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Challenging Horses, Part 2 - The Journey with 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 a very special journey if you’re up for it. But before you rush out and buy your next potential superstar with problems for £1 it’s really important that you’re prepared for the journey.

I can’t emphasise enough how important it is to understand that EVERYTHING is going to take longer! You will watch your friends packing up to go out for a hack or to a competition while you are still barely able to ride safely in walk around the school after 45 minutes groundwork with unplanned airs above the ground!!

If it’s at all possible I highly recommend having another, more steady horse that you can ride and have fun on for the days when you’re just not in the head space to deal with the psycho bunny 🐰

Having access to another horse will also allow you to practise techniques without the drama. As I mentioned in the previous blog ‘What is a Challenging Horse?’ these horses are much less forgiving of mistakes so they are really not easy to learn with.

Look at where you’ve come from, not where you haven’t got to yet! 😃

If you’re not careful this slow progress can be really demoralising. At best it will get you a bit down or frustrated at worst it will cause you to rush your horse and put you both in a dangerous situation.

Too many times I have seen someone who was making really good progress have it all fall apart because they got impatient and rushed the horse. In the case of a challenging horse this can make the difference between success and failure.

If this happens, all you can do is dust yourself off (sometimes literally!) and start again, but do learn the lesson.

The best way to combat this is to remember what it was like in the start and how much progress you’ve made, if you can’t remember ask someone else and I’m sure they’ll remind you of the days when you couldn’t lead your horse from the field without problems 🐎

Become an expert at reading your horse 🤓

As said previously challenging horses are often scared and confident at different times, they can flip between the two quickly. Being able to tell which one you have at any given moment is crucial.

Confident and scared horses need completely different, often opposing techniques and when working with these horses I’ve had clients say to me “but you told me the opposite last time!!” And yes, I did, but that was because the horse that was scared in the last session is now confident in this one!!

The trick is to be able to recognise that and then apply the appropriate strategy. I have more information on how to approach training confident and scared horses in my blogs Assess your horse - The Scared Horse and Assess your horse - The Confident Horse

When to call it quits 😔

I feel that if I’m not careful I might be in danger of glamourising taking this sort of horse on. I have seen horses turn round from being seriously difficult to dream horses but I have also seen more than my fair share of owners who have had to call it a day and decide not to continue trying to train their challenging horse. In most cases it comes down to either there is too much risk to continue or after persevering for a long time there is little or no progress.

In most cases this has meant that the horse has become a pet, with all their needs taken care of but not trained. After a particularly scary incident one lady I know decided not to try to ride her horse anymore but to continue to develop him on the ground, she enjoys groundwork and liberty with him and they have a great time together!

When taking these horses on you have to ask yourself what you will do in this situation. I feel it is irresponsible to try to re-home these horses unless in exceptional circumstances and only with full disclosure of their problems, in particular if they are dangerous.

In the case of challenging horses with physical issues, sometimes very hard decisions have to be made in the interests of the horses welfare. It is simply not fair to keep a horse in long term pain.

This is the risk you take when taking on a challenging horse

If you do decide to do it, please go into it with open eyes, be realistic about your time and your capabilities and make sure you have someone you can ask for help. As I said earlier everything is going to take longer, these horses will need you to have the confidence, skill, time and consistency to overcome their problems ✅

However, if you understand the risks, have the patience and are willing to persist in helping your horse to understand you it can be the most rewarding journey. Your horse will teach you sensitivity and incredible life lessons 😊

For myself they have taught me to park my ego at the door, look after my horses needs no matter the circumstance, to believe in my ability and to know my limits. I would not be without these lessons but know that they were hard won and I would think very carefully before embarking on it all again!!!


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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