I'm not going to lie, there's very little that irritates me more than riding a lazy, stubborn, resistant horse. Put me on your straight off the track, run away thoroughbred or your spooky green broke mustang instead, but what ever you do please, please, please don't make me ride that mule of a horse. Nobody enjoys the kicking, the prodding, the silent (or sometimes extremely audible) pleas for some sort of response, any response really!
If you've ever ridden a typical school horse or summer camp horse you know exactly what I'm talking about. It's miserable. And not just for the rider. There's this line that you feel forced to cross when your horse just won't move off. A line where your subconscious wonders if you're really doing the right thing. When all the years of instructors telling you "kick harder!" starts weighing on you and making you wonder if there is a better way....We kick, we prod, we beg.. and sometimes it works, but never for long. You can never let that spur or whip stray too far or you'll find yourself trying some sort of chicken wing flap maneuver with your legs while cursing under your breath. Trust me, I've been there. It's not pretty.
What if I told you that the way to cure the resistant and/or lazy horse wasn't with more pressure? What if I told you it had nothing to do with more kicking, prodding, crops, whips, spurs, or brute force. What if I told you there was more to the lazy or resistant horse than a "bad attitude" or a willful personality? I'm not going to promise that all of your training woes will be instantly cured, but I promise you, there is another way.
So what makes a lazy horse lazy? Or the resistant horse resistant? First it's important to explore the difference between the two types. Often we mistake resistance for laziness and viseversa, when really they are two completely different things; though sometimes a horse can be both.
The Laid Back or "Lazy" Horse
This first type of horse is genetically relaxed, un-bothered, lazier, gentle spirited, and really loves those afternoon naps. They aren't particularly prone to being good at speed events, they would rather hit the trails at a steady pace or better yet be a pasture ornament. Often times these horses are older and have put in their fair share of hard work, but sometimes you'll find this in young horses too. Naturally pleasant to be around, and easy going. These are the horses that you hear about someone just throwing a saddle on one day for the first time and riding off into the sunset; calling the horse "broke". This kind of horse is usually eager to see people. He may come to gate eagerly for attention, love to be groomed, enjoy casual trail rides, and just enjoy anything relaxing in general. They usually will be pleasant to be around, gentle giants, but perhaps a bit sluggish under saddle. Often once they get going they're energy increases, but sometimes they are just those steady giants that lope around the arena no problem with a green as grass beginner rider flapping around on top.
A truly "Lazy" horse with no other issues you will not find "unhappy" expressions on, They will not lash out or obstinately fight back, they just may not be your next barrel racer or the next Secretariat.
The Resistant Horse
The resistant horse is a horse that has been given no reason to work for its handler/owner/rider except to avoid punishment or pressure. Often this is a case of the human ignoring or innocently unaware of underlying pain, fear, or nutritional deficiencies, and sometimes it's directly related to training methods. These are often horse that feel grudgingly towards humans due to past or current experiences.
Though levels of resistance vary greatly from horses to horse, these horses are usually considered "disrespectful" and sometimes "aggressive". "Bad attitude" or "rebellious" are some other words that can be heard being used to describe resistant horses. They are not fun to ride even on their best days most of the time. Often they are reluctant to be caught, usually having grumpy demeanor during any handling, prone to lashing out with teeth or hooves, and absolutely horrible to get moving under saddle. These horses usually require immense and constant effort to keep going during training sessions. Any chance they get to refuse a jump, refuse to canter, or really refuse to do anything they will take advantage of.
Personally I have found most lesson facilities have way too many of these types of horses. They are over worked, under appreciated, and given no reason to have a good attitude. But you won't find this type of horse just in a lesson barn, they are very common everywhere from the show arena to pleasure mounts. Sometimes resistant horses will appear "better" with particular riders or handlers, especially if they are more aggressive or advanced with their handling/training, while taking advantage of young or new riders. They can be forced to do their work, but it takes extreme amounts of pressure and "know how" from the handler/rider.
There is a second type of resistance that is worth mentioning, though we won't be addressing it in depth in this series. This is the "out of control" or "non-responsive" resistance that appears to be high energy or hotheadedness. We will discuss these two types of horses in a follow up series related to this later on.
The Lazy and Resistant Horse
It's important to remember that these two categories are not mutually exclusive, often the laid back horse gets taken advantage of and turns into the resistant horse. I have a horse that is a prime example of both a laid back horse and a resistant horse combined. Genetically he's the gentle giant. He's a saint. But he's been ridden hard, treated roughly, neglected, abandoned, and has a lot of physical pain to show for his long years of hard work. It's been a long road to bring life back to his robot like actions, and while he's most often extremely eager to work these days if I pressure him too much or ask for something that is physically too much I can watch his whole face change and his positive attitude shut down. It's a fine line for him, but with rehabilitative training and care he's improving and able to handle more every day.
I find a lot of people mistake their resistant horse for a lazy horse, mostly because they don't know how to recognize the symptoms of resistance. Often the symptoms are very obvious, but our eyes are not trained to see them and it takes time to change the way we look at horses. Also, science has begun to change the way we can read our horse's body language. Certain actions or behaviors that we used to consider dominate or aggressive, or even signs of relaxation, submissiveness, and "processing", have been found to be incorrect interpretations with updated studies and research.
Sometimes though, you really do have a truly "lazy" horse that requires a lot of energy from the handler to get motivated. It can be exhausting and difficult, especially if your personality connects better with a more energetic type horse, as mine does. Traditional training methods tell us to apply more pressure to make these kinds of horses more responsive, but there is another way.
If you have a resistant horse on your hands, traditional methods will tell you that the horse is purposefully being difficult and disobedient and that you need to dominate or force the horse to obey, be it's "leader",.. but I promise you, there is another way.
In Part II we are going to dive deeper into the symptoms and the cures for the resistant horse, and in Part III we are going to talk about motivating the lazy horse and rehabilitation for the resistant horse. Be sure to read both parts as often the two types of horses overlap and you will need the tools and information provided in both articles to achieve your goals.
Which type of horse do you have? (assuming you're dealing with a horse that "just won't go"). Comment below and keep a look out for Part II and III.