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Naughty Horses, Part 3 - Horses that have learned what not to do!

Feel like you’re horse wrestling? Like your horse knows what you want but doesn’t listen? There seems to be no logic to your horses actions, surely he can see that it’s easier to just do it?


In the first blog in this series I looked at 5 reasons horses misbehave one of those reasons is that he has learned the wrong thing. Even if your horse has done the task before it’s really easy to inadvertently teach him something else!! Let’s have a look at an example....


You’re washing your horses legs off, he moves, you put the hose down and get him to stand again, then you pick the hose up again, he moves, you put the hose down and ask him to stand. Inadvertently you are taking the water away and making him more comfortable when he moves!! So he now learns a new trick!! He doesn’t know why he needs his legs washed, he just knows what makes him comfortable, or not. I’ve seen the same thing happen with horses being asked to stand at the mounting block.


What would I do?

  • Keep the hose on his leg until he stands still

  • Hose for a few seconds more and take the hose away before he moves again

  • Build up the time I can have the hose on his leg

This way the horse learns that he gets more comfortable when he does what you want him to do. A similar principle can be applied to clipping.

Learning the good things as quick as the bad 🤓


The great thing about this is that if your horse has learnt the wrong thing fairly quickly, it should be just as easy for them to learn the correct response. All you need to do is be clear and break it down for them into manageable chunks and don’t release until you get the response you are looking for!


A horse usually learns the wrong thing because they’ve mistakenly been given comfort for it. Sounds strange but hang in there with me. I went to see a horse that had learnt that if the clippers went on she would come towards you and kick out. How had this happened? Initially she’d been OK to clip but at some point the clipping had got a bit much and she’d pushed towards the person and they had taken the clippers away from her. It didn’t take long before this escalated into a dangerous response and the owner was at a loss.


Something like this needs very careful timing but what we did was to start the clippers up (not on her at this stage) in an area with plenty of space so we could all stay safe and wait for her to stand still. As soon as she did the clippers went off we built this up in a similar way to how I describe for the hosing until she could be clipped.


Usually the key to unpicking problems is to work out where the communication has broken down and then help the horse with with that.


Learning to ‘out stubborn’ your horse!! 🤔


OK so we’ve got our hosing and clipping examples which are more along the lines of desensitisation. What about a horse that just won’t do something? This is a horse that has learnt that if they just don’t, you can’t do anything about it!! These are the horses that come home dry as a bone with their owner red faced and looking like they’ve gone 10 rounds with Tyson!


My own mare used to do this, she was excellent at just saying ‘no’ and planting herself. One of the reasons I do what I do now is that I had to learn a different way of working with her.


In my experience getting tougher with a horse does one of three things:-

  1. Scares them (flight)

  2. Causes them to argue more (fight)

  3. Causes them to shut down (freeze)

So assuming that you don’t want to get tougher how do you deal with the horse that has learned to just stand still and do nothing?


I had a client recently who had great success with this, she wanted her pony to go out on the lunge and he would just stand in front of her not moving. So she decided she would ‘out stubborn’ him. She stood with him and used the lunge whip to tap him on the shoulder, not hard but very persistent, she just kept going until the pony made up his mind that she wasn’t going to stop so he’d better move!!! She repeated a couple of times and the planting problem was fixed!


I hope this gives you some idea’s on the horse that has just learned to do the wrong thing.

If you would like more information about breaking a task down and how to get your horse to do what you want you can download my FREE ebook ‘3 steps to help your horse understand what you want’


If you have questions or would like advise about your own horse feel free to drop me an email at lylacansfield@hotmail.com


Have fun with your horse 😊🦄💕

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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 lylacansfield@hotmail.com

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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 www.lylacansfield.com or email lylacansfield@hotmail.com for more details.

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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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