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I love working with the so-called “problem horses”.

They are the ones that have always made me better as a trainer. They are the ones I wake up at night thinking about.

One reason I love these “problem horses” – they are almost always highly intelligent.

In fact, it is just this – their intelligence – that has made them a “problem” for the people around them.

In the video below I will explain why this happens and how you can better get along with these smart horses.


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130 Responses

  1. I have one of these smart horses and I am a novice. Maybe not a good match but she is very connected to me and a lot of fun.

    1. I have a very smart horse. I am not the most experienced trainer either. I am hoping i can level up and be a good leader for him because i would hate to have to rehome him.

  2. Haha! Yes this is my horse! Dutch warmblood+Fresian/Arabian. My first horse in 40 years! I saw immediately how smart he is. I love how smart he is. He keeps me on my toes and has made me a better horse person. Like you said about being present and aware. Let’s include thoughtful and intentional!
    I don’t remember what it was I was doing with him when I first got him a year and a half ago but I remember he looked at me like “you’re insulting my intelligence.“ Fortunately I have an awesome trainer Whom I get dressage lessons from who has his number and is very respectful of it and works WITH it.
    Im learning a lot from him. I’m so grateful that I get to be his human.

  3. You have described my horse 100%. I have owned her for about 1 1/2 years and have realized she s so smart for about a year. I have been trying to work with this, and have made some progress, but need more help/suggestions on this specific topic. Do you have any more of your videos, blogs, courses on working with and training these super smart horses? Oh, and she is a mare too, so that makes it even more interesting. Thanks!

    1. Hi Ginny, if you send me an email at [email protected] with more specifics on the challenges you are having with your smart horse I would be more than happy to pass on some resources for you 🙂

      -Julia, CRK Training Community Manager

  4. I do have one of these smart horses with a bit of a negative rap. I can see that she is in my life or I, in hers as we need one another as teachers for each other. The other day I was long lining her and walking through the woods. Several instances she wanted to turn homewards and I corrected her. In my head I was annoyed – no way was she going to get away with a short session time. I would correct her and we’d set off. The fourth time I said let’s take this route she bolted on me. I let go of the lines and she was off. No worries – she’d either go home or come back to me. I found her chatting with her mates up near home. But, as I was walking back (about 1 mi away) I had time to think and reconstruct. Pre bolt, she’d done a couple of dance prance steps and I asked for a walk. She did this twice. Clearly when I reflected on all the “hint” she’d given me that she was not at ease I ignored and told her to buck up, chin up, and for God’s sake, just do it. Clearly my requests were more than she could handle. We had not longlined as a solo team, always with another horse and trainer/rider and that was last year. I was asking her to do a task she was too unfamiliar with and my expectations were not only out of line – but I was determined to meet my expectations. I forgot we were in partnership. She is definitely a horse who responds to partnership vs dominant leadership. Thank you Callie of CRK for posting a piece on “A smart horse can come with a bad rap

    1. Love this! Sometimes we forget to listen because we have our own agenda or even just mis-read their signals. I’ve been guilty of it many times and try to remember it for next time. My mare is also of the partnership ilk. Dominance just frustrates her because she wants to have that conversation with me.

    2. This is a beautiful anecdote. Your mare is lucky to have you, and you clearly feel the same about her. How lovely that you appreciate her uniqueness and her ability to teach you. I’m not an owner, but your story will help guide the way I think about the school horses I ride. Thank you!

    3. Lindsay, thank you for your comment I’m glad you enjoyed this post! I think your comment brings up the important principle of knowing their limits, what our horses are able to reasonably handle! Sometimes that means shifting our expectations just like you mentioned 🙂

      -Julia, CRK Training Community Manager

  5. I love this video — thank you! I got my pony as an inexperienced senior and he was young (4) and green. I had so many problems with him from the beginning — rearing, biting and kicking, pulling away. I couldn’t take him off my property — he knew I had no idea what I was doing. I tried many training methods to try to get control and establish dominance, and he rebelled. I learned how quick he learned and how sensitive he was. I started to embrace his intelligence, humor, creativity and with that he began to be a partner for me. I had to be creative myself, but also recognize his offerings. His mouthiness turned into painting and retrieving. He will walk right in the house if I leave the door open. We now celebrate everyday. I’m always trying to look up new things to entertain us — currently teeter totter, his swimming pool, putting rings on a cone, balance acts on a tire, sitting in a chair. He knows at least 20 body parts and will present them to a target. We are still only beginning. He keeps me focussed on the present (important during these challenging times.) Thanks again Callie.

    1. So well said Kathy, horses keep us present – which is more important now than ever! Would love to see him on the teeter totter 🙂

      -Julia, CRK Training Community Manager

      1. I would love to see/hear more about this play you have created with him. My imagination is not nearly to your level and I have a smart boy, first horse in 40 years.

  6. So true! I have a wild mustang who is so smart but also not afraid of anything! She tries to train me.

    1. I’ve seen horses be quite successful in training their owners or riders!

      -Julia, CRK Training Community Manager

  7. Yep my Pony is smart.very smart and my best I know this? She picks up my cues and learns very fast just until she figures out something new to challenge me with and subsequently has me learning.
    She also is my best alley.

  8. Thanks fir the excellent video and descriptions Many times a horses intelligence is not addressed.
    I have three colts and a filly out of the same parents and each were started by different trainers, each claimed them difficult. They are highly intelligent in different ways. Example- one can flip any latch and free himself and then goes and lets the other horses out. He now has double chains on his stall and sometimes I still find him loose in the barn. His intelligence gets him into situations constantly.
    I currently have a trainer that specializes in mustangs and together we have these horses riding and going well, working and happy in their jobs. It is a challenge.

  9. I think I have a smart horse. How do you improve the connection between horse and rider? I am a proficient rider.

    1. Groundwork worked well for me (a LOT of it). And definitely work on proper timing. SO important with smart horses!

  10. My “gifted” mare is very sensitive and likes things done correctly. If I am inattentive to the ride, lose the conttact, have too much contact, too tight in my seat, too tight in my legs….the list goes on – she will let me know. She will suck back or she will try to spook. She is actually making me a better rider because she makes me focus on what my body is doing and how I’m asking her to respond all the time. When I am correct the ride is magical! We go through our ups and downs as we both learn new pieces of the dressage puzzle and sometimes it is frustrating. I’m finding great joy when we get it right – this is the whole reason we keep working on new things, right.

    1. Susan, the best teachers are smart horses just like yours!

      -Julia, CRK Training Community Manager

  11. Hi Callie, I sooo wish I had known you 20 years ago! I rescued an Arabian gelding from his breeder because if the harsh methods being used on him. He was a challenge that I managed to get to the point of riding comfortably , after some mistakes with a trainer who wanted to use cookie cutter methods with him. I made a huge mistake and didn’t listen to him on a ride, had and accident, and lost my confidence, he lost his confidence in me, and I gave up riding him. I lost him to a serious colic recently, but realized a long time ago that he was more intelligent and VERY sensitive than most horses. He was a great teacher…

    1. Sue, I’m very sorry to hear of the loss of your horse.

      -Julia, CRK Training Community Manager

  12. I have a very intelligent Icelandic horse. She was branded a problem horse from the start and I thought the trainers knew best. So I went along with the “she must submit” method. But as I began to watch her and work with her with “no must have results now vision” I discovered she wanted to be heard. She is sensitive and learns very quickly. So I started including her ideas into our training and what a great time we’ve had. We have developed trust over the years and she knows ultimately I am in charge but will respect her thoughts. Our first time in the arena this spring after all the snow melted she went to the obstacle area and completed her work on the platform by herself amid my cheering her on. She has been a handful at times but a wonderful partner to me. Thanks for your insight on intelligent horses!

  13. I have a really clever mare. She’s so interesting and so funny and absolutely brilliant. I have learnt so much from her, she continues to teach me something new every single day. And she’s 17 now! Oh the stories I could tell you! And she’s frustrated many trainers because she outsmarts them. She won’t tolerate anything she feels is wrong. She’s a fighter. I treat her with the most respect and ask her. She always gives back what I give her. And she looks after me. She knows I’m on her side, which is really important. If she believes you’re on her side. She tries. She always has the final word otherwise!

    1. Katie, absolutely – just like any other relationship give respect to receive it 🙂

      -Julia, CRK Training Community Manager

  14. Loved this video, thank you so much!
    I have a smart mare and she is sometimes difficult to deal with.
    But she learns quick and I have learned so much with and from her.
    I find it much more rewarding and interesting to work and be with her
    than with a super submissive horse.
    Great of you to mention those horses with the ,glazed over, look – who
    gave in into situations where they see no way out – situations of brutal training methods etc..
    Those horses mostly perform well but have behavioral issues and in any case the rider has no connection to the animal.

    1. I’m noticing a trend that many of these ‘smart horses’ are mares, I’m thinking that isn’t a coincidence 😉

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts and comment!

      -Julia, CRK Training Community Manager

  15. I love this video. I have one of these smart horses. My horse Cinematic is clicker trained, as I am a professional dog trainer who uses this method in my training, and I had studied how to apply this to horses, and with him, I always need to continue to study. He is smart, gets frustrated easily if I up my criteria a bit too much, and is very emotional. I always need to bring my best game when working with him, and be sure to keep an eye on those emotions. He learns super fast, and sometimes the wrong thing, but is a pleasure to ride as I can be so light with him and I get a super response. He is more of a problem from the ground. He has taught me a lot, but it hasn’t always been easy.

    1. just described my horse! He is a direct descendant of Doc Bar (QH)..super intelligent…I am trying to learn as fast as I my skill level is below par for the horse I have..
      Leaning and loving though…

    2. That is awesome Linda! Are you training his under saddle responses using clicker training as well?

      -Julia, CRK Training Community Manager

      1. Yes, I use the clicker when I ride. It is why he is super responsive. I click the slightest move toward whatever we are working on, and shape it from there. He learns so fast, and then starts offering me the behavior. I don’t let him do that for too long, as I want everything under stimulus control. Otherwise I would be riding a horse offering me leg yields, shoulder in, travers, etc., when I didn’t ask.

  16. Many horses are brought to clicker training because of their intelligence, sensitivity and perceived inconsistency. After being a clicker trainer/instructor for several decades I can walk down a barn aisle and pick out the clicker candidates just by their response to me.

    These horses demand much from their people. You have to earn their cooperation and they have high standards. Once you learn to listen instead of tell they are awesome partners .

    1. I’d love to hear your observations on the clicker trained versus non-clicker trained horses Cathi!

      -Julia, CRK Training Community Manager

  17. Ah, yes! I have one of these “smart/problem” horses. He has taught me so much over the last 10 years about good horsemanship. He would never just let me go through the motions when I’m riding him—always challenging me or trying something different. Even though he is 15, he just randomly decided to give me a little buck the other day when I started a riding exercises after not riding for a few weeks. I got off to lounge him, and he would buck a few times and then turn and face me watching for my reaction. Always challenging……

    1. Smart horses will continue to challenge their people – well into their elder years 🙂 Maybe age makes them even wiser!

      -Julia, CRK Training Community Manager

  18. Can 3 flakes of alfalfa daily as well a grain and 8 hours of turnout
    make my horse very hyper i.e rearing and bucking on the lunge line
    and when I hand walk him outside, the 2 months of no riding has not helped. I know my horse is very smart, but he used to be easy to ride before he got ulcers. Ulcer
    guard and the alfalfa is to cure the ulcers.

    1. My mare absolutely cannot handle alfalfa. She turns into a lunatic ready to jump out of her skin. I’m not sure why. As soon as I took away the alfalfa (even alfalfa in a supplement pellet) she calmed down significantly. She is on bermuda/timothy mix, no bagged grain and a custom mix of powered supplements. Works for us.

      1. Some horses do not respond well to being fed alfalfa and it makes them a little on the ‘hotter’ side!

        -Julia, CRK Training Community Manager

    2. Hi Kari, how much turnout does he get? Is there an option to give him more turnout? Was the alfalfa and Ulcerguard prescribed by your vet?

      -Julia, CRK Training Community Manager

      1. My father had one of those intelligent American Saddle Bred. When my father bough him with tact and all for very cheap. They had named him Satan. So now you can tell just how problematic he was them. My dad is a very patient man and loves horse. He was teaching my sister how to ride, but she had her own horse. He join a Precision Riding Team and they would ride at Rodeos and even in Mardi Gras Parades. Satan never gave my dad problems, but just after a couple of weeks some men were teasing him about his so called smart horse. My dad told them he would tie his reins and lay them on Satan’s neck and cross his arms on his chest and run the drill (it was a very complicated pattern). They started and finished without Satan missing a step. None of the other horse could do that. He was smart enough that I could throw my 2 year old on his back and all of sudden he looked like an old plow horse. I would ride him a lot if my dad was too busy. One time I had been riding him a lot. My dad was in the pasture talking to someone and Satan heard his voice and I could not do anything, but let him go to my dad. I got off and told my dad that he had to ride him, before I would again. In all honesty Satan was a one man horse, but tolerated me and even my son. I really miss that horse and my dad. Satan wasa pleasure to ride for so many reason and he was just so smooth to ride and was a much different horse than my dad purchased. So I love intelligent horses and American Saddle Bred ones they are 5 grated. We rode western. My sister’s little girl and not a little girl anymore she’s a young adult, but she is about to turn 29 and she says she is getting old. I told her to wait to she’s my age (70) I don’t act like it and I never want to act old. I would love to have an American Saddle Bred one day. My niece is learning how to ride English and she has a Thoroughbred. When she was really young Santa Clause brought her older brother a Welch Pony who was pregnant and on October 5th we woke her up so she could meet her pony a little Stallion. He stayed a stallion, but he was the most gentlest horse and he is was smart. He learn how to get out of the barbwire fence, by watching how the kids got out of it. He would get out and we never could find out how he did until my sister watched him do it.

  19. Every horse I’ve had as an adult has been a ‘problem horse’, because I LOVE intelligent, energetic horses. Though I’m not the most talented rider, I’m trained as a scientist, so I know the value of proceeding in small, digestible steps, both for myself and for my horses. This slowness, while I’m sure it’s a bit aggravating for my very smart horses, has enabled me to have wonderful experiences with these horses that supposedly no one else wanted. Each one of them has taught me so much, much more than riding instructors, actually, as listening to an instructor while I’m trying to listen to the horse, listen to my own body, make adjustments to my position, etc, is simply too much for this old lady (73) sometimes. So I break things down into little pieces for me and the horse. My first two horses were ones that were so clever that I’m sure I drove them nuts, but both of them were sound and happy until they were 30, when I lost them.
    My recent horse is a high-spirited Morgan/Arabian rescue who is even more of a challenge for me at my age, but is also teaching me a ton of stuff, as she is even MORE sensitive than the previous two horses. I love that sharp intelligence, as it’s like having a conversation for every ride between me and the horse. My current horse has an anxiety problem that I’ve been slowly working on for years now, and she is coming along wonderfully, but still has her moments, shall we say. Getting even the slightest bit off balance scares her, so we’ve started lateral work mostly at the walk until she realizes how easy it is for her, which happens pretty quickly with her super brain! Though she is smallish, she has gaits like a warmblood, so that’s a bit much sometimes for this old lady! But we’re plugging along in my slow way and she makes progress every single day, and so do I. Lucky for me she is very tolerant of my slowness, and dealing with her with understanding and kindness helps a lot.

    1. Hi, I am 72, and we are not “old ladies” yet! That said, I have a small (14.1) Polish Arab mare who is very smart, and VERY sensitive, and very “springy”. Your account of “small bites at a time” resonates with me. She is very light, to the point where she gets “offended” if you add too much pressure…she already knows what you want. I have also found that LOVING groundwork works wonders..I don’t lunge her before a trail ride, but do a little “connection/re-connection” work, and she is “happy” to have gotten a little closer. She will often play little games w/me..the other day she shied at a car parked on the trail (nothing new), but it was actually because she wanted to go to the other side to the grass! I’ll have to play with her a bit, based on this video, re “quick uptake” stuff.
      Tks Callie

  20. I love this video and I believe, this is an important topic. One of my horses is apparently one of those very intelligent ones with a low tolerance threshold for stimulation. We tried all kinds of approaches with him, mostly with the thought in mind, that he might get easily bored and then finds things to do or to spook on. Thus, most of the training methods we tried were quite active such as . e.g clicker training. However, the thing that seems to be working best is the opposite: An almost extremely quiet and calm approach, where he can actually relax. It is interesting to see, that as smart and fast in his reactions as he is, he does not seem to need more stimulation and entertainment, quite the opposite.

    1. I think you touched on something really wonderful, seems you found true feel with your horse, a real partnership, taking him into account. Thanks for this helpful share.

      1. Thank you for your kind words! I believe that’s what all this between us and them is about, mutual understanding, love, and acceptance <3

    2. Frauke, I have a horse very similar to yours! She is very smart but very sensitive to her environment and finds over stimulation to be too much. It is all about reading the individual horse and their needs 🙂

      -Julia, CRK Training Community Manager

      1. So true! Sometimes not that easy, but that is probably what makes a good horse listener 🙂

  21. I love my super smart mare! I had a trainer tell me to “get rid of her” when she just couldn’t figure out what to do with some of her behaviors. Making the switch to some “natural horsemanship” methods made all the difference in the world. She DID learn to duck behind the bit and I now ride her bitless. . .big help. I change up what I do with her within a routine. . .if that makes sense. Ground work, riding, obstacle course, trail, etc. She seems very happy! My farrier calls her a “Dennis the Menace” horse which I think is hilarious. 🙂

    1. What kind of bitless do you use? I am thinking about a new something beyond my Parelli halter. I find I ned something with more contact. Thank you for sharing!

      1. I use the Dr. Cook’s English bitless bridle. I’ve been using the same one for almost 7 years and it has held up well.

    2. Lynn, happy horses are what we are all striving for! Kudos for sticking with her 🙂

      -Julia, CRK Training Community Manager

  22. Hi Callie
    Thank you for this video. My sensitive 3/4 Arabian 1/4 Saddlebred learns very quickly. I have had my challenges with him as I “rose to the occasion” to learn to ride better (and I’m still very much learning). When I first got him 3 years ago I hand walked him around the arena and had him do some obstacles that were set up in the arena and when he completed them I gave him a carrot. I did this a couple of times just on that one day. About a month later at the end of a ride in the arena I put him on a loose rein and let him walk wherever he wanted to go. He immediately did all 4 obstacles in a very focused manner with no prompting from me. I was blown away by his memory of this ! Of course he got a carrot. What a GOOD BOY!!

  23. Hi Callie,
    Thanks for talking about this, as it reinforces what I’ve been thinking about one of horses – it takes intelligence to be curious and to get into trouble. I love him so much and love his character, though some people do not find the things he does funny :-). He is extremely curious and opportunistic. If a situation presents where he can get “out” or somehow get into “things” or get into trouble he does. If there is anything going on he is involved. He is a leader in play and other horses will follow him though he is not dominate; he is just the one who notices things and goes to investigate… even when they are far, far away. He learns very fast and release points need to be very exact. People who are far better riders than I am find they need to keep their full attention with him at all times – every second- or he is going his own thing. He will always be challenging, but I do believe it is because of his intelligence. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts!

    1. Absolutely Susan – it takes intelligence (and freedom of expression) to be curious and try new things! Your horse sounds like he has a big personality 🙂

      -Julia, CRK Training Community Manager

  24. I found out I had a smart horse by his reputation at the barn as “bossy” & “a trickster” (my first & only horse; what did I know?!). But I got a real lesson from him in HOW smart he is when I did what I saw other riders doing when they stalled their horse: rather than fuss with the gate, they just strung a lead rope across the opening & their horses stayed in their stalls FINE. Well … I tried it. I was grooming & had to duck under the rope to change brushes twice. The third time, I went across the 8 ft wide hallway to the tack room quickly and guess what? SO DID MY HORSE!!! He watched me twice, figured it out, and ducked right under the rope & followed me the third time … well, I learned how easy he learned and followed and figured things out, and how much he enjoyed all that, and we have been doing all kinds of fun “copy me” things ever since. He is quite an entertainer & is known as both sweet & smart. Just like his mom!

  25. Wow Callie, that was very profound and I think exactly very correct. So kudos for you for recognizing this and bringing this to the general public, like myself! I did take your Wendy Murdock course and a clinic, which was excellent.

    I wasn’t a very good rider, older and stiff, but I bought my second Haflinger because I love the breed. He wouldn’t “go” for many people, but he would for me. Almost everything he won’t do is my problem. As soon as I figure out how to correct my body, usually my pelvis and seat/leg, he does it. I feel sorry for the poor horses that have to power through an incorrect riding positions.

    Any way he is so smart and my best buddy, figuring out together what we are doing. Besides Wendy, Holly Mason (Dressage by Design) was a big help to me. The technical aspects, body position seem to make a huge difference for me.

    1. Gordon, it is amazing how even the smallest shifts can make a huge difference for the horse’s availability to move underneath of a rider – Wendy is an expert in finding those small shifts 🙂

      -Julia, CRK Training Community Manager

  26. So, so true. My boy is very intelligent, and it makes him very sensitive. He has definitely helped me to get very good with my timing, and we have and excellent relationship now. It’s so much fun to work with him. He learns SO quickly. Very smart! Also the reason that I no longer let anyone else ride him, only me, and I do my own training. He picks things up quickly, and that involves wrong things that I have to re-train out of him. LOL I love to watch him figure things out. It’s so cute.

    1. Kim, that is awesome! Sometimes the smarter horses do struggle with multiple riders just because if the timing isn’t perfect they can learn the wrong things super fast! Thanks for sharing 🙂

      -Julia, CRK Training Community Manager

  27. You described my mare to a tee! She is incredible smart and sensitive and it took a new instructor to show me how to work well with her. She did not do well with a “tough” trainer at all. It took about 3 months to undo what that style of training did to her trust and for me to learn how to “whisper” instead of “yell”. Now we are on the right track and I love the challenge! She’s a lot of fun and also keeps me on my toes as I learn to guide and teach her.

    I think the hardest part for me, other than I am also learning and growing my tool box, is that she gets bored easily and it can be hard to come up with new ideas to keep her mind busy. I’ve found doing patterns in the arena help a lot. Once she figures them out, they can be a nice start to our next ride or a go-to when she’s nervous. Coming up with new ones are fun for me and I think she enjoys them as a “game”.

    1. Hi Carolyn, I’ve found that many of these smart horses don’t do well with ‘tough’ trainers. I’m glad you two are on the right track now and that you are embracing the challenge! You can always add more to your toolbox, you can find ideas to add to your toolbox in our Training Journals program!

      -Julia, CRK Training Community Manager

  28. I had a smarty boots horse and she was a combo of sensitive when not overfaced and beligerent when tired or asked to do something physically demanding for her. I could sit trot with her…and just “think” about a certain lead canter…and voila…she would pick it up. The movement of my hip seemed imperceptible to me…but it was clear to her. She was so great, not easy…but great!

    1. Hi Andrea, you just described the perfect canter transition 🙂 you probably are making the smallest shift in your body that your smart horse recognizes as a canter cue and she responds, a perfect example to share of a smart horse!

      -Julia, CRK Training Community Manager

  29. My horse, Tarzan, is very smart, a direct descendant of Doc Bar (QH)…
    My skill level is well below needed for such an intelligent horse, but I am learning as fast as I can.
    I have been able to teach him things, learns super fast.
    Where I struggle is leading him, at a certain spot, every time, he pushes forward of me, he is strong and I just don’t know how to stop this behavior.
    He is definitely not a horse to use force on.. I’ll just have to figure it out.
    Learning here is wonderful and I’m grateful.
    Kind regards Daniella

    1. Hi Daniella, is there something about this particular spot that seems to distract him?

      -Julia, CRK Training Community Manager

  30. I love your teachings, and continue to learn every day. I replay many of your videos again and again, and practice them on all the horses I’ve ridden. So Thank You. I started at 57.5yrs of age, taking private and group lessons. I found I learned more by choosing the horses no other students wanted to ride; but I did not have the “problems” they mentioned. Instead, I had amazing experiences. Perhaps because I loved that challenge; and I think it was that I went into talking to each horse while heading to the arena, and proceeding ahead as if it was the greatest horse ever and with the intention Of having my best lesson to-date. I still see each day with a horse in a stall, round pen, leading for a walk or riding, is a blessed gift to me. With Gratitude.

    1. Lee Ann, I love the point that you brought up in your comment…the importance of mindset! How we view these ‘smart horses’ or riding challenges will tell a lot about the success we can have in resolving it!

      -Julia, CRK Training Community Manager

  31. This describes my horse Maestro perfectly! He was a school horse briefly before I purchased him and had the reputation as “the horse you can’t catch!” When I asked the vet about Maestro’s resistance at our pre-purchase exam, the vet replied that it’s most likely a sign of “intelligence” without hesitation. However, since owning him for almost 2 years, I can count on one hand the number of times he’s run away from me. I feel so blessed to own him, and I believe he enjoys the security of having an owner. He’s definitely not a “predictable” school horse but has taught me so much as an AA. Even though I get discouraged at times, I know he’s my heart horse and couldn’t love him more! Maestro continues to challenge me to become a stronger, better rider, and I love building a relationship with such an amazing horse.

    1. It sounds like Maestro is a perfect partner for you Melinda! Some horses do flourish with one owner as compared to teaching multiple lesson students 🙂

      -Julia, CRK Training Community Manager

  32. Thank you Callie for this video. I have 2 andalusian mares, one young smart cookie and my older mare ‘with character’…. I love smart horses with character! My biggest challenge is to keep my training interesting. Especially with my 4 yo, as I will not start riding her more than a few minutes until she is 5. I try to be as creative as I can, but sometimes she turns away when I come with the halter as to say ‘yeah mamma, we’ve done enough of that’. Then I know for sure I have to come up with something new…

    1. Sietje, smart mares can keep you on your toes – good for you for keeping their training fresh 🙂

      -Julia, CRK Training Community Manager

  33. You describe my mare Grace. Super sensitive, observant, yet quiet. This horse continues to teach me so much on a daily bases. Often called obnoxious by other trainers in the past, I just adore her. This horse opened my world a few years ago to seek opportunity of professional knowledge and skilled horsemen…Hence I found CRK training, and training resources that were more appropriate to use, and did resonate with me. Since then Grace has taught me the true meaning of connection. CLARITY was the one thing that I lacked with her training, and success has been so significant this past year. She really blossomed with challenges like clicker training, in hand work, and pure liberty, through the professional courses you offer. Thank you for this blog Callie! This information is so important and I do think these types of horses get a bad rap. It also reassures horse owners to look outside the box and seek what is appropriate for your horse, and what resonates with you as a horse owner.

    1. We are big Grace fans over here 🙂 it has been so much fun having you in the courses and Grace to the farm for training. You should be so proud of the all the growth both you and Grace have accomplished!

      -Julia, CRK Training Community Manager

  34. Hi This definately applies to me. I have a very intelligent horse. I have raised her from 6 months old, and she just turned 4. Starla is A Friesian Sporthorse cross, I’ve trained her myself, rode for 20+ years but never trained a horse or a baby. Weve had nothing but time, and and slow and steady is our motto. My pattern is 30 min session. 10 minutes of review, 10-15 min of something new, and end with something that she knows and gives her confidence. So far so good. She is 90% willing and compliant, and 5 % Sass, and 5% reminds you she has a mind of her own too.and does object. Usually that means a naughty proud head toss, or a slight non traumatic little kick. That too is communication. Haha… I dont make a fuss and move her past it. After that she almost always gives me what I “requested” …she does not do well with an aggressive hand, but she doesn’t want a push over either. Shes a big beautiful proud horse. Were gentling her under saddle in a month. And she is ready….it will be fun. She has taught me so much, andcweve both learned from each other. For a young one she shows me patience, in her willingness to always try. Thanks for reading..

    1. Hi Staci, thanks for your comment! So exciting you are starting Starla under saddle, it sounds like you have a great plan in place for your smart horse 🙂

      -Julia, CRK Training Community Manager

  35. Jellybean is extremely smart. He learns in one repetition. He also infers. Just yesterday I was cleaning up dog poop on the arena. He saw me with the bag came over and smelled it. Went up to the next pile a bit ahead of us on the ground sniffed it pointing out and waited for a cookie. I’ve not taught him this. He challenges me every day to be creative. He doesn’t like to just do circles in an arena unless I make a game of it.

    1. Jelly is definitely a very intelligent horse – he is lucky to have you and your ability to be creative in your session to keep his mind engaged!

      -Julia, CRK Training Community Manager

  36. Loved this video! I have an OTTB who is very smart! Too smart for me I think sometimes, lol. He does very well with his trainer, who is both skilled and patient. I quickly realized that the horse has so much potential and it is me who must learn to deal with his intelligent nature. Thank you Callie for all of your wonderful advice. I always look forward to your videos.

  37. I don’t own a horse but ride at a local stable, she is 6 years old but only broken in possibly 18 months ago so is green but I like her as she is a bit of a challenge. She is an Irish cob type possibly 14 hands high and not particularly fast but I am 73 so this is probably for the best.
    I love listening to you, it certainly makes you think and you can always learn something, I will try to remember some of the things you have talked about, thank you so much

  38. i love what you are saying here as I find this 100% true. I like working with these intelligent horses as well. I think the problem with these smart horses for many people is that they are often unaware of their own body language and poor timing or their positioning in relationship to the horse when doing ground work. When riding lack of awareness of what is happening in their own body and lack of awareness how the horse reponds to this on a micro scale causes misunderstandings. And what you are saying about poor timing is soooo true. I do think that intelligent and sensitive horses are not for newbies but require a very aware handler/rider.

    1. Absolutely, Freddy – you said the keyword in your comment. Timing. We can never underestimate the importance of timing and awareness of our bodies 🙂

      -Julia, CRK Training Community Manager

  39. Waylon gets out all the time, can open almost any door/gate. He gets my cues in a couple tries and definitely learned how to cheat me right after learning how to do whatever. He’d had several owners before me and I get why. You can’t let him be the boss. We tell him all the time we have thumbs, you don’t. Lol.

    1. Imagine the trouble he could get in if he did have thumbs Amber! 🙂

      -Julia, CRK Training Community Manager

  40. after lots of wrong starts I did figure this out with my old horse. He was very smart so maybe not the best first horse for an older rider. I wish I had the insight to know this from the start with him but over our 15 yrs together he taught me a lot and we had a pretty good relationship. lol. after the first 5 yrs when I felt everything in his life was “make me”. I still miss him

    1. Hi Janet, these smart horses can be very challenging for new horse owners they don’t give you much margin for error but like you said in your comment, they are some of the best teachers!

      -Julia, CRK Training Community Manager

  41. Very insightful. You describe my Arab Bronzz perfectly. He learns fast, resents repetition, and is so sensitive he practically reads my mind. I have no doubt that in the wrong hands he would have resisted pressure bravely enough to be considered dangerous.

    1. Lynn, I know a couple of Arabs that fit well under this category of smart horses that get labeled by not so great names! In the right hands, like yours, they can truly flourish 🙂

      -Julia, CRK Training Community Manager

  42. I have a young TB mare. Bally is VERY sensitive and curious. I have found, working with her, Bally wants very much to please but has a low threshold for quick abrupt handling or someone who is not confident with her.
    Case in point… my farrier was trimming her. Bally had some foot soreness and tried to take her foot away. The farrier whacked her on the neck. Bally reared up, broke the cross ties and headed out the door!!!
    I calmly said “Bally whoa”. She stopped in her tracks and waited for me to get her.
    I enjoy working with her as she reminds me of a highly intelligent child who needs quiet leadership and boundaries…

    1. Hi Sharon, has the farrier been out again since this situation? Perhaps next time you could discuss a plan for the farrier to handle things differently next time? Bally was most likely responding to the discomfort of her feet!

      -Julia, CRK Training Community Manager

  43. Denny is a very sensitive intelligent horse. He has been through many trainers and can comply until shipped back home. He understands people very well and tries to tell people things. Most of us humans do not like being told and are not able to figure out what Denny is saying. He likes to have some responsibility in the ride or activity and will often get you through amazingly hard situations. He loves playing games. He is sensitive to everything around him and wants to investigate but can become frightened if he’s not allowed the time he needs. When frightened, he can be dangerous even losing his sense of self-preservation. If he can be allowed to take care of you, he will (but you must be balanced and attend to him in a sharing way). Denny is not an easy horse because he will not relinquish his individualism. Partner maybe but not a compliant slave.

    1. Hi Ginny, what a great description of Denny! I would say he is a very sensitive guy – most definitely falls under the same umbrella of these smart horses 🙂

      -Julia, CRK Training Community Manager

  44. I have one of those smart horses – my younger gelding – and then, I also have a mare with “learned helplessness”. They have very different backgrounds: the smart gelding has been raised with respect and love, the shut down mare is a rescue from the racing industry. I used to think that I could not have got harder horses to train. Now I see it as a wonderful opportunity to learn and grow with them.

    1. Fiona, it sounds like they couldn’t be more different! I would guess that your gelding is much more willing to offer you new behaviors. What an interesting journey I can’t wait to see where it takes you 🙂

      -Julia, CRK Training Community Manager

  45. I appreciate what your saying, but I wonder if you’re confusing inteligence with extroverts (fast moving/thinking); and not so smart horses with introverts (need more time to think/pushed too fast they go inside themselves/shut down/glaze over). Iman introvert and act like that. I’m not less intelligent, just need more time and more repetition to think. It’s psychology.

    1. Hi Lisa, this video isn’t about categorizing horses into personality types – simply bringing up the discussion that many horses that are actually very intelligent get labeled as ‘bad’ or ‘difficult’ when really they just learn at a much faster pace and therefore can learn ‘bad’ habits just as fast as they learn the ‘good’ ones!

      -Julia, CRK Training Community Manager

  46. Lol! My little Wildfire is so much fun to work with because she just loves for me to find her new challenges. She knows several little tricks and is great with obstacles. She used to be too smart for her own good. She knows how to untie ropes, she will invite herself on trail rides by slipping under the electric fence to join the riders who set out without her. She used to help herself to the hayfield and would jump back into the pasture when someone discovered she was out. The one thing that seems to be keeping her out of big trouble anymore is her age and arthritis, but she still enjoys learning new things and new challenges. She never was a good lesson horse because she would get bored and find ways to be a nuissance by the end of each class, but that’s how I first came across her and we bonded inspite of her shenanigans. We have a great respect and trust for each other and she is my heart horse for sure.

  47. Excellent video which makes me feel less alone with the situation of having an incredibly smart horse. Today for example, I applied leg pressure to walk down the road which meant leave, 2 barn buddies and nibbles of fresh green grass where I mount up. No way! Crow hops and ears flattened. Fortunately, my husband was right there and led us forward a few steps. Hopefully, this proved to my horse that leg pressure means going forward.
    I now know I need to break down this request into smaller steps. Thank you Callie!

  48. Good one-and across the board for children, dogs, cats…he hee.
    I also was given lots of “fat to chew” by reading “Ride the Right Horse” and “Is your Horse a Rock Star?”… Both great books taking a slightly different approach to basically the same four continuums that which takes this discussion a bit further. I’d instinctively know some of this-but didn’t have it so clearly till I read these books-has made thinking about my approach to my mare more inclusive of her base personality when assessing her response to training.
    It helps a great deal to assess the horses’ relative overall: 1) energy level, 2)relative level of courage and curiosity vs passivity or fearfulness, 3) dominance vs submissive personality 4) engaged and friendly or aloof and introverted
    It was a really hard lesson for me to realize that my mare was truly aloof-and my kindest reward in her eyes was to be left alone after any session, lightly stroked if touched at all, and softly spoken to-even if it was praise. She’s learned to tolerate my more effusive personality traits-but I also try hard to respect her low tolerance for “input”, and have become better at built in rests without “fiddling” with her mane her neck, my voice, and I thoroughly brush her before and after-but my goal is to help her get back to the pasture and off to her own private life as a reward, though she has learned to seek her treats in the most adorable questioning manner now. We match in energy level tolerance and I enjoy giving her mind puzzles-which is sometimes what saves us as we wend our way through this long journey.
    I know you said it wasn’t part of this discussion-but certain combination of these can also make a smart horse more or less challenging-especially for the beginner…There is a huge difference in the tractability of a friendly dominant and an aloof dominant. The most difficult horses are high energy, fearful, aloof and dominant.
    This is my first experience with a really intelligent, super sensitive ALOOF horse-it is her other traits of relative curiosity, medium energy level and mid range basic submissiveness that make her a really interesting challenge without making me want to throw in the towel! If her energy level was higher-or she was super fearful-she’d be a real challenge for me at this stage of my life.
    I’ve been blessed with two super smart, curious, friendly, high energy, tolerant of everyone in the herd-but not a push over if pushed either…awesome geldings !!! They’d take a go at anything I wanted to try, and I trusted them to take care of the horse side of the equation. It was usually just a matter of changing things up and keeping them well exercised and super loved on to keep them happy, willing, loads of fun and trustworthy riding buddies…Ha ha ha! Joke”s on me now!
    Thanks for reminding me how much I enjoy an engaged, intelligent animal of any sort…though there are times when I ponder my penchant for a really good german shepherd (Oh dang-she is ADORABLE!), and always a half arab something or other…. 🙂

    1. I’ll have to check out the books Claire! Thanks for your comment 🙂

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  49. Thanks for another great video. My horses tell me that they appreciate your sound advice.
    However, the burning question is, Where did you get those boots!?!

    1. Hi Carolyn, the riders in this video aren’t Callie so I’m not sure where the boots came from 🙂

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  50. I have a horse that was an owner surrender she was put out in the pasture at a very young age less than a year with two old retired racehorses that died off she was found up and down the road one day by a friend of mine the owners told her they didn’t want her my friend knew I rode gated and that’s all they knew about her so I went and picked her up had to have a trainer friend come help me get her in the trailer. My friend said well she is super intelligent. Later I took her to a trainer’s house for an afternoon and the trainer said I’ve got good news and bad news the good news is that she is super smart. The bad news is she is super smart. I found with her three times is all I get in training her to do something repetition is not her forte after about three times she says OK done that for you not doing it again. I really like her and look forward to teaching her a lot more things as we grow together.

    1. Intelligent horses teach some of the most difficult lessons, but they make us very aware in the saddle!

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  51. I cried in my lunch room listening to your video.
    I have often turned to Crk training for tips and your amazing classes.
    my mare has failed out of 3 training programs, people have said I should put her down or sell her. But we have persisted with ur amazing guiding videos. And now My mare is so sensitive that I now frequently riding her with just a neck rope.
    Thank you.

    1. Hi Rachel, I’m glad you enjoyed the video! For smart horses. Sometimes it takes just finding the right program that works for the individual horse!

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  52. I have two different intelligent horses. Journey matches what you are ready for. She ups her game when you are truly ready to ask. She had training from the beginning that asked her to solve puzzles. My problems with her is more me upping my expectations of her and I. Feliz has been labeled a problem horse although she has mellowed with age. I feel like she says if you ask correctly, politely and balanced I’ll do it but otherwise I know more then you. It’s interesting when others have ridden her watching her reactions.

  53. yes intelligent – and mare … love both, in many instances. A mare can be completely “your” horse when that bond is made. And a smart horse can be brilliant when the stars align for the consistency to support it. But for me anyway as an amateur, it can turn into a very long road of back/forth progressions to get there.

    1. Yes Kim! I was just having a conversation with my trainer about this during my last lesson, it can take time to form that bond but it is so worth it!

      -Julia, CRK Training Community Manager

  54. Loved this video. It affirms my suspicions that my current horse is indeed very smart. He does not require, and does not enjoy, a lot of repetition in any given training session. A couple years ago I attended a trail challenge clinic and in a ground exercise the clinician wanted me to circle my horse 40 times. I had to tell her that I wasn’t going to do that because I know my horse and it would only result in aggravating him. She was put out with me, but at the end of the clinic, guess who had the most accomplished horse?!? Thank you for your videos!

  55. I often wonder if colour genetics has anything to do with it? I have owned 3 buckskins over the years (because I like the look of them), two QH Mares and an Australian Pony Mare. All three have been challenging in the sense you could not make a mistake – with one – a top stable door left open and she somehow opened the bottom and was out of the stable for a wander, another always tried to untie herself by pulling the quick release and sometimes succeeded and the pony was clever enough to throw the rider, nuzzle to check all was ok and then nick off! All three were very watchful types – following my every move.

    1. Hi Carolyn, it sounds like you have some Houdinis in your barn 🙂 I think there is definitely a part of that can be genetic.

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  56. I started riding again after 25 years. The horse I ride has a reputation in the stable for needing to be manhandled. But I found he’s very sensitive and aware of the other horses around him, he needs more exercise during the winter and quarantine. Twice another horse in the barn ring bolted or bit his butt. But he was calm and was nervous of or aware of the other horses earlier in the sessions. So I am glad to be riding the stable and sensitive horse by comparison.

  57. I have an Arabian Quater cross. He is super aware of his surroundings, so I have to help him settle and get his attention. In the riding ring he is fine, but out in a pasture he gets up tight. Wish I could figure out a way to help him relax more. I do take him for walks that he likes, but again, will get distracted and anxious.

  58. I have a very intelligent, sensitive horse. I acquired him because the previous owner had tried to use him as an endurance horse, and it didn’t work out. He had been trained to collect, but almost all of the fundamentals/basics in his training had been skipped, and I mean BASICS! I believe because he’s so smart, trainers pushed him through, without giving him the foundation he needed, and the time process things. Therefore, he was reactive and fearful. I’ve had him for over 3 years now, and I’ve spent countless hours working on myself, exploring different training methods. As well as countless hours helping him to be more comfortable in his world. I don’t regret any of it!! He is an amazing liberty horse!! He gaits on verbal command, both in, and out of the saddle. He offers me his ideas on new tricks he’d like to try. Actually, his suggestions are amazing!! He has better ideas and suggestions than I could dream up! He has been quite a challenge (and that’s an understatement) but, he is without a doubt, my DREAM HORSE!!

  59. My mare is 20 years old and I have had her 10 years. She is highly sensitive to sounds, environment, wind, etc. And I believe she is really smart. On her more left brain days, she can choose for herself. One day I was showing her the pedestal and how to step on it and then cross over it. Well, there was some space between the pedestal and a barrel, enough for her to go through, mind you, and one time she chose the easier route, in that space and not over the pedestal. In other words, she chose to go around the pedestal and not over the pedestal. I am thinking she is reasoning the path of least resistance, but isn’t that smart? I think so. Anyway, I am continually amazed by my mare. She does require an enormous amount of presence on my part, and her training must be slower with rewards. Not what alot of trainers would subscribe to. But the cudos that I get for being in that presence with her, helps establish my more true and heart felt connection with her. She has taught me so much. I love her!

  60. Wow! This is great news…my OTTB is exactly as you have described. We knew he was smart and a quick learner. He displays some actions that formerly upset me, now I am becoming more used to his nature and just know that is simply the way he is. He means no harm, he is really sensitive.

  61. I also have a ‘smart’ horse. What I have discovered is that he loves to learn new things. If he’s just doing the same ol’ stuff he gets bored and starts acting out. I’ve taught him quite a bit of dressage. One day on the trail I decided we had gone out far enough and needed to turn around. He read my thoughts and gave me a perfectly executed turn on the forehand. Just yesterday, navigating a decline he used his half pass, which I taught him was a safer way rather than straight down. I didn’t ask him for it – he automatically did it!

  62. I ride a school horse. My experience over the years has been that I am the only rider of that horse as long as my lessons continue. But what about a school horse who has multiple riders. Doesn’t that horse have to be pretty smart to “read” each rider’s cues/body language. Those cues are most often only slightly different with each different rider, but the horse still has to figure out what that rider thinks they’re asking for. Especially an inexperienced/new rider.

  63. This video is excellent! Callie describes my gelding who has been labeled problematic and saved from euthanasia twice perfectly.
    I have always thought this horse was extremely intelligent and sensitive.
    I believe he received so many “mixed messages “ over the years that he finally said “to heck with having a rider on my back. “ His solution was to rear up until rider dismounted.
    His current job is pasture companion when another horse is off site. He shows a need for a huge personal space- on guard.
    He knows he is safe here. However, I have lost confidence in riding him so he has an easy day to day existence being just a horse.

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