21. Wild Horses: Taming, Training, and Domestication

Last modified by Melia on 2020/06/15 16:53

[in progress]

Yes, yes.  We all know why you're here.  You want your first mount so you can move around the world faster, trample foes, and have a fancy cavalry to ride into battle with.  But hold your horses for just a minute.  A horse is no simple creature, and should not be treated as such.  If you walk the Path of Dawn, you must see, name, and know.  You have not truly seen the horse, and as such, you cannot name it; thus, you cannot possibly know it.  Get ready for a tiny lecture on the basics of hippologythe study of the horse.

A Brief History Lesson

Throughout the centuries, the use of the horse has changed.  From the time of their discovery to the present, men bred horses for meat, then as a mount, then as a beast of burden, then as a warmount, and then as a companion.  However, they once were all wild, untouched, and free.  In the beginning, when men first saw them, they were the hunted—men preyed on them for food, and they became the new creature to be devoured by the predator Man.  One day, however, man looked upon the horse and wondered what it would be like to sit astride and ride as free as the wind, as fast as the hawk...thus began the new relationship between Man and Horse.  They became the axis upon which the world turned: they were the mode of travel to other lands, to better pastures for their flocks, to safety and to new hunting grounds.

As Man began to build, farm, and create fortifications, he realized he could use the horse to carry his burdens and pull his plows.  He found that he could breed strong horses together to create a powerful workhorse, or breed fast horses together to produce a fleet-footed racehorse, or breed sure-footed horses together to result in a sturdy mountain steed.  In various regions, the races of men began to breed different traits together to create their preferred destrier—agile, fast, or hardy.  The ultimate discovery, however, was when Man saw, named, and knew the horse as Friend.

Tamed vs. Trained vs. Domesticated

There is a difference between tamed, trained, and domesticated horses.  Taming and training can happen in one lifetime of an animal, but domestication occurs throughout generations of breeding.  A wild horse, following that line of thought, can be tamed from the wild; in other words, it can be desensitized to the presence of humans so that it does not fight or flee when presented with one.  A wild horse can also be trained, once tamed—trained to be ridden, trained to not bite, trained to pull or carry a load, etc.  Domesticated horses, however, are born into captivity.  They are usually born of breeding, orchestrated by humans, for better stats, conformation, or temperament.  When a horse has been born from two tamed, trained horses and is raised and trained in captivity by humans, domestication is the result.

Qualitative Differences

Wild Horse
  • Bred in the wild without human interference
  • Habitat is outside of human influence
  • Temperament is higher
  • Untrained and untamed
  • Lower number and diversity of breeds
  • Higher in instinct
Domesticated Horse
  • Bred in captivity, usually under human supervision
  • Habitat is within human influence
  • Temperament is usually lower
  • Usually tamed, can be trained or untrained
  • Higher number and diversity of breeds
  • Higher in breedable stats

Subjective Differences

The domesticated horse became the preferred choice for all of the abovementioned equine functions, but the wild horse still holds appeal for many.  Native to the wild, it is a creature built on instinct, adjusted to the terrain and dangers of the habitat in which it was reared.  In the wild, stats are winnowed not by man, but by Nature; horses survive if they are fittest to survive, and the weak die by way of Nature's law.  As such, they are usually hardy, which some prefer for hard work, travel over rough terrain, or as the foundation of a hardy bloodline.

Wild Horse
  • Preferred by some breeders for "foundation" stats
  • Preferred by ranchers or wranglers for adaptability
Domesticated Horse
  • Preferred by most breeders for specialized stats

Equine Ecology

"A horse never forgets."

As the horse is part of its environment, both have an effect on each other.  If wild horses were people, they would be nomadic; they travel where the food, water, and safety is.  Thus, they rotate pastures.  As one pasture is depleted or becomes too inaccessible, they move on to the next in the route that they follow.  This keeps them moving throughout the year, and what they eat, other herdbeasts cannot.  Similarly, what other herdbeasts eat, they cannot.

In general, horses are passive animals, and when faced with danger, typically choose "flight" rather than "fight," unless they possess high levels of aggression, which typically occurs more often in stallions than in mares.  This is, in part, due to their low intake of high-energy foods, as their diet consists primarily of grass. 

As a herdbeast, the horse is a social animal, and rarely is seen alone in the wild unless it has been (a) cast out of the herd or (b) is a young stallion preparing to form his own herd.  Horses that are kept domestically without companions quickly become depressed as a result of loneliness.  Thus, it is safe to say that relationships are intrinsic to equine nature.  This includes human-horse relationships.  In fact, throughout history, humans and horses have nearly always been bound to one another—whether as hunter and prey, as master and slave, or as companions—and they continue to evolve said bond as they and the world around them change.  The way in which a human becomes bound to a horse is a remarkable thing, a miracle, truly, for it is a bond built entirely of trust, strengthened by untenable cords, and in some cases, is unbreakable.  A horse never forgets.

A symbiotic relationship between man and horse is formed from the principles of basic psychology.  Incentives are used at each stage of the formation and continuously thereafter.  First, a bond must be made.  When a wild horse is captured, there is typically trauma or, at the very least, a substantial amount of fear involved.  Since one negative memory is as strong as five positive memories, efforts must be made to replace the negative with positive regard toward the human.  At this stage, incentives such as feeding, grooming, speaking softly, and other pleasant actions provide the horse with positive associations—associations of the trainer with a source of pleasure, safety, and food.  This first stage leads to the next, in which the human can ask things of the horse and receive desired responses in return.  These desired responses are rewarded with more incentives—treats, verbal affirmation, or gentle physical affirmation (physical touch is a strong mode of communication for horses, for in the wild, they use many forms of touch such as mutual grooming, biting, kicking, and nuzzling to convey nuzzling).  Thereafter, in accordance with the principles of operant conditioning, rewards and punishments can be doled out, with positive reinforcement being the most effective method for achieving long-term results.  From beginning to end, it is neither the power of demand that man holds over the horse nor the power of rebellion that the horse holds over man, but rather mutual respect that breeds symbiosis between human and horse, for a trusting relationship is founded by respect.  From that respect and trust is love born, and the joy of giving to one another begins between not only hunter and prey, master and slave, rider and mount, but also between friend and friend.

How To Tame A Horse

"For a man may turn his back on another man and find a dagger in his spine...but if he turn his back on a horse, he will find only a place to lean when he is too weary to stand."

Okay.  Now that you have seen, named, and truly known a horse for what he is, you may know how to tame him and form a bond that will last you for the rest of your life.  And a horse will never stab you in the back.  In a world such as ours, true friends are hard to come by.  Remember that, traveler.

When capturing a horse in the wild, one must follow several steps and have the proper equipment in-hand.  Here is a list of useful items when taming:

  1. A rope
  2. A few treats
  3. A good herding dog, if possible


First, one must track a herd.  Selecting a good horse is a practiced art and takes a careful eye, but for a first horse, any mare will do.  If you're feeling adventurous, though...you can try for one of the stallions, or even the leader himself.  If you do, look for a heavily-muscled male horse with the most scars—trophies of his wins—and a large crest on his neck, but be careful.  He is a thousand-pound animal with a mind of his own, and other one-ton stallions like him could not best him. 

Once you have selected your horse, move slowly and quietly.  Never run.  Horses sense danger in loud noises and rapid movement—the characteristics of predators—so you must pretend as closely as possible to be one of them.  Spend as long as is necessary slowly assimilating yourself into the herd, and then approach the selected horse's shoulder so as to stay in the horse's range of sight and avoid frightening it.  Let the horse smell you, as a greeting—horses have a strong sense of smell and identify each other that way—and then if the horse is relaxed, you may reach out a hand to make first contact.  You can tell a horse's mood by its ears; attentiveness is characterized by forward-thrown ears, aggression by pinned-back ears, and relaxation by ears that loosely lie slightly sideways.

Create a halter from the rope, and secure the horse with a tight, but not too tight, cinch about the head and a short lead.  As the horse calmly responds to you, reward it with an apple, carrot, lump of sugar, bunch of hay, or other treat.  If it tries to escape, do not pull against the horse, but rather move with it; it is much stronger than you, and you will lose a game of tug-of-war.  Now is the crucial time.  You must form enough of a bond to get the horse to leave the herd, but it will not be easy, even after the horse has been separated.  [A word of ethical advice here: do not try to separate a mother from its foal.  Most likely, the foal will follow the mare if you take her, but know that you will be responsible for both, should you choose a nursing broodmare.]  A song of taming will help, and these are not hard to come by, as many bards know them and will gladly share them with you—for a price.

After capturing your horse and bonding with it, the taming process can commence.  It is simply a matter of time, desensitization through exposure to civilization and human touch, and reinforcement, and the horse will soon be accustomed to you.


With horses, training is a long process, and not for the faint of heart.  Yet it can be rewarding to have a horse that is skilled, full of heart, and able to do things no untrained horse could do.  The steps of training depend on the type of training desired.  If you want a competitor, get him or her used to other horses.  If a workhorse is what you're after, accustom him or her to the plow or other equipment.  For a destrier or child's horse, desensitize him or her to loud noises, large objects, and unfamiliar places.  However, several activities are good for training, increasing the quality of communication, and strengthening the relationship, regardless of the desired discipline.  They include:

  1. Groundwork - leading a horse over poles or logs on the ground
  2. Longeing (pron. lunging) - working a horse on a long rope in a circle to ground manners and voice commands
  3. Line driving - driving a horse from behind using very long reins

The levels of horse training are as follows:

  1. Green - the horse can wear equipment and can be ridden a small amount before trying to unseat the rider.  This is a newly captured horse.
  2. Seasoned - the horse rides well and spooks rarely.  This is an average, well-trained horse.
  3. Stalwart - the horse is impervious to fright.  This is an above-average warhorse.



Created by Melia on 2020/06/15 16:53

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