Horse Class Logo Image

Horses can do many things that are annoying, frustrating, or downright dangerous. Take Finn, the young horse who likes to nip and bite when he gets bored, or Winter, the pony who would rather buck than trot with a rider. What about Sydney, the Thoroughbred gelding who slams on the brakes at every other jump, or Nell, the grey mare who fidgets and paws in the crossties?

How can we teach these horses to do the “right” thing? Why do they do this bad stuff anyway? Are they being spiteful… stubborn?

This week, we’re going to take a close look at bad behaviors – what causes them, why they continue, and how we can teach our horses something different.

We will get started with the video below, where I’ll discuss three big factors – at least one of these is involved in every behavior problem.

But knowing the cause of a behavior problem is just the start, so next, read this article on How to Stop Bad Behavior in Horses, and how to avoid three common pitfalls of re-training.


Learn how your horse thinks and how to communicate with them to create a happy and willing riding partner

Your information is safe with us, learn how we use and process data in our Privacy Policy.

Better riding in 7 days (FREE Mini Course)

Daily exercises for an immovable seat, steady hands, and a happier horse

Your information is safe with us, learn how we use and process data in our Privacy Policy.

Related Courses

Instructed by: Callie King
Step by Step Instructions to Guide Your Ride - Calm Your Mind, Connect with Your Horse, and Find Your Riding Flow
Instructed by: Callie King
Make a real difference in your riding over the next 30 Days with Simple Daily Lessons for a secure seat, a balanced posture, and a happier horse!
Join the 30 Day Better Riding Quest for a fun journey through the most important lessons for any type of rider.
Instructed by: Callie King
This 28 day program is for every rider who has ever experienced fear or anxiety about riding – whether from an accident, a bad experience, or just the question of “what if?”

Related Posts

Horseclass Image
First Trail Rides

If you have a young horse, or an older one that does not have trail experience you want to start them trail riding the right way, but giving them a

Read More



46 Responses

  1. With my mare it’s environment. She is a mustang and seems to have a heightened awareness to her environment and over reacts to the things she doesn’t understand. I have owned her for five years and there are times she beomes dangerous to handle. I would like to be able to show her but when I take her to shows she is so nervous she can’t walk a straight line. I am afraid she will pull free from me and hurt someone. If she comes across something on the trail, especially bicycles she loses it. The other day my granddaughter was prancing around in a pony costume and the horse almost ran through the fence. Our pony doesn’t freak out at any of these things.

  2. My Dee is well behaved except when it comes to jumping. She will rush the jump but have worked on that but now she puts her head down and swings it like bunny hopping.
    I think it could be balance issue and am just trying to achieve a strong seat. One side I can sit down to slow canter and the other side I’m still lifting slightly out of saddle but can’t sit to her medium and working canter so am still working on these issues.
    That’s for the video and the 7 day course I am finding it helpful.
    Much appreciated taking the time to actually do videos

    1. Karen, we are actually working on a jumping course that you would really enjoy! I would actually start with looking at saddle fit, based on your description. Does she seem like she is excited and exuberant?

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  3. One of my horses is the dominant mare in the herd. She’s normally very friendly and loves attention, but on occasion she’ll pin her ears and get the wrinkles around her nose and mouth that indicate “I’m the boss and move away” to her herd mates. This can happen when I’m in her stall putting on a halter or rubbing some Swat on her belly. I think this is a Communication issue due to mixed messages she’s receiving.

    Normally I’m very low key with all the horses and I spend time petting and scratching her in her stall. I think she interprets that as the actions of a herd mate subordinate to her. That’s not good. So lately I’ve been reacting when I see the ears go back, and I move her by just pointing my fingers at her with a stern stance. I’ll move her around the stall until her pinned ear performance disappears — usually just 1/4 turn. Then her ears go back to the relaxed mode. I’ve had to do this a couple of times, but I think it’s been useful in preventing more aggressive behavior like kicking.

  4. My horse is a retired thoroughbred. She likes to just take off back to the grooming station whenever I’m riding. Nothin* I do can get her to stop. I actually stopped riding her as it is scaring me that I don’t hav3 control. So I guess maybe she is more motivated for the ride to end and can sense my anxiety. .?

    1. Hi Deb,

      Ex-racehorses just want to run, and home is the best place to run to. They can be very dangerous and take expert riding, but can be re-educated. Here in Australia they are called OTT. (Off The Track) and some become high performers as eventers, dressage, jumping horses. They are known for not taking too much notice of the rider. I’ve been riding all my life, but would not take one on in any way, although I have successfully ridden two that were re-educated, one of which I’d put as the best but toughest I’ve ever been on. He belonged to a boss drover, and “came lightly back to my hands” only because we were doing 8 hour days in outback stock routes. He did let up, superbly. Use guile, not strength, and never let your mare lock on, teach her light is pleasant, and stay in a small place on a light rein.

    2. How long has she been off the track? I also had an OTTB for 12 years, and everyone told me it would take a year to teach him to be a hack. It was closer to three years before he really trusted people again–the track is rough on them. I had had no experience with OTTBs before, and I left the barn crying more than once because he totally ignored me whenever I was on his back. He was in one zone, I was in another. He was spooky and timid. Then, a friend tried John Lyons’s round pen technique with him (what Monty Roberts calls “join up”), and instantly, he started to connect with me in a different way. He started paying attention to me when I was riding him. Once he figured out that all I wanted him to do was w-t-c quietly, it was as though a switch flipped in his brain, and he made great progress. Also, I had a lot of chiropractic and dental work done, as well as acupuncture when needed, which helped him tremendously. In addition–and this was key– I saw to it that he got at least two hours or more of turnout every day (with other horses) as long as it wasn’t icy or deeply muddy. I cut back on grain and increased the amount of grass and good hay in his diet. After a few years, after he developed a decent top-line and was balanced, I could be standing still with him with the reins on the buckle, pick up a rein, and cue him to canter off from a standstill on either lead. None of this improvement happened overnight, of course, and I know for a fact that I slowed the process down more than he did. If I only knew then what I know now. 🙂 Luckily for me, he was incredibly forgiving of my mistakes, and I made plenty. I ended up taking him to local horse trials, dressage shows, and trail rides. My daughter took him through 4-H where he calmly competed in Western and contesting classes, as well as freestyle routines to music. He even let the kids cover him with mud in order to serve as a contestant in a timed grooming contest. He loved kids, and they could do anything to him–he turned out to be an incredible babysitter and lunge horse. If someone had told me during the first year I had him that he would come this far, I would have emphatically said “No way!”He became calm, even lazy, because he came to deeply trust us. Once a thoroughbred gives you his or her trust, they are your friend for life. I owned him from age 6 (I got him right off the track–he still had his racing plates on) through age 18. Unfortunately, racing had bequeathed him arthritic ankles, and he shattered his pastern playing in the pasture one day and had to be put down. It was the saddest day of my life. But I have never regretted our time together. So, give your mare plenty of time and really get to know her, one on one. It’s the personal touch that counts because you’re got to establish trust before you can progress with OTTBs. Many of them are like one-person dogs. They’ll always rise to the occasion for their most trusted person. Good luck!

    3. Deb, that is definitely a concerning behavior…does your equipment fit her well? Is she physically comfortable? Does she do the same when you are working with her from the ground?

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  5. Hi Callie, you are spot on here, and exactly addressing the issues I have to observe in my boss. Mixed messages, lack of balance, lack of mutual trust, and entirely unsuitable living conditions, with a string of horses in revolt in her wake.

  6. My horse does not want to move forward at all except in the home paddock. How can I get her to walk away from the barn without hitting her with the whip and then chance getting bucked off?

    1. Rae, could you start by working with this on the ground and using the whip to get forward from the ground? That way you don’t have to worry about falling off!

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  7. Hi there. My horse does not stand still at the mounting block. I always need someone to hold him while I get on. What are some ways I can work with him?
    Thank you!

  8. Hi Callie: I’m exercising a Belgian/Morgan cross that has a new life as a therapy horse after having been used for driving. He’s a big, affectionate guy but is very mouthy and I’ve been asked not to hand-feed him. He was never taught to stand at the mounting block and has a bad habit of backing away every time I try to get on. Since I can’t use treats, and verbal reinforcement and scratching doesn’t seem to be working, is there another way that I can reward him for standing still? Thanks!

    1. Margaret, I know you said he doesn’t really enjoy the stretching but I would try using these new tool with Wendy Murdoch introduced us to – Hands On Gloves. The horses seem to love them and you might be able to find a really good spot that he does enjoy. If he enjoys being groomed you could do that at the block as well!

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  9. Spooking! Especially in an indoor arena, and many times at nothing. Guessing it most closely relates to environment/motivation. He needs to be kept busy to focus on me and not let his mind wander. I feel he basically has a “poor work ethic”. I do try various rewards and mixing things up to avoid boredom

  10. I’m having a lot of trouble with communication. I have ridden my 2 year old twice and she does not pay attention to me. Guess i’ll Have to do more ground work:-(

    1. Marilyn, I would definitely recommend a little more ground work – at 2 most horses aren’t fully physically developed to carry a rider so doing more work on the ground and waiting until she is a little stronger would be good for both you!

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  11. Good to see you list “Balance” as a common cause of issues. I sometimes find young horses that I’m starting under saddle throw in a “buck” (usually minor) the first few times they are asked to canter under the weight of a rider! To me this feels like the horse is saying “if you’d just get off my back then I could do what you are asking” !!! They usually work it out pretty quick and progress without further issues 🙂

    1. Margi, I know exactly what you mean! I think they react in that way because they aren’t sure how to find their balance in those gaits with a rider, just as you said 🙂

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  12. My problem is probably communication. I am trying to get her more in frame rather than having her nose out. “She does ok when walking. My reins feel braces and not soft. I am doing circles and lateral bending both ways. I am trying to reward her when she does soften and relax the reins. I am using a jointed snaffle bit. I am trying to figure out what the right pressure of the reins should feel like.

    1. Charlene, have you checked the physical piece of this – for example saddle fit or perhaps had her teeth looked at? Another idea would be to start by teaching this on the ground and then transferring it to the saddle!

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  13. I think the physical piece of the equation can’t be emphasized enough. Am guessing a combination of sore back, some sharp areas on his teeth, etc. contributed to Captain’s compounding anxiety. I thought I had adequately addressed both of those topics, but Captain let me know through his behavior there was still room for improvement. As he got more anxious, so did I, and the result was negatively synergistic. I finally recognized I was out of my depth and needed professional training help (A huge thanks to Honey Brook Stables and trainer K.McGarvey!) After consistent work, addressing saddle fit, etc. Captain is a willing and happy horse! My anxiety and worry about his behavior- spooky, high headed, etc. is mostly a thing of the past. Also, taking the time to get myself centered and calm before I work with him is key. We still have work to do but the concerning behaviors are pretty much resolved. Amazing what good saddle fit and dental work will do for horse.

    1. Thank you for sharing your story Rhonda! I think you made an important point that you realized that you needed additional help and sought a professional. It is amazing how horses will let you know when they are uncomfortable, we just have to listen 🙂

      Hope you and Captain continue to grow as a team,

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  14. My horse likes to speed up in the turns, especially going to the left. I think I need to focus on my communication and predict this behavior and slow her down on purpose with riding in the ring. Let me know what you think.
    Thanks Callie

    1. Elizabeth, it is difficult to say without seeing exactly what is going on but it could be that she doesn’t feel balanced in the corners and speeds up, perhaps in the corners ask for a little more bending to get her more balanced.

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  15. My MFT gelding, Lad, is afraid of everything outside of the corral and away from his friends. He’s 13 years old and we’ve had him for about 2 years. He does OK in the round pen, I believe because it’s very familiar and close to the corral. But even there, something might catch his eye and he goes on the alert. At that point his attention is completely away from me and it takes time to get him to re-focus. Even when his focus does return, he is easily distracted again, by the same unidentified boogie man (I usually can’t figure out what he’s watching or what he heard… maybe he smelled something?). When we’re riding alone he is easily spooked. So I think this might fall under “environment.”

  16. I also hv a go forward problem…no problem with groundwork go forward or when outside the property with his mother…but when in the round…only thing that really works to get any forward movement is to do a circle and then let out…so i used that last time and was able to get half way around before he would stop

  17. I have been working with a horse that bucks undersaddle and with no saddle. I have gotten the vet out and been told he’s healthy. Any advice?

    1. Andrea, does it seem like he does it out of excitement? Do you have any history on him?

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  18. I have a new to me horse that has bucked me one time. I never saw it coming. We had been riding for and hour exploring the trails and I turned him back to go home. I asked for a trot then suddenly I’m on the ground, luckily unhurt other than ego. I think it was failure in comm7nication and frustration ( he LOVES trails). How do I know for sure? Thank you!

    1. Michelle, it is really hard to know exactly what is going on without more context but it sounds like it may have been as a result of returning home and perhaps he was exuberance about the fact that he was heading back to that barn? Glad to hear you weren’t hurt!

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  19. My horse rushs into the trot under saddle. I recently tried the passenger lesson technique. What are you thoughts on that method and do you have any other suggestions? My horse has been checked for any physical issues.

    1. Genevieve, does it do the same on the ground? Does he do it on the lunge line? Does anyone else ride him and have this same issue?

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  20. I’ve watched this video a few times now. Everything you cover matches my understanding. I’m at my wit’s end with my 5 yr old Tb. I’ve never had one like him in my more than 50 yrs of horsemanship and retired race horses are familiar territory. He came to me 16 mos ago and I finished rehabbing him from a track injury. I know his full history since he came to me from his breeder. It took nine months or so to move past negative and aggressive behavior while in his stall and in the grooming area. He is superb under saddle and learns quickly, and I am going slowly with him. Mostly we hack and he’s unflappable. He’s super when we do ground work (like target training, etc.) In the crossties it’s another matter. He’s back to being Jekyl and Hyde. He’s had body treatments and xrays to see if there were pain issues (he likes massage but nothing else was revealing.) For six months or so he was as soft and peaceful as he could be in the stall and while grooming, without any negative reactions (I board him.) Then, within the span of a few days beginnng about 2 weeks ago he reverted to negative behavior in the crossties. He tried to charge me (bared his teeth and stomped at me) when I crossed from one side to the other. He flipped his head around with his teeth bared. He threatened to kick. He is groomed with very soft brushes and cloths and usually has no issue. I typically wait him out if he gets annoyed and he settles, but I also will insist he move out of my space. I try to be crystal clear when communicating with him. Take him out of the crossties and stop grooming him and he turns back into Barbie’s Dream Horse. I have brought this horse a long way and earned his trust, and to see him revert to these behaviors without knowing why is depressing and frustrating. My gut tells me it’s physical since it came on so fast. It coincided with the season changing. It also coincided with him being on the receiving end of a couple of bites from pasturemates. When that happened in the past it would completely ruin his day. It also came on following a session on the lunge where he uncharacteristially bucked and bolted while cantering (he wasn’t wearing a saddle and this is a horse that doesn’t expend energy.) He doesn’t fit the typical profile of an ulcery horse but something is definitely going on. I called the vet for recommendations (thinking I’d try a digestive treatment first) but she dismissed the idea that it’s physical and said she thinks it’s “bad behavior”, that I should not give treats and should treat him “coldly” and be distant and no-nonsense with him, but she’d be willing to come and examine him if I want. I’m grasping at straws (and am looking for a new vet) but wondered if you have witnessed anything similar or have suggestions for things to try. I’m ready to pull my hair out!

    1. Karen, I am so sorry to hear about your frustrations. I can understand your feelings completely…it is really difficult to put all the work into our horses and feel like we aren’t getting anywhere. It is really hard to say without me knowing the full situation but it almost does sound like it could be a physical issue as your have hypothesized because of the sudden onset of the behavior. I would try to think about any changes that could have occurred in the time that the behavior showed up, such as new turnout schedule, feed changes, perhaps his saddle fit needs re-examined? You did bring up a good point with the weather changes, that can definitely have a huge affect on certain horses! I would recommend finding a new reputable vet and having him examined for your safety before trying to work this him.

      I have a riding friend who has a Thoroughbred mare who actually goes through a similar change when the seasons shift and she becomes almost untouchable…what she has started doing is keeping a journal of the times when this occurs that way she can go back and reference it.

      I would actually recommend the opposite and use positive reinforcement training to reinforce when he is behaving well in the cross ties but it is extremely important that he does have good food manners for receiving treats before you use food in training. Also with your training sessions if you notice his focus isn’t where you’d like it to be ask for less from him that day.

      I hope this helps!

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

    2. Karen, this horse is obviously a challenge, and I think his behaviour is a result of stress from his past, the stress of racing and waiting in cross ties to do so, also being handled by people in a hurry. You can do it for love, or you can do it for money (racing) so I’d say he just feels threatened, and something has happened lately to re-awaken that threat. Time with him out in a big round yard, lots of liberty ground work so he trusts of his own free will (see Warwick Schiller on You Tube) if he’s safe to ride give him plenty of it. Work him well and long until he forgets to be bothered. For some reason he feels he has to defend himself. I have never used cross ties. Something as simple as not using cross ties may actually solve the problem. Just tie on a halter shank and allow him a little free will. Watch his demeanor, see any trouble coming, touch him with love, tough but fair love, and if he’s kept in a stable, find a paddock. Work him down, groom him “hard” don’t tickle, show him which behaviour profits him. If you are having trouble, backpedal but do not give up, go back to something he will accept, and never finish on a bad note. If he has inimidated you, then you each lack confidence in the other. Desensitise him, bags, ropes, hose. Somehow prove to him that your intention is not to hurt him. I never use treats except for catching in the paddock. Find a lump of pink Himalayan rock salt, its full of trace elements and you may notice a change, I did in our youngster here. Hold it as he licks, form a relationship over it. Don’t leave it outside, absorbs dew and rain. Carry a training stick or whip. Mine is a long straight piece of poplar. Hand signals and touching with the stick work more than voice. Touch only with love, work the stick all over him so he is not afraid of it, also to gently poke/tap him on. I have never had a horse with huge issues like this, I was breeding and training my own and seldom a problem, but I see it all around me, and give thanks for my god of horses who guides my hands and appreciates my caring. Oh yes, there is a god of horses, and he has a very wicked sense of humour. Most people these days have absolutely no idea just how much real work, travelling, a horse needs, but I see work as a solution to most issues. Long, steady, relaxing. No more “horse as taxi” so now our horses suffer lack of work, plus we are losing the lifetimes of knowledge brought about by thousands of years when a horse was the only means of transport.

      1. I have to laugh because I figured out his issue this week. New mats were put down a month or so ago in the wash stalls where I usually groom him. They are light and “squishy” and although he usually stands quietly, he had begun to wiggle and the mats moved around. On a hunch, yesterday I tied him in a different space where the mats are heavy and don’t move. He was moderately grumpy but nothing like he had been. Today I tied him there again and he was good as gold. Silly baby horse. LOL

        As far as racing stress, he wasn’t started under saddle until he was three, didn’t race until he was nearly four, and only ran four times within 5 months, after which he came to me straight from his breeder nearly a year and a half ago. I know his complete history. He didn’t have the stereotypical situation. Nothing, and I mean nothing bothers him. He’s Barbie’s Dream Horse except for the grooming bay and some latent and disminishing middle school boy attitude, and he let me know the only way he knew how that he does NOT like those mats. I’m still laughing. Talk about keeping it simple… Barn owner is buying new mats.

        1. Well done! Amazing how something that seems so simple to us, can be such a HUGE deal to them! Thank you for the reminder and the update!!

    3. Hi Karen. I have just purchased a 4yo tb that is acting the exact same way. Sometimes very aggressive, like your boy mainly when being tacked up. And very aggressive around food. Any suggestions would be very much appreciated. Cheers

  21. I always love be your videos and learn so much! I’m a 54 yo new rider and thought it would be easier

  22. Hi, Callie. I’ve just recently started watching your training videos. I’m really pleased with what I see and am learning new methods and reinforcing my present training. I’m a senior rider and have two horses, a 20-yeare old Arab/Quarter Horse gelding that I’ve had for 14 years, and a 17-year old Arabian gelding that I’ve had for 5 years. Unfortunately due to work pressures, I’ve not ridden either of them much, but I am now retired and enjoying more time with them. One of the frustrating problems with the 20-year old is that he head butts me. I’ve tried lots of things with him: firm no’s and pushing him away; letting him hit my fist, hit my elbow and I’ve even tried letting him hit a nail held in my fist. I’ve never physially hit him back, although when he surprises me with a head butt and pushes me around, I get very frustrated. He’s never been good a respexting my space, and I work constantly at pressuring him to give me room. When I first got him, he was a nibbler and loved to threaten with his hind quarters. He doesn’t nip and threaten any more, but I can seem to stop the head butting.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Join Our HorseClass Social Community

Coming Soon!