Naughty or struggling? Can you tell the difference?

Our horses rarely wake up in the morning, and think “today I will be really naughty…today I will only canter on the left lead not the right lead.” This is a common issue that many of us face, and our perception of the problem is one of the key factors in helping to solve this issue.

When we train horses, we train them to accept and understand the aids that move us from trot into canter. When they are learning this can be difficult for them, as they have to work out the connection between our aids and our desired outcome. It is our job to give these aids clearly and consistently, with much praise for the correct response, so that our horses learn what we are asking for. Without praise, they won’t understand that they have done as we have asked. Praise can be verbal, or can be through the release of the aid.

When faced with a horse which will canter on the left, but not the right lead, we become frustrated. To us, in our logical human brains, we feel that the horse must be being “naughty” as we know full well that he understands and can carry out the action from trot to canter. However, it only takes some weakness, or stiffness in his body, to cause him to struggle with the transition on this rein. This imbalance in the body can be harder to pinpoint than a more obvious lameness, but it is up to us to work it out.

Horses can only communicate their pain, or distress through their actions, they have no other language. In general, they are incredibly stoic creatures who will try their very best despite the limitations of their bodies, or our, sometimes vague, aids. If your horse cannot do something that you ask of him, it is not a personal insult! He is simply trying to communicate with you, in the only manner that he knows how, and it is up to us to listen.

There are many exercises that you can do on the ground before you get anywhere near riding that will help you to listen to what he is trying to say to you. Can he bend his neck equally to both sides? There are many excellent resources available showing you how to do simple carrot stretches (beware of your fingers!). When turned in a tight circle do his hind legs step under to the same degree on both reins? Does he track up evenly when walked and trotted in-hand? Any difference on the left and right side in-hand will be likely to provide you with the key to why he is struggling with ridden work.

So, the next time you are feeling frustrated by apparent naughtiness in your horse’s behaviour, take a moment to stop. Take a moment to listen to your horse, and think about what he is trying to say. Our horses are always talking to us, when we take the time to listen, we might hear what they are trying to say.

What is it with women and horses?

By guest blogger Sue Palmer

Over the years I’ve met many incredible horse men and women, and I’ve been very lucky to build a great network of people I can turn to for advice on a wide variety of equestrian subjects.  We don’t all need to ‘follow’ the same people, and this blog is about being open minded to many different approaches to horsemanship, as long as those involved are, as I aim to be, doing their best and actively engaged in ongoing learning.

One of my favourites is friend and mentor Kelly Marks of Intelligent Horsemanship.  I’m jealous of Kelly’s insight in choosing the name ‘Intelligent Horsemanship’, as to me this says it all! Kelly has an apparently insatiable appetite for reading and learning, and embraces the emergence of science into horsemanship. The Intelligent Horsemanship magazine is always a great read and I highly recommend it. This quarter’s edition includes:

What is it with women and horses?
Dr David Marlin:  ‘Roadwork’ – Get the FACTS
Intelligent Horsemanship Debate – What comes out best – Man or Machine?
Lameness – Are we looking at it all wrong?
IH Training – The Angel is in the detail.
IH Training – Bonding with your new horse
Monty’s Spring 2018 tour report
The totally INSPIRATIONAL Tim Stockdate Big Interview
PLUS all the usuals AND
Do you know someone who could be our IH Young Equestrain Photographer of the Year?!
For details of IH Membership and entry to the competition go to