Stillwater Farm

Training Tips From Felicia

Felicia Britt's avatar

You have waited all week and now it is finally here. Saturday. You pull on your boots and head out to the barn for that special time with your horse when you can relax, unwind and renew your soul. But, what begins as a morning filled with anticipation and enthusiasm quickly turns into frustration, disappointment, and that overwhelming feeling of doubt. You asked yourself, “What in the world am I doing?” or “Why doesn't anyone understand me?” The irony is that your horse is asking himself those very same questions. The trouble is that you are a predator, he is prey and you don't speak the same language. His doubt is natural. It is my hope to help you learn ways to develop a mutual trust with your horse that I feel is the foundation of every productive moment you will spend with him after that.

In my experience, every frustration between horse and handler can be attributed to lack of communication. You ask your horse to “whoa”, and he plows over top of get angry, because after all, why would he do that to you, as much as you love him? You yell at him, he laughs at are out of control and he knows it. In five minutes you gave him sixteen reasons NOT to listen to you. So, now what do youdo?

This is the first of a five part series exploring the intricate relationship we share with these powerful animals. It begins in the will.

‘What the horse does under compulsion, is done without understanding; and there is no beauty in it either, anymore than if one should whip or spur a dancer.’

- Art of Horsemanship Xenophon 430-354 BC




B – is for BELIEVE. But, believe in whom or what, you ask? When you instruct your horse to follow a command and he doesn't respond, why do you suppose that is? And when your horse runs from you in the pasture instead of to you, what are you thinking at that moment? How often have you told yourself , “When I get that horse broken to ride, I will have control of her then.”? She comes home from the trainer and you still don't, not really. Do you receive advice from others encouraging you to “Show him who's boss!', or “Be the bigger horse!” or “Don't be afraid!”? You are not sure how or why, but in truth, you are afraid.....of failing.

A carpenter would never begin a job or stay in business for very long if all he ever took to work was a hammer. So many folks walk out to the barn with a hammer expecting to build an ark. When you don't have the proper tools, you know it and you can be certain, your horse knows it as well.

So, we are back to BELIEVE. Believe in what? You cannot expect your horse to believe in you as a leader if you do not believe it yourself first. I am not talking about you believing in yourself as a world class athlete or mother of the year. I mean believing you are capable of convincing your horse you are worthy of being trusted when everything in his nature tells him the opposite. We as human beings can walk into a dinner party and have everyone in the room convinced we haven't a care in the world. Often, we can fool even our closest relatives. But, be certain of one thing: You will NEVER fool a horse. Never. This prey animal has honed his observation skills to a level we cannot imagine. A horse will scrutinize your body language so acutely, you cannot lie. He makes determinations about your leadership ability in the first five seconds. If all you have in your toolbox is a hammer, what horse in his right mind would trust you to save him from the mountain lions that are inevitably lurking about?

So, your first priority is to fill your toolbox with believable implements that can convince your horse and more importantly, convince you that you are a leader that can be trusted.

Get a trainer. Whether you send your horse to a training facility or buy one of the several outstanding DVD training programs, find a one that fits in with your goals and your style. Give your horse a couple of weeks off, study the techniques, and make a plan. Decide how much time you can invest and stick to it. Start out slow. A couple of hours one day a week, every week, is far better than all day on Saturday once a month. Be thorough and complete each task well or else, as with any shortcut, holes will show up later in your horse's training. Focus on the process, and the product will come naturally.

Keep a journal. Documenting progress is a critical part of any training program. Record what you worked on that day, any hitches, accomplishments and notes of interest. Make recommendations for the next session while things are still fresh in your mind. This will keep you motivated and focused, not to mention prepared. Knowing what you are going to do gives you confidence and credibility; the first step to being a good leader.

Practice your techniques, document your progress, and believe you can do it, then your horse will, too.




-Felicia Britt, trainer


  • Great start to your program Felicia…..look forward to hearing more soon:)

  • Thank you so much for sending me this. Robin knows I’m a new returning horse owner and LOKI, my norwegian fjord who’s 5 is so willing and most important I am also which is the most important aspect. Although LOKI was used mostly for trial rides and his temperment is so docil he never had too much ground work.
    I’ve studied Clinton Anderson and I have two trainers working with me. One is a clinton Anderson and Parelli practicer and the other is a solid barrel racer western person. I’m learning from both and so far neither conflicts the other. I have spent lots of time on the ground and I’m finding that it is as rewarding as on top riding. Actually the ground work is really helping us with our relationship. And it’s making a believer of me.So far we we’ve learned I think the respectful and proper way to walk with a lead, lunge either walking or slowly trotting in a circle around me on a 12 or longer line (this has helped when the weather’s been cold down here in FL), backing up 3 different ways, moving the hind quarters away and working on him staying out of my space. He’s a freindly guy and I understand that friendly can be dominant if I let it.  He was previously owned by a 230 lb ferrier who trained him and road mostly on trails. We’re doing good and I’m in no hurry; each day I learn from him and hopefully he learns from me.
    Thank you again. I’ look forward to your future newsletters and guidance.  If you ever have videos I’d be interested. The Gypsys are drafty like my fjord and I almost bought one.
    margery wentworth

  • Hi Felicia! Thanks so much for including me on this piece! You really have a gift with the horses, I always enjoy your mini-clinics at the shows.  I really appreciated your article and look forward to ROME!!

    Thank you & God bless!

    Chris Thompson

  • Excellent thinking out of the box program to share your training techniques. I always appreciate learning what works for others.  One is never too old or too smart to learn from someone else. The first step is identifying the need to know more and the next step is having the courage to put the new tools into practice. Looking forward to more information in the future.  I enjoy your lovely farm pictures and videos.
    Kind Regards,
    Deb Stone

  • That was an excellent start to a further-future-anticipated series.  Coming back from an accident not caused at ALL by The horse, but with horse involvement attached and resulting broken bones with surgeries,  pins, rods and stainless steel all too abundant in the result, I find that I am not the carefree confident and assertive leader I used to be ‘pre-trauma.’  I very much need to regain my leader-spot, and not only with my horse but with confidence in myself and my horsemanship abilities. 

    While I certainly know that at some level, I am now missing a oft-relied upon and now lacking and sadly missed tool in my
    ‘equine toolbox,’  I am not certain how to regain that leadership and confidence within myself in order to help my young horse (also post-trauma due to sustained abuse and starvation.)  Things that made me laugh before, now whisper “careful, be careful”  softly in my ear. 

    My lovely horse and I are both worth the work and attempts at trying to create a good relationship for work and play, but it’s an uphill battle with both our recent histories.  I will be looking forward to your series!~  Deborah D.

  • Wow that was a very nice starting point and I feel blessed to have stumble on to you site yesterday and here I am the first part of the series… I have always loved horses but these last few years I have lost my touch ;connection with my horse as I have had some personal struggles with family, a new baby and continued job losses.  Apparently he can sense I am down.  He was always my escape to the normal pressures of motherhood and homeschooling…but I found myself making excuse not to ride bc I was worried about messing up or getting thrown again and it was feeling like work or a battle, IS there a way back or am I getting too old?  I refuse to give in there, mid forties is still young enough.  Anyways I will enjoy hearing your teaching and encouragement. Thanks for making it available.

  • Dear still water,
    i am wondering where stillwater farm is, or if there is one in minesoat if there is can you send me the website?
    P.S.can you send me the exact time and place. and if it’s on a week day morning i cant make it.

  • I am so thankful to hear from the 2 women above who were brave enough to express their fear “aloud”.

    As Felicia learned about me in a short period of time I am easily intimidated by physical dominance.  Yet I long to be with the horses so.  I want you both to know how empowering it is to know that others struggle with this.  Will I get hurt , be unable to work, lose the small amount of grey matter that I already have left, and do I have the time to run my life and be a leader to the horses?  Everyday questions looming!!!

    The bravado that so many equestrians put forth is disconcerting enough; but for “our own kind “ not to speak of dark times is sad.  Speaking of pain is the first step to healing, and admitting fear is so freeing. We will be sooner blessed by challenges and will sooner learn how to get “back up” if other experiences of fear are communicated.

    One could not be more scared than I, but at one point Felecia had me blindfold on one horse periodically coming to “drunken” stops.  Pure fun…because I was connected to a woman and a horse that I trusted ,  Felecia had me feeling so good so quickly I started to cry…relief, fun, yessir… but more truth…I was lost without my fear.  We are so programmed as women to be fearful.  We can break these habits together girls, with Felecia at the whip!

    Cannot wait to get to the “A”!  I smell a Britt clinic!

  • Thank you to everyone for your kind words, honesty and transparency.  Each of you has what it takes to communicate, share and exchange with your equine partner.  It takes time, patience and perseverance to discover the tools that not only shape your horse, but fit your hand as well.  Sometimes, it seems like everyone else has a skill saw, ratchet set, and every screwdriver known to the free world in their toolbox while, all you have is a roll of duct tape, a pair of tweezers and a cough drop!
      You all have something unique to offer your horse BECAUSE of your experiences, not in spite of them.  BELIEVE it, and your horse will, too.
      Next stop, ANCIENT ROME!
    Have fun!!