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  • Writer's pictureRobert Phinney


Updated: Nov 6, 2020

Have you noticed that when some horses seem to not be too interested in moving out that when they finally move out it appears they are a little or even a lot troubled? I've heard it said, "I'm just a walk and trot rider." Oh, my! If that isn't a recipe for some action, if that horse should ever become worried and accidentally find his way into a gallop.

I support taking it easy with a new horse. Building a trusting relationship to me is key to having life long enjoyment with a horse. Part of that trust building has to do with the horse being able to experience as many activities slow and lively as may come along during the years ahead, and being shown that none of them are more than he can bear.

A horse needs to experience uneasiness in a way that he feels successful, kind of desensitizing to otherwise scary things that happen along life's journey. Keep in mind that being a prey animal, his instincts tell him to be wary of the unknown, that's how he survives. He should never feel that he is in trouble for being afraid of something. On that note, I recall many years ago, before I knew better, how I would get after my horse when he was genuinely afraid. I know where that came from. I didn't know what to do when he was afraid. We humans get bigger or louder when we come up against something we can't seem to handle. Knowing how to support the horse, or for that matter another scared human, is the answer, and that comes from experience and knowledge.

I received a question and a video the other day from a gal about her horse that appeared to be very gentle and quite un-bothered with most of her round pen work. The young horse seemed to be pretty calm in her movements, in yielding and with lass rope work. Something was not quite right, though. The little mare seemed to be a bit pushy and was not as free with her feet as I'd like to see. Yes, she would go, but paying further attention I noted that she was sticky with her feet, like she would go, but not lightly, not freely, it was a little like the child who was asked to do their chores, but they were literally dragging their feet. "I'll go if I have to, but I don't want to." I pointed this out to the little mare's owner, and she was aware that something wasn't quite right. We see this often with gentle horses that have not been encouraged to move out with life, enough to make a change and possibly challenge that self-preservation. The key then is to help the horse to find a way to be OK with that lively movement. That may take a bit of repetition and a lot of support.


We encourage folks to find a way to work through these sticky places by helping the horse to experience both the slow and the go, and in a way that he can feel successful in the end.


At times, if you think about it, those horses may actually be afraid to move out not knowing what will happen if they do. So they are actually escaping that free movement out of fear. The same fear the human may be experiencing... Hmm, makes you think, doesn't it? So might it all stem from the uncertainty of the human. I'm pretty sure that same horse moves freely in the pasture with horse buddies.

So we encourage folks to find a way to work through these sticky places by helping the horse to experience both the slow and the go, and in a way that he can feel successful in the end. Get that energy up and show him that he can bring it down again. Energy up and energy down. When he does bring it down allow him some soaking time, time to think about it before you send him again. Once this is working for you, send him away with the life you have in mind and see if you can immediately hook him on to you (bring him back mentally and physically). You may do this with a halter and lead, but in time you should get him to respond without the lead, learning to trust and to follow a feel. This is a place that a round pen can be pretty handy, but keep in mind there is nothing magic about the pen, It's what is going on inside you that makes all the difference.

If we don't have our horse feeling pretty calm when asked for life in our groundwork, and he finds it necessary to move out when we get on him, he may feel a need to lighten his load a bit, and when he does that, that may be a pretty good argument for the above quality groundwork.

Happy Trails, and I do mean HAPPY Trails...

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