Kip Mistral: On Creating a Horse-Human Partnership

Kip Mistral: On Creating a Horse-Human Partnership

(© Kip Mistral 2018. Horsewoman Petting Dog by Alfred de Dreux.)

Recently I was asked by the lovely folks at to contribute to their “expert roundup” to answer the following two questions:

1. How do you bond with your horse so that you can get him/her to trust you? and 2. What is your best tip for bonding with a new horse?

For me, the answer to both questions is the same…Take Time. Give Respect. Show Appreciation. Create Partnership. I love this quotation…

“…and I whispered to the horse;
trust no man in whose eye
you don’t see yourself reflected
as an equal.”

Don Vincenzo Giobbe

A natural life for a horse is to walk along slowly in or near a group of other horses, browsing and grazing for many of the 24 hours in a day. Studies have estimated that horses in a natural setting travel between 12-20 hours a day in this casual way. The majority of humans, unfortunately, must take that natural lifestyle away from horses, confine them in small living spaces, and put them “to work” doing “a job.” Different individuals and even breeds of horses, by their innate physical, mental and emotional characteristics, may accommodate or tolerate these expectations of ours, but if you were to ask them if they would prefer to “go to work” rather than “go graze with my friends”, I think they would give the same answer as you or I would. Who wouldn’t rather do something relaxing and pleasant rather than “go to work” and face the pressure and even unpleasantness that concept connotes?

On the other hand, I have seen many horses enjoy their partnerships with their humans–even if their “work” is truly demanding–if they feel that they are respected and appreciated for their contribution to the partnership and their common purpose, whatever it is. My long experience with horses has proven to me unquestionably how extremely intelligent, sensitive, generous and gracious horses are in general. They give so much, and so beautifully, that it is easy for humans to take advantage of them, even accidentally.

In the case of horses, we so often expect them to mold themselves to our world and do as they’re told unquestioningly. Some horses are unbelievably smart and are great problem solvers. This type of horse will get great satisfaction out of being of service to his partner and that common purpose of theirs. Depriving the partnership of their contribution is very demoralizing to these horses and they can get very checked out, or even resentful and angry. Understanding what is important to your horse, believing in him, and acting on both those principles, will go a long way to giving him the feeling of being understood.

And what is important to horses? The same things that are important to us in our human relationships.

Consistency: A good partner does what they say they are going to do and can be depended on to always do that, or “renegotiate.” We can more easily trust someone who has values that they consistently uphold.

Justice: A good partner knows their partner’s limits and treats him/her with fairness. [And a good horseman always takes “the blame.” Because if horses trust you, they will try for you. If they fail, it was not their fault.]

Community: A good partner is observant and nurturing, as they say, “slow to anger and quick to forgive”, and doesn’t hold grudges. Horses live in the present moment. If they have to set boundaries with another member of the herd, they do it swiftly and with real intention, they speak their mind, they take their space, and then it’s over and everyone goes back to eating.

And what to “do” while you are practicing how to be a human “being” instead of being a human “doing” with your in-the-present horse? Take off your watch; don’t think about the time. Take him for long walks and figure out how he sees the world. Without letting him forget his manners and drag you around, let him pick out interesting things to eat along the way to give variety to the typical domestic horse’s very static and boring diet. Giving them even this little bit of freedom of choice can give them a real feeling of gratitude to you…”You understand me!” Scratch him/her in the places that he/she can’t reach. You see horses in pasture together all the time exchanging these services. It’s a friendly thing to do.

Some horses like being groomed, but others don’t. If yours does, you can use it as a reward. If he doesn’t, then keep grooming to a minimum and find something else that he likes. Find out from spending time on the ground and watching your horse’s reactions how he thinks and what he worries about. Be polite and considerate; don’t offend your horse in the same ways that you would like to not be offended. The lighter aids you use, the more the typical horse will listen, if you have taken the time to create a partnership of equality.

The horse will be just as invested in the outcome as you are, if you take the time, make the time, to become partners.

See the entire “roundup” article here: .



  1. August 12, 2018 / 1:42 PM

    Kip, thank you for taking the time to take part in the panel! -Nicky

    • Kip
      August 12, 2018 / 1:54 PM

      Thanks for the invite, Nicky, it was fun!

  2. Carole
    August 12, 2018 / 5:51 PM

    I love doing Liberty work. I find it to be an excellant foundation in training. Begin at the beginning.

    • Kip
      August 12, 2018 / 8:39 PM

      Well, I agree, yet my foundation belief is that the real partnership is not really about ‘training’. I believe that partnership is a state of mind. A lot of people think that liberty work should have a lot of exactness and obedience, just without an attachment to the horse, for instance a longe line or any length of reins. In my opinion, the intention always needs to be on the kind of partnership where the horse is learning and enjoying what the horse/human team do together as much as the human…”Nothing forced is ever beautiful…” said Xenophon.

  3. December 13, 2018 / 3:46 PM

    This is a beautiful piece, it reminds me very much the joy that comes from feeling in harmony with a horse. I also love the comment you made (in the comments) that partnership is not about “training” it is a state of mind.

    • Kip
      December 17, 2018 / 10:31 AM

      Thank you, Lucinda! I think horses are generally so cooperative by nature, they are looking for partnership in a sense. It’s right there waiting for us if we give it some space to happen. Last night I was “longeing” my horse at liberty. We’ve been doing this for years. It adds a little bit of fun and exercise to a turnout and gives Val a chance to show off his ability to make upward and downward transitions in all three gaits in both directions. A young woman was standing by watching. When we left the arena she said “How do you get your horse to run around you in circles?” And I replied “Well, he is “trained” to do it, but as you can see, since I didn’t have him on a longe line and don’t have a whip, I can’t make him do it. And he wouldn’t do it if he didn’t want to. I am showing him I believe in his intelligence and cooperation to have him be at liberty, and he is showing me that he knows exactly what to do and why I ask him to show me the cool things he knows.” She looked at me like I was speaking a foreign language; what I said didn’t make any sense to her at all. 🙂

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