What Is Intelligent Horsemanship?

Intelligent horsemanship is an approach to training horses that Kelly Marks and her mentor Monty Roberts have applied to numerous horses, at live training sessions throughout the world. It works by applying psychology to the horse and encouraging an understanding of what the horse might be anxious about or scared of. Not every horse behaves and thinks the same way, so intelligent horsemanship is about working together to achieve the best for both horse and rider.

In this article I want to explore a little bit more about – what is intelligent horsemanship and how exactly does it work?


Kelly Marks Intelligent Horsemanship

The Intelligent Horsemanship organisation, which is based in the UK, was founded in 1997 by Kelly Marks and aims to ‘bring the best horsemanship ideas together from around the world‘.

The organisation aims to achieve this through offering training courses, educational materials and demonstrations.

So where did the inspiration for Kelly’s work come from?, Well as many of you are aware Monty Roberts was a key person in her life who taught her many of the techniques that underpin her work today. Monty is a strong advocate of non-violence towards animals and does not believe that simply forcing an animal to do something is effective.

One of the most famous techniques that he has developed and which Kelly promotes, is the Join-up.

Monty Roberts Join-Up Technique

image Monty Roberts Join-up
Monty Roberts famous join-up logo

Many of the intelligent horsemanship principles work using horse psychology, and the principle that if you can communicate to the horse in their own language then they will understand better. Join-up is the first part in this conversation because it establishes the relationship between the trainer and the horse and helps to build trust.

Most of Monty and Kelly’s join-up work occurs in a round pen. The aim is to establish trust with the horse but ironically the first task is to start by sending the horse away.

You can see more about Join-up and watch one of Monty’s videos in another article I wrote.


Trailer Loading Difficulties

Once join up has been established it enables a whole range of activities to take place that involve the horse understanding and trusting its new human leader. The following video is one in which Monty describes how he applies the technique to loading a trailer, one of the most common challenges that he and Kelly are asked to overcome by horse owners.

Dealing With Plastic Bags and Other Distractions for Horses

It does seem to be a fact that horses find the most amazing things to be spooky at.

During the recent New year celebrations a nearby family to me decided to set off fireworks, with lots of bangs and lights. I rushed out expecting my older mare to be thoroughly distressed, only to see her looking out the stable totally unperturbed and enjoying the spectacle. This is the same mare that at a gust of wind will fly round the field like a mad thing totally excited.

Kelly and Monty have done some amazing demonstrations to show how to calm horses against some of their phobias, including clippers, bicycles, plastic bags and walking across plastic sheets. The Join-up is still the starting point for all these techniques, so that once trust is established the horse will then slowly allow the trainer to lead them and become closer to things that before the demonstration the horse would try to flee from.


Many of the approaches that Monty and Kelly advocate involve familiarising horses with their fears. They do this by introducing things slowly to horses and responding to their fears by monitoring their reactions and staying calm with them. Most horses tempt to flee danger and will look to run or move about restlessly. As the horse settles and stands still then this behaviour is rewarded and reinforced, so the horse learns that by not running the situation actually works out better.

Using this technique Kelly and Monty have managed to familiarise horses to a range of different spooky things. They have demonstrated consistently how the horse will settle once it trusts you and realises that the object will not harm them.

This principle can be used each time something new is introduced to horses whether it is new items in the yard, objects out on hacks or new experiences such as being, backed, shod or clipped.

Top Marks for Kelly

Kelly has demonstrated many of her skills and given tips and advice to people in her TV show Top Marks, which appears on the Horse & Country channel. Over the years she has used her own horse American Pie in demonstrations, as an example of how even the most spooky horses initially, can become a real show horse that goes everywhere.

Here is clip produced by Horse & Country TV which illustrates some of the things she shows to her followers.


The work of intelligent horsemanship has grown and along with Kelly Marks there are also regional trainers that have undertaken work with Kelly and are qualified to offer training of their own in the techniques used. Amongst the list are two Irish trainers on the intelligenthorsmanship website, who are Demeiza Franssen based in Tralee and Stephanie Heeran based in Tipperary.

Intelligent horsemanship clinics are now happening in the UK, Ireland, France and the Netherlands. All  of which are a tribute to the work of Kelley Marks and her team, and an initial interest to help Monty Roberts spread the message of non violent horsemanship across the globe.


Further Reading on Intelligent Horsemanship

There are a number of books by Kelly Marks on Intelligent Horsemanship principles such as Leading and Loading which is shown below.

image Leading and Loading Intelligent Horsemanship
Leading and Loading (Intelligent Horsemanship) by Kelly Marks (2000) Paperback

available on Amazon.

There are also more videos available on YouTube and also information on clinics available on the intelligenthorsemanship.co.uk website.


I hope you enjoyed the article and if so please do remember to share it on social media. If you have any other suggestions please feel free to add them to the comments section below. There is another article on Kelly Marks on this site.

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