hugging him and he was fine with that.

One day, while I was waiting for the vet and just hanging out at the barn, I thought I would try again, just in case. To my surprise he did not move away or stiffen up. I was thrilled and realized that I had approached him quietly and slowly and respectfully. I had learned my first horse greeting ritual. This time I had entered his space while asking permission all the way. I was gentle and my sprit was soft. I am grateful that I figured out how to get a wee hug from Joe. It made my day. I learned through Horse Speak and how to ask permission to approach the bubble and was what is important to the horse.

I realized that he hadn’t been asking me not to touch him but to be quieter and softer. All those years I had been coming in too hot and heavy. Being such a gentle soul, he needed me to match his energy to feel safe.

I've had Joe now for 23 years and I'm grateful for his many teachings.

The Aria Story-

I also have a Warlander named Aria. She is very tall and quiet- majestic. She came to us as a yearling. Early on, I would watch her in the paddock and wonder what she valued. Whenever I would go to the paddock I would stand and wait to see who would come up to me first. It was always Aria. Because I do not feed horses treats, I knew she was coming up for something else. When she approached, she would stop in front of me and wait. I would go to her shoulder, look in the same direction she was looking and just stand quiet. I came to understand that she valued companionship. Usually, after a few minutes, she would turn her back side to me. I would continue to stand quietly. She was telling me that this was a calming gesture on her part and another value became obvious. Protection- “I’ve got your back”, she said. I noticed and appreciated these values because they line up with my own.

There is SO much more to learn on this subject.

Is your horse Outgoing, Stoic or Hesitant and why? Knowing this enhances our work. I will be covering this and many more topics in my class “Values for Performance”.

In all classes we cover the whole Equine Mandala.

  • Their Central Nervous System and Brain

  • Their Language- Horse Speak

  • How horses learn Operant Conditioning, better known as pressure and release as used in Natural Horsemanship.

Thank you, Lucinda

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