All horseman and horsewoman has gotten mad at their horse at some point whether it was because of a mess they made, disobedience when riding, or the plain annoyance they can sometimes be. Although it is very important to contain one’s anger so you do not hurt the horse, it is important to discipline when appropriate and to try to understand why a horse is acting up.
Different horses may act up and disobey for very different reasons. A 15-year old Shetland pony has very different goals than a green 5-year old eventing prospect.
An experienced lesson horse may refuse to canter because he does not respect the rider who is on him if he has been ridden by far more experienced riders who know how to appropriately ask for a certain gait with more power. Teaching a seasoned horse to respect whoever is on their back or handling them is critical to maintaining one’s safety on and around the horse, as well as providing an easier learning experience for the new rider. Respect must be maintained, of course, by being assertive and consistent with one’s behavior, never allowing the horse to step out of line for an invalid reason.
Another common act of disobedience among horses is that of young ones acting up when being ridden or lead. Although it is normal for a horse to be nervous around new surroundings or objects, horses must not spook out of mere spite. Green horses can disobey in every way possible, from refusing to move forward on the lead line, to bucking out of mere excitement. They usually do this to test their limits, and to see what it takes to stop working on whatever you are working on. My own pony, Gringo, used to spook at nothing to interrupt our dressage work. Learning to channel a young horse’s attention is key to progressing consistently, as well as being patient and firm.
Sensations of pain or discomfort may be another reason a horse disobeys. Often ignored, riders sometimes forget to assess a situation from all points of view when a horse decides to act up. Every time we tack up our horses, whether it is in Western or English or any other, the amount of equipment we place on their bodies must be considered, and how it may pinch, poke or rub in the wrong way if used improperly. Proper saddle and bridle fit is crucial when one is working a horse vigorously, as only well-fitted tack will fully allow a horse to move their body freely and utilize their muscles completely. Apart from tack, horses may feel discomfort when being ridden in a different manner than what they are used to. This example is usually present when a newly acquired horse acts up on one of the first few rides with the new owner. One must take the time to address how the horse was ridden and handled before, and make the proper, patient transition to how one wants to train.
At the end of the day, there might be a million more reasons why a horse may act up. Above are just three possible reasons: lack of respect, testing limits, and pain or discomfort. Horses are extremely unique and varied animals with select personalities and lifestyles, and we must try our best to understand their world, so we can bring them into ours.
Photo by me featuring an anonymous rider at a jumping competition.
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