Ten Golden Rules of Horse Training by Bruce Nock, Ph.D.
c 2004 Half Halt Press, Boonesboro, MD. 188 pages. (out of print)
A few months ago, a dear friend winnowed her equestrian book collection and bequeathed to me a selection of books in need of new homes. Among them were several on the subject of horse training specifically; with an unstarted four-year-old and a lightly started six-year-old on my farm, I am currently interested in anything to do with ground work, foundational training and similar topics. With many to choose from, I simply started with the book on top of the pile: Ten Golden Rules of Horse Training by Bruce Nock.
Author Bruce Nock has experience training horses and also holds advanced degrees in psychobiology, a field in which scientists seek to explain the effect of certain biological processes on human and non-human animal behavior. At its core, Ten Golden Rules takes concepts you likely learned in Psych 101—ideas like classical conditioning, positive and negative reinforcement, stimulus and reward—and “translates” them into horse training concepts. While these ideas are common in nearly any book on the basic training of horses, Nock’s education and professional experience brings a new level of specificity and rationale to the conversation. For example, when he presents Golden Rule # 2 (Signals should stop as soon as the horse begins to make an acceptable response) he then goes on to explain not just how that looks in equestrian terms, but the science behind why that approach works best in shaping the horse’s behavior.
But Ten Golden Rules is not so densely technical that readers will feel as if they are reading a text book. In general, Nock focuses on the application of these concepts in real equestrian life and explains how their use will positively affect equine behavior and performance. He also emphasizes that his “golden rules” are applicable to all horses, of any experience, riding discipline or breed.
For me, some of the most interesting chapters dealt with using the “golden rules” to modify behavior in horses with established patterns of fear, anxiety or generalized mistrust. Using “golden rules” #9 and #10, trainers can help a horse to gain confidence around unfamiliar stimuli, both on the ground and under saddle. Nock also reaches into the classical horsemanship canon to identify traditional mounted exercises especially well suited to dissipate physical and mental tension in the horse.
Overall, Ten Golden Rules of Horse Training is an accessible book, written in a relatable style. In my opinion, the subject matter is important not just for trainers but for anyone who regularly interacts with an equine. After all, as Nock reminds us, “Each time you ask a horse to change something that he is doing, that is, ask for a transition, whether from the ground or saddle, you are training. There are no exceptions….Every time you ask a horse to do anything, he is learning one thing or another whether it is your intention or not” (Nock, 2004, pg. 15).
This book’s original publisher, Half Halt Press, is sadly no longer in business, but I believe copies still circulate on the used book market (I love www.alibris.com to find all manner of titles, usually fairly inexpensively). It is also available as an e-book through Nock’s website, http://liberatedhorsemanship.com/info/.