Skip to main content

Alpha Natural Horsemanship

‘Ask with lightness, encourage without forcing, correct with softness’
30 60 90 Days Training
Abuse NeglectRehab Part 1
Abuse NeglectRehab Part 2
Aids & Cues What are they
Assess Diagnose beforeFix
Are all horses trainable
Be safer use a Dummy
Behavior Retraining Tips
Behavior Solving Issues
Buying first Horse Guide
Buying Training Older Hor
Buying a Horse Part 2
Buying a Horse Mismatched
Buying a Horse Selecting
CalmingTrg 1 sided horses
How to Communicate Horses
How horses Communicate
Cycles and Pyramid Trg
Establishing Leadership
Exercises Warm Up
Flexion Lateral
Flexion Proper Training
Flexion Vertical
Foundation GroundTraining
Foundation Mounted
How Horses Learn
Liability Release
Motivating HorsesandMules
Natural Survival Instinct
OTTB Re Education
Overcoming riding fear
Saddle Fitting
Selecting A Trainer
Soft Inside Light Outside
Spurs How to Use them
Teaching Strategy
TRAINING Ask Properly
TrainingGreenRarely Handl
Training Guidelines
Train Outside the Box
Training Principals
Training Pyramid Natural
Transfer GroundworkSaddle
Turning and Neck Reining
Winter Training Workouts

Encouraging Confused Horses

Confusion is an emotion that we do not always allow our horses to feel. When you work with your horse, think about the horse as being always right. Most horses want to please us, so when they respond to a cue, they respond the way they think we want them to. There are many ways to confuse a horse and make it unhappy. In this article I share ideas for understanding our horse better in order to influence him more effectively. This can make the experience of training and/or riding more enjoyable for both of us.

If, however, we’re dead set on confusing a horse and simply making it unhappy, here are sure ways to go about it.


·         Nag, nag, nag:

I don’t mean her/ him, I mean us; when we train and/or ride our horse if we keep pick-pick-picking at it over something. Be like the parents who constantly yells “stop bickering!” at their kids, but never does anything to actually stop the squabbling. If, for example, your horse is lazy and tends not to move out willingly, just keep up a steady bump-bump-bump with your lead on the ground or you leg in the saddle. Don’t accelerate the pressure; that might not get a response that would enable you to reward him by stopping the bumping altogether. Remember, the goal is to make your aid an irritant your horse can’t get away from or learn by, rather than an effective tool of communication.

·         Correct mindlessly:

If your horse misbehaves or fails to do what you ask, do not get after him instantly with a swat or some other punishment. Instead allow the horse to make the mistake as long as it is safe and then correct it. Also you should stop to consider whether you’ve inadvertently asked for the behavior yourself by botching or mistiming a cue. Or your horse is responding to a related pain or discomfort issue that should be resolved before you continue training. You’re the leader; he’s the horse the follower. When a horse displeases us we should not smack him instead you should correct him.

·         Repetitious Exercises and Drills

We must not allow our horse to get bored. Too many horses get bored by repetitious exercises and lessons that are the same thing over and over again. It's important to vary our horse's routine on a regular basis. I have seen many cases of horses going sour from being overworked with too little rest in-between lessons, not enough variation in the patterns and things done in the lessons. Horses learn by repetition, right? Yes but spread over days. Not by doing the same exercise until the cows come home; for example lunging in the same direction for 20 times in a row or doing figure 8s for 20 times in a row. If we do we should be concerned about boredom or soreness or our horse hating his job. It may be fun for some of us but I assure you it is not for our horses.

·         Behavioral Problems - Go for bigger and/or Harsher

Most of us have never really revised the whole subject in our minds, we have simply accepted the traditions as they were passed down to us, and when we encounter usual horse behavioral problems, we often resort to treating the symptoms i.e. by using harsher bits and gadgets, or move on to a 'better' horse because we didn't 'click' with that one. Horse behavioral problems can be seen as a consequence of the horse's mental, physical and emotional state and we must also realize the extent of our personal influence as handlers, trainers and riders. Rather than blaming the horse, we would be more sensible to question why horses so often choose to defend themselves against our demands. Once we know the cause we can replace bad habits with good ones by re educating the horse and ourselves. We also have to be careful not to desensitize easier going horses with our cues. We need to warn with voice and/or body language a horse before we use direct contact to make them to go.

·         Too Quick too Fast

Go slow with a new horse. Take plenty of time to learn all about its - quirks, behavior patterns, learning patterns, what makes that mare or gelding click. Find their special "itchy" spot and love'em up. Help the horse learn to trust you. Establish solid Foundation on the ground and in the saddle. Work up to riding the horse - even if it's used to being ridden every day, that doesn't mean you should just get on and ride away. If it's a new horse to you, a project horse, or a horse that someone else is letting you use, it's important to build the horse's trust in you. Keep in mind that to them, you're just another predator out to get them. Show the horse that you're trustworthy - no quick movements, no harsh words or punishment if the horse doesn't do something exactly the way you're used to. Give everything time. When you get up on the new horse for the first time, let him just stand there under you, get used to the new weight distribution in the saddle (after all, everyone sits a little bit differently). Quietly ask him to move out at a walk, do lots of bending exercises, obstacles, and such. Then move on to a trot, canter and so on.

·         Communication

Communicating with a horse with one way communicate needs to be a two-way commitment. Horses communicate basically with Body Language and express their emotions with movement. We need to listen and learn to read the signals our horse is giving us. We must find ways to hear and understand what he is saying and vice a versa. Horses are reading us all the time; everything we do and say, don’t do and don’t say, will amount to communication with your horse. They hear what you say, even when you don’t say it. They sense how you feel before you do. Pay attention to yourself and the message you’re sending. Communicate your best self to your horse. The negative mood and character qualities you show to your horse will come back to you!


Encouraging a horse to work through confusion is not difficult. There are a few things that we need to be prepared to do in order to help our horse. We need to be aware of his emotional state and I like to do this by watching and acknowledging his expressions, including the look in his eye and his posture. Does he look confused, or angry or scared? If we trust our own instinct about how the horse feels, we can adjust the way we are asking so that we help the horse to be right. The confused horse will be indecisive about what to do; the mad horse will intentionally resist; the scared horse will instinctively react in a way that will ensure his escape. A horse will not stay confused for long before he turns his brain off and quits trying to be correct. If you see indecisive behavior, that is when you need to change the question you are asking and lower your expectations with regard to what you are asking for. Back off and give your horse some time to stop and think. He will either be correct, incorrect or he will do nothing; it could be that in doing nothing he is processing the cue you gave him. Allow him to make the commitment to be right or wrong. The more indecisive he is, the more you may need to change what you are doing. If you do not change you will not get a better answer from him. If confusion is not noticed and allowed to work itself out, we will create increased resistance in the horse. If we have increased resistance, it will be only a matter of time until we have complete refusal. If you are in doubt, don’t get stronger, wait longer.