“Out of the quarrel with others we make rhetoric; out of the quarrel with ourselves we make poetry.” -William Butler Yeats, writer, Nobel laureate (1865-1939)

Few seem to have mastered the activity of standing your ground without being combative when it comes to horses. Of course, being insistent isn’t even always appropriate, depending on the nature of the horse you’re working with, but fighting with him will rarely get you the results you seek (unless your goal is an angry, untrusting or frightened horse).

So often what we do affects how our horse reacts. Have you argued with yourself lately to explore what you’re doing to create your ‘problem horse’?

This Yeats quote applies to horse/human relationships in so many ways – perhaps moreso than it’s intended direct at people to people. Rhetoric isn’t just about language, as critical as that is when it comes to reaching horses on their terms – it’s about arrogance (look a little deeper into the definition and you’ll find bombast – a synonym for bluster). Ah – and what a glorious moment it is when we look inside ourselves to discover the communications breakdown with our equine friend and alter our approach to make poetry in motion with the resulting partnership.

My horse needs to respect me

Respect is a two-way street (uhg – did I just use and idiom?). Sure, you can create a subservient horse that succumbs to your direction by demanding respect, but you won’t get one that appreciates and trusts you (no matter how many cookies you give him to show your love). Nor will you build a relationship that results in a partnership that includes a thinking horse that will do more than you imagine to accommodate and protect you.

If you’re really looking for an equine experience that comes from mutual respect, listening to what your horse is trying to tell you is key. That doesn’t mean you always answer with ‘yes,’ but you do need to acknowledge his input. If you merely stick to your training plan for the day without considering his concerns or issues, sooner or later a fight will happen. Sadly, even if you think you won, you didn’t. Your horse will remember and his attitude will suffer.

How do I read my horse?

As you look inside yourself for the answers, one of the most critical discoveries will be new insight into reading your horse. If you don’t know why he’s objecting to what you’re asking, you can’t offer an effective solution.

Equine Pain?

Is he in pain? No amount of discipline will assuage physical discomfort, so before you decide your horse is acting up, make sure he’s not acting out because he hurts. Get him well (or change your tack to fit him, riding style to accommodate him or career demands to adress his aging body).

Is your horse testing you?

Does she view you as an unworthy guide? If your horse is a confident, strong-willed and dominate mare, she won’t respond well if you sublimate every time she challenges you. The best course of action with this type of horse is to stand your ground – but pick your battles very carefully. It’s not about getting nasty – that’s the worst thing you can do with this personality. Merely continue asking no matter how intimidating they get until they agree. There’s a big difference between asking and demanding. Don’t make the mistake of choosing the latter with these girls. Either they’ll wear you out past resolve or you’ll rob them of the spirit that makes them so special.

Do you have an equine lacking confidence?

If you’re dealing with a horse that’s afraid or doesn’t trust you, insisting they buck up isn’t going to get you very far in your confident partnership quest. Here’s where the calm insistence doesn’t work. Instead, you need to be unflappable and patient encouraging them to face their fear with your quiet, clear and unreactive response to easy to accomplish requests customized to your equine’s penchants and offered in a way that encourages him to do what he’s comfortable with at his own speed.

Bad start?

It’s sad, but so many horses get their brain’s scrambled by people who usually have good intensions, but lack the knowledge to understand what they’re doing to the horse’s mind. These critters can take a lot of time to reach, but most can come around. In these cases, usually you need to figure out where things went wrong and go back to a time during the schooling trauma prior to that point and rebuild. Groundwork is the best way to start with such equines. What you build in terms of trust, understanding and rapport can transform the horse’s attitude in a way that translates to subsequent under saddle work. The benefit of starting on the ground is it makes it easier for both of you to see how each is trying to communicate.

Get personal with your horse

There are so many other reasons equines may act out when you ask for their cooperation, but each will respond best if you offer a customized approach that includes your horse in the conversation. Interestingly, the more you get in touch with your issues, the easier it is to see what your horse is trying to tell you. Quarrel with yourself and you might find the debate results in a better relationship with your horse. Think about it.


Do you have a story to share where self-discovery has resolved issues you’re having with your horse? Please share in the comments below.







5 Responses

  1. Great post. I’d add the category of a horse that’s trying but not able to do what you’re asking. I hit this wall last year with one in dressage training. His responses to the new demands of a higher level were ‘insufficient’ no matter what we tried. Finally ended up taking six months off from formal dressage work to trot roads and trails, building muscle strength. Returned to the dressage ring three weeks ago and he’s a wholly different and much more capable horse. Happier too, now that his body can do what his mind wanted all along.

  2. I really enjoy your blog. I first found you when searching online for advice that would help me understand and effectively deal with my six year old “alpha” gelding. I have worked successfully with trainer Dave Minteer and have learned to keep the discipline conversations short and to the point. I have learned to “let it go,” pretty fast and not get mad, though I keep tuned in to subsequent disrespect and respond fast and consistently. I also remind myself of how far we’ve come in the past three years. Thanks again for sharing your knowledge and experience. I look forward to your ongoing advice.

  3. Hello, I have ridden my entire life (now 55) but got hurt a few years back that has shaken my confidence. I sold off my young horses due to my fear. A year later, and without an equine friend, I have purchased a quarter horse gelding age 21. The been there done that type of mount. I went to ride him out along to the beach (something he has done 100 times) and he was uneasy. He shook. He wanted to go home and he began to fight me. He won and we went right back to the barn (boarding stables). He is picking up my feelings. I rode in the arena today and we both are calm. Am I pushing the “ride out alone” situation? Should I hold back and only arena ride? I so much want to be able to ride him out to the sand like so many other have before. When he became shaky and determined to go home…should I have let him or just kept him in a circle? Any points will be most welcome. In the mean time he trust me on the ground and I him. He is kind, loving and gentle…a bit head strong under saddle. THANK YOU!!!!

  4. Hi Pamela. I feel for you. I’m getting older too, but like to think my recklessness has been replaced with wisdom from experience. If only I had my 20-something body to put underneath my more mature head.

    It’s tough to know what’s going on with your seasoned QH gelding without seeing it, but my guess is you’ve already identified the problem. Usually these elder steeds are steady regardless, but this guy seems to be picking up on your energy. Why not consider finding a friend to join you until you’re comfortable? It can be unnerving to ride alone no matter how well schooled your horse is. Stuff happens. If you can spend some time with a buddy feeling confident and safe, it’s likely you’ll progress to a point where this transfers to when you’re alone. No need making you both nervous unnecessarily.

    As a quirky aside, I spent the better part of the past fifteen years thinking I was riding alone. I wasn’t. I had my horse-savvy, security guard, watchful eye & ear and 911 fallback with me always. Once Gatsby (my friend and marvelous mutt) passed, I felt more vulnerable than I would have ever imagined. Sometimes you don’t realize what gives you confidence. Find a friend to help bolster your bravery and wean off them slowly. There’s no shame in combating your fear in steps. In fact, it takes a lot of courage to admit your fears. Tackle them in steps and you’ll likely find a place that has you smiling about your victory with a new-found bond with your horse you hadn’t imagined.

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