walking beside
Photo Credit: NBanaszak Photo

Do you sometimes wonder if what you are doing with the horse is beneficial to him? Are you occasionally unsure of how well your riding/training program is going?

One of the surest ways to know if you are  being helpful to your horse (with your riding) is to listen to your horse. If you know how to interpret his signs and communications, all your questions will essentially be answered, especially in terms of how well your ride is going.

Are you following your horse's movement?

Are you asking for/allowing enough impulsion?

Do you "commit" your body to the forward motion you're asking for?

HL Five Years
HL Bundle
HL Goal Setting
HL Book 3
HL Book 2
HL Book 1

Is the horse learning to/allowed to stretch over the topline so he can more effectively use his musculature to carry you?

These questions (and more) can be answered by correctly reading the horse's responses to your requests. Although many of these signs can be seen from the ground or during groundwork, the advantage of these horsey "yes answers" is that they can be identified while you ride. Here are some ways to know if you are on the right track:

- the horse gives an emphatic snort.

- the horse licks and chews through the movement.

- the horse is calmer at the end of the ride than he was at the beginning.

- the horse's topline looks fuller, even just moments after the ride.

- the horse's stride becomes longer, bouncier and more cadenced.

- the horse bends deeper with less rein aid.

- movements come easier after a few repetitions.

- the horse reaches higher/wider/longer with the hind end.

- the eyes get soft.

- the horse's expression is calm.

- the horse's ears fall (of sometimes flop) gently to the side unless he is "listening" to your aids, at which point the ear will momentarily come back to you.

- the horse softens his poll/jaw upon contact.

- transitions come easily.

- bends and turns are softly negotiated.

- he can stay straighter in his body while moving on or off the rail.

- the horse engages his hind end quickly and easily without tensing or bracing through the additional energy.

- the back becomes softer, especially in the trot.

- the tail lifts slightly during movement.

- the hind legs track up or overttrack.

- the horse's overall body outline rounds rather than hollows.

There must be many other ways to know how your riding or ground work is going. Please add your tips in the comment section below.

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.

Click here to read more and to join one of the most complete programs on the Internet!


Horse Listening

Don’t miss a single issue of Horse Listening! If you like what you are reading, become a subscriber and receive updates when new Horse Listening articles are published!  Your email address will not be used on any other distribution list. Subscribe to Horse Listening by Email

Buy the book for many more riding tips! Horse Listening – The Book: Stepping Forward to Effective Riding

Available as an eBook or paperback.

Horse Listening The Book
Click to learn more.


Other articles you might enjoy:

Why You Don’t Need to Panic When Your Horse ‘Falls Apart’: Even if you are not thinking “panic”, your body might be communicating it by either being completely passive or too reactive after the horse is off balance.

When Good Riding Instruction Becomes Great:  How much can an instructor really do to help a rider improve?

5 Steps to Effective Short Reins: Just as with any other movement and technique that is taught to horses, short reins can be very beneficial to the horse when applied correctly.

Find the Space Between the Give and Take in Horse Riding: As with so many other things in life, we need to find the happy medium.

16 Ways to Not Become Bored During Your Ride: Here is a list of just a few ideas to keep ring riding fresh and interesting for both you and your horse.


  1. Love it! When I first started dressage training with a trainer, I got excited the first time my Girl’s ears went floppy–I blurted, “Look! She’s got Dressage ears! We got it!” I was fortunate to find a trainer from Europe, Old-School, emphasis on getting the horse to stretch and relax and USE herself. Not bend at the poll, bend at the poll…The word dressage means “to train” but with the emphasis on physical–as in calisthenic–work. I’m happy I stumbled on this blog:> Oh yea, in Germany, the relaxed lifting of the tail and it’s resulting sway in cadence with the horse’s stride is called “anschlungen” (not sure of spelling) it means “to swing”. Since the tail is the continuation of the horse’s spine, this is a good indicator of the horse’s preparation to start “work”.

  2. Just had a lesson yesterday, and my gelding had 12 of twenty, that I clearly remember (might have been more). I finally started to understand the outside rein (rather than doing it by rote), and he appreciated the direction. I’m so glad to have found a trainer that works for the well-being of the horse (and her students still win shows!).

  3. Sometimes overall improvement cannot be measured on a daily or even weekly basis. I often ask ” is your riding relationship better than it was a month ago? 3 months ago? 6 months ago? Often because horses are their own entity, they are better or worse on any given day depending on a multitude of factors. To me, sustained improvement is measured over time and is developed with patience and consistency no matter the riding discipline.

    1. Improvement is something different though then being able to help your horse relax in the process. That is something you can see immediatly. The improvement in results will come with training but every moment in the training you.can make it so that your horse can enjoy the process… Or.not.

  4. This is what I tell my students…about every three months step back and ask yourself three questions.
    1. Is my horse becoming physically more beautiful? Good training makes beautiful bodies.
    2. Are my horses gaits becoming better? Good training improves every horses gaits…bigger, freer, loftier.
    3. Is my horse becoming more submissive. Good training makes a horse more cooperative as they understand their job, and feel able to do it with increasing ease.
    If you can answer yes to all three questions…congratulations. Now, keep going.
    If you cannot answer yes to all three questions…it’s time to make a new plan.
    Hope that helps.

  5. In the above article about how a horse benefits from a workout. It mentioned licking and chewing. What I want to know is with so many people using a flash noseband, how does a horse lick and chew with a flash caveson? Doesn’t using a flash inhibit the communication between horse and rider?

    1. No using a flash just adds a little more communication so the horse cannot as easily evade the bit by opening their mouths TOO wide. Having a flash does not completely inhibit their mouths from opening they can still lick and chew and stick their tounges out with it on. If it held their mouth completely closed it would mean that it’s too tight and it would also not allow movement of the bit in the mouth which you need to help get their neck and jaw looser and more comfortable.

    2. you are correct; the flash masks what is a training issue by forcing the horse to keep its mouth shut. the flash is far overused, especially in dressage. it is interesting to note that it is almost impossible to find a bridle designated for dressage that does not have either a flash or a crank nose band. modern dressage has unfortunately become about force.

  6. Very nice! I know when my horse asks to be ridden it means I am doing a good job, she will stand still or move closer to be saddled/bridled. Will come willingly to the arena and to the mounting block moving towards me to say “get on”. when I make a request she is ready ,waiting and listening, she will always give me a try/yes unless my request is incorrect then she will let me know ” you didn t ask right!” When I get off I untack her and she follows me with a soft look in her eyes. She is very relaxed after work but never dripping with sweat, I feel a connection with her and like we have shared doing a good job TOGETHER those are the best times.

  7. My horse’s temperament improves after a ride. Often before a ride, my mare can be a bit snarky and will try to bite. After a ride, she is sweet, mellow and relaxed.

  8. All of above of the ones I understand plus my horse is not at ease really until she groans. She is braces so….but it’s a sure sign she’s lost her tension, which I feel is emotional, when she groans. Some groans are more alarming than others.