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We make many requests of our horses, from putting their halter on in the field to standing patiently for the farrier, heading calmly down the trail, jumping around a course, or climbing into a trailer.

Sometimes our horses just don’t respond the way we would like. They run away from us in the field, dance nervously in the cross-ties, balk at walking forward, or plant their feet at the base of the trailer ramp.

How should we respond? Do we back off, do we make them do it? How do we know if the horse is not understanding what we want, unable to do what we are asking, or simply doesn’t want to!

In this video, I will discuss reasons why horses don’t respond and a few key principles to help you know the best way to react.

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65 Responses

  1. Callie, that is indeed a very basic question!
    In our school we have a very nice Frisian mare, and when I ride her, she often does not respond the way I want her to. When I want her to turn right, she continues straight on; When I want her to continue, she turns off and so on.
    I know my steering is far from correct, and I do not want to pull her mouth, but sometimes I do so, knowing no other way.
    The funny thing is that, when suddenly she decides to go, it feels so good, and I can steer her with my fingertips, so to speak. I wish I knew why she makes that decision!

    1. Hi Ellen, I have a similar experience with my school horse Hank. The conclusion I have come to is that it is 100 % my fault and largely has to do with my balance, the distribution of my weight and the position and quietness of my hands. The response I would like to always have is to check in with my breath and proprioception while still riding in the same gait (usually the trot) and then attempt again. If that doesn’t work, I like to go back to the walk and if it’s a go there, then try the same thing at the trot again. Sometimes my instructor directs me to use strength and leverage to make Hank do the turn by pulling hard on the rein and use more leg and I follow her directions but I never feel successful if that’s what I have to do even if he performs the same turn better on the next try. I think that my timing is off like a second or two too late and that means I have to use the stronger aids sometimes. It is taking me a lot of hours of lessons in the saddle to recognize this and start to develop the feel of what Hank’s body position is telling me. It is hard as hell but heaven when I get it right. Happy trails.

  2. Hi Callie! Last Thursday I went to take Lexi into the barn for her farrier appointment. She was resistant to walk down the lane toward the barn. I asked, then gave a tug on her lead, then stood by her shoulder and gave her a tap and clucked, then resorted to taking the end of her lead to give her a tap before she would walk forward. She gave me resistance most of the way in prancing and pushing her head into me forcing us to circle. Then she got fidgety with the farrier. In her defence he was late and we had quite a wait however he then tuned her in which I wasn’t comfortable with. I’d like to avoid that in future and have her stand quietly for him until done. None of this is new to her. How can I accomplish this?

    1. Diane, I would recommend that if she has to wait that you let her move while she is waiting. Whether it be riding or hand walking even just something to help her from getting bored!

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  3. Hi I’ve tried all week to get my horse thru the same fence enclosure that he’s been going thru for 3 years, now he stops, pulls back and run in the opposite direction. It’s like he scared of the fence all of a sudden.
    Please let me know what you think of this behaviour

    1. Lisa, that is concerning…did something happen to him? Perhaps he is having vision problems?

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

      1. Nothing happened to him and he sees fine. Do you think he is just playing with me and let’s me know he will go in when he wants too?

        1. Lisa, I would do some counter conditioning work to get him to have some positive associations with the area that he seems uncomfortable with!

          -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  4. I really like your videos! My horse has recently been restarted in dressage training after not being worked consistently for a few months. He was resistant at first – backing up, walking sideways, anything to keep from going forward! With patience and persistence, my trainer and I are getting him to a state of less resistance.
    He has started something else now though that I’m struggling with. When I ask him to take the bit when putting on his bridle, he lifts his head in avoidance. He’s a tall horse and when he does that, I can’t reach his head! Any ideas on how to deal with this?

    Thanks!

  5. Thank you Callie. Great relevant information.
    I am a mature learner on a Haflinger in Australia. He always plays up near the end of lesson by turning the opposite way or not going straight, then heading off in who knows what direction. The coach says “who is the boss and turn him”, and I apply quite a bit of pressure and force. I don’t like this, and it does feel like a battle. So I will try to be consistent and apply your helpful tips.

  6. I have a Connemara mare that was feral for her first 9 years. S0me of her early training was a bit rough. she has come a long way in the last 3 years but is still nervous with other people, on the ground and can be hard to catch. I do a lot of ground work and quiet gentle work. this works for me but she can but not other people. She is great for me under saddle.

  7. Thanks Callie that was helpful. The STB I have nearly always trys hard to please. When he doesn’t I need to think more about his reasons for not wanting to. Making sure he has understood the request, and whether or not I do even have his attention. :))

  8. My horse had his right eye removed last July (uveitis). He is doing very well. I never had to lunge him. He is a very laid-back, sweet guy. But recently I wanted to learn how to do that to improve his muscle tone and conditioning. I attended a lunge clinic and have had one lunging lesson. Going to the left, he is fine. No problems other than my becoming more comfortable handling the lunge line and whip. The battles begin when I try to get him to go to the right. Initially I had a problem starting out on the right. Now I can get him to start out but he only goes half way around and then turns and faces me. My trainer can get him to go right, although not on the right lead. Your video this week was particularly of interest to me, since I’m just not sure if I am asking him to do something he is just not capable of or if he is just being resistant. I have continued to try, but I really don’t want to “battle” with him and certainly don’t want to damage our relationship.

    1. Fran, he may still be getting comfortable with no being able to see you when lunging to the right. I would recommend starting with doing more groundwork exercises on the right side before lunging!

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  9. As someone who leases lesson horses – and just changed barns – one thing that I am working out is how much pressure does this particular horse need? I used to lease a horse who only needed the slightest touch of my calf to move forward or sideways. At the new barn, I am trying out different horses who aren’t any where near as responsive. Some of that may be relationship – I rode Macs for 4 years – but some is just the horse and how he has been trained. The “mental just can’t do it” can be specific to the day and not the situation for lesson horses. If I get on a horse who has had 2 beginner lessons, he is just mentally tired of people sending confusing signals. If he had 2 advanced riders, he behaves differently. If you ride a lesson horse, it’s worth asking the trainer what happened to the horse that day.

    1. Mary, every horse can be so different in regards to the amount of pressure they need! You’ve brought up a great point too about acknowledging what the horse is currently doing and what level riders have been on it.

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  10. Love this video Callie. Trailer loading is my stressor and my horse feels my anxiety. When he refused I used to escalate which was entirely useless. I am learning to breathe and just be consistent in my handling. Persistence calmly has paid off. I will write your steps….love the “is this a reasonable request” question. Great perspective. Thanks for sharing your knowledge!

  11. This was so timely for me! Thanks for bringing these concepts back into focus. In thinking back on my interaction with my horse this morning I realize I could have made the whole thing more enjoyable for both of us if I had just broken my request down into the pieces I know she knows. I didn’t do that and as a result, my reactions to her tries were pretty unfair. Looking forward to tomorrow with her and having another chance to get it right. I appreciate your videos for all the remote coaching you don’t even know you are giving me!

  12. Hi Callie, my story started one Saturday morning when I was on a tight schedule with a small window for a ride. I saddled up intending to just ride inside the 10 acre horse pasture for about 30 minutes. As I tightened the girth, I noticed that my gelding was reaching around and pointing his nose at the girth. It was unusual, but I dismissed it because I didn’t have time to worry about it.

    I did about a minute of perfunctory groundwork and mounted. About 10 minutes later as we trotted along the fence, his head went up and I felt tension. I started to turn him in a circle to the right and he started to buck. I hung on around the circle back to the fence but he ducked left and threw me under the fence. I was not wearing a helmet and had to check my iPhone back at the barn to figure out what day it was and why I felt there was something to do that day.

    A few days later I was describing the above to a friend who’s a well-known clinician and he said, “Paul your horse was trying to tell you something.” My friend was right and I wasn’t listening.

    It could have been that his back was sore or he didn’t feel well or any one of a number of things. But he was trying to communicate with me and I wasn’t reciprocating.

    There’s an old, but true, saying about riding the horse you have today. Each horse is an individual with an individual personality. They all can have good days and bad days just like us. I’ve learned the lesson to take the time to try to understand where my horse is on any given day and to work with the horse I have on that day to get done what needs to be done.

    Thanks for bringing up this topic. There’s a tendency for all of us to assign noncompliance to bad behavior, but it’s often more complex. We need to spend the time with our horses to understand what’s bad behavior and what’s something else. Hmmm, more time with my horses? Sounds great!

    1. Paul thank you for sharing your story. I think sometimes this lesson we do learn the hard way. I hope you’ve made a full recovery since the accident!

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  13. Excellent video and something I try to pay close attention to and sometimes struggle with. I tend to give the benefit of the doubt to him to always rule out physical issues first, now that I have a regular bodyworker for him It will be easier to tell the difference.

  14. Towards the end of my lesson, when I cued my horse to canter he crow hopped instead. He did this three times, but cantered on the fourth try. I think he was tired and my trainer told me to stop and end the lesson after he responded correctly. Is this the right thing to do?

    1. Lynn, there are many different reasons why he would have done that. It could have been a physical discomfort, perhaps something is sore or his saddle doesn’t fit. It could have been that he was excited going into the canter and expressed his exuberance. Or perhaps he has had some riders in the past that didn’t have the skills to get the correct response and he learned he could do it! You did the right thing by quitting for both you and him after getting the correct response.

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  15. Hi around the area we ride we have to get our horses over pony styles. My horse tries to jump the whole thing. I have tried making a smaller version at the yard but no luck., to lead her over I don’t think she knows what to do with her feet. Any ideas!

    1. Carol, I would recommend starting with ground poles and slowly building them up!

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  16. Love this topic! This is s basic example, but lately my horse has taken to stopping in his tracks when I’m leading him on the ground and he doesn’t want to do go somewhere . The two most prevalent examples are after a grazing session, he will not want to leave the grassy area or he will not want to go into the crossfire or his own stall. This is a newly formed behavior and I know he understands what being led is and how to follow on a lead, so he is expressing his opinion. Since this is happening when he’s not “in work” It is during our relaxation time, I’m not sure how to react. My first instinct is to smack him and nip the attitude in the bud so that he doesn’t think he can do it, however at the same time I don’t want to come across as punishing him for expressing himself. He likes grazing. So of course he would not want to leave. The crossties are boring and usually mean he’s going back to his stall shortly after, and right now he is lame and not in work, so I can see how he would not want to go back to his stall. He’d rather walk around. I can understand his choices and I don’t want to have s domineering relationship but I also don’t want him to be disrespectful. Would love to hear more on how an owner reacts! In these moments I ask a few times with the same pressure and if he doesn’t go, I just cluck and twirl the end of the rope or tap his bum and he easily goes. I think how we react communicates a lot and I want to be sure I am reacting smartly.

    1. Amelia, first I think it is important to remember that in each interaction we have with the horse – whether intentional or not we are teaching them something. The problem with using a punishment as you indicated you have been is that you have to be really specific with your timing in order to stop the behavior. For the nibbling on grass I would recommend asking for his attention to remain on you whenever he goes to eat. Has his management changed since he is lame? Perhaps he isn’t moving as much either has resulted in these behaviors?

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  17. I’m having some problems with my mare she plants when hacking out and refuses to move just wants to spin round and go back home. She only does this with me as I have a friend who’s a lot more confident than me and makes her walk out. It’s really frustrating me and knocking my confidence. I’m at a loss as to what to do.

    1. Amanda, does this behavior only happen when you are hacking out alone? If it available to you to lead her out inside of riding?

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  18. What a timely post, Callie! I just finished my second go-around of the Balanced Rider course (which I learned even more from this time!) and was just thinking about something I have heard you say in previous videos, namely, the question of when to maintain pressure and when to increase it.
    From this blog post, I gather that the pressure needs to stay the same if the horse is trying but just not giving the right response. So, does that mean that when the horse is “ignoring” the request, the pressure needs to increase? As a relatively novice rider, I don’t always feel confident that I can distinguish between the horse’s not understanding and his ignoring. Is that just a matter of experience and practice on the rider’s part? It would be interesting to have a counterpart video in the saddle to demonstrate when to keep the pressure the same and when to ignore it. I know I have seen you demonstrate that somewhere — would it be possible for you to post a link here?
    Another consideration for me as a new rider is: am I giving the cue in a way the horse understands? Case in point for me and my horse is the canter depart. For months, I could not get him to canter, but after much trial and error on my part, I have finally learned the “magic” cue, and I can now get him to depart virtually from a standstill! He is a saint of a horse and waited it out until I managed to make my way up to his training level 🙂

    1. Julianne, exactly! Knowing when to increase and when to stay the same means being aware of the horse and understanding what is a try and what is resistance. For your example with the canter departure, it may have been that something in your position (even a slight change you have made) was blocking him from going forward so for that it maybe that he is physically able to do what you are asking him.

      I’m not sure which video you are referring to..was it here on the blog?

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  19. Great video! You put into words what I am wondering, feeling & questioning when my horse does not respond . The video helped sort out and articulate the issue!

    Thank you!

  20. Thank you so much for the tips. I work at a barn twice a week and I do experience that when the horse just doesn’t want anything to do with me. They want to stay where they are and pay no attention. In the field. In the stall. While walking. On the horse. I will definantly keep your tips in mind next time I’m at the barn. Again Thank you

  21. Timely video! My gelding is out in a large pasture every day. I usually come to ride after the horses are back in their stalls for the night. Today, I went early and my horse was way out grazing with his buddy. As I approached, he walked up to meet me. I greeted him with a pat, but when he spotted the halter, off he went. I tried a few times unsuccessfully to put pressure on him by swinging the lead rope and then stopping to see if he’d come back to me. Each time he’d stop and look to see what I would do next. Finally, I decided he just didn’t want to be caught & felt I should respect what his desire, so I left. Did I do the right thing? He is usually very willing to do whatever I ask. Guess I’m concerned that this could turn into a game for him.

    1. Hi Laurie, I would have recommended continuing until you were able to halter him – even if you didn’t actually ride!

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

    2. I had this problem and every time I went into a field I would take the lead around my neck and the halter. I would walk up to him and pet him sometimes I would halter. It didn’t take long because he didn’t know the outcome. Just a suggestion. It worked really well for me.

  22. Hi Callie, My 11yr old daughter has a full size pony who has developed a stop when trying new jumps. Theyre often no larger than 50cm and he is capable. She also shows them to him first. Eventually we can get him over but its often a battle and I dont feel thats its been positive for him and would like to figure out what is causing this. Im aware there could be rider error going on here too so am getting her more regular individual lessons to help figure this out.

    1. Lucy, I would highly recommend checking that there is nothing physical going on with this pony. More often than not when behaviors like this start happening it can be a physical problem, especially a sore back from saddle fit! Physical problems aside I would recommend starting by just working over one ground pole even if she is just leading him over, then riding but being lead over the pole, etc.

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  23. Thanks for that Callie, greetings from England. I’m a volunteer with six rescue horses in Leicestershire. I really get what you are telling us , thank you for keeping us thinking and not taking our experience for granted. Really appreciate your generosity in giving your time to make the videos on Fridays.

    1. Thank you for al the work that you do Richard, glad to have you in our community!

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  24. Thank you Callie for your video teaching! They are so helpful. A horse that I just got. When I start to lead him, he will cross over and walk in front of me. I don’t know how to make him stop doing it. I have stopped, and we do a circle and try again but he does the same thing again. I’m also new to horses and don’t want to damage him by doing the wrong technique. Thank you for any advise

    1. Hi Dayna, I would recommend walking with a short whip and when he starts to walk in front of you hold the whip up in front of him – letting him run into if needed! I would recommend too working on establishing the leading cues for walk and halt!

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  25. When I bought my horse a bit more than a year ago, I could lunge him both directions just fine. However, in October he started to refuse to move forward on the lunge line. I wasn’t sure what to do (I’m usually by myself) and I’ve since learned that I rewarded him for stopping and facing me by not making him continue to move forward. I finally had a short and successful lunge with him last week when a friend was there to coach me. But this week I tried lunging him and he refused to move forward and kept turning to face me, not letting me get toward his flank and not letting me get the whip behind him no matter how fast I tried to move. I finally gave up in frustration and not wanting to work with him in that state of mind.

    1. Kim, have you noticed any other changes in his behavior? Often times when behaviors like this have sudden onset it could be caused by a physical discomfort.

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  26. I asked my horse to enter our new trailer and he went in with no problem. So I allowed him to come out and when I tried to get him to go in again, he resisted. I kept trying to get him in, but his resistance grew and he started trying to run over me. So, I tried what I’ve seen many other trainers do and made him work in circles away from the trailer and let him rest at the opening of the trailer, but he still wouldn’t go in. I ended up having to get help from a trainer to coax him in with treats. It worked beautifully! I hope the next time I try to get him in, he will go.

  27. Thank you for opening this dialogue. I am a trail rider for pleasure. I have a 12 year old quarter gelding that I’ve owned for 4 years. When I first began riding him, I did not have an issue with his position in the trail ride. He was content in the middle or the end and would pace himself to the speed of the horse in front of him. He would also take the lead and set a nice tempo. This past year I have had begun having an issue when asking him to take the lead. He balks and/or backs up when given cues to move forward down the trail. I have tried to maintain the same amount of pressure to get him to move forward and his refusal accelerates to small crow hops. I have resisted the urge to raise my level of insistence as I am with a group of other riders and have just allowed another horse to move in front. My horse will follow the lead horse without any resistance. How can I address his resistance without giving in to him and allowing him to be disobedient?

    1. Beth, have you tried taking him out trail riding by himself?

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

      1. No… Julia, I haven’t… I had a bad fall a few years ago on a young filly and have been working on confidence issues on myself… Bear (12 yo gelding I’m riding) has given me back a lot of my confidence until he started balking with me… I’ve only ever ridden alone a few times and that was on my old gelding (I had him for 24 of his 28 years, put him down in 2012). I knew every nuance about him… this guy, I feel I’m still learning to read him.

        1. Beth, are you comfortable trying to lead him out on the ground?

          -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  28. I loved this episode! I work with horses and we have a “stubborn” horse that gets called awful names because she does not like to be ridden. She is strong willed, no doubt about it, but it turns out she has had sever injuries to her back legs and is uncomfortable carrying weight. I loved when you said that people emotionally attach these negative traits when the truth is usually very simple. Thank you for being the best online resource for horsemanship, I am so glad I get to learn from you! (Technology is amazing!)

    1. Hi Brittney, thanks for your comment! It sounds like she has that reaction because she is pretty uncomfortable…

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  29. Good morning,
    Just want to say how much I enjoy your videos. This is my problem. For years I have been heavy handed with my horse. Now I want to learn a more kind way of communicating with him but it isn’t working. How can I start the process. When using ground work like round penning I am trying to keep my whip low and etc but I am frustrated that it doesn’t work. Any suggestions for a cowgirl who wants to redo.

    1. Hi there Joann! I might be able to help. When you say “heavy-handed”, I am assuming you mean that you are using more pressure in handling and/or riding your horse than you would like you to, and that you want to build a new way of communication with your horse. It may help to think of your heavy-handed riding and/or handling as one language. You have been using this language to communicate with your horse for years, and you are both used to a certain amount of pressure = a response. If you want to become more light with your horse, you just need to build a new language, one that means a smaller amount of pressure = the same response. You can use the same cues that you use now, except you don’t escalate the amount of pressure like before. Ask with the small amount of pressure, and wait until you get the response you want. This re-training will take a lot of patience, and the key is to not increase the pressure, or else you will end up back where you started. Ask with light pressure….wait…..wait….there it is! Release the pressure. Similarly, you can build your new language and create new cues with positive reinforcement. A single light cue…wait for the response….there it is….reward (w/ treats, scratches, dismounting, etc)! I hope this helps, good luck!

  30. Lisa
    Just to let you know, with a lot of patience and not forcing the issue about going thru the fence enclosure, we have had a successful week. He now runs thru or I can lead him thru without any issues. Thank you for your advice.

  31. Lisa
    So the problem with going thru the gate is solved; apparently the whole problem was me holding the leash to tight and he really doesn’t like this; now I hold it so he doesn’t feel confined and … problem solved; he walks along beside me and right thru the gate.
    So glad I figured out the whole tension thing because I was stressing him out.

    1. Lisa, I’m really glad to hear you were able to get this resolved!

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  32. Hi,
    My horse is giving resistance on the head collar and refuse to go forward. She is kind of a rescue horse, she gave me her trust really easily but we are a bit stuck on that one.
    She give one step or two at most only if she knows she will get something good at then like a treat, but refuse to co-operate if there is no treat. As I am working with positive reinforcement, it’s important for me to praise her effort, but she doesn’t seem to want to go forward with the head collar on. She is fine to follow me on the field without but not with pressure from the rope.

    1. Hi Emy, that sounds really frustating and it is definitely very frustrating! I would recommend trying some liberty work with your horse and seeing how you two can connect without a rope involved! We are actually going to be coming out with a course on liberty work and relationship building later this month!

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

      1. Hi Julia,
        In liberty she follows me, she loves discovering every single games I find, or object, she let me do everything with her, but still a bit on her guard sometimes.
        I tried the headcollar without the rop and it is all good, but if I use a bit of pressure she will get super nervous and stop moving.
        Let me know when you get your course, I’ll be happy to watch it !
        Emy

  33. My horse sometimes refuses to lead when riding on a trail with a group. It seems that no amount of pressure, or persistent pressure, or riding in circles before taking the lead can make him go past the leading horse. I have even tried to move him 50 feet away from the group and then go forward, but he will not go further ahead than the leading horse in the group. This is especially true when there are new horses he hasn’t ridden with. With a horse or two that he knows very well he might take the lead at times for part of the trail, but it’s no guarantee. I always have to keep trying, and I never know if he will do it or not. Any suggestions for building his confidence? Is it a sign he is mentally not ready? (but he does it sometimes, so that’s the confusing part). Thank you!

    1. Hi Jeannette, it could very well be a confidence thing for him. Has he had much trail experience in the past?

      -Julia, HorseClass Community Manager

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