Is My Horse Lazy?

Reluctance to move forward is a problem I run into all the time. It’s also a problem that’s frequently misunderstood. Trainers and instructors and riders around the world mislabel the slowpoke horse as lazy, but if you take a moment to analyze movement patterns and understand the why, it’s easy to see this horse is not actually lazy.

Firstly, in a correctly moving horse, we want the front legs to be free of excess weight and tension. Ideally, the front legs would have more air time and move with a nice “lightness” to them – not slamming down to the ground. This allows their shoulders to lift and the base of their neck and back to lift as well, allowing for graceful and freely forward but controllable movement. This is a wonderful feeling to ride or work with, because the energy feels very accessible, the back feels supple, and things feel just easy. When a horses body is in alignment with freedom in the front end, going forward is easy and enjoyable!

Most horses I encounter have heavy front ends, but some more so than others. It’s natural for a horse to be heavier on the forehand – they are made this way. They weren’t designed to carry riders on their backs, so developing them athletically is essential for happy riding.

So many horses have saddles slapped on them and asked to carry a rider with no clue as to how. Many trainers focus on the behavior they want when starting young horses, but many horses miss out on athletic development to ready them for such a task as carrying a rider. Often they begin at the hardest part physically: all three gaits in a tight circle such as in the round pen.

Circles are physically hard to do in a correct balance, and without education and physical development, the horse has to do their best. They often find ways to lean in or put more weight on their forehand to carry their bodies forward.

A horse doing their best to balance themselves on a tight circle – right shoulder takes the job of stabilizing the body, the neck counter balances to the outside, and the horse loses the diagonal pair in the canter – thus makes him wildly off balance and therefore unhappy and nervous, ie reluctant to participate
Another horse in a similar but less severe posture

Over time, tension patterns creep in. The horse becomes unbalanced, unhappy and resentful about moving forward. We often respond with more pressure: more whipping, spurring, kicking. This often tenses them up more, even if it does get them going, it isn’t sustainable because we haven’t solved the real problem.

The physical ramifications of a horse worked out of balance- excess weight over the front end, overdeveloped under neck, narrow stance behind, wide stance in front, high head and hollow back

So going back to the label of lazy: we know this horse is out of alignment, with front legs taking far too much concussion, has lost diagonal movement and has developed tension patterns. What we don’t realize, however, is that this horse is far from lazy- he’s actually exerting far more energy than he needs to to go forward. He is overworked!

Balance and alignment are self sustaining, and make forward movement a breeze

So what to do if your horse won’t go forward? After ensuring their saddle fits, hooves are balanced, diet is appropriate for energy output expected, and lifestyle is good- Spend time loosening, organizing their body, ensuring diagonal movement and doing all your work at a slower, easier tempo first. Learn to position and relax in rhythm where they can, then you will be surprised at how much more movement they offer.

This slowpoke is learning to balance and loosen before ever being asked to speed up
This very tense horse is learning to confidently go forward after slow balancing work

You wouldn’t go out and win a race without conditioning, right? Fitness and balance require conditioning, education, time, consideration and development. Then you can ask for speed.

8 thoughts on “Is My Horse Lazy?

  1. Interesting article and description Amy, I haven’t even scratched the surface when it comes to understanding balance but it certainly seems not only essential but fascinating.
    Can you recommend a good book or any good articles that would help, Balance for dummies.


  2. I love this on so many levels , thank you for breaking down this explanation so well and clarifying for me that my “lazy” boy isn’t really so lazy.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This is super interesting and makes me think of the conformation of the horses I’ve had that are “go” and those that are “whoa.” Tansy is super heavy in the neck and shoulders but she’s also the last one to volunteer to move out when the others are gallavanting in the pasture. How do you think personality plays into this?


  4. Great description! I love the balancing, slow work that I’ve been working on with Eli and Joey, thanks to your guidance


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s