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How to Ride a Sensitive Horse

Some horses soldier on under any rider in any situation. Other horses are more sensitive, and can get upset at small variations or unfamiliar objects. These horses, also called "high strung" or "cold backed," require more careful and observant handling. Establish trust, project confidence, and remain mindful of the horse's behavior to create a safe working relationship.


  1. Become an experienced rider.An inexperienced rider and a sensitive horse are not likely to get along. Sensitive horses respond to subtle cues and can become agitated if they receive confusing commands or rough handling. If necessary, take lessons with a relaxed animal to improve your riding ability.
  2. Get to know the horse from the ground.Lead the horse from the ground to build trust and identify her personality quirks. Pay attention to nervous behavior such as flinching, jerking away, rapidly pulling her head back, and quick changes of direction. Try to identify the stimuli that trigger these behaviors so you can avoid them in future. The horse's eyes or ears often point to the source of anxiety, usually a nearby object, person or animal, or your own sudden movements.
    • Flared nostrils can be a sign of nerves. Look for nearby triggers, especially sources of strong smells. Note that it is normal for nostrils to flare during hard exercise.
    • Rolling eyes or visible whites are often a sign of severe anger or fear. Immediately move out of kicking or biting range, speak in soothing tones, and lead the horse to a quiet location.
  3. Fit the horse with mild tack.Choose mild, well-fitting tack and place it carefully onto the horse. Follow these steps to ensure the horse's comfort:
    • Make sure the pad of the saddle and the horse's back are clean.
    • Slide the saddle pad into place, smoothing down the hair beneath it.
    • Lift the saddle and place it gently onto the horse. Don't let it flop hard onto the horse.
    • If the horse reacts when you tighten the girth, do it one notch at a time, grooming or petting the horse in between.
    • Make sure the girth is not too tight. You should be able to lift and pull each foreleg forward without pinching the horse's skin.
    • Use a gentle bit, such as an eggbutt snaffle, or any snaffle made from plastic or rubber.
    • Do not use a crop or spurs on a sensitive horse.
  4. Warm up the horse.If the horse tends to resist mounting or buck when you first get on, he may need time to adjust after tacking up. Cinch the saddle loosely and lunge the horse for a few minutes before riding. This should help the horse relax and get the saddle to settle into a more comfortable position.
    • You may skip this step if the horse already seems relaxed and cooperative.
  5. Remain calm and confident.Your seat, hands, and voice communicate your instructions and your attitude. Instruct the horse with light, steady movements, using slight leg and rein pressure. Keep your voice and movements calm and in control, never revealing hesitation, nervous movements, or uncertainty. Give commands confidently but without shouting or angry tones. When the horse obeys, praise her in a happy, affectionate tone of voice.
    • If the horse stops every time you use the reins, you're pulling too hard.
    • If you feel anxious, hum or sing quietly to mask your fears.
  6. Pay attention to the horse's behavior.A relaxed horse keeps his head down, back rounded up beneath you, ears up or slightly back, and tail still. A nervous horse will raise his head, tense his neck, hollow out his back, or lash his tail. React to these signs of anxiety with soothing praise, and by identifying the object or situation causing them. Let the horse take his time to adjust to new situations or investigate an unfamiliar object.

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  • Get help from a professional trainer if you are frightened, if the horse throws you, or if your horse is not safe to ride.
  • If the horse is especially skittish, you may need to walk her for some time before you can ride her safely. Walk the horse frequently in different types of weather to establish trust and get to know her behavior.


  • Relying too much on food rewards may cause the horse to see you as a source of food, rather than a trusted, dominant personality. Praise and affection are more important for a long-term relationship.

Video: Thoughts on Sensitive, Reactive Horses

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Date: 10.12.2018, 14:02 / Views: 35351