Bad Words

I have a bone to pick with you, horse world.

There are a few words that I really, really dislike hearing.  I hear them a lot.  I think of them as very bad, dirty words which one should never say in front of their mother or riding instructor.

Here are two of them:




People say all kinds of things about their horses, some anthropomorphising their behavior and personalities (he’s so outgoing and friendly! He loves meeting new horses! or… She’s selfish and grumpy!) and others make excuses for their lack of communication by blaming their horses.  They decide it’s the horse’s trait that’s in the way, and it sticks easily since the horse obviously can’t explain itself (at least in English).  So people go around calling their horses stubborn, lazy, stupid, grumpy, etc.  I don’t spend much time around people who call their horses stupid, and plan to keep it that way, but I do hear stubborn and lazy quite often.

And so I would like to say, as a really great teacher of mine Alicia Byberg says often, “pet your horse and slap yourself” (I think of that saying often and think it’s genius, and also sucks to hear!!).

Everything your horse does happens for a reason.  It may not make sense to you at the time, but to the horse it makes perfect sense.  Otherwise he wouldn’t be doing it.

So if he isn’t loading, isn’t going forward, isn’t moving, isn’t whatever you want him to do, ask yourself,


and think from his perspective.



and get some help from someone who understands horses.

But if progress with this equine is what you want, drop those words like a hotcake, and fast.  They don’t help, and all they do is get in your way of seeing the whole picture.

As many great horsemen have said, the horse is never wrong.  He is either doing what he thinks he is supposed to do (ie you have trained him to do that through repetition, on purpose or on accident; it doesn’t matter whether you realize you’re doing it or not, he is learning) or he’s doing what he thinks he needs to do to survive.  So you have either blocked him, taught him to disrespect you, he has no idea what to do, thinks the trailer is going to eat him and your lack of patience coupled with the terrifying dark space of the trailer makes him need to get away now no matter what….

Maybe he doesn’t go forward because your body is tight and blocks him from feeling free to move, or you are sitting too far forward, or your reins are too tight, or he is frustrated with what he’s being asked, or something hurts, or his body is tight from teaching too lessons, or he’s been in a stall for too long.  There could be billions of reasons.  But lazy is not the horse’s way.  I hate hearing when people say “horse’s are inherently lazy.” They’re not.  They seek peace, not freedom from having to do anything.  I think that’s a huge misconception and an unkind way of looking at the animal that we spend hours riding around on, or making our livings off of, or enjoying in whatever way it is we do.


Here’s a good one. Staring right at the horse and pulling, all while blocking the space they’re asking this horse to go into. No wonder this results in planted feet with no attempt to move forward.

Men push a stubborn horse on the outskirts of Kabul June 5, 2006. REUTERS/Ahmad Masood  (AFGHANISTAN)

Another interesting attempt to move a horse forward – this involves someone putting pressure on this horse’s head to pull it forward, and two mean trying to push it forward.   So the horse feels pressure from both ends, and responds by shutting down and going nowhere.  Makes perfect sense to the horse, not so much to the men.

So if you find yourself saying something about your horse that doesn’t sound too nice, stop and think about it.

Why would he act that way, could there possibly be a reason that we hadn’t considered yet?

I think it’s surprising the amount a horse is willing to give when we make the changes they need so they can get along with us.  They’ll give a lot, even if we still don’t have everything together.  I know I certainly don’t have everything together, and some days I feel bad for the way I rode.

But at the end of the day it’s important to look back and reflect – why did my ride go good/bad/so so?  What could I have done to change that?

And to top it all of, a nice quote from a smart man.

“When I hear somebody talk about a horse being stupid, I figure it’s a sure sign that animal has outfoxed them.”

-Alois Podhajsky

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