Why Won’t My Horse Do What I’m Asking?

This is something that happens to all of us, and not just with horses. You ask for something, and get either a ‘no’ answer, or a reluctant response. And frequently our reaction is, “He’s lazy,” or “He’s bad,” or “He’s just pulling my chain.”

These are rarely the correct answers. As they say, “If you’re getting the wrong answer, you’re either asking the wrong question, or asking the question wrong.” I think that is one of the most profound sayings I know.

Some examples of asking the wrong question: maybe you’re asking the horse to do something that he doesn’t feel ready for, or maybe your horse hurts sometimes, or doesn’t feel well. (Nothing makes you feel worse than forcing a horse to do something, and finding out later that he was sick!)

We’re all familiar with asking the question wrong: you could be using your aids in a way that either confuses him, or makes it difficult for him to respond.

The most common mistakes in asking a reluctant horse to move are 1) leaning forward, which puts your center ahead of his; this blocks him, and weights his forehand which makes it hard for him to lift it and move forward; 2) rocking your upper body. Does the same thing as # 1 only moreso 3) squeezing with your buns, thighs, or lower leg, which makes his muscles tense (muscular telepathy stuff) so he gets stuck; 4) using legs and stick too hard, does the same thing as 3.

All of this is the result of the common riding philosophy which we were all exposed to: “Be the Boss!!” “Don’t let him get away with that” and all the stuff that assumes that horses are naturally lazy and bad and want to be disobedient. If you’ve ever had anyone in your life who treated you that way you know how it makes you feel.

It can take a long time, sometimes, to figure out what is causing the difficulty, and how to help the horse through it. Sometimes the answers aren’t within your skill range and you need help, or even a different horse. But if you ask for help, make sure you pick someone that is more interested in helping the horse than helping you, otherwise you may find yourself being helped right back into the “Be the boss!” zone. And that’s not how we build a good partnership with our horses.

One more aphorism: “The way you get a horse to jump a six foot fence (or any difficult task) is to make it the easiest thing for him to do.”

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