Tools of a New Relationship | The Psychology of Push versus Pull

The concept is not difficult to understand but how to do it is.  This challenges almost all training methods that we use for our horses and challenges us in new ways. What does your training system say to the horse?


Busily taking pictures in the pasture I hear the bugle of the stallion.

That is odd. Why would he be so far away from his herd?

Again I hear his call, demanding, harsh. I turn looking into the distance to see what might be going on. But it is too far away and I can’t see anything. I almost don’t go but again I hear his scream. Curious I start walking toward the call.

When I get closer I can see in the distance the stallion with three of his mares and their foals. I don’t understand what I am seeing. Why are they there? Why are they so far from the rest of the herd? Why are they not with the rest of the herd? And what is that silly stallion trying to do?


I get closer and I am even more confused. I can see the stallion herding the mares and foals toward an open area, a break between the fences. It is a large opening, but the mares get so far and they stop. Absolutely refusing to step through.

I get closer and closer and I simply don’t understand, I am 25 yards away, 20, 15, ...10 and the answer is no clearer. I am about 20 feet away and I see the mares standing calmly with their backs toward me, absolutely refusing to move through the wide opening in the fence line, calmly looking at the stallion as if to say, okay now what are you going to do.

I have never seen this before with this herd. The mares have always been ultra responsive to this stallion when he chooses to drive them forward. So much so that simple body posture has always been enough to drive the herd wherever he wants.

I can see his confusion, his frustration.

He has never actually touched any of his herd to make them move, at least not that I have ever seen. And he doesn't now. He is at a loss.

He simply does not know what to do. He looks at me, He looks at the mares and then reaches down to snatch at the grass forcefully. As if biting down on the clump of grass takes out some of his frustration at what he would like to do with the mares that simply will not move.

No matter how frustrated he refuses to actual touch, bite or kick out at any of the mares or foals contrary to your average view of the stallion in a common western movie. He will herd but he will not harm. He is their protector always.

He grabs at another clump of grass. They simply stand there staring at him, absolutely refusing to move through the opening. With one more glance at all of them he chooses to walk through the opening. I watch still confused as to what is going on.

I am even more confused when rather than seeing him turn south towards the main herd he chooses to go in the opposite direction following along the fence line and goes straight north, away from the small group of mares and foals but directly away from the main herd as well as if he doesn't want to have anything to do with any of them.

Now I am completely confused.

Two different distinct ways to interact with our horses.  Based on the concept behind the training methods that we choose we establish our interactions with our horses and what our relationship will be.  It affects how he feels, how he trusts and even how he moves, even what level of balance that he will work in.  It is time for us to question the accepted methods of training as we realize the true effect it has on the horse.

We started with a story about a stallion. Only to come to realize that there was a lesson here.  One more that the horses have to teach.

First Let us Look at the Symbolism of the Circle


The circle is a basic symbol of protection, inclusion and wholeness. In alchemical symbolism the circle is a center point of focus.

It can represent infinity, being complete, and being whole.

In the Zen Buddhist philosophy, a circle stands for enlightenment and perfection in unity with the primal principles.


And if a circle is not offered it might surprise you that this symbolism is in whole or part of the answer of why the circle is never a circle to start with.

 Watch for the lessons found in this video of a puppy learning to use stairs for the first time.  Possibly there is a lesson here for all of us about the concepts of push and pull and how if it works here, we can begin to discover how else how to apply it.

When you are out in the field with the of horses trying to give up energy that allows you to get close enough to take a picture but not so close that they want to come over and eat your camera, you learn to balance your energy between push and pull.

This is perhaps one of the most important lessons that the horses taught me when I took up photography many years ago.

When I first began, my equipment was an ever ending source of curiosity and I think amusement. They nibbled and licked and seemed quite entertained by this black box that I held up in front of my face.

At the time I thought this was normal, after all how many times have I walked up to groom a horse and the brush must be inspected before it is applied. To me this was a given, so much so that I trained my students to always offer the brush for that initial inspection. So no wonder in my mind at the time that the horse would express interest in this black box. While the camera was expensive I was never concerned about them hurting it, and quickly learned to present the camera, lens facing down, so that wet tongues wouldn't slather saliva over the pristine lens.

Soon enough the horse or horses would loose interest or begin playing with the tripod and I could get back to taking pictures once again.

I thought this was normal.

Challenging the Concepts of Chasing So That the Horses Follow


As horsemen, we always need to keep our minds open and be willing to continue to learn. We can never stop on this lifetime endeavour.