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Positive Consistency by Dick Pieper



Dick Pieper and Playgun

Dick Pieper and Playgun

Every time we humans interact with a horse, we have either a positive or negative effect. Every time we walk into a stall to put halters on horses, we either make them both more comfortable and relaxed with our presence or we make them more apprehensive.

We must monitor our movements and behavior and demeanor —even as simple a thing as putting on a halter should be done exactly the same, with the same motions and the same quiet demeanor, each time.

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Remember: It doesn’t matter if the horse is young or old. Our presence either has a good or bad effect. Because of horse’s nature, personality, and makeup, anything we do—especially with a horse that’s young and green—is foreign to him and can cause some degree of apprehension. From the very beginning in a relationship with a horse, we want to channel this apprehension into a positive reaction that enables us to get the horse to do what we want.

Consistency in riding your horse leads to established response patterns, no matter where you ride—in the pasture or in the pen, as shown in these photos

Consistency in riding your horse leads to established response patterns, no matter where you ride—in the pasture or in the pen, as shown in these photos

The horse learns from interaction and repetition, and doesn’t deduce and use logic in his learning process. Because of those things, each stage of learning he completes is progressive and provides the base for the next level.

If I ask a horse to give his head the first day and he lets me pull his head around, that’s the correct response, so I release the pressure. After I have asked him many times to bend laterally, I expect him, as he feels the pressure, to softly give me his head. After about 90 days, I expect him to give me his head as soon as he feels the slack come out of the reins. All of those responses are correct responses at the time they are given.

In other words, I cannot expect the horse to know, the first time I pick up the rein, when the slack comes out that he should give his head. As he’s able to understand more, I’m able to ask more than I did before. I just keep upping the ante and increasing the horse’s level of finesse.

Once a learned pattern had been established through repetition, a horse does not have the ability to arbitrarily decide that he’s not going to do the pattern that way. It’s critical to understand that any refusal or reluctance is going to be a product of some other interrupting or outside factor —confusion, pain, fear, hunger or sex.

Horses do not plan not to do something or decide that they are not going to do a thing. In most cases, when an uninjured horse refuses to do something that he has been doing on a regular basis or fails to give the accustomed response, that is because the situation is inconsistent or the pressure-and-release that elicits the response in the first place has been inconsistently applied. In other words, the horse has become confused.

Successful horsemanship takes all our knowledge of the horse’s abilities, mental capacities and natural tendencies. We must carefully control our interactions with him to reach the refined level of training that is our ultimate goal.


Dick Pieper is internationally recognized as a horseman’s horseman and this iconic individual has influenced and developed the careers of riders and trainers for decades. After fifty plus years in the horse industry, his name has come to stand for a special brand of arena excellence that never compromised the welfare of the horse.

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This article was printed in Performance Horse Digest, Volume 9, Issue 3


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