Overcoming Resistance in Your Horse While Riding

Overcoming Resistance in Your Horse While Riding

Overcoming Resistance in Your Horse While Riding

Overcoming Resistance While Riding

What this episode is all about & how it can help you:-

  • Understand what resistance is in your horse
  • Start with taking steps back to simple
  • Realise the importance of rewarding every little positive element
  • Know how far to take each ride

Most riders have been there, some more regularly than others… You are mounted up, in the arena with your horse.  Your plans are all laid out in your head for the upcoming schooling session or ride.  And you are feeling positive and ready to get it done.

However, you sense that your horse is, well, not feeling the same way.  In fact, you get the distinct feeling that he would much rather be somewhere else, doing something else.  It’s not that he is being naughty, but rather uninterested and there is definitely resistance to what you are asking.

In this episode of the Daily Strides Podcast I want to chat about how, very often, when this happens ‘pushing on through’ is not the best way of approaching your horse.  I want to give you some other ideas that can get you both back on the same page with your focus and your work.

What is Resistance in Your Horse?

Recently I was in the arena preparing to start work with a specific horse and her rider.  The rider had a specific focus that she wanted to work on for that schooling session.  However, it was pretty evident that her horse had other ideas.

The horse wasn’t bucking or even being ‘naughty’ however, she was moving and, it looked like, thinking in a way that showed she wasn’t the least bit interested in being in that arena with us.

There was a certain tension and resistance which was obvious throughout her body.  She lacked ‘softness’ and also focus with regards to her work.

Often when we think of ‘resistance’ in horses, we jump to the extreme end of a whole host of ways our horses can show resistance.  This horse was more ‘meh’.  Almost like a disengaged teenager!

“I’ll do what you want but I will let you know every step of the way that I don’t want to be here and I don’t want to do this at all…”

If you have ever been there, you will understand how frustrating it can be for the rider.  Maybe you would agree that it is even more so than if your horse resisted outright with bucks and highland flings!  Pushing on through it rarely produces an outcome both horse and rider can be proud of and yet, the work has to get done.

So How Can You Begin Turning this Level of Resistance Around?

First and foremost, I feel it is important to figure out why this is happening.  Perhaps it is feeding time for your horse?  Or maybe your horse becoming a little sour working in the arena?  In the example I am using today, it was non of the above.  The horse was just having a ‘off day’.  Maybe she didn’t get enough sleep the night before; who knows!

What is certain is the fact that the more the rider pushes and forces the horse to work with them, the more the resistance the horse is going to express to the rider. 

Start with Taking Things Back to Simple

Begin by finding something you can do together that is a simpler or easier version of what you really set out to achieve that day in the saddle.  Something that doesn’t require too much effort from either of you and that you can both enjoy.

In the case of the horse and rider I was working with that day, I suggested they take it back to walk and begin working on simple loops in the walk.  The focus was on suppleness.  Lots and lots of small loops.  Constantly changing direction.  All the while keeping the focus on forwardness and suppleness.

Within a few loops I could see a change in the horse.  A “hmmmm…. This is different to what we were doing before”.  With that change in thinking came a change in how the horse was ‘going’.  A softness began to emerge.

Suppleness requires softness, one cannot really happen without the other.  What I also saw was that the rider was relaxing more.  There was less tension, which I imagine was an initial result of feeling a little frustrated.

As both horse and rider began to align more with each other, the work improved.  Literally every loop began to look (and I would imagine feel) more natural and ‘together’. 

Reward Every Positive Movement

The other thing I had suggested to the rider was to reward every single positive step or movement in the right direction from the horse.

I find this works in two ways; the rider begins to look for positive outcomes (rather than focusing on the negative) and the horse genuinely enjoys being praised by the rider and will look for ways to make it happen. 

Horses, for the most part do try to please those they respect.  Whether that be other horses, people on the ground or their rider.   Looking for small things you can praise or reward will lead to larger things.

You literally need to begin looking for every ‘thought’ your horse has that is moving him in the direction you want to move him in

Reintroducing What You Were Initially Working On

Once this softness was there and it was obvious both horse and rider were now keen and interested in what was going on, I suggested reintroducing the original exercise.

I could see that the horse was open to working with the rider AND that the rider was far softer in their approach to the exercise now. 

The communication and conversation had opened up again between horse and rider.  I think when this happens it changes how the rider actually rides as well.  The rider feels as though they have achieved a ‘win’ in the saddle.

It might not be the ‘win’ they initially set out to get for that ride, however knowing that you worked through something and turned a situation around is sometimes a bigger win.

Knowing How Far to Take Each Ride

So once you can feel your horse is back working with you, rather than resisting against you, you can make a decision on what to do going forward.  Should you return to the original exercise and try again? Or should you clock this ride up to experience and end it on the high note you are currently experiencing?

I think it depends on your unique situation.  How much ground have you covered?  Is it essential for you and your horse to work on that original exercise?  Or is this new positive layer to your relationship together enough for this ride?

In the case of this horse and rider, I suggested they call it a day at this point.  The horse is a young horse and I felt that the lesson they had worked through together for that session was a really beneficial one going forward for both of them.

However, if it had have been a more experienced horse, or perhaps a horse that had an upcoming event or similar to work towards; that may have been a different call.

It is important to judge each situation on the day and think about the long-term.  Just getting your horse back on the same page as you is a great win for that day…

A Long Term ‘Win’ or Stepping Stone

If you do manage to reestablishing the conversation between horse and rider, you will have really created a positive stepping stone in your journey together.  It is a huge win.

Building the relationship with your horse, on confidence and trust, is such an important element to a successful riding partnership.

Some days you will make it happen and add another layer to your strong foundation.  However, it is equally as important to keep in mind that there may just be other days where things, regardless of what you do, don’t go to plan.

That is the beauty and the challenge of horse riding.  Two separate minds, you and your horse, each with different ideas having to come together and agree to work towards a single goal or outcome.

Happy Riding


I am hosting a free live online training on “Understanding True Relaxation in Your Riding” and I would love for you to join me there…  If you’re interested, you can register for your seat by CLICKING HERE

Click HERE to register for the free online training

Links mentioned in the episode:-


  • Camila
    April 5, 2019 1:33 pm

    Amazing! I loved to start the day with such positive thoughts! I’ve recently started riding another horse and, as we are still getting to know each other and I’m quite fearful still, he has been acting up. But I hope that with this approach and mindset we can turn things around!

    Thank you!

    • Lorna Leeson
      April 5, 2019 1:39 pm

      Good luck with the new horse :)

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