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A Horse With A Human Problem

Good Day!

It’s great to be home again, even if only for a day. By the time I have unpacked, it’s time to start repacking again. But I am excited to be headed to Lexington KY tomorrow for the CHA International Conference at the Kentucky Horse Park. It’s such a fun place to visit and Lexington is such incredible horse country. Fortunately I will not need a rental car there because I tend to run off the road a lot looking at all the gorgeous horse properties.

This conference is particularly fun for me because I have so many friends within CHA and the conference is sort of like a big family reunion of sorts. It’s attended primarily by riding instructors and horse trainers (although anyone is invited) and the educational opportunities are always outstanding. And the bonus is that we get to visit the horse park, which is truly a Disney Land for horse enthusiasts.
One episode on Horse Master is “Go Baby Go,” an episode featuring a young girl named Kelsey and her very well-trained horse, Rio. Although he’s a pro and knows his job well—the prefect horse for someone just starting out—Kelsey needed to learn to ride him better and show some leadership on the ground. He’s become oblivious to her demands from the ground because she lets him walk all over her without any repercussions. He’s a well-trained, well-tempered horse but he does need leadership.

I see these types of problems all the time. Just because you go out and buy a well-trained horse doesn’t mean he’s a robot. All horses need leadership, authority and rules of behavior from us. I hear the story again and again of the horse that was well-behaved when you bought him but in a month or two he’s a total pig. Typically these horses snap right out of it when handled by someone with authority. Have you seen this happen too?

Kelsey also was riding Rio with way too much bit. He’s a finished reining horse so he was used to a long shanked—high ported bit. But Kelsey wasn’t and because she had trouble keeping the reins loose enough, we switched her to a Myler short-shanked mild ported bit. Kelsey complained of Rio breaking gait at the canter but when I watched her ride, she was hitting him in the mouth with every almost stride. The milder bit made it a lot easier for Rio to tolerate Kelsey’s imprecise hands and to do his job; by creating awareness on Kelsey’s part, she quickly became a better rider for her horse.

So often I hear of ‘horse problems’ that in reality are occurring because of some failure on the part of the rider. As the old saying goes, it is not a human with a horse problem, but a horse with a human problem. Do you know what I mean? It’s always reassuring when a rider recognizes that they are contributing to a problem, even if they aren’t sure how. But it’s human nature to blame the horse. In my experience, most of the time the horse is trying to do the right thing but either the rider is getting in the way or the horse has no idea what the right thing is because of confusing or conflicting signals from the rider. Have you ever had any experience with this?

Enjoy the ride,



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  1. Most of the time it is the rider’s fault, due to the rider’s timing. The majority of the time our horses are trying and to give us what we want, but we miss the window to “reward” them so that they understand and can build on that the next time we ask. It is really about feel. It is hard to learn! Especially from a horse’s back, because if you’re a born-again newbie like me, you feel like so much else is going on up there you don’t slow down and pay attention to the details. Sometimes you can watch other’s ride and see exactly when they are getting a try from the horse, but they don’t always feel it from the saddle. It’s a bunch of missed opportunities, in my opinion.

  2. Hello Julie:

    I was at the CHA conference, and you are truly a gift to the welfare of horses and those who wish to learn.

    I do have a comment on horses (trained or not) who walk all over people. While each situation is different, this is one I have observed:

    First, let’s say someone brings a horse for training, his name is “Brutus.” Brutus is a bully, especially on the ground. Well, we have no problem giving Brutus discipline until he is truly a gentleman. The owner of Brutus is very impressed.

    But, then, there is the horse we have raised from a baby or well trained horse we purchased, whose name becomes “Precious.” When “Precious” bites, kicks, paws, or acts much like Brutus, what happens?

    Oh, Precious, why did you do that? I know you didn’t mean to. And so on. It doesn’t take Precious long to figure out that there may not be “people” rules to follow. He can pretty much do what he wants. He may even notice that some other horses have to behave, but he does not. This gives Precious lots of choices.

    We could take Precious to a “mean ole trainer,” but the “mean ole trainer” may get after him. he wouldn’t love Precious the way we do. We can’t have that, can we? Or, we could, heaven forbid, set some boundaries. But, this is “Precious” we are talking about. We know “Precious” loves us because he just tried to get in our lap. And he only weighs 1200 pounds. If Brutus did that, we have no problem with discipline.

    I realize this is a very simplistic scene, and usually there is not just “one” issue contributing to a problem.

    I think, also, some people expect a well trained horse to not need any more training. That horse may have cost a fortune due to his previous training or the owner invested a lot of money into training. But, as with all of us, appropriate learning/training needs to be life long.

    Thank you, Julie, for what you do.


  3. Hi Julie,
    Yes I see this situation all the time and feel so sorry for the horses. A few years ago I realized (admitted) all the mistakes I was making and immediately switched to riding in a rope halter and loose rein until I got myself balanced, in rythum and learned how to feel the slightest try and was quick to reward that effort. My horse became my dream horse almost overnight. Unfortunately, it’s hard for some humans to admit that they may be the problem. Thanks for sharing all your knowledge and experience. Cyndi

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