Archives MAIN PAGE

Franklin Levinson's

Horse Help Center

Professional support for you and your horse!

ain't Misbehavin'

Hi Franklin,

We have an 8 year old New forest pony at our stables. He's very friendly, loves seeing people and is perfectly fine on the lead rein (good with the farrier, good in traffic, easily caught from field). However, when he is being ridden, he becomes very difficult. He refuses to walk on at he front of a ride unless on the lead rein (in the school or on rides out). When he is kicked and encouraged to move forward he backs up, and just the slightest touch of the whip makes him kick out and buck.

As he's a riding school pony, he gets ridden about 3-4 hours a day by young children and teenagers (adults on rare occasions). He is not a naturally lazy horse as on rides out he will even gallop to his hearts content without need of any aid from the rider. My instructor says he picks and chooses when to misbehave, as he will move forward nicely when we start jumping, and he behaves for younger, lighter riders better. What can we do to stop him misbehaving?

Thank you.


To change what is happening for this horse means to change a paradigm and belief system held by the humans dealing with it. I find that the paradigm that horses intentionally go against the wishes of a human, misbehave, are stubborn, willful, have their own minds, on and on is a HUGE misunderstanding of the nature of horses. The horse has FEAR. This is the issue and the reason for the behavior. The mindset that the animal is misbehaving to intentionally go against the wishes of the human is absurd. Judging the animal in this way is ridicules as it is not a human and should not be judged the way we judge “bad” humans, or children who misbehave. The animal is afraid in specific circumstances and not so afraid in others. This seems to be very difficult for many that I know to accept as they wish to pass responsibility off themselves, their training methods, what the horse does, the routine, their life long held beliefs about horses, on and on...and put the responsibility on the animal. Its like having a fearful child and punishing it because it is afraid and making it the child’s fault that it is afraid.

Too many bad riders are making this animal fearful of unpleasant experiences (even pain) when it is ridden by those riders. To remedy this have very good riders gently school this horse beginning with elementary exercises such as very basic beginning schooling under saddle. After some weeks of this when the animals seems to be going smoothly and unafraid (especially not resisting forward movement) when asked to move out a bit, put it on a lunge line with a good rider and lunge the horse with the good rider on it. Quietly asking for speed transitions up and down with lots of stops as reward for compliance and effort.

If we attempt to push a horse through its fear, what we are saying is be more afraid of me than whatever else is out there you are afraid of. Please tell me how that makes sense? Use only positive reinforcement and never negative reinforcement. Stop trying to force the issue! Take responsibility for what is happening and change something to make it good for the horse. Stop putting crappy riders on this horse for a while until it begins to trust its riders and then it will be more tolerant of an occasional novice. Another option is to go way back to the beginnings of being started under saddle and do it all again, but this time do it better. Take several months and give the horse another chance at a good start.......Horses are like dance partners who are good dancers. If you were such a dancer and began having crappy dance partners who stepped on your toes and kicked your shins, you would back up too.. BTW, there is no quick fix. Time, patience, skill, compassion, great leadership and excellent communication coupled with lots of reward for effort. One more thing, if he is worse with heavier riders check his back for pain and make certain the saddle is just right and that the bit is correct. Not putting heavy riders on the horse is a good idea it would seem..Good Luck.

Sincerely, Franklin

Look for: