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Where do I start? How to decide where to get started with any task

Ever done something that was exactly the right thing to do but you did it at the wrong time?!

A friend once told me that she baked a birthday cake for her boyfriend, mixed it all up, put it in the cake tin, put the candles on it and put it in the oven to cook!! Well no prizes for guessing how that birthday cake turned out 🥳🤔😂

I’ve heard people say that training horses is a bit like making a cake, each step has to be carried out and completed before you move on to the next one. And each step has to be in the correct order.

Well I guess that’s partially true but unlike a cake that is made up of inanimate ingredients there’s one big difference with a horse - he has an opinion!!!

Now depending on which stage you’re at with any given task and your horses level of experience will determine how you approach it and how you time things.

But how do you know where to start? How do you know whether to take things slowly or to speed things up?

The first thing I do before I attempt any task is I look at the horse (and the owner) and decide if I think the horse is scared or confident. This forms the basis for what I do next.

The Scared Horse 😳

This horse has survival as his priority, to successfully train this horse to do something he needs to feel safe first. Advance and retreat with lots of reward, rest and repetition to reinforce the correct response will help this horse feel comfortable that he knows what to do.

These horses find comfort in calm, confident handling, routine and repetition.

For example a scared horse who gets tense in his lateral work, needs to repeat this same task quite a few times in the same place, at the same gait without making it more complicated or harder until he softens and relaxes (Advance). As soon as he relaxes, allow him to go straight again (Retreat). When he’s done well, reward and rest with a walk break before repeating again.

I would use the same approach with schooling over a scary jump, repeat a number of times without changing anything until your horse relaxes with a short rest and reward in between each repetition.

For a more in depth look at the Scared horse read my blog "Assess Your Horse - The Scared Horse"

The Confident Horse 😜

Confident horses are motivated by food, rest or play. They already feel safe so you don’t need to spend a long time on Advance & Retreat type methods, they work really well with Request, Release, Reward, Rest and Repeat but not too many times on the same task or they’ll be bored 😐

These horses like progression and variety, completely the opposite to the scared horse!!

For example, a confident horse that doesn’t want to go out on the lunge and would just rather stand in the middle 😫 Ask him to go out and around you (Request) and keep asking until he does no matter how long it takes! As soon as he does, leave him alone and let him walk along (Release), after a couple of laps bring him back in and reward him (Reward), let him stand for a few minutes (Rest). Repeat up to a maximum of 3 times then leave it for the day and do something else (Repeat).

For a more in depth look at these guys read my blog "Assess Your Horse - The Confident Horse"

What if I’m not sure? 🤔

So what if you’re not sure what you’ve got. In this case the best option is to start as if the horse is scared.

If you get it wrong the worst that will happen is that it will take a bit longer to get to your goal but if you start with a scared horse as if he is confident you may well scare him further and lose trust which takes much longer to put back.

As you get better at assessing which horse you have, you’ll be able to adjust your training accordingly and get results quicker 😊🦄💕

Image courtesy of


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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