The Horse Forum banner

1 - 8 of 8 Posts

598 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Quote by Mustang Maddy:

I’m not here to mold a horse like clay.⁣

But... I’m a horse trainer. I specialize in behavior modification, and I’m teaching the horse to alter her behaviors so she’s safe, healthy and having fun in the human world

And yet, my statement still stands.⁣

It’s not my intention to take a horse, and turn her into whatever I want her to be.⁣

This is one reason I haven’t settled on a specific discipline like many trainers do. My heart is with mustangs, rehabilitation cases, and exotic animals
all of whom have skill sets, temperaments, and wisdom that vary extensively

And I don’t try to force them all into a box of my own choosing

Instead of molding them like clay...⁣

I want to see them as a beautiful stone — my only goal being to chip away at what doesn’t serve their highest purpose

I help them shed any fear, distrust, anxiety, dissociation...⁣

To reveal their fullest selves

I allow their beauty, true essence and wisdom to lead the way in what we do together

Like Michelangelo once said: ⁣

“Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.⁣
I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”⁣

As trainers & horse people
we are sculptors
our only job to reveal the beauty that lies within every horse we know, and helping them to release what doesn’t serve them... to set them free

  • Like
Reactions: newtrailriders

598 Posts
Discussion Starter · #2 ·
This lady is a real inspiration to me. I just cannot NOT share.

Mustang Maddy says:

The unexpected pain of embracing compassionate training methods

One of my students described feeling both relief and grief when her eyes were opened to her horse’s stress signals.⁣

The traditional way we’ve been taught to train & care for horses causes a lot of stress.⁣

Using flooding, excessive pressure. Keeping a horse isolated, restricting movement with stalls. Our most basic concepts of horse care and training go against the horse’s fundamental needs

And we can feel that. As children, we felt bad when a horse got hit. We wanted to see horses moving freely, playing with one another.⁣

But somewhere along the way, we were taught otherwise.⁣

Now, with more information at our fingertips, we can find sources that confirm our intuition: it doesn’t have to be this way

So, we dive in.⁣

One of the many things we learn is how to identify stress signals, a vital piece of ethical training & care.⁣

That’s where the relief and grief kicks in. There’s the solace in knowing that our horses are thriving now... and devastation for what we put them through before we knew better.⁣

It’s painful. It can bring up a lot of guilt and shame for the way we used to do things.⁣

If you’re in this situation, feeling this pain... I want to commend you

Many people unwittingly reject the science of ethical practices, because they don’t want to face the grief of knowing the pain their horse has been in.⁣

They’ll angrily reject the notion of staying below fear thresholds, addressing stress signals, etc. because they are trying to stay safe — to be able to see themselves as good people. They care, and don’t want to face the pain that change brings. And that’s a perfectly real, valid experience. Everyone is on their own journey, and will reach different conclusions than me, which I have respect for

But back to you.⁣

You’re willing to go there. You’re willing to step into the darkness and pain by getting to know your horse deeply, even when it hurts. There’s no stopping the grief, that’s part of the process. But you are willing to do hard things to create a more connected relationship...⁣

And that makes you incredibly strong, brave, and kind


598 Posts
Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Yep, looking back at some of my behavior towards animals I claimed to love can (and is at times) painful at best.

Maddy talks about this some more. Very clear she didn't wake up one morning and find herself to be where she is at present.


My first horse bucked me off every time I rode her

I was small, and things were getting a bit out of hand, so my dad started riding her instead. And then...⁣

I got my next horse. Her same was Sarah

I was incredibly drawn to Sarah. She was young, quick, and sensitive. I wanted to do speed events, and she seemed like the perfect partner

So the adventure began. Poor Sarah and I wore holes into the ground in our many runs through makeshift barrels
I couldn’t get enough of riding. It’s all I ever wanted to do, all I ever thought about.⁣

As passionate as I was, I had no concept of developing softness at the time... and Sarah started running off with me

Things went from had to worse. The advice I got from those around me was to get a bigger bit, so I could control her. In the photos of Sarah from childhood, I can see the bits getting progressively bigger. Longer shanks, tiedowns, & shorter reins were added one by one. She was bound up, loaded with restraints

Eventually, the bits stopped working.⁣

One day at a barrel race, she bolted mid pattern. I pulled on the reins with all the strength I had, and she still wouldn’t stop

My hands were ripped up and bleeding by the time she finally slowed

It became very clear that equipment wouldn’t solve this problem. So Sarah went off to a horse trainer, and came back lovely and soft

In no time, she was bolting again. The trainer helped Sarah, but I hadn’t properly learned to communicate with my horse, so the same old problems returned.⁣

A trainer couldn’t fix this. A bit couldn’t fix this.⁣

Ultimately, the only way a permanent transformation could take place is if I took up the responsibility of deeply understanding my horse

What she desires, how she processes fear, what motivates her, what she needs in order to learn & grow.⁣

Thankfully, I chose to take up this challenge, and everything changed for us — for the better

Looking back, it’s hard to think about what Sarah went through. I honor her for being a huge learning point in my journey
And I thank my past self for stepping into responsibility for the horse-human relationship of my wildest dreams


598 Posts
Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Poor Rusty..........

Shortly after I received my rescue dog Roman, I picked up a shovel laying on the ground and he immediately ran sideways with eyes rolling but fixed on me. That took a month to desensitize.

Yesterday I picked up a short piece of 4x4 lumber about 20 feet from Rusty and he had a similar reaction.

I went on with what I was doing and he eventually came over to carefully examine exactly what it was I was doing and then left......casually.

Later I went to him for a little TLC and he was fine. But he is just so nervous and cautious about everything.

I do not think any form of pressure/release, no matter how lightly applied, would be successful in working with Rusty the mule at this point.

I first began looking into and studying positive reinforcement quite a ways back, but it was my recent discovery of Mustang Maddy that really sent me fully submerged in the +R rabbit hole. She's been a real inspiration.

Without that added impetus, I may have never had the courage to adopt Rusty and if I had, without +R, it may well have been a disastrous failure.

As it is, I am very confident and he is incrementally coming along and will, I believe, eventually 'be there'.

And he is such a great guy! I am so happy we met. And thank you Maddy!

Maddy has an online program that is open to people on the waiting list and is opening to the public on May 18th. Were it not for being somewhat financially challenged, I would join this session in a heartbeat. It's really not that expensive for the average person.

I opted for retirement a little too early and now I am "paying the piper".
  • Like
Reactions: knightrider

598 Posts
Discussion Starter · #6 ·
Were it not for being somewhat financially challenged, I would join this session in a heartbeat.
Nope. Not this go around. Hopefully I'll be able to the next session.

598 Posts
Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Maddy talks about Start, End, and Anchor signals in communication with the horse.

These 3 things can change the way you communicate with your horse forever

When you look around at mainstream training practices... You may notice a pattern.⁣

The communication that most of us have been taught to use is completely one way.⁣

The human “speaks” by telling the horse what she wants, and the horse is expected to “listen” by correctly responding to any given cue

This is the way training has been done in most circles for a very long time...⁣

But does it have to be this way in order to have safe, responsive horses?⁣

Thankfully, no
there IS a way (many ways!) to communicate with our horses that includes them in the conversation. Their wants, needs and desires can be honored & respected in training. And yes! It can be done safely + effectively

Here are three concepts that I use in my training to give horses a voice in what they do & what happens with their bodies

- Start signals⁣

Using this technique, you can have a horse tell YOU when she’s ready to perform a behavior. She can give you a signal (such as touching a traffic cone) that she’s ready for you to mount up, or accept a needle for routine care, for example.⁣

- End signals⁣

Your horse can let you know when something is too overwhelming, scary, or even painful by displaying a trained behavior, which lets you know to stop doing what you’re doing. I use this a lot for colt starting — if the horse does a hindquarter yield, that’s his trained signal to let me know he needs me to get off.⁣

- Anchor signals⁣

Basically the start and end signals wrapped into one! When a horse is doing a trained “anchor” behavior, she’s letting you know that she feels safe for you to keep doing what you’re doing. For example, holding her head even with her withers during a grooming session. If she comes out of the anchor, that’s your signal to stop.⁣

Giving your horse a voice using these 3 techniques boosts her confidence, allows her to truly say YES to training, and opens up genuine communication

Open, honest, respectful communication is the foundation for any relationship — including with horses

End Quote

  • Like
Reactions: knightrider

598 Posts
Discussion Starter · #8 ·
I've been reading, watching, and studying various +R trainers for a while now. They are mostly all good and each have their strong points. The difference in some may be the learner. Some prefer some styles, some prefer others.

For me, as far as breaking things down to where even "I" can understand and apply, Maddy is just really great. I won't try to rank her or any of the other +R trainers, I'll just say she's really great, for me, in breaking things down.

Maybe it's her communication style. Did you know she has a communications degree from Purdue? Perhaps communication should be the first thing we study with horses before even moving on to feed, feet, and health.

And now: HERE'S MADDY!

It’s on nearly every horsewoman/man’s mind at one point or another…

And when it’s lacking, it can cause some serious damage, both physically and emotionally.


"How do I get my horse to trust me?" Is one of the main questions I get on an ongoing basis.

And for good reason! We are working with prey animals, designed to spot and flee from danger at a moment's notice… And in the human world, we ask horses to go against their instincts on nearly every level.

In order to have a connected relationship with our horses, building trust in a reliable, ethical way is absolutely necessary.

That’s precisely why I am writing this training for you!

Keep reading to get my signature 5-step protocol for trust building.

I’ll be honest, there’s a lot packed into this protocol. I have nearly 4 hours of content within the HCA "deep dives library" on this very topic.

But to help you understand a high-level view of solutions to a trust issue, I am going to lay out this protocol for you now.
Here we go!

Step 1: Counterconditioning

Counterconditioning is an excellent tool that the use of positive reinforcement (R+) provides. It gives us the ability to help the horse go from seeing an object/place/person etc. as aversive, and moves it up the scale so that it is either neutral or appetitive (meaning the horse desires it).

Pretty cool, right? Here’s what this looks like in action:

Let’s say that you’re having trouble haltering your horse. She’s fearful of the halter, maybe because of past experiences, or because she’s a wild horse and naturally perceives it as a threat.

To use counterconditioning, you can click & treat your horse for touching the halter with her nose.

Of course, you’ll break this behavior down into small steps. For example, start by making the targeting behavior very strong, and then have her target objects similar to a halter, and then have her target the halter lying on the ground, and work up to the point where she’s comfortable touching the halter when it’s in your hand. Add as many steps as needed in between! You may even need to start with click/treating for her just looking at the halter.

Eventually, the horse will associate the very presence of the halter with an appetitive experience, instead of aversive. That’s a good start, right?

Step 2: Increasing the Horse’s Control

I talk about this one a lot :) But that’s because of how powerful it is for decreasing fear in horses (or any other animal).

Give the horse control.

You can use start signals, end signals, anchor behaviors, and more! I teach all of these in HCA, of course.

Here’s this concept in action:
Sticking with the haltering example, a great way to give you horse control would be to use an "anchor" behavior, where the horse holds her head in a low position with a straight, relaxed neck.

When she goes into this position, she is signaling to you that she’s ready to work on the haltering behavior.

If she comes out of this position, it means she is asking you to stop.

She has control over what happens to her body in this scenario. When she has control, she actually becomes more likely to accept what you’re doing without fear! She knows she can say "no" at any time.

When you follow this protocol, your horse will gradually say "no" less and less <3 It’s a great feeling knowing your horse is truly saying yes, because she knows she can say no.

When she has control, genuine trust becomes possible.

Step 3: Training Under Threshold by Systematic Desensitization

Traditional training methods would have you sending the horse into a fear reaction intentionally, and then releasing the pressure/aversive when the horse holds still…

But did you know that you can actually train your horse without doing this?

In fact, this way of training can be very damaging. Instead, you can train your horse by intentionally staying below the "fear threshold," which builds real TRUST (vs. shutting down and coping, which can occur with traditional training).

By using something called "shaping" — which means to break a behavior down into small steps & reward the smallest try — you can stay below a horse’s fear threshold and avoid a fight, flight or freeze reaction.

A great way to break down the haltering behavior into tiny steps is by isolating fear factors such as: visual, tactile, duration, location, and size of the halter.

Instead of putting a big bulky halter on for a long period of time, use just a piece of rope and work on sliding that over her nose for just a moment.

Isolate, then you can recombine later to get the whole behavior!

Step 4: Use Clean Loops

Ah, clean loops! My favorite discovery.

A "loop" is this sequence: cue, behavior, reward.

When you have a "clean loop" it means that your horse responded to the cue, performed the behavior beautifully, and received the reward, all without fear or hesitation.

When you’re working on a step, make sure to get 3-5 "clean loops" in a row before moving on to the next step.

If you can’t get clean loops at this step, go to an easier step until you can get clean loops. Build from there :)

This has been totally life changing for me and my students!

You’ll build true confidence and trust in your horse when she feels safe doing a behavior, each step of the way.

Step 5: Create an "Escape Route"

We all know that horses' first choice for staying safe in the wild is to flee from danger. In the horse world, the ability to escape = survival.

If you use steps 1-4, step 5 will be needed rarely! However, it is incredibly important.

Allowing your horse to have an escape route during training paves the way for a trusting relationship. When she knows she can leave, she’ll be more likely to feel safe staying with you.

If I am using pressure & release training, I love to work with any fear inducing behaviors at liberty (no ropes or tack), in the round pen. This way, if my horse decides to leave… I let her. If she’s afraid of what we are doing, I allow her to leave the situation. I ask her to canter several laps around the round pen, and then invite her back in to work with me at an easier step.

The horse feels safer because she can leave, but also learns that she doesn’t need to react.

When I am using R+ techniques, I recommend using what I call the redirection, and A-B techniques.

Let me break this down for you:

An A level behavior is a more difficult behavior that has the potential to cause a fear reaction, while a B level behavior is one that the horse is comfortable and well established with.

When using the redirection technique, if your horse is showing fear and either stops participating or goes to leave… Let her! Redirect her to a B level behavior. This will re-engage her in the training, and build something called "behavioral momentum." You can revisit the A level behavior once you have that momentum back!

You can take this a step further by proactively using the A-B technique.

If you’re working with a horse on an A-level behavior, you can actually give her an "escape" by moving on to a B-level behavior before she has a fear reaction. Before redirection is even necessary!

This is incredibly helpful in building a horse’s confidence, as each time you work with her on a potential fear-inducing behavior, she gets to move on before ever feeling unsafe.

There you have it! My signature protocol for building trust with your horse <3

This 5 step protocol has made a world of difference for me and my
HCA students!
  • Like
Reactions: knightrider
1 - 8 of 8 Posts