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Negotiation happens every day…

Like humans, horses have needs to be fulfilled in order to be comfortable.  So, when we look at the nature of horses (prey animals), their instinctual NEEDS must shape the way we communicate with them.

Prey animals run from perceived danger.  When they cannot escape pain or fear they may choose to fight. Freedom (not feeling trapped) is one of the most important things for survival.  They try to establish what is SAFE or UNSAFE constantly. 

Riding horses never happens without Negotiation…  We should be good at it!  Negotiating is something we do each and every day! With our children, our spouses, our work mates – an endless list. To be a truly good negotiator, knowing what the ‘want’ is for both parties is an important skill to employ. 


What constitutes a ‘win’ for the opposite side?  Chances are you won’t ever reach a suitable agreement if you don’t know this.  A negotiation is not a battle… It’s a two-way conversation aimed at reaching the desired goals.  The outcome for both sides must either solve a problem or take advantage of an opportunity. Both sides are important – not one more than the other.  Whether human or horse, the rules are parallel.

How horses say things…

Technically, horses can’t take part in verbal negotiations with humans. Their gift of speech is expressed via body language.  They do have the ability to voice dissatisfaction or a sense of safety/comfort. If you want to ride a horse it pays to know the obvious and the subtle nuances of this!

Example – Let’s say you tack up your horse in a saddle that is restrictive (even painful!)…especially when he/she tries to move. Even if it is built to fit your horse’s body when standing still, it is not guaranteed to be shaped to welcome the expansion and lifting of the same body in motion. When the too-small saddle is strapped tight to the horse’s back, it will be digging into the shoulders when big muscles try to pull the scapulae back during strides. Possibly, it will press down on the withers and pinch muscles along the spine that should be able to lift and broaden.  Overall, it blocks the horse’s ability to use muscles, joints, and skeleton in a way that nature intended so it rearranges the horse’s posture in a negative way. 

A horse is unable to ‘flee’ from that discomfort nor alleviate the pain and fear that develops.

How wonderful if he/she could say “Excuse me, but this saddle is digging into me and I can’t move…would you please change it?”… Instead…What might the horse choose to do?  Usually one of 2 things:

Suffer and travel on with sub-standard biomechanics and compromised mental/emotional/physical health


Fight via various behavioral means which might include less safety for the rider. 

No negotiating is possible if the rider can’t or won’t interpret the signs. The horse gives up or gets more violent in protest.

Bucking Horse

Goals, Education & Negotiation…

We believe our goals (if they include RIDING) must incorporate awareness of what impact our equipment has on our horse’s way of going. We should EDUCATE ourselves about how to interpret what our horse is communicating and NEGOTIATE to make the riding experience the best it can be for each of us. We can’t negotiate for a better, balanced outcome without perspective from both sides.

Of course, negotiating with your horse requires using the right body language and attitude as well as good tools.  Why is this so important?  Because we’re natural predators not worthy of a prey animal’s trust unless we’re aware of this.  A horse isn’t afraid of a lion… it’s afraid of a hungry lion. 

In other words, act in a predatory way and you will see the prey animal show up for sure.  Uncomfortable saddles feel like predatory traps. Certainly not tools for a mutually satisfying horse/human partnership. Food for thought hey? 

If your horse won’t eat – you may need to ask yourself what else is your horse thinking about? Mastering your own emotions and intent, remaining calm and offering support and leadership, staying curious…all will help your horse decide if what you are asking them to do is something to be concerned about or not…


As we ride, we think about whether or not we’re being considerate to our horses…  Are we always holding onto the reins and trapping them? Are we riding ‘heavy’ in the seat – bouncing up and down on their back? Bracing in the stirrups? Are we training or tormenting?  Are we asking them to do things they simply don’t understand or can’t do?  Blocking their minds with saddle, hands or body?  If a horse is busy thinking about pain, there isn’t much room for learning or the chance to negotiate! And true “Partnership” is most certainly not possible.


Negotiating is not just about ONE side’s needs in a two-part discussion.  It’s about finding a balanced outcome that satisfies both.  If one (person or horse) has to make concessions beyond what they are willing, there will be less chance for a peaceful resolution. Though the needs of humans and horses vary, the process is the same.  Goals should be maintained but adaptability is required to get closest to the desired outcome.

Here’s a list of typical HUMAN “wants” that need to be considered when negotiating with one:
*Taken from Negotiating Wants – By Dr. Chester L. Karrass*
  • They want to feel good about themselves.
  • They want to avoid being boxed into a corner.
  • They want to avoid future troubles – risks – surprises – changes.
  • They want to be reassured
  • They want information and knowledge.
  • They want to work easier, not harder.
  • They want to avoid violating their integrity.
  • They want to feel that what they are doing matters.
  • They want to be able to count on you – now and in the future.
  • They want to be listened to.
  • They want to be treated nicely.
  • They want a good explanation.
  • They want to be liked and thought of as honest, fair, kind, and responsible.
  • They want to get this negotiation over with and on to other things.

Here’s a list of typical HORSE “wants” that need to be considered :
Horses may not put frontal lobe thinking into what fulfills them…but tweaking the list above from the perspective of the prey animal will give us a “leg up” on better negotiating results if we consider these “wants” as partnership requirements:


  • They want to feel safe.
  • They want to avoid being boxed into a corner if they don’t feel safe.
  • They want to avoid present perceived troubles – risks – surprises – changes.
  • They want to be reassured that they are safe.
  • They want relief from pressure.
  • They want to work easier, not harder.
  • They want to avoid fearing for their lives.
  • They want to feel comfortable or they can’t feel completely safe.
  • They want to be able to count on you as the leader of their herd in an “oh no” situation.
  • They want to be listened to.
  • They want to be treated nicely.
  • They want a good explanation.
  • They want to play as long as they feel safe and comfortable.
  • They want to get this negotiation over with and on to other things.
Some interesting LINKS you may be interested in…

You can read the article on Negotiating Wants by Dr. Chester L Karrass here:

Or if you’d also like another lesson ‘Negotiating’ check out this TEDX Talk

Negotiation expert: Lessons from my horse | Margaret Neale | TEDxStanford