Lazy Horse Image

We all know the frustration of riding the so called “lazy” horse. No matter how hard we kick or cluck, we seem to always get a less than energetic response. We end the ride with tired legs and often a feeling of annoyance towards our horse.

While of course some horses are simply less inclined to go forward, most “lazy” horses are simply unresponsive horses – desensitized to our constant kicking, nudging, and squeezing.

Sometimes we are even accidentally making it harder for our horses to move forward because of unnecessary tension or tightness that we hold in our own bodies.

There are different ways to motivate a horse to go more forward, but in today’s video I focus on a simple riding concept that is often overlooked with the slow and lazy horse, the release. 

Hit play below to watch the video then share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

See you in the comments,
Callie

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90 Responses

  1. Thanks that was exactly what my daughter and her friends at pony club needed. Especially as they are struggling with their whole bodies to urge the horse on. We wil be practicing this as we did the other video.cheers gen

  2. I found this video on the riding the lazy horse very informative. As a psychology major in college, I particularly liked your using the operant conditioning model.
    One question that I have is what adjustments do I need to make to use a crop instead of a whip?
    Thanks for your help.

  3. Thank you! This video was very helpful! I’m currently leasing a western trained horse that is “lazy” and now I have some tools to work with him! I love your videos. You explain things very clearly.
    Regards,
    Linda

  4. Great video, Callie, as I am currently experiencing this problem. I notice you use a longer whip. Any reason why the longer as a opposed to a shorter one? And thanks for the tip on using it with a consist tapping motion.

  5. Callie, Thank you. This video was very helpful and I’m going to put it into practice this evening. I have a “lazy” horse. However, he is only 6 and has not been subject to constant kicking and prodding by me. Moreover he is a very happy horse, and it shows. He always seems to be in a good mood. He just appears to like doing what he wants to do, and is, I am told by the instructor at the barn who helped me break him in, in fact lazy. I feel that indoors he is often bored (that is my fault) and is tired of walking, trotting, and cantering around in circles. He does all of the above quickly with no urging if there is another horse in front of him. Perhaps if I could make working indoors more of a game he would show more willingness.
    He seems to prefer the outdoors where he is more energetic.
    One thing I noticed in the video is that Bandit does what my horse does when asked to trot from a walk, and that is that his first step into the trot is a sort of jump into the air. I wonder why? He sort of pops up, before going into the trot, as though he has been awakened. Any ideas why?

  6. Hi Callie. I agree with the other comments – thank you, and I did see a bit of my girl in that video! She’s a draft cross, and she and I don’t do anything but putter about (I got a slow draft cross on purpose :)). But when I ask her to trot it seems entirely driven by her mood. When we’re in the indoor she will pop her shoulder in and resist the trot until she finally “hops” into it with an aggravated head shake. But when we’re outside in the meadow and heading towards grass she has the ability to smoothly go right into the trot. Lazy? Bratty? Both? 🙂 Do you have any additional advice for the lazy horse with a dash of mare/brat?

  7. Hi Callie – thank you for another helpful video. Sometimes our instructions mean something different to us than the instructor meant! My instructor said your legs are supposed to drape around the horse like a wet discloth. I took this to mean my legs were actually to be touching the horse! When we resolved this misunderstanding, my poor horse breathed a sigh of relief, and responded when my leg was put on, as before that there was insufficient difference for her to discern what I wanted.

  8. Dear Callie,
    This makes such good sense I will try it in the morning ,thank you
    As with Margaret Miller my horse jumps in the air when I ask for trot, I am still terrified of canter.

  9. Very, very helpful, great demonstration and verbal explanation of what is happening and why it is effective. My horse has a very slow walk, when I ask to increase the speed it usually turns into a trot rather than a faster walk. Then we have too much go at trot and canter! It may be that there is too much pressure at the walk and not much difference between my pressure and release at the higher gaits. I always say that “we have slow and fast but no medium.”
    I notice that you hold your reins with the thumbs toward the horses neck (and I didn’t see a negative result), I hold my thumbs up and one of the things that happens sometimes is I bend my wrists pulling my thumbs more toward my body (this is usually when the instructor says “wiggle your wrists”). I would love to hear your thoughts on holding the reins. : )

    1. Hi Robyn,
      I think you are correct in being instructed for “thumbs up”. Thumbs up generally keeps the elbows close to the rider’s body and allows for better consistency with contact. My thumbs probably did drop in at some points here, its a habit I have that I will sometimes do when I’m really concentrating on other stuff (such as making a video). I feel that the most important part of our arms is the softness and elasticity of our elbows, so basically we want to keep our wrists straight and soft to allow that softness. Thumbs up helps with this, but focusing more on the feeling of the elbow and less about absolute placement of the thumbs may be a better way to find that effectiveness.

      1. I’m glad for this question, as I’ve had this same question, as Callie knows, and this answer really helps.

  10. Callie,
    A really nice video reminding us all of “pressure” and “release” and how the “lazy horse” is most likely not lazy but rather desensitized to constant nagging pressure. It was really interesting to see how you started with a consistent hard leg and increased pressure made Bandit more difficult and slow and when you started over with the light pressure and release he became more forward. Great video and a great reminder for all of us.

    Nancy

  11. I’ve found this to be the only good way to get a horse to carry himself without constant urging by the rider. The horse I am leasing has now gotten to the point where no crop is needed to get a forward walk. We are still working on a steady trot but it’s getting better!
    Mary

  12. You always seem to know what we need. I will rewatch a few times and hopefully this will stick with me. Thank you !

  13. Hi Callie,
    Once again great, clear information. My daughter has a lazy horse that has always been ridden with Spurs by its original owners. Is it possible to re-train him this way to stop the use of Spurs?
    Also how long do you think it would take?

    Thanks again

    Fiona Lynch

    1. Hi Fiona, yes – I try to use the spurs just as I do the whip, so squeeze the leg without engaging spur, then engage spur, release for forward movement. If a horse is ridden with a tight leg and a spur, they start to desensitize to the spur as well. However used with awareness and control of the rider’s leg I feel that the spur can be an effective and ethical tool, but now something that you will always need.

  14. I am thrilled you picked this topic and I thank you for your training video and professional suggestions. After watching it this afternoon, I applied it to my 10 year old ‘Mr. Lazy’ QH Morton. It took about 5 minutes for him to understand what I was asking and from that point on I truly had his attention! Thank you once again for taking the time.

  15. Callie: This is an Excellent video…..your clear explanation, instruction, and demonstration make this video a very valuable “how to” video!!! Thank you

  16. Great video Callie. Two questions: when you say close the leg … How do you actually do this? Are you squeezing thigh, knee and calf muscles?

    When you start tapping with the whip, are you tapping the horse or against your boot when you first show in the video?

    It would be great if you could slow your video’ and zoom-in at crucial parts of your video eg when you say “close the leg” or “tap” so we can actually see what your body is doing .

    1. Hi Dianne,
      Great suggestions for slowing down the video – thank you!

      When I say close my leg it is squeezing with the calf. Then I tap the horse on the hindquarter. I tapped my boot just a demo however you can also tap your boot and use the sound of it as a form of pressure.

  17. Oh wow! I think this may be the breakthrough I’ve been looking for, for my ‘aparently lazy’ Irish Cob cross. He’s good out hacking (trekking) , and really sweet on the ground, but such hard work in the school, it’s like he’s got the handbrake on! I’ve been making some progress since I bought him 5 months ago, but I tried this method and it was definitely better. Not kicking meant I didn’t come out of the school feeling I’d done more than him! Also by just squeezing and using the whip I could really concentrate on him moving forward so I could release the pressure, which felt much more ‘positive’ than just constantly squeezing and kicking and concentrating on him not going forward enough. He was still calm and steady (which I want) but felt much more responsive!. Can’t thank you enough. Really looking forward to using this method more and seeing how he progresses.

  18. Thanks so much for this video, it was very helpful! Do you mind elaborating a little on how exactly you are applying pressure and what it means to “close the leg”? Are you closing the whole leg around the horse or should you be concentrating on just the lower half of the leg and try and wrap it snug near the girth? I hear this a lot during my lessons and I am always kind of confused about how to do this properly. Also- do you have nay advice on how what to do when your horse does not want to transition to a canter and what you can do to moe the canter forward? Thanks!

  19. It’s wonderful to watch someone with your knowledge and skill work with a horse.
    Don’t know if you’ve ever addressed it but I’m having the opposite problem with a great little paint mare I’m leasing. She’s young, about 7, and has had limited training. The issue is that she has just one speed for each of her gaits; fast!. She’s generally responsive to leg and rein aids and is a lot braver on fences than I am. She’s smart and willing to learn and half-halts work sometimes, briefly, and sometimes she stops. So how do I get her to collect and adjust her speed??

  20. Thank you for this video, Callie. Very helpful and just what I needed! I purchased my first horse (a 16 year old quarter horse gelding mostly used for trail riding) a few months ago and have noticed this issue with him. I am planning to spend a lot of time re-training him with the methods explained here. I am new to your training videos, so I’m not sure if you have done one on eliminating head tossing. If you have, could someone give me the link for that? If you haven’t, any advice/video about it would be helpful 🙂

    Thanks!!!

    1. Hi Breanna, welcome to the blog here! I hope you enjoy the videos here and they help you in your goal to ride barrels!

  21. Hi Callie!
    Thanks for all the great videos 🙂 as we are gearing up for trail riding season would you consider doing another trail riding video? Good reminder to apply and release pressure! I will be focusing on this next time I ride.

    1. Hi Molly,
      Thanks for the suggestion! Any trail riding questions or topics I could address specifically?

      1. Maybe some information on how to keep your horse engaged on the trail? Riding through spooks and excitement? I often find myself losing my form and forgetting about the aids on the trail. Maybe you could talk about how to carry over our arena skills to the trail? Just some ideas! Thanks for thinking about it!

  22. Hi Callie, I found this video very helpful. I have a lazy elderly horse and have found riding him exhausting lately. I’ve forwarded this to my dressage instructor and she and I will be working on this. I would be very interested in getting information on daily exercises for keeping an elderly horse going well particularly to keep arthritis at bay as long as possible. Do you get many enquiries about this? I think it is very hard to find a good horse to buy out there now. (I live in Australia) And we want to keep our good old ones going longer. Look forward to your reply.

    1. Hi Sue, sorry for my late reply! I am just getting caught up on blog comments now! Great suggestion about arthritis… this would be a good interview with a vet 🙂

      1. Hi Callie, thanks for your reply. I’ve spoken to equine vet. There are drugs out there to use but as with any of these the side effects can be significant including damage to kidney etc. I am at present trying natural herbal mixture supplement to feed, with additives like various vitamins, MSM and chondroitin, etc. This works over a fairly long period. It is winter here at the moment so I guess won’t really know if its any benefit until I see if my old horse peps up again in our Spring (September) as he usually does. Although it is miserable weather here at the moment, the old horse was galloping and bucking and squealing like a young horse in the paddock yesterday which was great to see, so fingers crossed….But I would be really interested in an interview with a vet on your site. Cheers. Sue (Australia)

  23. Hi Callie ! I needed this video for my western horse he is so lazy. When I stop in the arena his eyes close right then. Do you have any tips for this ?

  24. Hi Callie!!
    Great video! I see others have also asked, when you say to “close your leg” I assume you are squeezing with both calves. Is this correct? Also, I am re-training several lesson type horses that are not very responsive to the go forward cue while being led. Any suggestions? These are therapeutic riding horses for the disabled. They have a horse handler that leads them and they just walk. Some drag their feet and get slower as the class goes on. It can be very difficult to encourage them to get into a faster walk with a handicapped rider on board. Then there are other horses that tend to speed up too much and the horse handler and side walkers have a hard time keeping up.

    1. Hi Diane,
      Glad you liked the video! Sorry I am a bit slow responding this time! Yes, closing the leg is a squeeze with both calves. For the therapeutic horses, I would recommend working with them at connecting with and following the movement of the handler through gaits and transitions. Initially you will need to use a lead and probably a stick to reach back and give a tap, but focus on having the movement of the handler be the first “cue”. Generally the more the horse feels connected to the person handling them, the more responsive they will be too.

  25. Word of caution…. I was going about all this and found another cause for the laziness issue. Understandably I have an elderly horse so you can expect reluctance to work at a young horse speed. But then friend and instructor saw that he was stiff in his hind leg. Seems arthritis and pain was the cause of ‘laziness’. I am trying to address this through gentle dressage exercises, Bowen Therapy and feed supplements but he may just have to be retired. It is hard with a naturally slow horse to know when it is mind and when it is body that is causing the issue – if I had a younger horse I wouldn’t have checked but perhaps a younger horse could have another issue causing slowness too?. Good to have someone knowledgeable watching. Sue (Australia)

  26. Hi Callie,
    Thanks for the very helpful video. It answered some questions that I have had.
    Could you address how to deal with seemingly lazy horses used for therapeutic riding. I read your response when the horse is on lead; however, we have many riders who progress to ride off lead. The difficulty is that the disabilities vary greatly, so any consistency is lacking. We serve all ages and all disabilities. Our horses have a big job; any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.
    Thanks, Laney

    1. Hi Laney,
      I would probably focus on the connection between the rider and the horse. A horse who is actively paying attention to his rider is less likely to poke around, and I am going to assume that it is more difficult for these riders to use their bodies applying pressure. That said, you can also get creative with how can the rider apply a bit more pressure? Maybe with their voice or with a tap of the whip? Here is an interesting article where Australian trainer Manuela Mclean describes how she worked with a para-olympic rider and her mount. http://www.horsetalk.co.nz/2012/05/30/former-kiwi-horses-aust-paralympics/#axzz4E9JMS0vS

  27. Callie, please address pawing in the trailer. This has been a new bad habit that my boy is doing and I would like to correct this before he does more damage to my trailer. Thanks for your help

  28. Callie, I watched this in conjunction with the lesson on how to stop gripping. Super! I have a flat class coming up on a couple of hours and this is fresh in my mind. I look forward to applying both of your lessons into my ride this morning. Thank you so much for your clear way of instructing. i love how you also remind us of how the horse learns. It’s key! (Wish I could have a lesson at your farm! Have a beautiful day!)

  29. The problem I have with my horse Callie is that he responds immediately to cues to Gallup but he slows to a trot after doing all just a few yards as if he feels he’s met his contract and he can rest . I will definitely try to apply your suggestions such as loosening the grip not kicking and just giving some cues with the whip. I suspect that since I’m not a very good ridea, I,m not comfortable for him when he gallops and he keeps it to a minimum. What do you think ? Meggan from france

    1. Hi Meggan,
      Some horses actually find it easier to canter than trot, so this may be the case with your horse and why he is more eager to canter than trot. Try working over trot poles to help him learn to extend his steps in trot and strengthen the muscles he needs for trotting.

  30. Hello from Sweden! Great video. Just a question, when you say “squeeze” the leg for 2 seconds then start to tap with the whip, do you mean squeeze as keeping a constant pressure on the horse or tapping as well with the legs? Why first squeeze then tap? Thanks! Malin

  31. Dear Callie!
    Thanks for your advices in the video! I have a problem with my horse. She is very irresponsive when I ask her for a trot. I’ve tried tapping while squeezing my legs and a voice aids, but nothing helps. Sometimes it’s even hard to ask her for a walk. I know that horses don’t like a ground, covered by melted ice, which I have in my country now and it can cause this disobedience. But what should I do to ask her go faster? Thank you!

    1. The tapping has to be consistent and firm enough to motivate some kind of action. If you are getting no reacting the tapping is probably too weak or too inconsistent

  32. Callie, hello from a newcomer. I’m a middle-aged intermediate who recently returned to riding after 35 years. I love your approach and I want to go to the beginning and watch my way thru ALL your videos! This one was especially helpful, because I only ride lesson horses – and some of them, as you point out, can become unresponsive after too much constant pressure. My question is – how do you tap with the crop without unintentionally giving a rein aid? My hands are fairly soft, but I worry that if I use the crop without taking my hand off the reins, I will give the horse a rein cue when I don’t mean to. Thoughts? Also – when riding in an arena, do you suggest crop in the outside or inside hand? Thanks so much. Can’t wait to watch more.

  33. Thanks alot Callie,
    That was really helpful. I take lessons at a local barn and I ride one horse who is sometimes “lazy” and those tips helped me no how to handle the horse the next time I ride. Thanks

  34. Your training and advice are second to none. I just watched a clinician give exact advice and charged a outrageous price for such practical horsemanship. Kudos to you and your blog

  35. This was great! For 2 1/2 years I’ve been re newing my learning to ride. Your instructions are the best! Thank you Callie.

  36. Hi Callie,

    Excited to try this with my little mare! Her new trick to avoid forward when asked …is going backwards !! What is the best and safest way to stop this habit

    1. Hi Stacey,

      We actually did a blog video a few months ago with a horse name Zelli who had similar behaviors – you can watch her video by clicking here.

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  37. Hello
    I listened to your lazy horse videos and attempted the tools with my new horse. This horse just turned three and is only under saddle a couple months max. I tried using the dressage whip as a constant aid to reinforce my leg when he doesn’t respond. However, it just annoys him and doesn’t send him forward – on the contrary he hollows his back, puts his head up and I have have to kick even harder while using the whip to get a response!!! Not sure if I should be increasing the pressure when he doesn’t respond, and I’m also not sure what’s good enough to release. I mean I can get him trotting again, but I can’t get ANY impulsion. I did take your advice about not gripping with my legs and realize I was doing that because after the ride of consciously not gripping, my seat bones are really sore and my skin is raw “down there” so I know I was doing that and can stop it for sure. But I still don’t know what to do about the whip resistance. Would you try spurs (blunt rowel spurs perhaps) instead of the whip?

    1. Virginia, a rider has to have a good control of the leg before considering the use of spurs! How does he respond to the whip on the ground? Being as he is so young it may be difficult for him to balance and move forward with the weight of a rider easily.

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  38. Is there a way to re-sensitize a horse? My mare has, over the years, become desensitized and now feels “lazy.” I am working on getting a response through the release of pressure. But can that return her to eventually being more sensitive to my leg aids?

    1. Yes Margi! You can use the exercise Callie shares here with the whip to re-sensitize her and get her moving more forward!

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  39. Hi Callie I love your videos I’m a 68 year old rider have been having lessons now for 5 months and I can’t tell you how much your videos have helped me with every aspect of my riding. I ride the same school horse twice a week and am really getting to know her now. Thought she was a lazy horse but think I was giving her mixed messages because she is so much better now that I am improving! I’m loving it.! Thanks Callie.

  40. Thank you for all your vidoes. I enjoyed this video but I’m a little confused on the whip. You explained what you were going to do with the whip but then it didn’t look like you ever used it. Did I miss something??

    1. Hi Priscilla, if you watch around the 9 minute mark Callie will explain how she uses the whip! First there is asking with the leg and then if that doesn’t get the desired response, she’ll use the whip in the manner she demonstrates, and then the desired response is given the tapping with the whip stops!

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  41. OMG! This is my horse!!!!! The harder I work, the less he pays attention! Bandit even looks like my Chase. He recently had a chiropractic workup done – had four ribs ‘out’, among other things. Wonder if that’s from my clamping my legs so much! I’m going to send this video to my trainer. I ride hunters, so we use less seat, but the principles are the same. Thank you for these videos.

    1. Hope this helps you and gets Chase more in front of your leg – it’ll really help your ride down the lines of the hunter courses 🙂

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  42. Callie,
    Thank you for the very informative and helpful video. I do have a question regarding your whip. Is the end of your whip making contact with the horse and if so, where? A closeup of the whip making contact would be helpful. I find that it is difficult for me to make contact with my horse’ hip without moving my hand out a bit. Are you actually tapping your own leg? Looking for a little clarification. Thanks so much.

    1. Hi Lynette, yes to answer your question Callie is actually making contact with the horse – just behind her leg. Not all horses necessarily require an actual tap sometimes just tapping your own leg is enough to get the desired response!

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  43. Yesterday I rode a rescue horse that was used for trail rides for kids. In the indoor arena the only way that she would move at all was to attempt a turn by RAISING the rein and applying pressure with the opposite leg until she took a step then release and repeat on the other side. Sometimes this would not even work. I didn’t have a whip, so could you suggest another method? Simply applying pressure with both legs would not work at all. Once we were on the trail with three other horses she was just the opposite. I could only slow her down by making small circles in the middle of the trail. The same goes for stopping, only more circles. Any ideas for stopping beyond the typical lengthening back, rock or slight lean back with rein pressure? Thanks!

    1. Hi Nanette, thanks for your comment! I actually have added this to the list for us to address in the next Balanced Riding Course webinar – since you are a member you can hear Callie’s personalized response there 🙂

      – Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  44. Thank you SO much for this video! It is exactly what I was looking for when riding my desensitized horse and wanting to know how to fix this. I bought him this summer, and have been struggling with this problem the whole time.
    I just recently found this video on YouTube, and have tried it out for a fiew days. My horse is a smart one, and gets it really quick.
    I am so very thankful for this video (and many other videos on your channel).

    1. Awesome, I am so glad this video was helpful 🙂 Keep us updated on your progress!

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  45. Dear Callie and Bandit

    Wow! Thank you so very much. This is just wanted I needed to explain what I am doing wrong with a stable horse that I ride, Boysie. Boysie is a lovely boy but much prefers to be out rather than having a lesson/giving me a lesson inside and I have found it hard work in the past. Now I know what I am doing wrong – can’t wait to start work on correcting my aids. Also I was beginning to lose confidence so it’s nice to know it’s not just me – gives me hope.

    Happy riding

    Sara

  46. Hi Callie,
    I so appreciate your videos. I have watched this one numerous times in my attempts to re-sensitive my horse to leg pressure. I find he tends to throw up his head, twist his body and almost feels like his energy goes backwards when I add the whip tapping to my leg. Any suggestions on why that might be or what I could be doing wrong? Thanks!

    1. Hi Tiff, it is hard to say exactly what could be going wrong without a video. I would suggest having your vet to evaluate him to make sure that there isn’t any physical reason why he won’t go forward, perhaps soreness in his back or poor saddle fit!

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

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