Base Tension – What in the World is it?

This short article examines and explains what base tension is, why it is important to know about, and how it can affect your work with your horse negatively.

This article does not aim to give detailed information about what to do to reduce this kind of tension in your horse. Other articles available within this website will offer specific strategies and explain helpful activities.

Probably, you are familiar with the idea of tension yourself. Even people who are not easily upset get tense from time to time. Tension starts in our minds and subsequently shows up in the body in the form of increased heart rate, tense muscles, and shallow breathing etc.  It also makes it hard to concentrate on much of anything. Tension puts your body into a flight or fight mode. At any rate experiencing tension is highly uncomfortable. The same is true for horses. However, because horses are prey-animals the negative effects of tension mentioned earlier are even more noticeable. Tense horses find it nearly impossible to concentrate on what you are asking them to do and are often very prone to spooking and bucking.

Tension in people as well as horses is caused in one of two ways:

1) a stress causing stimulus occurs and the individual becomes tense as a reaction to what just happend

2) a stressful situation is anticipated. The individual reacts with tension based on what he/she thinks is going to happen in the near future


Number 2 brings us to the explanation of “base tension”. When your horse is already tense by the time you get him groomed and saddles because he anticipates you asking him to do things he doesn’t feel ready for – you have base tension. In other words, tension is already present at the outset of your planned activity. In a situation like this you can expect some or all of the following:

– seemingly random spooks even in familiar areas and around familiar objects
– overly reactive
– on extremely high alert
– bracy
– potential for bucking

Detecting tension in your horse can be difficult if your horse is of a rather introverted personality type. Extroverts will give you lots of easily detectable signs. Introverted personalities tend to hold everything inside and may even seem calm to a bystander. However, inside the tension is mounting. A horse in this state is almost like a pressurized container with explosive gas in it. When the tension has reached a level that can no longer be contained you will likely see an enormous reaction that seemingly came out of nowhere. It is therefore very important to study various horse personality types and how to read them. Early intervention is key here.

Once your horse has “anticipatory fear” or “base tension” it will serve no purpose to do the same activity with him in the same manner that is causing him this fear. In fact often we see horses getting worse when this strategy is being used. Instead you will have to give him experiences of a different nature to eliminate the anticipation of something scary. Once he no longer anticipates something negative to happen and his confidence has increased, you can work back into what was previously causing him the fear.

Very effective exercises and activities are available to help with this in our Perfect Partners Program. They consist of a mixture of ground work and riding exercises.

Our Perfect Partners Program is available to you regardless of where you live via 1-on-1 remote coaching. We can and would be honored to help you go from ‘Problem Horse to Perfect Partner’.


Leave a Reply