The Lazy & Resistant Horse // Part II
Updated: Mar 1
In part one of this series we talked about the differences between a naturally lazy horse and a horse displaying resistance, as well as the fact that some horses are indeed both lazy and resistant. In this article we are going to dive a little deeper into "resistance"; the symptoms, the cause, and the cure.
First, let's talk a little about equine behavior. Horses are not naturally rebellious or defiant, they do not intentionally create strife or purpose to make your life difficult. They are not vengeful or malicious. These are all human traits that we like to think our horse's are capable of in order to try and understand a horse's behavior through human eyes; this is called anthropomorphism.
Horses are much simpler than humans though, desiring one thing above all else, and that is to survive. They are born depending on their innate instincts for survival and over time adapt to their environment through learned behaviors. They are peaceful creatures that more often than not resort to flight over fight, avoiding conflict if at all possible, but they can be provoked to fight if flight is not an option.
A horse's drive to survive will often push them past pain for as long as they can, just so they can keep moving with the herd or keep eating or keep procreating. With domestication horses have been selectively bred for certain traits and different temperaments, but regardless of your horse's breed it's survival instinct and ability to communicate are still the same as a feral horse's. However, some horses are more sensitive than others or they are less tolerant than others.
What often happens is that horses will push past pain or deficiencies in their life up to a certain point in order to "keep the peace". This can look like horses performing despite lameness, extreme saddle pain, enduring poor or abusive riding and training, and so much more..... all so they can "survive" to the next day. This may sound ridiculous and extreme to us humans, but to horses we are a predatory species that often resorts to force to make them comply despite any pain or confusion they may be feeling; they buck because their saddle hurts, they get punished. Often they choose to stop communicating or in some cases they end up resorting to extreme form of communication in order to be heard.
Resistance is a horse communicating. Sometimes the communication is as subtle as a lack of wanting to bend to one side, but often the horse is forced to a point where they they feel trapped or the pain is too great and they resort to "fighting" back. This can be as extreme as kicking out, biting and so on. Extreme behavioral problems.
What's more is that once a horse learns (is conditioned) that a human only responds to extreme forms of communication they will likely resort immediately to extreme behaviors in the future, skipping any subtle forms of communication. Creating "problem horses".
If we stopped considering these symptoms/behaviors as a form of rebellion or disrespect, and instead listened to the form of communication that they are, we could avoid pushing horses to a point of extreme communication and even avoid possible career ending injuries. What often starts as a small problem turns into a much bigger problem that is very hard to undo.
Signs of resistance can come in all types and levels of intensity depending on the horse's prior training, it's genetics, and the severity of the cause. One horse might display symptoms of resistance by refusing to pick up the left lead canter, while another will throw a rider the minute it sits in the saddle. Likely the horse that throws it's rider didn't begin displaying resistance in such an extreme way, but through conditioning has now learned it's the only way to get a human to listen.
It's going to be impossible to list every single unique symptom a horse can display of resistance, but I'm going to try and list some common ones as well as some you might never have considered.
Jump Refusal or Dropping Rails
Refusal to climb up or down hills
Refusal to be caught
Difficulty circling in a particular direction or at all
Cross Cantering and/or reluctance to pick up a canter lead
Sour attitude during saddling, bridling or grooming
Resistance to moving forward (requiring whips, spurs, or heavy kicks to go forward)
Sluggish or refusing to backup or even halt
Difficulty picking up feet, or even kicking out
Tripping or "laziness" with the feet
Exposed tongue or open mouth during training/work
Pinned or Flattened ears
Refusal to accept bit
Difficulty flexing or bending
and so much more
Here's the thing, if your horse is refusing to do something you've asked, especially if it's something he "should know" (I use that statement very carefully, please really consider if your horse knows what you are asking or not before just assuming it does), it could belong on that list of symptoms.