Vaughn Knudsen

Who is Vaughn Knudsen?

Vaughn Knudsen and Tom Dorrance

Vaughn Knudsen is the  inventor and developer of the Compass Horse Bit and other horse training products and methods.

   Over the past 40 years there has been a revolution sweeping through the community of people who ride and train horses. In some circles it is referred to as natural horsemanship. Others refer to people who work with horses in a way that makes sense to the horse as horse whisperers. Many point to the Dorrance brothers, Tom, Jim, Bill and Fred as those who began using and sharing methods of working with the horse in a way that eliminated braces and resistance without using intimidation or fear tactics. Vaughn Knudsen was mentored by Tom Dorrance and his brother Jim Dorrance from the time Vaughn was 15 years old. Vaughn gained a great deal from his relationship with the Dorrances. 

   Vaughn Knudsen grew up in the Elko, Nevada area on his family’s working cattle and horse ranch. He was born with a passion to try to understand what makes a horse tick. Vaughn has spent the last 40 years of his life in search of those answers.

Through the course of time, Vaughn has learned concepts which he has taught at major Universities, symposiums, workshops and clinics. Vaughn has taught these concepts at the University of Wisconsin, Morrisville College in upstate New York, Utah State University, University of Minnesota and others. With 40,000 people in attendance, Knudsen was the keynote speaker at the Minnesota Horse Expo. He has taught numerous private clinics across the country. 

Vaughn was responsible for the training and showing of 15 horses to their APHA and AQHA Championships. Vaughn has also trained and shown horses to earn World and Reserve World Titles as well as money won at major NRHA Competitions. In his workshops, Vaughn teaches how to reorganize the energy balance within the horse, how to develop a deep inner connection with the horse, along with how to lock in a spin, build a sliding stop, lead changes, and loping round circles all on a loose rein.  

Institutions of Higher Learning where Vaughn Knudsen has given presentations and workshops:

Vaughn Knudsen performing a  sliding stop in and NRHA reining competition.

University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine– Workshops -Madison, Wisconsin

Morrisville University - Taught horse training workshops -Morrisville, New York

University of Minnesota - Keynote Speaker at Minnesota Horse Expo presented to 42,000 people

- St. Paul/Minneapolis, Minnesota

Middle State Tennessee University - Horsemanship program - Murfreesboro, Tennessee

Ricks College - Horsemanship program -Rexburg, Idaho

Utah State University - Taught a series of accredited horse training programs over 10 years

- Logan, Utah

University of Nevada - Taught horse training workshops - Reno, Nevada

Western Wyoming Community College - Taught horse training workshops - Rock Springs, Wyoming

Cedar Valley College - Taught horse training workshops - Cedar Ridge, Iowa

University of Wisconsin-Platteville - Taught horse training workshops - Platteville, Wisconsin

North Central Texas College - Taught horse training workshops - Gainesville, Texas

Oklahoma State University - Taught horse training workshops - Stillwater, Oklahoma

Gaining a greater understanding of the horse

Dorrance Brothers, Tom, Bill, Jim and Fred. Courtesy of Mary A. Branscomb and Rosita Marvel

  This is one of the most powerful and influential statements that I have ever heard:

 In order to be understood, first we must understand. And believe me I've heard and read a lot of motivational and positive statements. But I know that one of the most important things about being a horse trainer is learning how to live in the horse’s world. I know that if we want the horse to understand us, first it is our obligation to know exactly what makes the horse tick and function. We must live in the horse’s world rather than insisting that they live in ours. We don't travel to Spain and expect everyone to speak our language. Instead, in order to have a good experience in that country, we learn to understand their language. First, one could start with what we declare to be the basic instinctive patterns and responses of horses as being gregarious herd animals. All horses have a natural dominant instinct of flight or fight. When a horse recognizes the first hint of trouble, they will instinctively want to run away. However, if the horse is trapped or cornered their instinct of fight prevails.

    The eyes of humans, mountain lions and wolves are all located on the front of their heads and their view is what is in front of them. This is because the creatures mentioned are all predators. The eyes of a horse are located on the sides of it’s head. The horse is a prey animal. Because of this the horse has a need to be aware of his surroundings in order to feel safe.

      Knowing these things about the horse creates more awareness and expands our understanding. It helps our comprehension as we are able to see why the horse reacts to a stimulus in the way he does. We also have come to know that a horse never does anything without a purpose. There is always a reason and a purpose for a horse to do the things that they do. This insight into the horse helps humans so much, because working with a horse becomes a lot more predictable. I can't stress how important this information is. For every action there is a reaction.   It is our responsibility to gain an understanding of the horse and his world. If we wish to be understood – it is our job first to understand.      

Join us at a Compass Horse Training Clinic with Vaughn Knudsen

Vaughn Knudsen teaching fellow horsemen a better understanding their horses.

Learn more about Vaughn Knudsen's horse training methods and techniques at:

News articles about Vaughn Knudsen

Vaughn Knudsen “Unlocking the Power of the Horse’s Mind.”  Kevin Opsahl/Herald Journal

Herald Journal of Logan, Utah

Horse sense: Veteran rider teaches equestrians to understand their animals 


excerpt from the article:


In an interview, Knudsen said his aim during the workshops in Wellsville was to teach people how to form a connection with their horse.

“For a horse to become willing, compatible, make a connection with you all comes from free agency and giving them a choice … of which direction to go,” he said.

In order to do that, Knudsen said riders must apply a basic formula of action — one that involves a stimulus, a response and a reward.

A stimulus can range from the rider’s upper body movements to the use of tools like a riding crop. But Knudsen said stimuli “doesn’t have to be irritating.”

If a horse does not agree with the rider, Knudsen said, they can keep applying the stimulus until the animal agrees.

“Keep applying the stimulus until the horse chooses — see, there’s that free agency — to get the correct response,” he said.

The “reward” for the horse once it does what the rider wants is to release the stimulus.

“The horse wants to feel safe … they want that more than anything else in this world,” Knudsen said. “If there’s no stimulus, they feel safe.”

To read the full article, click on the link below.

Deseret News Salt Lake City, Utah

 Making horse sense

By Dave Gagon, staff writer 

Excerpt from the article:


"It's simply learning horse behavior," Knudsen says.

Knudsen began his "horse learning" while growing up on his father's cattle ranch in Elko, Nev. As a ranch hand, he met and worked with Tom Dorrance (the man who inspired the book and film "The Horse Whisperer") and his brother Jim.

"To my knowledge it was Tom Dorrance who started Resistant Free Training," says Knudsen. "Tom learned from the horse itself. He watched horses in their natural habitat, observing their behavior and duplicating that as a person." Today, Knudsen applies what he learned from Dorrance, along with techniques picked up or developed over the years as a trainer of professional show horses.

To read the full article, click on the link below: