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12 Tips for Objective Observation


It is not always easy to make an objective observation about a horse.

People are great at making assumptions with their horse:


  • Most horses are left bended.
  • All left-bended horses have their mane to the right.
  • All right-bended horses are left handed.
  • All low spirited horses are lazy.
  • Coldblood horses can't do the piaffe.

The following story illustrates this assumption-making process:

white-sheep"All sheep are white..."

Five scientists sit on the train and travel through Scotland. They look out the window and see a sheep in a pasture.

  • Scientist #1 says: All sheep are white.
  • Scientist #2 says: No, all sheep in Scotland are white.
  • Scientist #3 says: No, all sheep in this pasture are white.
  • Scientist #4 says: No, this sheep is white.
  • Scientist #5: we can say with certainty that this sheep is white on this side.


Taking something specific and applying it more broadly is making a generalization. It's a generalization to say all horses are herbivores. A generalization is taking one or a few facts and making a broader, more universal statement.

But be careful: If all the horses you know are right bended, you might make the generalization and belief that all horses are right bended. But your specific personal experience is perhaps not a reliable picture of the overall reality.

Scientists try to make generalizations based on research — the more data they have, the more accurate the generalization.

Science or belief?

It is interesting to see that there are different 'beliefs' around to natural assymmetry in horses:

There are more left-bended horses according to: There are more right-bended horses according to:
  • Antoine de Pluvinel
  • Francois de la Guérinière
  • Gustav Steinbrecht
  • Dr Reiner Klimke
  • Wilhelm Müseler
  • Üdo Burger

Scientifically it is not proven that there are more left-bended horses than right-bended or vice versa, but beliefs can be very powerful.

Usually, it's best to stick with specifics and avoid generalizations.

12 Tips on How To Improve Your Observation Skills

Objective observationTo be able to observe objectively as scientist #5 above, is a key to good horsemanship.

Every horse needs an individual and trailer-made approach and it all start with objective observation. These tips might help:

  • 1. Stick with specifics and avoid generalizations.
  • 2. Do not make assumptions (eg that a left-bended horse is ALWAYS right handed or that a lazy horse is ALWAYS less intelligent).
  • 3. See the Big Picture. Sorting ideas into tidy little boxes can cause problems during training. It sometimes prevents us from seeing the Big Picture. See all aspects, parts, pictures and moments, instead of just a single aspect, part, picture or moment. Take care not to make conclusions based on one single aspect, part, picture or split second in time.
  • 4. Don't compare your horse to other horses. Never compare your horse for example to another of the same age. Horses have different learning abilities and absorb information at different rates.
  • 5. The past doesn't equal the future. Riders tend to treat the horse as they think he is. But this often leads to "self-fulfilling prophecy". Don’t let the past hinder your progress. Let it go. Horses live in the moment every single day. That’s why they can quickly overcome years of behavioral and physical issues with the proper guidance.
  • 6. Use all your senses: 'see' the horse, 'listen' to the horse, 'feel' the horse. See his movement, hear the rhythm of the gait, listen to his breathing, feel his muscle tension. Sense your horse's energy, emotions and attitude.

...........Objective observation Horse senses Horse senses


  • 7.  Not everything is what it seems. Often a single picture might 'preframe' you to see something, but when you see the Bigger Picture, including the moments before and after, the world might look completely different. So always test what you see, hear or feel.
  • 8. The first impression is important but does not always paint the true picture. Riders form a picture of a horse very quickly and easily, but look beyond the first impression.
  • 9. Observe consciously, try to be as unprejudiced as possible, and do not judge too quickly.
  • 10. Be creative and open-minded.
  • 11. Dare to think outside the box during training.
  • 12. One rider is naturally a better observer than the other. And the trained and experienced trainer happens to have a sharper eye than a novice or inexperienced rider. But practice makes perfect and after a while, it gets better.

Good luck!

Marijke de Jong

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3 thoughts on “12 Tips for Objective Observation

Comment author said

By Claudia on 10 November 2015 at 02:41

I learn so much from these emails. Thank you!


Comment author said

By rikke on 10 November 2015 at 06:46

This is exactly what I mean
I tell all the children at my place all the same sentences every day
Thanks for reminding me that I am not wrong


Comment author said

By Amy G on 24 February 2016 at 22:29

AWESOME info that we all need to be reminded of...often! It is SO easy to make generalizations and it is not fair to our horses....


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