Your Horse and Purpose – Does your horse have a job?

What! My horse is a pleasure horse, he doesn’t need a job. Having a horse and purpose will change your equine journey. Don’t believe me, lets take a look.

Cowboy and horse in paddock with dog

Horses with Jobs

The days when you pretty much didn’t have a horse unless he had a purpose are long gone. Back in the day horses were essential for everyday life. Consider the outback drovers who used their horses to move cattle before the advent of motorbikes and helicopters. Or the country family with their horse and cart travelling into town for supplies. The children who use to ride their horses to school each day or the farmer with his plough horses creating a living and developing the land.

These horses all had a core use. Even the well-to-do with their handsome carriage horses used once a week for the trip to church each Sunday still had a purpose.

These horses had a job or in some case multiple jobs as they doubled as hunting horses for pleasure, or plough horses that were then used to pull the carts for delivery of the farm produce.

Times have changed, and with more disposable income we often times have our horses as companions and hobbies rather than a means to an end.

What does this mean for your horse?

Often times it means our horses are only used on the weekends. They spend countless days hanging out within their herds Bucking horse minus rideror stabled with little interaction.

Then when we do want to do something with them it can often seem like a pointless exercise to your horse.

I certainly know with Jonny, my gelding, he can see no point in perfecting a 20 metre circle more than once. He will give you his all for one, maybe two circles, and then his mind starts to wander and his performance lags.

He is bored and can’t see the point in going round and round with no end in sight. There is no purpose.

This is often times when poor behaviour begins to surface as well. If your horse can see no reward for his efforts he might just remind you in a way you don’t like!

This is not to say that arena work, or practising your dressage moves, is not all for a good purpose. Creating a supple, engaged horse who uses his body the best way possible I think is not only an admirable undertaking but essential to the ongoing well being of your horse.

And some horses will do this ad infinitum and be quite happy doing so. But many won’t unless given a purpose.

They simply can’t see the point and worse they can see no end to the work you are asking of them.

So what job can you give your horse?

Horse rider wearing spursCowboys know about working a horse with a purpose. I’m not suggesting you drop everything and take your horse with you to become a Jillaroo in the great Australian outback, although that does sound kind of appealing to me.

But every horse can be given a job and one that dovetails with what you want to do with your horse and the goals and dreams you may have for your partnership.

Jon and I attended a team penning clinic (also called team yarding) last weekend. I’ll give you a brief rundown if you are not familiar with this sport.

The overly simplified version is you form a team of three riders who in under 1 minute and 30 seconds need to put three specific cows, identified with a coloured collar, into a pen.

It’s fantastic fun and you can read all about it and check out some action photos on the NSW Team Yarders website. Don’t miss the video at the end of this blog also, a great watch with a yarding run of 65 seconds.

OK back to our weekend. I was amazed at how every horse there, some who had never seen a cow before, took to the job of moving the cattle. These horses were from all sorts of backgrounds, not just cattle work or western riding, and a large variety of breeds and types.

They seemed to inherently know that there was a job to do once we commenced each run and they were committed for the time it took to complete the job.

How will your horse benefit

We started the weekend learning the movements we would need to effectively move cows. Forequarter turns, moving off your leg, encouraging an energetic, responsive but calm horse, that was ready to work but also happy to stand and relax between runs.

Sound like a horse you want to ride no matter the discipline you are in? Certainly does to me.

This is called Principles to Purpose.

Principles to Purpose

You and your horse first learn the principles of the exercise and then you put it into practice with a purpose. In our case it was moving cows from one end of the arena to the other and putting them in a pen.

Cross country horse jumping in waterYou and your horse need a purpose to your horsemanship because a purpose gives it meaning. This purpose may be a sport, it may be your job; it can be whatever gives you an end goal.

Similar to humans, if a horse never finds out what the purpose behind all the time and effort is, it’s very easy for him to mentally and emotionally check out. But when he understands the purpose, when there’s a real point, that’s when his heart and desire turn into exuberance.

With some thought putting the principles you teach to a purpose can be applied to many exercises you do with your horse. Let’s look at an example.

Principle: to develop the horse’s understanding of “how” to do something, which is the development of communication through language and techniques. An example of this would be to teach your horse to turn by moving his forequarters.

Purpose: to develop the horse’s understanding of “why” to do something, which is putting the communication and techniques into practice to give them meaning. An example of this would be, once you have taught your horse to turn through the forequarters, you can give it purpose by using the maneuver to make it easier for your horse to turn through bending poles or moving cattle as was our case.

Give it a try

Put purpose to your horsemanship using obstacles, cattle, simulators, and western performance maneuvers, all things that get your horses mind engaged and give him a job to complete.

See the highlighted word “complete”. There must be an end to each exercise with a result and a reward for your horse. Otherwise, the purpose is lost and it simply becomes another exercise.

You need to be clear on what the purpose of the exercise is before you start.

Giving your horse exercises with a purpose will deepen your connection, increases your horse’s confidence, and will result in a deeper bond between horse and rider as you work as a partnership to achieve a desired outcome.

As you move further along you will refine your communication with your horse, improve your play and riding, develop your horse’s connection and responsiveness, and learn to be even more polite and light while gaining increased rapport, respect, impulsion and flexion.

Check out this video of the gold medal winning team at the 2018 AQHA Select Team Penning. A 65 second team penning run showing horses working with a purpose.

Would love to hear your stories of how you put principles to purpose in your riding, whether your horse has a job and if not how you might be able to create a job for him.

Pop your comments in the box below and of course if you have any questions or would like more information just ask us in the comments section.


Share The Love ...

Horses are my passion. And while not everything in horses is black and white, and there are many choices you will need to make for your horse, I hope to explain things in a way that helps you make informed decisions, so you can provide the very best life to your horse.

  • Sondra says:

    I can relate to the need to have a purpose. Even as a rider, I get bored if I don’t understand why we are trying to learn something. I also get bored just going in circles.

    So, I can understand why a horse wants a job. Granted, they are like people.

    Some horses are happy doing rail work in an arena, some horses love to run races. Others love jumping over obstacles or working cows.

    Great post.

  • Cathy Cavarzan says:

    Your article brought back fond memories of past trail rides with my heflinger. It wasn’t a job per say but to my horse and myself it was like having a purpose. We used to go twice a week without fail,always somewhere new. I know moonshine (my horse) looked forward to it. For him that was a purpose. A lot of my friends had horses that like you stated basically could care less and got bored after spending weeks in the pasture with nothing to do. The team penning sounds like a lot of fun.

    • Heidi says:

      Hi Cathy what a wonderful life for you and your horse. Trail riding is indeed, as you say, giving your horse a purpose. You have a destination and the horse is rewarded, many people forget that horses do actually like having a job. 

      They want to please and they enjoy getting things right if we provide a suitable reward for their efforts.

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing your story.

  • AV 2001 says:

    Hey Heidi! How are you doing? This blog post is just sensational. To be honest, I have no interest in horses but after reading this post, I felt immersed into the topic and I’ll definitely follow up with the blog posts which you continue to post in the future. I do enjoy watching the Dubai World Cup which is held every single year in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

    I highly encourage people to read this article. Thanks for sharing this with us today. Cheers!!!

    • Heidi says:

      Thanks for your encouragement AV. I appreciate your support and really glad you enjoyed the blog. 

      I love watching people at the top of their sport and the Dubai World Cup is one spectacular event that’s for sure. We do get it televised occasionally here in Australia so I’ve seen a few now.

      Thanks again for stopping by.

  • >