Cheerleading and Coaching Horses

Here is a simple concept you can use that will immediately change your relationship with your horses. It will also help your relationship with your spouse, children or the person behind the counter at the convenience store. It is the recognition between cheerleading and coaching.

When working on a horse, I tell owners the difference, and the immediate improvement of the horse’s behavior brings positive remarks from everyone who tries it. No, you don’t need to return to the house and get into a short skirt or pants and a tight sweater. You don’t need to purchase a megaphone or learn dance moves. All you need to do is shift your thinking.


It is natural for all owners to want a perfectly cooperative horse. As soon as the horse makes a move that is not what you want, it becomes natural to try to control the situation by instructing the horse to behave better. This behavior is what I call coaching. It comes in two forms.

The first type is direct or instruction coaching where people bark something to the horse to control and receive the correct desired behavior. “Stand up!” “Stand still!” “Behave or I’ll….” “Move over!” And the many other things said often end with an exclamation point.

The second type is assurance coaching. Included are “It’s alright.” “It’s OK.” “It’ll be over soon.” “He won’t hurt you.” Not only are these examples of assurance coaching, but they are also lying. Quit lying to your horse. The horse says, “There is a strange man in my stall with a steel file in my mouth, and you’re telling me it’s alright!?!?!?!?” The horse says, “Let him stick this steel thing in your mouth, and I’ll coach you that it’ll be OK.”

What is happening with these types of coaching is that the owner is raising their energy. If you feel the horse or situation is getting out of control, you will naturally increase your energy. For example, if you don’t like dentistry, you will raise your energy when seeing dentistry on your horse. If the procedure or practitioner is new to you, it is natural to project your anxiety. If the horse is displaying unwanted behavior, many owners become worried that the professional working on the horse will think less of them as a horse owner – embarrassed. Or worse, a past event occurred where the so-called professional became unprofessional, responding with violence. Whatever your reasons for it, coaching your horse is directly proportional to your rise in energy.


Cheerleading is the opposite of coaching. It represents your belief in your horse to do the right thing. It is empowering for the horse as he either hears your words or feels your positive energy. Examples of cheerleading are: “What a good horse!” “I knew you could do this!” “I’m so proud of you!” “You’re the best!” “Thank you!”

It is OK to lie here slightly because the energy you send is positive. But if you don’t feel comfortable lying, then DON’T SAY ANYTHING. Silence is a huge motivator for a horse that wants to please. But more importantly, being silent allows the horse to concentrate on what the professional is trying to communicate. If two people say something simultaneously, I cannot hear anything someone says to me. The horse also has trouble, and listening to two people talking is confusing. It would be best if you released your desire to be in control and allow the professional to do their job – or find someone else to do it.

The next time your professional works on your horse, try these two things. Don’t say anything to the horse. But if you do, only cheerlead. You will be amazed at the result.

By the way, ladies, men know coaching as “nagging.” And no one likes to be nagged. So try cheerleading instead and see the positive results! “You’re my man!” You’re the best!” “I couldn’t think of anyone who could do the job of mowing that lawn cause if there were a lawn mowing (snow shoveling, gutter cleaning, etc.) Olympics, you’d win the gold medal.”

Seriously ladies, try it – WITH SINCERITY – and see what your horse/man does in response. And yes, this works for all spouses, children, parents and the person behind the counter at the local convenience store.

Y’all are the best! Doc T

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  1. So true Dr T. I am always a cheerleader when it comes to my horse, and husband… Lol
    Positive reinforcement is so important for our horses well being. I just finished a course on how to listen and communicate with our horses, very powerful stuff, and we get more out of our beloved pets, horses and people with positiveness than anything else. Thanks Dr T. I love your letters and I really enjoyed you course on equine nutrition. Thank you for putting all your knowledge out there!!!

  2. This is a great reminder, and one that works super well with Tuff. I use this on our dogs too. When my now 16 yo daughter was a toddler, she’d climb all over our dog, invade her space, etc.. When I’d observe this from a distance I’d say, “Maggie is such a good girl, you’re such a good girl,” and she’d shift her focus to me and visibly relax, banishing any snarly thoughts.

    1. She was looking for leadership in a situation she was unsure of. Your cheerleading / energy gave her guidance. Perfect example!

  3. I admit, I am a nagger. Especially when it comes to my husband, but most of all when it comes to myself! As a writer and editor by profession, one of my traits that has made me successful is an immense capacity for critical thinking, which can easily slide into just plain old being critical–of myself even more than others.

    My first huge lesson as a horseman was that self-criticism of my riding is perceived by my horse as criticism of *her.* It was hurting our relationship. Now I’m confronting a new lesson in leadership–which is another word for this topic–as I read your blog post.

    Doc T, please help! How can I be a cheerleader and a positive, encouraging force when I let you know that your post needs editing?


    1. LOL – remember that most readers are not skilled at literature. I gave up a long time ago in trying to be perfect. Telling someone you love them doesn’t need to be perfect! Just say it because the meat of the message is more important than the spelling, syntax and puntuation – see how I misspelled that 😉 For me, receiving these positive comments is what makes me grateful. I find being grateful in having a horse and the ability to ride should bring out the cheerleader in you. And isn’t cheerleading leadership??? Coaching is just being a boss, a dictator. So glad you discovered this on your own with your horse. Improvement will come quickly.

  4. Great Info, Doc T. My holistic vet was in the barn aisle administering acupuncture to my horse when all of a sudden we heard rumbles of what sounded like an earthquake. Immediately I started telling Dover what a good boy he was. Even though his eyes grew wide, he stayed still, trusting my soothing words. After several seconds (which felt more like minutes) it stopped. Turns out our cupola was working its way loose from the roof. I was so proud of how calm he stayed. I guess you could also say that acupuncture really works!

    Thanks, again, Doc T. Happy Holidays to you and yours!

    1. By cheerleading your horse you were able to control your anxiety from the unusual noise. You became the leader and your horse followed your leadership. Great example!

  5. Good one!! The barefoot trimmer I use (when she’s not hurt) could use this approach, if she were open to it. Instead of “cheerleading” she “coaches” with a heavy hand, fights the horse and ends up hurt (none of my horses have ever hurt her). Then blames the horse for being bad and the owner for not properly training their horse. She’s incredibly competent which is why my horses and I endure her when she’s healed and working. My equine dentist used to be the same way, but she grew out of it and is now one of the best cheerleaders. My horses enjoy her visits, as do I – even the ones who endured her “angry” years. Thanks for the post!

  6. A great reminder, thank you! Sometimes the best thing to do is NOTHING. I so enjoyed watching Melissa float my 19-year-old Alpha mare’s teeth. Am always amazed at how eager horses are to please when given calm, positive guidance. No, it doesn’t always work. No horse (or person for that matter) is perfect, but who doesn’t prefer a smile to a scowl? Temple Grandin always says to tell a horse exactly what you want it to do in as few words as possible with the most important words at the end of the sentence, as these are the ones they really hear. As in, “stop your feet,” not “I wish you’d quit running circles around me.” It’s a minor, but really important difference. The same as between coaching and cheering!