Horses and Trust

Horses have always been on my mind, but now, with Tonka here for a week and a half, horses are back in my life. Everyday.


It’s too icy to ride, which is fine, because it gives Tonka and I a chance to get to know each other from the ground. He’s a horse with a kind eye and a sane head, but that doesn’t mean that he’s going to jump right into a trusting relationship with me. I’m spending time simply grooming and hand-grazing him (I hold the lead while he finds things to nibble under the snow.) I’ve also started to use the clicker to train him to do a “touch,” and I’m teaching him to come. He’s beginning to pay attention to me. He’s beginning to trust that the lines of communication are open. We listen to each other. (I’ll be writing about this in the months to come.)

Trust in your horse and your horse’s trust in you, is essential for a safe and enjoyable ride. There are plenty of “natural horsemanship” cowboys out there touting ways to get there. Some of what they say is useful (although much isn’t!) Some say that they’ve discovered a new way of training, but the fact is that good horsemen have developed trust using gentle methods for the thousands of years that we’ve worked alongside these animals.

Not all horseman are kind. Many are harsh. Many don’t know any other way than to subjugate the horse into behaving. But, even in the past the old plow horse was often treated as a member of the farm family. In my library of vintage farm ephemera I have a treatise published in 1898 on how to train with kindness. Photographs in my collection also tell this story. A small boy of four couldn’t hold onto 2,000 pounds of horses without a lot of trust between all involved.

Look at this team’s quiet yet alert posture. They like that boy.

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  1. Hi Terry

    I know you have beautiful vintage chicken pictures for sale, but do you also offer the pictures you have of horses such as this one?


    • If there’s enough interest, I’ll do a postcard book of my vintage horse photos. Or, would you rather I make solo cards available on Zazzle? Or, larger for framing? Tell me what you’d buy, and I can do it.

  2. Tonka does, indeed, have a kind eye. I just think animals, especially horses and dogs, are simply the best. The best.

  3. I must admit I am not a horse person, but Tonka has a handsome face and he knows what your smile means. Great picture.

    • I do use food treats, but only in training. Horses are tuned into cause and effect. If you hand them food without asking for a behavior, they’ll get dangerously pushy. Right now, Tonka is getting rewarded (with a small slice of carrot) for walking politely at my side. If she shoves me or asks for a treat he doesn’t get it!

  4. Today is “Day of the Horse” on the calendar and I know you and Tonka are enjoying each other.

  5. Tonka is gorgeous!

    Would you call him a paint? In the UK, his colour would be referred to as piebald (black & white)

    • Paint is both a color and a breed. He is a registered Paint and his color is called a black and white tobiano. Some paints have caramel and browns in the mix, but he is purely black and white (like his sire) and his head is solid black. A black neck with a white mane is unusual. I happen to love the term “piebald” as I read many British horse stories when I was a child.

  6. It seems the little ponies are the ones you have to watch. Like a certain 33 inch Shetland pony named Trevor who even though know gelded still likes to run off and harass other breeding mares who are twice his size at least. People do seem to never train the smalls ones as they should and let them get away with such bad behavoir that in a larger horse would have been quite dangerous. Are their any sheltands at your Stable Terry that are going through retraining because their previous owners let them get away with bad behaviors because they thought it was “cute” ?
    I know Trevor’s owner is finally getting Trevor and his other ponies retrained but he still loves to open gates, and charge at strangers hiking on the mountains near his home.

  7. Terry, I am so happy that you have gotten a horse. Since we were children I have always associated horses with you! Tonka is fantastic! Hope I can get to meet him in the near future.