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Problem: Young horse in training won’t allow himself to be bridled, dances when being saddled, and is otherwise determined to be “fine.” 

Owner states nothing is wrong with the horse, and maintains saddle and bridle fit properly. 

However, the horse is obviously not doing as owner wants and consequently, it is determined that the horse is the problem. What if there are other reasons for a horse to put his head so high a normal person can’t reach him to bridle him? What if he dances while being saddled because he is trying to tell the people something? What if he’s spoiled and allowed to do as he pleases when he chooses? And how do you tell the difference?

Sleuthing: Most people say this particular horse is bad, has no respect, needs a lot of groundwork and then he’ll settle down and “act right,” meaning he will no longer “act up” while in the tacking area. 

But there could be other reasons for his actions and other remedies to help him past the problem. 

Horses only have one way to communicate how they feel and what they think, and they use their bodies and expressions to do so. Motion, to horses translates as complete sentences, if not entire chapters in the horses’ everyday dialogue. The height of the head, the angle of the ears, the swishing of the tail and stomping of hooves all go to show the story, rather than tell it. Other horses understand the cues because, well, they’re horses and the language of motion and stance is all that is usually needed. When horses become vocal, it’s usually to call to each other, or, in extreme cases to scream their discomfort.

This silent language is critical in prey animals who have evolved from the need to communicate as subtly and quietly as possible in order to survive. Imagine a herd animal yelling, “Hey everyone, look, a lion, run left, then turn right up the canyon!” 

Horses communicate using this silent mode and alert one another without shouting their intentions to flee. The problems for humans arise when they, in their equine wisdom try to tell people how they feel, but we do not know how to listen with our eyes. What they are saying and what we hear are two different stories from two different books.         

This horse is telling us something is wrong by not wanting to be tacked up, and this is more than just lack of training, it is his way of telling you that he is distressed. 

Possible Solutions: Since horses do not act out or test, and since they generally don’t have respect issues unless learned, I tend to look for reasons for unwanted behaviour in a way that doesn’t automatically blame the horse.

I always begin by looking at the possible physical issues first, because usually, horses are telling us that something hurts. It can be an emotional hurt, or it can be something in his own body; his teeth, his back, and his legs. You’re looking for pain, lameness, asymmetry. If you cannot see it you need to have a qualified veterinarian come and do an evaluation on him.

Next, check tack fit, including saddle, bit, bridle, saddle pad, etc., you are looking to rule out any pain causing element. Get a trained and qualified saddle fitter, and a trainer to evaluate your tack quality and fit. 

Since this particular horse is very adamant about not being tacked up, my first instinct is to find where he is experiencing pain. I begin by turning him loose in a round pen or arena and watch him move at his own choice of gait before asking for him to walk and trot. I seldom need to canter or lope him to find where the problem may be, as the walk and trot show most of what he’s feeling. 

After watching for what he is feeling and where the source of the pain may be, I may not see anything. I bring the horse into the center and palpate his entire body looking for anything out of the ordinary. I may find heat, swelling, cold spots or nothing, but by looking for trouble spots with my hands, I usually can locate the issue and then deal with it. If I am unable to do that, I call my veterinarian to check other possible problems such as teeth or use of hoof testers to look for internal reasons. I may call the chiropractor if I see anything wonky in his back, pelvis or neck. 

Another main cause of pain is the rider, themselves, and many folks forget to look at themselves, but since we sit on them, we must do so correctly. A rider that does not sit balanced and correctly, has heavy hands, wears and uses spurs but does not have a good independent seat...all these things can cause the horse pain and he is simply expressing that these things hurt or bother him.

A good saddle fitter, a veterinarian, a farrier and a qualified and capable Trainer are essential if you want to keep this horse from slipping through the cracks and ending up at auction, or worse in the slaughter pipeline. Listening to the horse and what he’s telling you is crucial at every step of training, but especially in the beginning. The other option is to make him do what you want and ruin any future relationship beyond his being a horse who has learned to be helpless in order to keep himself safe. He decides to accept the pain he’s in whether it be physical or emotional, rather than get beat up, whether that be physically or emotionally.

Listening is even more important than telling the horse what he must do. Best of luck to you both! If you want to chat, please contact me directly at, or through my website, 

Happy New Year! May 2020 be your best year yet! Here is a copy of the Holiday eMail I sent out, in case you didn’t get yours. Included are four fabulous gifts to help set the right foot forward for this new beginning, and to show my deepest appreciation for your support of the horse!


Ride, love and enjoy your horses, Happily Ever After!

~Tanya Buck

Tanya Buck
Published on 03-01-2020
Tanya Buck is an equine advocate, an author (101 Ways to Die with a Horse or Live Happily Ever After and White Horse, A Novel), horse trainer, coach and riding instructor. And if that list isn't long enough, she is also a member of the Front Range Animal Evacuation Team in Colorado and founder of the Horses Happily Ever After Project. Tanya believes that a holistic approach incorporating the horse's physical, mental and emotional state combined with reciprocal communication is most beneficial in creating the bond of champions. Her ongoing work to better the world for the horse drives her to keep doing what she does!