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Naughty Horses, Part 5 - Horses that don’t have enough incentive

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 my ‘Naughty Horses’ mini series I looked at 5 reasons horses can misbehave.

Here’s a recap of the 5...

  1. They don’t know what to do

  2. They have learned to respond incorrectly

  3. They are scared

  4. They don’t have enough incentive

  5. They are in pain

In this blog I’m going to look in a little more detail at number 4...👇👇

Horses that don’t have enough incentive

So, these horses are typically labelled ‘stubborn’ or ‘lazy’ and they can be really hard work if you don’t figure out what makes them tick. On the flip side they are often super intelligent and once you get them motivated they are really good fun! They also tend to have what I like to term as a bit of a ‘sense of humour’!

My horse Arielle was one of these, I’ve had her since she was a 2 year old. In the early days I could barely get 2 strides of canter from her. Now I tried all sorts of things to motivate her, in desperation one day I even put buckets of feed in the arena and rode to them. It really didn’t make one bit of difference to her, we still went to each bucket very slowly 😫😂

Responsiveness and Reward/Motivation

What I finally figured out was that I needed a balance of responsiveness, so I had to ask for the energy I wanted, and then reward, I had to reward her response with something that was meaningful to her 🧐

It was a round about this point that I also found out that she was highly motivated by rest, so food wasn’t a big deal, hence the buckets didn’t work but stopping and having a break made all the difference to her.

What it came down to was that if I just rewarded her, she would only give me as much as she felt was necessary 🤔 and if I only asked her to be responsive with no reward or release then it just felt like bullying her and eventually she was lose all motivation. I ended up hot and sweaty and she usually wasn’t 🥵🤯

How does this work in training?

One of the problems I find with this sort of horse is that when you do finally get them going, you want to keep them going for as long as possible thinking ‘we’ve finally got it!!’. Unfortunately from the horses perspective that’s exactly the wrong thing to do, they end up tired and lacking even more motivation thinking ‘I’ll never to that again!’

To give an example my boyfriend is a fitness instructor and whenever I go to the gym with him he’s really careful to give me exercises and weights that are within my capability. I never end up with sore muscles after his training and it always leaves me feeling good, so I want to go again!! 😃👍

If I go to one of those fitness classes that leaves me feeling like I’ve been run over by a train the following day, then I never want to return!

Now horses don’t get up and think, I must train to improve my waistline and strength today!! So as far as possible we really need to do our best to leave our horses in a place where they feel good at the end of the session, whether that’s more relaxed if they tend to be tense or more motivated if they tend to be a bit slow.

Soooooo, back to Arielle, initially I just worked on being able to maintain a good, working trot and canter. I did this by building it up and doing almost exactly the opposite to what I wanted to do!!

As soon as she gave me the trot or the canter I was looking for I would keep it for a few strides and then come back to walk, halt and praise her, rest for a few minutes then start again. After a few goes, she started start to click that if she gave me the forward nice trot that she would get a rest soon!

Once I had that consistently I’d ask her to keep it for a little bit longer, something like half a circle, then rest. Then a full circle and rest and so on. In this way I built up not only her motivation but her fitness too so that she was happy to do more and more, the rests were less frequent and we could work on other things 😁👍

This is just one of many stories of Arielle and I still use these idea’s and techniques to train her to this day, it’s how I taught her flying changes and all sorts of other things 🦄💕

My next blog will look at the 5th reason ‘Horses in Pain’

In the meantime, have fun with your horses 😃🦄💕


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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