How to handle a difficult horse

By Julie Harding on |


How to handle a difficult horse

Horses come in all shapes and sizes — and with many temperaments. Just like people, each one is different and the key from the outset when you are teaming up with a new horse is to choose one that matches your level of ability.

Despite this, however, you can still end up with a horse who is hot to handle. If you are a complete beginner, it is a seriously bad idea to take on a strong, pushy or aggressive horse — resist no matter how tempted you are. A lack of knowledge on your part could turn an already tricky equine into one who becomes impossible and even dangerous.

It is imperative that you have experience if you want to work with an unruly horse. But even the most seasoned horseperson will sometimes need to seek advice from an accredited instructor. Depending on your circumstances, it may be a good idea to attend a natural horsemanship clinic.

There are also many examples of well-known riders who have tried ‘natural’ methods with hard to handle horses, German Olympic eventer Bettina Hoy being one particularly famous example.

But why do horses behave badly and how should you handle an uncooperative one?

Ask yourself why your horse is naughty

Is it something that you are doing or has he had a difficult past? Some horses behave as they do because they have been cruelly treated, whipped or beaten or simply trained by someone with a poor understanding. Once you pin down the reason you will be in a better position to deal with the horse.

Don’t rush things

Patience will reap rewards, as will a quiet approach at all times. The more time you spend in his company, the more your horse will learn that he can trust you. Groom him and also talk to him and reward him for good behaviour. However, always be firm. Don’t let the horse think that he can get away with bad manners.

Do the ground work

Make the work you do on the ground part of your horse’s overall schooling programme — some will initially need far more work on the ground than under saddle, so be prepared for this. Finish any training on the ground on a good note, but if you feel you are getting nowhere seek expert advice as soon as possible.

Teach him using pressure and release

Don’t stress him, and reward him with instant release when he responds in the right way. Some ‘natural horsemanship’ practitioners recommend using rope halters with an extra long rope. Monty Roberts’ Dually headcollar is also popular: when the horse responds in the right way it stays loose, but it tightens when he misbehaves. Take lessons, though, and practise on well-behaved horses before you use it on your tricky one.

Go easy on the bit

Don’t be tempted to use harsh bits to control your horse from the ground. There are no shortcuts to time, patience and sympathetic training.

Keep it quiet

Initially train your horse in quiet, stress-free situations and only when he responds to the pressure and release system introduce him to busier, more buzzy, environments.

Avoid eye contact

Never look a nervous horse in the eye — it is a sign of aggression.

Stay safe

Wear the right equipment, particularly a hard hat secured with a strap.

Think tail bandage

If you tie up a horse who has a tendency to pull back or misbehave, use a tail bandage between the tie ring and the rope.

Turn out your horse as much as possible

Ideally, a difficult horse should be turned out 24/7. One who is cooped up in his stable for 23 hours a day is bound to have pent-up, nervous energy and be more difficult to handle.

Consider a calmer

Although they should not be seen as a miracle cure or be used in isolation, some natural calmers on the market may help certain horses.


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