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When To Ask For More From Your Horse

What are your expectations of your horse? Do you expect him to be lazy and have to be cued repeatedly until spanked every time you ask him to trot? Do you expect him to stand still on a totally loose rein when you mount? Do you expect him to go around the arena star-gazing and hollowed out in his neck and back? Do you expect him to stand patiently and wait when you ask?

One thing I know about horses is that they will give you no more than you ask for. A good horse will give you no less than what you ask for, but he has to be motivated to give you more. Depending on your horse’s temperament, he may try really hard all the time—almost to a fault (this is my horse Dually) or he may only try harder under threat of major penalty.

You may think it is best to have the former—the try-hard superstar horse, but in actuality people get in far less trouble with the horses that don’t try too hard. For many people, a horse that questions you every now and then, “are you sure you want to do that?”, is not a bad thing. I learned some time ago to be very careful who I let sit on Dually because if you over-cue him, say, to canter, you’d better hang onto your hat because he will be in the next county before you can blink.

But in spite of Dually’s try-hard die-hard attitude in life, sometimes I don’t ask enough of him and, as Terry Wegener said to me recently, I am just too nice to him. But gosh Terry, he tries so hard…. But the more I ask of him the more he gives me and the more I get after him, the harder he tries and the harder he tries, the better he performs. It’s a shame I don’t have the time in my schedule to show him but I sure have a blast riding him.

Our Horse Master episode called Private Lesson is about a lovely woman in her 60s that has ridden all of her life, so she’s pretty good. But she’s never had formal lessons of any kind (I cannot imagine that!). Her horse is a bit lazy, although compliant—a great horse for her. This episode is about how to ask for more from her horse—for him to round his frame and engage his hocks a little and hold himself in the requested frame.

For the most part, we all need to ask more from our horses, at times. More obedience, more responsiveness, more focus and effort when they are working. For those try-hard horses, we have to be careful not to over-tax them emotionally and physically—although these Ferrari-type horses are awesome, they are high-maintenance machines that break down frequently. But the average horse only tries as hard as your leadership and authority demands and will only rise to your level of expectation.

What kind of horse do you have, try hard or not so hard? Are your expectations (not in your dreams but in what you expect to happen each time you ride) too high or too low?

Enjoy the ride,



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  1. Thanks Julie for the thoughtful post. No, I don’t ask enough. When I do ask for more he actually really likes it. He gets bored. The most common comment trainers have said about him is that he’s bored (or bored out of his mind even)But he won’t give it without asking. This sounds like I don’t do much with him but I do. He’s just got a very active mind.

  2. My two horses are as different as night and day. My gelding is more like Dually; you always get more than what you ask for. Fortunately, he’s not as athletic as your horse so there is time to make adjustments…and he doesn’t care how you are sitting. Then there is Jesse, my dominant/alpha mare. She questions EVERYTHING! She’s a stocky Mustang/draft cross, extemely powerful, athletic…and toooo smart (according to my vet). However, if I give her a job to do, she makes sure that job gets done. Yesterday we went out for a couple hours on our mountain trails. She informed me I wasn’t riding correctly. I hate it when she’s right (99% of the time). I looked at our pictures when we got home, and, sure enough, I was sitting crooked most of the time. Your last video reminded me to “lift the sternum”. I thought I was sitting straight, but the pictures can’t lie. I’ve had hip problems since I hit 60, so I am happy I have 2 horses that will put up with my “stiff” days.

  3. Estes is all heart. I have to be careful, because if I asked her to climb Long’s Peak she’d do it and never complain. She’ll do everything I ask and more, which worries me. She does ocassionally ask me if I’m sure I want to do what I ask, but she never complains, she just digs in and does it. Realizing this has made me more aware of what I expect of her and since I only get to ride once a week, I try not to really push her that one time a week so that she’s stiff and sore the rest of the week. On the other hand, I want her to be in shape so it’s a catch-22 with her.

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