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Unlocking Effective Communication with Your Equine Partner

Signs Your Horse Doesn’t Understand What You’re Asking

Horse riding involves communication with your horse, and it is through this communication that trust and teamwork are built. But what happens when your horse doesn’t understand what you’re asking for?

When your horse doesn’t understand, it can be frustrating for both the horse and rider. So, how do you know when your horse is struggling to understand you?

Sign Your Horse is Confused #1: Not Responding Correctly

One of the most obvious signs that your horse doesn’t understand you is when your horse doesn’t respond the way you want them to. This can be due to a lack of clarity in your cues or because your horse doesn’t understand what you’re asking for.

If you give your horse a cue, and they do something differently, it may be because they don’t understand the cue you gave them. To avoid this confusion, focus on giving clear and concise cues.

Be consistent and use the same cues every time.

Sign Your Horse is Confused #2: Fighting Pressure

Another indication that your horse is confused is when they start to fight against the pressure you’re applying.

For example, when asking your horse to move forward, and they lean back, rear up, or kick out, this could be a sign that they’re confused about what they’re being asked to do. In this situation, it is important to take a step back and assess what’s going on.

Try to determine if there is any possible reason why your horse might be fighting against the pressure you’re applying, such as discomfort or pain.

Sign Your Horse is Confused #3: Frustration

Horses, like humans, feel emotions such as frustration.

If you’ve been repeating the same cue or exercise for a while and your horse still isn’t getting it, they may start to become frustrated. It is important to stay calm and patient when working with horses.

If you become frustrated, it can cause your horse to also become frustrated and react negatively. Take breaks when your horse starts to show signs of frustration to help relax and reset the situation.

Sign Your Horse is Confused #4: Avoidant Behavior

If your horse is not responding to your cues, they might start to avoid the situation altogether. This can take the form of bucking, rearing, or backing up when you approach them with the saddle or any equipment.

It is essential to identify the underlying cause of the avoidance behavior and address it. One approach is to minimize the pressure you’re putting on your horse’s mind and body.

You don’t want to force them into a situation that they’re not comfortable with or don’t understand.

How to Tell if Your Horse Doesn’t Get What You’re Asking Them to Do

If you suspect that your horse is struggling to understand your cues, there are steps you can take to address the situation.

Evaluate Yourself for Mistakes

It’s important to be self-aware and evaluate your own actions and communication skills when working with your horse. Sometimes, your horse might not be understanding you because you’re not being clear enough or are using conflicting cues.

Identify Holes in the Horses Training

Identifying gaps in your horse’s training and working on these areas can also help them to better understand your cues. This can include groundwork, longe work, and liberty work.

These techniques can help your horse learn to better respond to cues without the added confusion of a rider on their back.

Use Groundwork as a Foundation

Groundwork can be an incredibly helpful tool to build a foundation of trust and communication with your horse. It can also help your horse to better understand your cues when riding.

By using groundwork to build a foundation, you’re teaching your horse to better understand your communication and develop the trust necessary to succeed under saddle.


In conclusion, understanding when your horse is struggling to understand you is essential to a successful partnership. Taking the time to evaluate and address these issues is a crucial part of developing trust and communication with your horse.

By focusing on clarity and consistency in your communication and identifying gaps in your horse’s training, you can help your horse take the first steps in understanding and responding to your cues.

Not Responding Correctly

One of the biggest challenges in horse training is communication. As riders, it is our responsibility to communicate what we want our horses to do.

However, sometimes horses don’t respond to our requests the way that we expect.

Examples of Incorrect Responses

  • Your horse not moving forward when asked but instead turning their head or looking away
  • Your horse moving too quickly and without a measured pace
  • Your horse moving to the side instead of going straight ahead
  • Your horse turning in the wrong direction

While these may seem like small issues, they can lead to larger communication problems down the line if not corrected.

Evaluating Yourself in Asking

As a rider, it is important to try and understand why our horse may not be responding correctly. While it may be that the horse is simply not trained or skilled enough yet, often the problem is in the request itself.

One way to evaluate your own communication is to assess whether or not you are giving clear cues. It could be that your cues are conflicting or unclear, leading to a wrong response from your horse.

Take the time to assess your own communication style and see if you can simplify your cues to help your horse better understand what you want. Another way to evaluate yourself is to consider your timing.

Are you giving cues at the appropriate timing to your horse? If you are late or too early with a cue, your horse may not respond correctly.

Timing is everything and taking a step back to evaluate if your timing is on-point can make a huge difference in the horse’s response.

Fighting Pressure

Another common communication issue is when horses fight against pressure. Horses are natural resistance creatures, which often leads to them being stubborn or unresponsive.

They may tense up and push back when asked to yield to pressure, such as when asked to move forward or get into a trailer.

Importance of Teaching Horses to Give to Pressure

Teaching your horse to give to pressure is key. This means that they should be able to respond to light pressure by moving off of it in a certain direction.

Horses that are light in the bridle are an example of what it looks like when a horse has learned to move off of light pressure from the reins without resistance. Teaching horses to yield to pressure is important for several reasons.

It can help prevent injuries for both the horse and rider, as well as improve the horse’s flexibility and responsiveness. When a horse learns to give to pressure, they become better prepared to respond to different types of requests in various situations.

Using Pressure Release to Teach Correct Responses

Rather than fighting resistance and forcing the horse to comply, we can use release of pressure to guide them in the right direction. While teaching your horse to yield to pressure, it’s important to remember to release the pressure as soon as your horse responds correctly.

This means that you’re rewarding them for the desired behavior with a release of pressure, rather than by waiting for a long period of time or continuing to apply pressure to force them into the desired response. As your horse continues to improve, you can begin to use lighter pressure to guide them and help them move in the right direction.

In conclusion, communication breakdown is common in horse riding, but with a conscious effort to teach and reinforce good communication habits, riders can avoid these issues and help horses learn to respond appropriately to cues. By evaluating ourselves and the clarity of our cues, developing our understanding of yield to pressure techniques, and using pressure release, we can establish a stronger foundation of trust and communication with our equine partners.


Horses, like any animal, can become frustrated with their environment, handlers, and circumstances. However, horses cannot express their emotions in words and can only communicate through their actions or body language.

It’s important for handlers to recognize the signs of frustration in their horses to prevent negative impacts on their training.

Frustration in Horses

Some common signs that horses become frustrated include:

  • Pinned ears
  • Tail swishing
  • Stomping
  • Pawing
  • Snapping or biting
  • Refusal to move forward

It’s essential for riders and handlers to be attuned to their horse’s behavior and look out for these signs of frustration.

By taking note of these behaviors, handlers can address them accordingly before they lead to bigger problems.

Importance of Going Slow in Training

Frustration often arises when horses are being asked to do something too quickly or before they are ready. One of the most important things to remember when working with horses is that they must be trained at their own pace.

It’s important to take the time to focus on each horse as an individual, getting to know their learning style and pace, as well as their personality. To create a more comfortable and stress-free environment, handlers can start by training in a quiet and comfortable area with minimal distractions.

Working slowly and breaking down more complex tasks into small components can also help to reduce frustration levels in horses.

Rewarding Small Try

A great way to help prevent frustration is by rewarding the horse’s small efforts along the way. Horses do not communicate with words or understand human language, they communicate through connection.

Recognizing and acknowledging small steps in the horse’s progress can go a long way in building their trust and confidence. Providing treats, positive reinforcement, or pats on the neck can help establish a positive connection and make the horse more comfortable around their handlers.

Avoidant Behavior

Avoidant behavior is a coping mechanism that horses use when they feel they can’t manage a situation or feel threatened. They may demonstrate avoidance through actions such as turning away, avoiding eye contact, or outright refusal.

In some cases, it may be hard for the handler to tell if the horse is simply not trained yet or if they are avoiding the task altogether.

Examples of Avoidant Behavior

Some of the most obvious signs that a horse is exhibiting avoidant behavior include:

  • Refusal to move forwards
  • Moving side to side rather than forward
  • Bucking or rearing up
  • Pinned ears
  • Tail tucked under

Boosting Horse Confidence

To help horses overcome avoidant behavior and build their confidence, handlers can take specific measures. One such approach is to start by working with the horse on groundwork to develop their trust and get to know the horse’s individual personality.

Another way to improve confidence is by introducing the horse to progressively more challenging situations and rewarding their successes along the way. Additionally, making use of positive reinforcement techniques can go a long way in building the horse’s self-assurance.

Importance of Repetition

Repetition is key to building a horse’s understanding of a particular task or cue. It’s important to keep going over the same concepts until the horse has them down pat.

But repetition should also be balanced with breaks and periods of rest to avoid overworking the horse. While repetition can be boring to handlers, it’s important to remember that horses are creatures of habit and adapt slower to changes.

As such, repetition is crucial in horse training for creating a long-lasting understanding of particular skills.

Being Confident as a Handler

It’s just as important for handlers to have confidence as it is for the horse to build their confidence levels. When the handler isn’t feeling confident, it sends negative signals to the horse and makes it harder for them to trust the handler.

One way for handlers to build confidence is to focus on their own knowledge and skills. By taking time to learn, practice and develop their own abilities, handlers can project this confidence to the horse, helping to make them feel more at ease.

In conclusion, recognizing and addressing the signs of frustration and avoidance is key to developing trust and communication with horses. By taking time to be attuned to the horse’s behavior, allowing space for individual horse training, rewarding small tries, and building handler confidence levels, we can create positive and comfortable learning environments that give horses the confidence they need to succeed.

In summary, effective communication is essential when working with horses. Signs of frustration and avoidance need to be addressed to develop a positive relationship with the horse.

Taking it slow, rewarding small efforts, and repetition help build the necessary skills. Yielding to pressure and pressure release techniques can reduce fighting pressure.

Handlers can boost horse confidence through equine training and being confident themselves. Creating a positive and comfortable learning environment gives the horse the confidence they need to succeed.


1. What are the signs of frustration in horses?

Signs of frustration include tail swishing, pawing, snapping or biting, and refusal to move forward.

2. How can I address avoidant behavior in my horse?

You can address avoidance behavior by taking the time to understand your horse’s personality, working on their trust through groundwork, and rewarding them for successes along the way.

3. How important are repetition and taking it slow in horse training?

Repetition and taking it slow are essential in horse training as they help build a horse’s confidence, understanding of a task or cue, and avoid frustration.

4. How can handlers boost horse confidence?

Handlers can boost horse confidence through equine training such as progressive challenges and positive reinforcement techniques.

Additionally, by being confident themselves, they project positive energy to the horse, which helps create a comfortable learning environment.

5. How important is effective communication in horse riding?

Effective communication is essential when working with horses.

It helps ensure the horse responds appropriately to cues and builds trust and teamwork. When the horse is comfortable and confident with their handler, they perform better.

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