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Classical Naturally Blog

Low-Energy "Dominant" Horses

This is the horse who "won't go" and often bucks instead of going forward.  This horse gets called "disrespectful, lazy, grumpy, dominant, aggressive, or mean".  But those descriptions really don't capture what's going on for this horse.  In THEIR mind THEY are the boss, and they're wondering what they have to do to get a little respect.  So, how do you give them a demotion and still have them happy to work for you, since you're supposed to be the leader?  It's not as hard as you think.  Every leader respects a good leader.  Give him a job, get out of his way, hold him accountable, and reward good work!  


This horse doesn’t respond to being treated like a slave or prisoner. “Making” them do things will have them offering you the least effort possible, even if it kills them.  They'll never willingly offer you anything again.  They're usually pretty confident and just get aggressive in response to abusive pressure from people.  Don't make them your enemy.  Make them a happy employee.  Use incentives to motivate them.  It’s not bribery to give this horse food treats, because they have to work for it first.  It's good pay for good work. …treats, grazing, rest breaks, scratches, etc. are all acceptable pay for this horse.


Use hard boundaries to keep your status as leader. ...Especially with personal space.  You can be very clear about what's acceptable and what's not, and this horse won't take offense.  Deliver fair consequences when they cross the line and fair rewards when they succeed.  They appreciate clear, direct feedback.


This horse loves to use their mind and be efficient with their energy.  Start your sessions with low-energy mental puzzles, like obstacles, tricks, Spanish Walk, or Liberty.   Do lots of different activities to keep them engaged and putting effort into training. When they get something right, move on to another task. You don't need to drill this horse.  They are wired to have a job, and they're great at ranch work, mounted police, competitive trail, or therapy work.


Use straight lines and open spaces to inspire more forward energy from them.  If you want good impulsion from this horse, you're going to have to get out of the arena once in awhile.  They don't see the point in circles.


Don't make a habit of punishing this horse.  Give them something to work FOR, not pressure to avoid.  These horses are natural leaders and become masters of intimidation if they start to dislike people.


Don't constantly push or "nag" this horse with pressure.  They'll start bulking, bucking, tail swishing, and ear pinning.  These are the horses that are smart enough to rub people off on fences, trees, and rolling on the ground.  INSTEAD, do the opposite of what they expect. Ask them to go slower and add more quality to the task you're working on.  Energize them through short, bursts of focused effort followed by rewards.


 Don’t use repetition. This also kills motivation in this horse.  If you need lots of practice doing something as a rider, maybe practice it as you're hacking out or going on a trail ride.  Find a compromise.


Don’t allow this horse to come into your space uninvited or with a grumpy face. Back them away or send them away until they ask politely to join you.  They will ask you every now and then if you're sure that you're still the boss.


Don’t assume they have no energy. They’re just waiting for something worthwhile to do with a partner who gets them.  I've had a LOT of these horses in training that have come to me as problem horses.  It's really hard for people to set aside their ego and reward a horse who is dominant.  And at the same time, people have very little trouble turning to some pretty harsh punishments.  You can't win a war with these horses.  You have to take over and demote them, but then show them some respect as a good working partner. 


Take on a mindset of being A TRUE PARTNER. (But you keep the deciding vote!)

Treat them in a way that allows them to keep their dignity and feel valuable, even though they defer to you. Give them a job that lets them show their value, stay out of their way, but hold them accountable through feedback & consequences. Most of all RECOGNIZE & REWARD their good work. Horses feel appreciation, and it motivates them to work harder, just like us! 

Happy Training!

University of Equestrian Arts

A "skill-building" approach to horsemanship education that focuses on heart-centered, evidence-based training for horses & riders of all disciplines and all levels. 

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