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Challenging horses Part 1 - What is a challenging horse?

Challenging horse, difficult horse, total nutter, psycho horse, evil b***d whatever you call them they are special and can take you on an amazing journey if you’re up for it.

But before you rush out and buy your next potential superstar for £1 there are a few things you should know...

I meet a lot of horses and owners with challenges but fortunately I don’t meet too many horses that I would genuinely class as challenging horses. Their owner may be challenged by them but usually these challenges are simple miscommunication and can be resolved relatively easily with some practise once both horse and owner know how.

Most horses are pretty forgiving, even if life has been pretty tough for them they are usually willing to see it differently given the right approach. To give an example I met a 20 year old who hasn’t loaded well his whole life. It took a couple of hours he was walking up the ramp pretty consistently. A bit more practise and consistency from the owner and he’ll be a good loader.

Before I go into the psychology and training of challenging horses I feel I must say that before starting any training a full investigation of pain MUST be carried out. So many ‘behaviour’ problems are connected with discomfort and this is my first port of call before re-training any horse. The only time I will undertake training a horse that has physical issues is if it is essential for the owners safety while handling the horse or to treat him for the the condition. It is not fair to train a horse to put up with discomfort.

What makes a challenging horse challenging? 🧐

A challenging horse is one that doesn’t forgive your mistakes. This is the horse that if you get something slightly wrong it can land you in serious trouble.

Challenging horses are usually more sensitive than the average. Owners with a challenging horse often assume that the horse has been mistreated. While this can sometimes be the case it can also be that they are just too sensitive to deal with the normal training that wouldn’t be a problem for most horses.

These horses often don’t do well with the usual routine and need a bit of special consideration. Some even need things done in a specific way that to suit them.

An example of this would my lovely mare Maddie, if you didn’t saddle her in a certain way she would buck for 40 minutes. She even broke the girth one time she bucked so hard 😳 This became a thing of the past with consistency over the years but I was always careful and aware of her sensitivity in everything we did together.

Confident or Scared? 🤷‍♀️

Challenging horses can be either, sometimes they are confident horses that have learned a negative pattern, sometimes they are scared in the extreme.

Often they are a combination of the two, sometimes scared, sometimes confident and this is what makes it difficult to handle them as you need to be quick to adjust your approach.

If you find yourself with, or decide to take on a challenging horse, I think the most important thing to understand is that your training journey is going to be different. It’s not so much the challenges that are the problem but how you deal with them. Your training approach is important but so are your own emotions, be prepared to have wide range of both!! 🥴

Challenging horses are exactly that - challenging!! How you deal with this is going to make the difference between making it through to where you want to be, or not. One thing’s for sure, your journey with your ‘special’ horse won’t be dull and sometimes you will wish it was!!! 🙏

More about this in the next weeks blog - ‘The journey with a Challenging Horse’


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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