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Assess your horse - the Confident Horse

Is your horse tense and scared? Or is he confident and playful?

Answering these simple questions will give you a lot of information on how to successfully train them. If you’ve owned your horse for any amount of time, there’s a good chance that you’ve found some techniques that work for you either because you’ve used them in the past and they’ve worked, because someone else has helped or a bit of trial and error.

If you have area’s where you’re still struggling then it’s helpful in the first instance to break down what’s going on and what emotions your horse is feeling about the whole thing. Horses are one big bag of emotions, they are programmed to be sensitive to the emotions of other horses and anything else around them. Most of us know that when we get angry or frustrated is usually when our horse becomes the least compliant!

Last time we looked at the scared horse, now let’s look at the other end of the scale the confident horse, these one’s are commonly labelled as stubborn, naughty or aggressive... characteristics that are typical for these one’s are:-

  • Tossing their head

  • Biting

  • Mouthy

  • pulling away on lead rope

  • non responsive, difficult to move

  • Bucking

  • Planting/napping

This list is by no means exhaustive or exclusive to a confident horse, some of these behaviours can also be attributed to a scared horse too. How do you know? Look at the rest of your horses body language, what do his eyes, ears and nose tell you? How does he hold his head and tail? Tension in any of these areas might indicate that the behaviour is due to fear.

Any adverse behaviour that cannot be attributed to fear or pain is a sign that your horse is not mentally engaged in the task you want them to be.

The confident horse thrives on variety and will get bored easily, they are often better hacking out than in the arena as there is more to stimulate them. For these horses you need to be smart about how you train them. They need to feel that it’s in their interests to do the thing you want them to do. I’ve learnt more about psychology training these horses than any other type as they are a real mental challenge! Learning what motivates them and how to reward them is vital.

Signs that they are becoming compliant are:-

  • Sighing, blowing out through their nose

  • Licking and chewing or yawning

  • Less inclined to be mouthy, can stand quietly not being ‘busy’

  • Motivated and interested in what you're doing

A real life example...

My grey mare Arielle has been my biggest teacher about motivation. When I started with her as a youngster I could barely get two strides of canter out of her on the ground or ridden and no amount of kicking or begging made any difference!! I even tried putting buckets of feed in strategic places in the field to see if I could motivate her to go - nothing!! I remember many tears thinking I’d never be able to canter a circle on her - it’s funny now but it was soul destroying at the time!

So how did I crack it? For Arielle there were two key elements,

  1. Break the task down, what were the pieces she needed to understand to be able to do the whole thing.

  2. Learn what truly motivated her, not what I thought she would like but what did she really want. As I said, I tried using food and it made no difference at all, for her it was rest. Give her a bit of time to stand or walk on a long rein with no input from me as a reward for doing what I asked and she was happy.

So how did this work in practise - let’s take cantering as that seemed impossible at the time. I would start in trot and ask for canter, at first even if she didn’t canter but gave me a more enthusiastic trot I would reward her by stopping and giving her a break. This then lead into being able to ask for a few strides of canter - stop and reward. I then built this up until she could canter for longer and longer and I needed less breaks to motivate her.

For confident horses the trick is motivation, if you can work out what motivates them and what's in it for them then they can be great fun to work with and train!

Arielle in Canter!


Before trying any training technique it is important to rule out pain or discomfort. Saddle fit, teeth, back, hoof balance and lameness issues should all be checked by a qualified professional before applying any training.

If you have questions or need idea's to help with a specific problem feel free to get in touch with me on


Lyla has been helping riders and their horses in the UK, USA and Europe for over 10 years. She has prepared horses for crowds of over 6,000 people with no calmers or ear plugs for venues including Birmingham NEC, Aintree, Bury Farm EC and Hartpury.

Lyla specialises in horse psychology and behaviour problems with a specific interest in dressage and has worked with horses from grass roots to Grand Prix across the UK and Europe including international competitors and Olympians from Spain, the US, Canada and the UK.

See or email for more details.

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