The following evaluation was developed as a minimal guideline for horses
interacting with children between the ages of six and seventeen utilizing group
Immediate Intervention Equitherapy. It was developed for the sole purpose of
minimizing physical and/or emotional trauma caused by negative interaction
between horse and client and is quintessential for any type of adolescent/equine
group function. It was not created as an ultimate evaluation, but rather, a
minimum standard of training/preparation for independent interaction.
The Official Texas Pony Express Equine Training Evaluation is a simple guideline of
interactions that the Horse must learn to accept as commonplace to protect the
children from their own lightning-quick impulsive, emotional actions and
reactions. Though difficult to believe, it is an established fact that, as adults, we
seem to be unable to predict exactly what a child will spontaneously do next
when interacting with the Horse. While Friendship Training Methods may not be
mandatory to produce highly acceptable results, it has overall been found to be
more efficient and easier on both the horse and the human than traditional
training formats. Specific items such as ‘sheet over the head,’ acclimation to
gunshots, etc. may be added if applicable for a specific program. Example; horses
used on a trail-ride/ camping trip would be conditioned to flapping bedding,
miscellaneous clothing, pup tents flying about in the wind, etc, in the event of an
unexpected high wind or storm.
Again, the OTPE Training Evaluation is to be regarded as only the most basic of
minimum standards necessary for any adolescent/equine group interaction. It is
taken for granted that the final judgment and responsibility of whether a horse is
ready to independently interact with any group of children on any given day, lies
with the handler/trainer of that particular horse. Each horse has its’ own
individual overreaction and sensitivity to flying insects, gusts of wind, seasonal
changes, abnormally windy days, barometric and humidity changes, estrous,
recent ascension or descension in herd rank, chronic, mild but initially
undetectable colic, preference to male or female riders and numerous other
factors beyond normal observation or control. The old saying “Know Your Horse”
should obviously be escalated to a new level of meaning and significance in any
type of group adolescent/ equine program if the safety and welfare of each child
we serve demands the same degree of responsibility as the next, sacred.
~ General Conditions ~
The horse being evaluated must have the other horses present that it will be
working with during the entire evaluation, duplicating as closely as possible the
normal working conditions. Severe negative interaction between the test horse and
any other program horse automatically disqualifies both horses involved.
“Test clients” referred to in this evaluation shall be any adolescent male or
female between the age of ten and seventeen that the horse has never seen,
smelled or heard.
Except for riding segments, test horse is to wear a halter but have no halter
rope or lead line attached. In the riding segments, a western saddle and a mild or
rubber coated bit is recommended. Handlers of ‘partner horses,’ handler of test
horse, evaluator and test clients are to be the only personnel present. Handler of
test horse must at all times remain a minimum of five feet away from the horse
(except for riding segment) and at no time attempt to physically or visually restrict
the horse in any way. Two verbal/hand cue commands to ‘Stand’ are allowed
throughout the entire evaluation. A step forward or backward by the test horse is
allowed provided it could not have caused possible injury to the test client. Walking
or running away at any time constitutes automatic failure. All interactive segments
are to be done ‘at liberty’ unless otherwise stipulated.
~ General Attitude ~
Automatic failure will be due to aggressive behavior displayed by test horse
at any time during evaluation includes but is not limited to: tail tuck or tail switch
warning of impending kick, head swing with ears pinned and/or teeth bared,
constant apprehensive head throwing and pawing the ground, constant irritable
shifting of weight from side to side, turning on fore or hind legs or side passing
evasively to avoid any interaction with test client or aggressively pushing test client
away (not to be confused with rubbing forehead on client to relieve itching which
must stop immediately after verbal command from client or handler is given to
~ I. Head Touch ~
Client approaches horse from front and stops directly in front of horse. Client
then reaches out and rubs gently on nose, muzzle, forehead and chin for one
minute culminating with an index finger gentle wiping approximately one and one
half inch deep into each nostril depending on size of horse and nostril. Horse may
momentarily turn head away but must return it to normal position upon request.
Client gently runs fore finger on lips from one side to the other while occasionally
pushing down gently with a thumb or finger to momentarily expose the test horse’s
~ II. Ear Touch ~
Client stands on right side of horse facing forward, rubs base of horse’s right
ear with left hand, then grasps ear gently but firmly and pulls head toward him.
Nose of horse must move a minimum of three inches. Repeat on left side. Client
then positions himself in front of horse and while holding one ear gently in each
hand strokes inside top half of ear with an upward motion toward the tip of the ear
and then lays ears down flat against horse’s head.
~ III. Mount/Dismount ~
Using a suitable stand or platform, client mounts bareback horse unassisted
on the right side while laughing /giggling loudly and dismounts by slowly sliding off
the rear of the horse.
~ IV. Body/ Belly Bump ~
One client on each side of horse brushes with finish brush for approximately
one minute. One client stops brushing while other client continues to brush. First
client steps back four feet and immediately returns swiftly bumping shoulder or
chest into side/rear of test horse giving no warning with enough force to cause
horse’s rear to move at least one inch. Repeat on opposite side. Both clients resume
brushing. Client on one side brushes in middle of test horse’s body and begins to
brush lower toward belly until he has crossed under to the other side. While
crossing under, he/ she bumps belly firmly with his/ her head.
~ V. Hoof Check ~
Client picks up hoof, simulates cleaning, and sets back down very slowly a
minimum of five inches to the front or rear of horse’s normal standing position.
Front or rear position to be determined by evaluator before picking foot up. Repeat
on other three feet. Client then stands on right side of horse in front, bends over
and picks up left foot and simulates cleaning it. Repeat on left side picking up right
foot. A minimum of twenty seconds of simulated cleaning is required. Horse must
not at any time attempt to pull it away, “stomp” its’ foot down or show the slightest
fear or apprehension at having his off foot picked up by the client.
~ VI. Grooming / Kill Kick ~
Two clients begin brushing (one on each side of the horse) with oval, smooth
wood base finish brushes. Client on left rear brushes belly and bumps udder or
penis on the side causing it to move toward the other side a minimum of one to one
and a half inches. Repeat on other side. Clients resume brushing while client on
right rear drops brush, jumps back a minimum of three feet while screaming loudly
for 15 seconds and holding hands above head. Repeat on left side. Clients resume
brushing while client on right rear grasps tail and moves it to the left while brushing
next to anus and down back inside of leg to hock. Repeat on left side. Clients
resume brushing while client on right front turns his back to the horse, walks away
three paces and immediately walks backwards as quickly as possible and without
stopping and bumps into the horse with his back. Repeat on left side. Two clients
then resume brushing on one side while the other two clients begin screaming and
yelling at each other while facing each other approximately two feet apart in a
confrontational mode. They continue yelling, shouting and shoving each other each
other arguing while slowly circling the horse never getting more than five feet from
the horse until they have made a full circle. Three clients then remove themselves
from the immediate test area and the fourth client (proportionate to size of horse)
begins brushing the inside of the back legs underneath the horse and continues to
crawl out between back legs while pushing the tail to either side.
Client then reverses procedure from outside to crawl underneath test horse and out on either
~ VII. Side-Pass ~
Client brushes horse on side for several minutes, stops, touches horse lightly on
side and gives verbal command to move over. Horse may hesitate then must move
one step sideways but not overreact apprehensively or move more than two steps.
~ VIII. Panic ~
With mild, rubber- coated snaffle, closed rein and western saddle, client rides
at a walk in a minimum fifty-foot diameter circle in an open area with the instructor
or handler in the center. Client then trots horse twice around circle, stops, reverses
and begins to trot. Client then screams loudly and drops reins. If horse does not
come to a stop, Handler is to stop the horse using only hand signals and verbal
commands without moving toward the horse. At handler’s discretion, he/she may
then walk to the horse after it stops or call the horse to him/ herself. Horse must
stop all forward movement within a quarter of the circle after handler gives
command to stop. Client then resumes trotting around the circle and with no verbal
warning pulls back swiftly and hard enough on the reins to pull the horse’s head up
from it’s normal position. Client then begins shaking the reins loosely but violently
while screaming or yelling “Stop!” or “Help!” repeatedly. Handler procedure same as
before. At no time should the horse panic or overreact.
~ IX. Saddle Slip/Fall ~
Client dismounts and girth is then loosened enough to allow saddle to easily slip
to an inverted position but not so loose as to endanger horse. Client then mounts
horse with assistance, sits sidesaddle, and begins riding at a walk. Client then slides
off while pulling saddle to an inverted position and yelling anything except
something similar to whoa or ho. Horse must immediately come to a stop with no
cues or commands from handler and show no sign of apprehension or fear.
Girth is then removed from saddle and positioned so it will fall off after
client starts to lead horse away. Horse must stop when the saddle hits ground or
calmly step over at client’s request but must show no sign of apprehension or fear.
~ X. Rope Burn ~
Client ties one end of a 1 ¾ to 2-inch wide roll of black, brown or dark purple
crepe paper to the halter of the test horse where lead line is attached. Client then
proceeds around rear of test horse starting on the left side and ending up on the
right side front. Roll is kept just below height of hock as client proceeds around
horse. Client then secures horse by holding the halter in one hand and pulls on the
strip of crepe paper until it breaks while verbally reassuring the horse if necessary.
Handler may at no time intervene physically or verbally. Test horse may step
uneasily in place but must not make any type of violent movement that would
jeopardize the safety of any child standing close in front of, behind or on either side
of the test horse.
Client then ties a six foot long piece of the same material to each of the
horse’s back legs just above the fetlock. Client then leads horse a minimum of thirty
feet, stops, gives voice and/or hand signal to stand and removes strips of crepe
paper. Test horse must not at any time make any type of violent movement that
would endanger any nearby child on any side of it or behind it. A white-eye, tense
“freeze” that signifies probable fear/flight bolting automatically disqualifies test
~ XI. Tail Pull ~
Client is positioned behind test horse at arms length away from horse. Client
grasps end of tail in both hands, raises arms to shoulder height while stepping back
and creating a gentle but firm, steady pull and asks test horse to back up. Test
horse must back a minimum of three steps and not display any type of hostile or
~ XII. Hugs and Kisses ~
These are optional but accelerate second level bonding remarkably between
client and horse.
Kiss: Client stands in front of and perpendicular to horse and requests a kiss. Horse
than touches and momentarily holds nose gently to client’s cheek.
Hug: Client stands in front of horse with arms outstretched and requests a hug.
Horse then approaches and places chin on right shoulder of client allowing client to
encircle neck and complete the hug.
• I. Preparation
The Training Evaluation the horses in our program must pass is almost identical with
the exception of a few things being more intense and stringent. There is one thing
that is not on this Training Evaluation.
At anytime, without notice or warning, I will crouch down and sneak up behind
them and walk/run gently but firmly bumping into their rear, clasping my arms
around their hindquarters and softly slapping my hands on their sides or back as
my chest simultaneously thumps into them. I would not expect a child as test
subject for a horse’s evaluation to do this. But it is my personal belief that ANY
horse interacting independently with a child should also be habituated to this level
of interactive habituation. It is IMPOSSIBLE to predict any child’s action at any
given moment, much less a group of children interacting independently with a small
herd of horses. The liability of a child growing accustomed to horses that accept
these actions and interactions as commonplace (and thereby place the same
confidence and trust in an unqualified horse later) can easily be nullified by playing
“Strange Horse” at various times for periods of short duration. This will help imprint
the differential between the horses they are currently interacting with and the ‘next
horse’ or horses they may interact with at a later date.
* II. Teaching versus Training / Friendship versus Submission
The restriction free relationship building format used to prepare the horses for
independent interaction with children is unlike any other training format in the
world. It not only establishes unprecedented levels of trust and communication but
actually instills the desire in the program horses to look forward to the company
and care of a strange child.
* III. Personal Responsibility.
It is also my very sincere personal belief that anyone that is forced to tell a child to
“Be careful behind the horse” (or horses) they are interacting with “because they
might kick,” (due to a lack of training and preparation) is the most ludicrous breech
of trust and safety anyone in the horse industry can commit. There is absolutely NO
reason to put a child in harm’s way (ESPECIALLY a child needing the emotional
support of an equitherapy program.)