... but rather what you didn't do.

Photo credit: NBanaszak Photography

Time and again, we find ourselves having the same problem with our horses. We have worked repeatedly on a particular skill only to be faced with the identical issue once more. We try to resolve the situation using tools we already know but to no avail; the same result is obtained, and it isn't the one we are looking for.

We blame ourselves. 

We blame the horse.

We try harder.

We get emotional. Surely, the horse would do what you want if he wanted to please... right?

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Why is he not responding?

And then, we do it all over again. We use the same aids, go through the same exercises, approach the problem from the same angle(s).

Need a Change-Up?

To modify the situation, we need to alter our perspective. The unfortunate part is that often, the change that is needed is not easily accessible or acquired. Sometimes, no matter how hard we try, we simply cannot adjust ourselves in the manner required by the horse, simply due to inexperience or lack of skill.

But that does not alter the fact that the horse needs something we might not be able to give him.

The Essential Instructor

There are so many possible ways to approach a riding problem. Unless we have the opportunity to ride many horses under good instruction for many years, we may not be aware of the approach that is needed for the particular situation our horse is facing. Finding an accurate solution may in fact be impossible for us to reach on your own, especially if the problem is something we have not experienced to date.

Enter the essential instructor: there simply is no other way.

What our horse might need is a completely new perspective. Perhaps we have to learn something new that we would never be able to dream about without the help of an informed instructor.

Practice and Time

Don't kid yourself - new riding skills take time to develop. The necessary change-up may require numerous repetitions until we become proficient and effective enough to be able to change our horse's performance. We need to be content knowing that we are on the right path and that walking the path may take longer than we originally anticipated.

Changing the Rules... Again

Finally, we need to recognize that in changing our own responses to the problem, we are also expecting the horse to change his behavior. Not only will we need to master the new skill, but we also must de-program our horse's responses that WE blueprinted into him, and replace them with new ones. Although we usually find horses to be extraordinarily forgiving and patient, it will nevertheless take time to explain the new rules clearly enough to make changes in his responses.

Listen to Horses

We will know our goals are being achieved by being sensitive to our horse's reactions. If we uncover more tension, insecurity, lamenesses, tail swishing and/or pinned ears, we know we are not quite on the path we are seeking. In contrast, if our horse gives us snorts, bolder, more confident forward strides, strength and roundness and/or soft expressive eyes and ears, we know we are on the right track.

So the next time you get stuck in a rut and don't know what to do, think of what you didn't do, and give that a try!

Finally! The Ultimate Rider-Centered Program!

Ready for something completely different? If you liked what you read here, you might be interested in the new Horse Listening Practice Sessions. 

This is NOT a program where you watch other people's riding lessons. Start working with your horse from Day 1.

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If you enjoyed the above article, you may also want to read the following:

Ten Habits of Competent Riders: This is our most popular post by far. What do great riders have in common that makes them appealing to watch, steadily develop their riding skills and become role models for others to aspire to emulate?

The Dynamic Dependency of Horseback Riding: Why is it that riding can become so difficult at times? In riding, nothing can be done in isolation.

Too Good to be True? Finding Your Horse’s “Happy Place”: Did you know that through riding, you can help your horse achieve a happy, content outlook on life? Sounds ridiculously far-fetched? Too good to be true?

Stepping “Forward” in Horse Riding: The term ‘forward’ is used liberally in horse riding but is often misunderstood.


  1. What a fine post! As one who, B.E.I. (before Essential Instructor), thought I was a good rider, I can’t emphasize enough the value of a good instructor. She made all the difference for my 5 1/2 yr.old Anglo Arab and me. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. There’s a parallel here between riding and writing. When I signed up for a course in writing children’s books, I thought I could write just fine. Again, enter an instructor. I couldn’t believe how very essestial she would turn out to be! I believe my novel for ages 8-12 never would have turned out well without her Essential, to-the-point, very accurate advice. Again, I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. These parallels reinforce my feeling that our horses continually teach us life lessons, if we take it all to heart and act on it.

  2. Another great article and so timely for me 🙂 I have a lesson every week and this week really needed help and answers to questions as I felt over the last few rides my young horse and I were taking steps backwards rather than forward. Our trainer was great, answered the questions, rode and modelled for me, and then watched me ride and instructed. Aside from the original purchase of my big boy, our lessons are the best money spent!

  3. I only recently discovered your blog. I find myself devouring through it at a much faster rate than I can actually process (which is fine! I can go back and re-read the whole thing!). I have a hard time not sharing EVERY article I read. I’m trying not to be that spammy person to my friends. Thanks for the great reading!! You keep hitting the nail right on the head!