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Become an Equine Sleuth!

Horses can’t talk and have limited options when it comes to communicating with us so training horses, in particular problem solving, requires you to be a bit of a sleuth 🕵️‍♀️

There are really only a couple of ways a horse can communicate with you:-

  1. He can be physically sick i.e. he’s lame or injured 🤕

  2. He can vote with his feet (won’t come to the gate, won’t stand still to be bridled/saddled/mounted)

  3. He can display a ‘problem behaviour’ (bucking/rearing/bolting/napping/spooking etc) 🐎

I call this last one when your horse has to shout! 😲

So if one of these comes up - how do you know what’s wrong 🤷‍♀️

Physical Problems

I usually start with the physical side as I believe it’s unfair to train a horse to do something he physically can’t do or is having difficulty with.

Strength, suppleness and fitness training can, in some cases, help with physical difficulties but I believe this should only be undertaken with support of a veterinary team and after a clear diagnosis 👩‍⚕️

So if a horse is presenting behaviour that appears to be out of character or has escalated for no apparent reason then I will often refer the horse to the vet first to make sure there is nothing wrong - even if that horse appears sound and healthy.

Voting with his feet 🦶

This can be the first sign of trouble and may get overlooked if you don’t know the horse well. It’s one of the reasons I put a lot of effort into making sure my horses have lots of good habits so I can instantly tell if something’s wrong.

For example, if one of my horses wouldn’t stand at the mounting block that would be a red flag for me and I would be questioning what’s wrong. I teach my horses to line up to and stand at the mounting block so if they don’t do that it’s straight away out of character for them.

N/B one of my mares likes to choose which side I get on, and will often insist I get on from the off side, by only lining up on that side so this wouldn’t be out of character for her!

Displaying a problem ‘behaviour’ 🐎

There’s HUGE range of possibilities here and a lot of assessing it right is down to experience, having seen or heard of the problem before. Problem behaviours can be mild, like going to nip when saddling up to extreme, napping, bucking or rearing.

Ideally we notice the small signs before we get the big extreme behaviours but it just isn’t always that easy, sometimes they can come ‘as if out of nowhere’. If you’ve ever had your back go suddenly when doing something very simple then you’ll know what I mean!! 😱

What to do when something comes up... Equine Sleuthing 🤓

Please understand that this is by no means a definitive list, it’s just the questions I mentally go through when I’m called out to a problem or if a horse I am training is having difficulty.

Here’s my mental checklist...

✅ Are they sound?

✅ Any other signs of pain/discomfort?

✅ Does the saddle/tack need checking?

✅ Are we up to date with farrier/dentistry/physiotherapist?

✅ Any changes to daily routine feed/turnout/herd?

✅ What’s the environment like, busy or calm?

✅ What did he do yesterday? (They might just be tired)

✅ Have they had a bad experience recently?

✅ What was my mood like when I was with my horse? I.e. Was I in a rush/impatient/frustrated/not present with my horse?

You may be able to go through some of these very quickly and get to the route of the problem very quickly. The more you know your horse, the more you know the tell tale signs something isn’t right and can get on top of it quickly.

As well as understanding the problem a checklist will also help provide solutions, if there are a few possibilities, pick one, resolve that issue and see if it makes a difference. It’s important that you don’t change more than one thing at a time because you won’t be able to tell what actually made the difference!

If you can be disciplined and systematic about it and you’ll have more information about your horse to know that if that behaviour/situation comes up again you know what to change! 🦄💕


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 15 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.


All training techniques discussed are from experience only, it is impossible for to accurately advise on horse/rider combinations without seeing them live. Lyla Cansfield & Equine Mind & Body Training strongly advise anyone considering using any of the techniques discussed to get live help and can take no responsibility for the outcome of applying any of the techniques discussed without supervision. Riding is a high risk sport.


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