The days of "breaking horses" are pretty much a thing of the past. Training horses has evolved into a much kinder, more humane way of teaching; thanks in part to John Rarey, considered the original horse whisperer. Rarey trained with kindness, patience and firmness. He was a master at taming horses who other trainers had deemed too vicious or wild to train.

Who Was John Rarey?

John Rarey & Cruiser; Source: Wikimedia CommonsCredit: Source: Wikimedia CommonsJohn Rarey was born December 6, 1827 in Ohio.  Raised on a farm, his early traits showed a fondness for the farm horses. He started riding when he was three years old and at twelve, his father gave him a feisty colt to break in his own way.[2]  Rarey broke the colt, using techniques unknown at the time and he became well-known in the area with his fame quickly growing such that men from hundreds of miles away came to learn his way of training horses.

As he aged, Rarey grew his career of training equines and conducted exhibitions and published a small book explaining his method of training.[2]  he caught the attention of the British royals and he gladly showed them his skills on horses they deemed “trouble.”   He was given the challenge of “taming” a particularly vicious animal called “Cruiser.”   Rarey was able to use his method to tame the equine much to the amazement of its owner, Lord Dorchester.[2]  The taming of Cruiser solidified Rarey’s fame.

The Rarey Technique of  Equine Training

Rarey is most known for his work with traumatized or "mean" horses. He would perform a technique that came to be known as "rareify" which means to "tame a horse by kindness," or "to win by love." This method entails drawing up the near foreleg of the equine and positioning the leg close to its body with a short strap. The horse is relegated to standing on three legs and cannot buck or kick. The next step is to fasten one end of a longer strap to the lower foreleg of the far front leg of the animal; thread the other end through a loop in a belt around the horse's belly.[1] This enables the trainer to bring the equine to its knees in a humane, injury free manner. Putting weight into its shoulder will cause it to lie down, after about ten minutes or so. The horse is submissive to the trainer and it is at that moment when a trust is formed between the equine and trainer.[1Breaking Horses; Photo by Cheryl WeldonCredit: Photo by Cheryl Weldon]

While training the average horse does not include this method, it illustrates the basic principles of calmness, patience and kindness in equine training. Many modern day trainers use various forms of these principles in their methods of training.



Laying a Horse Down

Caution: only experienced trainers should attempt this


Modern Training Methods

The equine is an intelligent highly trainable prey animal. In the past, horse wranglers used two methods to "break" their wild mounts: punishment and fatigue. Cowboys did not consider it Horse Training Methods; Photo by Cheryl WeldonCredit: Photo by Cheryl Weldongood time management to be patient and train the animal slowly. They needed their mounts rideable quickly; their livelihood depended on having "broke" mounts. Even when this was no longer a factor, cowboys continued to use the old method of saddling a wild horse right away and letting it buck until it was exhausted. It was then considered "tame."

Eventually, man learned that the best way to train horses was by using kindness and using the animal's natural instincts; in essence, the trainer becomes the dominant member of the herd. The animal learns to trust and follow commands of the "dominant "horse." Trainers such as, Craig Cameron, John Lyons, Horse Training; Photo by Cheryl WeldonCredit: Photo by Cheryl WeldonChris Cox and Pat Parelli are considered natural horsemanship trainers. Clint Anderson, originally from Australia, but a United States citizen in 1997, is another well known trainer and calls his method Downunder Horsemanship. They give clinics across the country on how to train horses using calm, kind, yet firm methods.

The one thing all of these trainers as well as most other trainers who give clinics and train professionally, have one thing in common. They use the kind yet firm method of training. When a trainer has received trust from the horse; the animal will do just about anything for the trainer. Displays of thisHorse Trainer; Photo by Cheryl WeldonCredit: Photo by Cheryl Weldon level of trust are exhibited in shows and clinics. Audiences are amazed when a trainer is able to stand on a horse that has only had 3 months training time.

Trainers do not use punishment. What they teach the equine instead is to make a better decision. Horses tend to be reactionary; like most prey animals their first instinct is to flee. Today's training methods teach them  to think before fleeing. Horses are rewarded by release of pressure and rest. Trainers listen to the body language of the horse and it quickly learns the body movements of the trainer and associates the movement with what the trainer is asking the horse to do.

Breaking Horses a Thing of the Past

There will probably always be the few who try to train a horse by "breaking it." However, these people are generally cruel and abusive. Today's trainers whether professional or amateur, use methods based on tHorse Training; Photo by Cheryl WeldonCredit: Photo by Cheryl Weldonhe Horse Whisperer method of training. A "broke" horse is not necessarily tame and gentle; it may simply be fearful. A well trained horse on the other hand, will be a companion to its rider. Horses do not hold grudges, but they do learn from experiences. Kind words and gentle handling will ensure a good relationship between equine and trainer.

Just because someone rides horses does not mean the person is a trainer. Some people have natural instincts with equines, like Rarey, they are able to learn how to train horses without the aids of clinics, DVDs or books. However, for the average person, it is wise to get guidance from an experienced trainer.


The copyright of the article The Horse Whisperer Method of Horse Training is owned by Cheryl Weldon and permission to republish in print or online must be granted by the author in writing.