To a Native American, a horse has always been much more than a four-legged animal upon which one could travel. Through patient and persistent training, the Indians demonstrate respect and appreciation for the animal. This view stems from the remarkably high regard that Indians have for all living things. When an Indian trains a horse, the object is never to break its spirit but to develop trust, mutual understanding and respect.
Indians across America have always had the help of horses to survive on the land. The Plains Indians used horses more than any other Native Americans, because of the vast amount of territory they had to travel. Plains Indians survived mainly on buffalo, and without horses, they could not hunt buffalo. Native Americans caught and tamed wild horses, mainly consisting of mustangs. Some tribes established breeding programs for the best of their horses, such as the Nez Perce Appaloosas. The strong bond between horse and rider exists today in Native American tribes that still practice the ways of their ancestors.
Native Americans view horses and other animals as being equal to them. They do not believe that they have any higher value above a horse. Because of this view, Indians established a strong relationship with their horses. To an Indian a horse is more than a tool to take them to one place to another; it is a friend and a companion. Because the Indians respect their horses, their horses respect them.
Native Americans begin their work with a wild horse on the ground before climbing on its back. A relationship with the horse begins by talking to it, feeding it and stroking it. Eventually, the horse understands that the Indian is not going to hurt it. The trainer asks the horse to perform small tasks on the ground, thus further enhancing the horse and rider's relationship. This groundwork gentles the horse and makes it willing to comply.
A blanket is placed over the horse's back and time is given to allow it to become accustomed to it. After the horse is comfortable with this, the rider gradually lowers down unto the back of the horse. While mounting, the rider talks softly to the horse and strokes it, encouraging it to stay calm and relaxed. The horse eventually learns and understands different commands such as stop, go and turn. The first rides are never rushed but are extremely calm and slow.