Home » Three Books You Must Read When Beginning Reward Based Horse Training.

Three Books You Must Read When Beginning Reward Based Horse Training.

Fox and I Reading Horses In Company by Lucy Rees

There is so much information out there. It’s hard to know where to start!

When I first got the idea that I wanted to dive into positive horse training, I found the amount of information available absolutely overwhelming. I kept asking myself where do I start? Do I start by just teaching behaviours with R+? How do I know that I am on the right track, and not making common mistakes? Eventually I found my way. Now I get asked quite often which books I recommend for learning R+.

Listed below are the top three books that gave me the basic understanding that made it possible for me to categorize and absorb the information that’s out there. They also prepared me for my first course in R+ training. A lot of R+ training is based on the information that is summarized in these books. They are filled with studies, scientific information, hands on experience, and references to deeper learning. They really are the gateway to the path into R+ and make navigating the enormous amount of information available much easier! I have read a lot of books on this subject. I don’t want to discredit the other books out there, because there are other great ones. I’m sharing these three here, as they were absolutely invaluable when I was starting out.

Book #1: Connection Training: The Heart and Science of Positive Horse Training By Hannah Weston and Rachel Bedingfield

This book is AMAZING! I originally downloaded it onto my phone as an e-book thinking it would be similar to a couple of the R+ books that I had read before. When I started reading it, I was absolutely mind blown by how thorough and informative this book is. I honestly felt like I didn’t pay enough for it. Once I had finished it, I recommended it to anyone that I thought even remotely would be interested in R+ training.

Here’s a list of the things that I absolutely loved about this book!

  1. Each subject was accompanied with a video example. The e-book was super easy to use, I would read the book, and then just click on the following image and it would take me straight to a video example of the concept. The visual example, and audio description was invaluable for really absorbing the subject.
  2. They begin with Ethology, and briefly explain the horse’s basic needs, and outline what a species appropriate lifestyle looks like for a horse.
  3. They touch on the study of emotions and outline Jaak Panksepp’s work on studying emotions in animals. This is invaluable as it highlights the idea that we need to be aware of the emotions that we are building into the training. If you’re anything like me the reference to Panksepp’s work will send you down a rabbit hole of research… Which is fantastic!
  4. They talk about the value of calming signals and reading the horse’s emotions. They don’t just tell you that you need to be aware of them, but they steer you to resources where you can learn more about reading your individual horse.
  5. Last but not least they cover and demonstrate a wide range of R+ behaviours, and training techniques.

Book #2: Language Signs & Calming Signals of Horses: Recognition and Application By Rachael Draaisma

This book doesn’t teach R+ training. Rather it teaches us how to interpret the signals that our horses are showing. The book Connection Training actually recommends this book… but I assumed that I already knew what calming signals were, so I didn’t pick it up. I didn’t read this book until a week before I began my first R+ course. It was a pre-request to starting the course.

Once I started reading this book I regretted having not done so sooner. Having spent many years with horses I would randomly get a “feeling” that the horse was about to give a flight reaction, or that he was a little stressed, but I couldn’t have told you exactly what made me feel that way. This book took those “feelings” and placed them squarely in the conscious part of my brain.

Suddenly I was aware that I had observed an eye blink, followed by a lick and chew, followed by a displacement behaviour, and I had interpreted that the horse was heading up the tension scale. In reverse I saw a blink and instinctively knew that the horse was calming down. This new detailed conscious awareness of my horses has been fantastic! I am no longer developing superstitious ideas around how I saw a reaction coming, I can now list every behaviour that I observed up to that point.   

This book also made it easier for me to help my students understand what I was seeing and why I was suggesting the things that I was suggesting. It even gave me the ability to teach my students to read their own horses. No, you absolutely DO NOT have to be a horse whisperer to read horses!

I know that a lot of us have been taught that a lick and chew is universally a good thing. When in reality it can mean a few different things. After reading this book I purposely focus on keeping my horses below threshold in a calm learning state during training, and no longer search for signals like licking and chewing as confirmation of good training. If you haven’t guessed by now, I highly recommend this book for all trainers! Not just the R+ trainers.

Book #3: Horses in Company By Lucy Rees

I found this book so interesting! It’s an absolute must read, for anyone involved with horses!!! It isn’t a book about R+ training, it is a book about equine behaviour, and how they interact. This book greatly influenced my perspective on my interactions with my horses, and drastically changed my approach to horse training. This change in thinking is imperative to all horse training, especially R+ training. My biggest takeaway was that dominance theory is most definitely dead.

The author Lucy Rees is an Ethologist who studies behaviour in feral horses. This book is a compilation of her findings written for the general public. This isn’t just a boring dry book of scientific papers. It flows extremely well and is full of pictures depicting her findings. Although she does have a nice reference list in the back for those of you who are like me, and want to dive deeper and learn more!

I really enjoyed the fresh new perspective.  This book answered a lot of my questions about equine behaviour, herd dynamics, and interactions. There are so many interesting details in this book! Anything from how feral herds organize themselves, how many horses are in each band,  how they choose a stallion etc. She also dives into explaining how domestic horses are different from feral horses, and has a whole section dedicated to aggression in horses.

Her observations give clues into how we can improve the lives of our domestic horses, and reduce things like aggressive behaviours, and general stress. I personally have changed the way that I keep my horses since reading this book, and have seen a drastic reduction in aggressive behaviours. These are behaviours that I would have classified as dominant in the past. I have also seen a drastic reduction in stress behaviours as well. My horses are a lot calmer, more peaceful towards each other, and more confident in their environment in general.

So why is this book relevant to starting R+ training? Well, it shifts our perspective from dominance theory, to looking at our horse’s behaviour from all angles, and seeing what is actually driving it. Instead of just assuming that the horse is testing us, or trying to be the leader, we can look deeper from an educated perspective, and truly find the answers.

This improves our horse’s life in training, and in general. It also makes our job as a trainer less about fighting and winning, and more about investigating, and solving. Which I enjoy a lot more!

Anyways these are my three favourite books that I absolutely love to recommend!

Happy reading and have a lovely day,


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