Ask Dana Hokana: How Do I Get My Horse to Like Her Job?

Dana-fb-headshotDear Dana,

I have a 7 year-old Paint mare that just doesn’t seem to be happy when its time to go to work. She is sweet in her stall and when I groom, bathe and saddle her up but when I ride her in the arena she always seems to have attitude! I am training her for local shows in the English division and feel like I have taken things slow with her she just always seems to be mad!



Dear Shirley,

I sure can relate and understand your frustrations! Horses can become unwilling for a number of reasons. Most unwilling horses have learned to dislike their job. We as riders and trainers need to be extremely mindful about how we teach and ride our horses to avoid angry, burned out, sour horses. It is up to us to teach our horses to enjoy their jobs.

Horses learn by the reward. This may be the release of the cue, rein, or leg pressure. It can also be a pat or a rewarding voice, maybe even just to stop and stand in the arena.

Pay attention to your horse’s response. Most unwilling horses don’t start out unwilling! As riders, we need to be sure our cues and demands are clear and fair. We need to clearly reward when the horse does or even tries to do something right. If the horse can’t ever get a “win” she can learn to hate her job.

For example, I will apply my cue and I will pay attention to her response to my cue. If I add my leg, I will continue to apply my leg even if my horse shows some resistance. I will never punish them with the cue, I will just leave it there until they start to accept it and then will reward her by removing the cue. I will then reapply the cue and will look for signs of acceptance, like her relaxing, licking her lips or taking a breath.

You may have areas of training in your horse that will continue to be an issue. Push through, be mindful and ask fairly. Remember you are your horse’s teacher and it is up to you to build a relationship with her.