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Signs of a Disrespectful Horse: Don’t Muddy the Water

In this article, we explore the Signs of a Disrespectful Horse: Don’t Muddy the Water. The concept of “Muddying the Water,” is a metaphor that represents the often clouded judgment we encounter while addressing challenges with our horses. It’s common to ascribe these issues to either physical pain or a gap in training, but recognizing a potential lack of respect can mark a pivotal moment in our journey. This insight necessitates a deep introspection and a readiness to modify both our techniques and mindset. By acknowledging that the key to a solution may rest in our own approach, we pave the way for a deeper, more meaningful connection with our horses. Clear the murky waters of misunderstanding, embrace the enlightenment that comes with self-improvement, and foster a relationship with our horses that’s based on mutual respect and harmony.

Here are some examples of “Muddying the Water.”

1. Refusal to Turn Left: The horse points its head up and pulls against the rider’s hands steering in either direction.

2. Reluctance to Enter the Trailer: Some people continually have loading problems while some people never have loading problems.
  • Unlikely Causes: Past trauma associated with trailers, claustrophobia, unfamiliarity with the specific trailer. Many people that I work with who have trailer loading issues say that the horse had a “bad experience”.
  • Most Likely Cause: Insufficient and improper ground training, not just trailer training. This leads to a lack of willingness to do what the handler is asking for. The real answer isn’t that the horse had a bad trailer experience, it is a poor leader experience. I address these leadership skills in, Trailer Loading and Addressing Common Problems.
3. Shying Away from Obstacles: Horse not wanting to go past even non-scary objects.
  • Unlikely Causes: Poor eyesight, negative experiences with similar obstacles in the past, fear of specific materials or colors. Go ahead and spend the money getting your horse’s eyes checked if that makes you feel better. Then become the leader that your horse needs you to be.
  • Most Likely Cause: Inadequate leadership, leading to uncertainty and fear.  We expect our horses to do as we ask. Your horse is not going to be willing to do that if you have already demonstrated that you are a poor decision-maker. I address how to fix this in the article, Building Trust and Confidence With Your Spooky Horse.

4. Agitation When Saddled: Get fidgety when the saddle comes out.

  • Unlikely Causes: Poor fitting saddle leading to deep-seated behavioral problems, traumatic past experiences with saddling, and general dislike of work.
  • Most Likely Cause: Anxiety about being put into a position where he is expected to do as the rider directs but he knows that the rider is a poor leader. Imagine if your boss at work repetitively puts you in a position where you fear for your life. You would have anxiety about going to work too. The other possibility here is the horse is only green broke to the saddle. Training has not advanced to a point where the horse is comfortable with the saddle. The rider should be able to quickly rule this out with knowledge of the horse’s past riding history.

5. Reluctance to Canter: Goes into a fast trot but does not want to transition to a canter.

  • Unlikely Causes: Subtle lameness, internal health issues, or unbalanced and unable to transition.
  • Most Likely Cause: Lack of foundational training and using the back end to transition is a close 2nd. The most common reason with fit horses is trauma to the mouth, either in the transition or in the canter. Most often the rider is unbalanced. When the horse transitions to the canter, the rider pulls on the horse’s mouth for balance and the horse does not get any release from the pressure.

6. Nipping or Biting During Grooming: The horse is biting at the rider while they are grooming the horse.

  • Unlikely Causes: Innate aggressive behavior, dominance issues, grooming tool allergies.
  • Most Likely Cause: Horses that are heavily worked can have ulcers. That is not usually the problem with most horses. With most horses, this is just blatant disrespect for the rider. The horse is not happy. They want to push away the rider just as the horse would show dominance and move another horse in the pasture. You start to fix this with groundwork as I address in Groundwork for respect.

These are just 6 examples of situations where the rider tries to “Muddy the Water” of the behavior that the horse is showing. That way they can make the behavior something that does not reflect poorly on the rider/owner. One of my favorite quotes of all time is from the movie The Horse Whisperer. Annie: I’ve heard you help people with horse problems. Tom Booker: Truth is, I help horses with people problems. Work on improving your ability to help your own horse with their “people problems.”

The journey through the realms of horse training and riding is as much about personal growth as it is about equine development. “Muddying the Water” is a metaphor for the clouded judgment we often face when diagnosing problems with our horses. While it’s easier to attribute issues to pain or lack of training, embracing the possibility of a lack of respect can be a transformative step. This realization calls for introspection and a willingness to adapt our techniques and attitudes. In acknowledging that the solution might lie within our own approach, we open a pathway to a more profound and effective relationship with our horses. Let’s clear the muddy waters and embrace the clarity that comes with self-improvement.

There are 3 Rules in Horse Training and sometimes it’s us that needs the work. My horse training journey has brought me from winning world titles to now trying to make every horse the best they can be and to help you to improve your equestrian knowledge.

2 thoughts on “Signs of a Disrespectful Horse: Don’t Muddy the Water”

  1. I have a question. I have a yearling fillie that I admit I have not spent much time with. she is in the pasture with 6 other horses but every morning, comes into the barn and in a stall to be fed some feed. She enters the stall just fine but when I enter with her feed, she lays her ears back. I make her (by voice and motion with my hand) to get back, which she does but she lays her ears back until I give her the feed. Im perplexed by this as I would think she would react with her ears up and excited to be fed but for some reason she wants to try to intimadate me. How should I stop this? Refuse to feed her grain or some other way?

    1. To her she is running you off of her feed just like one horse runs another off. When I have one that does that I dump their feed but don’t let them eat until I get nice ears.

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