What Is A “Problem Horse”?

TrailerLoaded 450x338The horses that I’m describing don’t easily fit into existing training programs or respond to common solutions.  Their behavior may have become destructive, frightening, or dangerous to the point of injuring themselves or a rider/handler.  These horses are often acting out in response to multiple smaller issues and confusions that have compounded over time, which makes the situation a bit more complex to sort out.

The cause is usually a combination of physical, mental, and emotional stressors.  When left unresolved, a physical problem will create emotional stress behaviors or vices.  Likewise, a stress related behavior will create physical tension, unhealthy biomechanics, and eventually unsoundness.

Occasionally, the horses are just “big personalities” with a lot of heart and some idiosyncrasies, and they can be a challenge to get along with.  Many modern breeding programs are turning out extraordinary athletes with intense, unforgiving personalities.  It takes a humble and dedicated rider to find common ground with them, but they’re incredible teachers and fierce competitors for the right partner.

What Do You Do For A “Problem Horse”?

  • 1. EVALUATION   The first thing that I will do is gather information during a sit down with the owner.  Then I’ll observe the owner with the horse.  And finally, I’ll interact with the horse to look for behavioral patterns, as well as any physical issues.  Afterwards, I will provide a written report on my findings and recommendations. 

  • 2. ADDRESS PHYSICAL ISSUES   Routine health care should be current before I see the horse, and a vet should perform a lameness exam if the horse’s soundness or physical comfort is in question. If there are undiagnosed “mystery” physical issues, I generally begin the horse’s rehabilitation with gentle yoga type stretching, Photonic Red Light Therapy, and classical gymnastic exercises that are appropriate for the horse’s level of training.  If the horse responds nicely, I will continue with this approach as we progress through training.  If not, then I may request that the horse see a specialist for chiropractic, body work, dentistry, or hoof re-balancing.

  • 3. TRAINING    I often use clicker training with these horses to keep sessions relaxed, positive, and productive.  The specific training exercises and goals for each horse will be different, but the general goals are the same.  Restore trust, respect & communication with the horse.  Train for skills the horse doesn't have, but needs.  And replace undesirable behaviors with good habits.  None of these horses are in need of more or tougher punishment.  They need more information and better options for getting along.


Mark Jack InField 450x338The owners are included in the rehabilitation training as much as possible from start to finish.  When the owners audit sessions, I explain what I’m finding and how I’m addressing it, as well as the training theory behind it.  As soon as it’s appropriate and safe, I coach the owners as they train the horse along side me. 

Continued support is important, even after the horse returns to the owner’s location.  I usually suggest regular lessons every week or two until the owner is confident continuing on their own.  I make sure that everyone leaves training knowing that they are never alone in the process, and that I’m only a quick call, text, or email away if they have any questions. 

Rehabilitation (of any kind) is an ongoing process and a lifestyle change.  Success requires that the owner actively support the horse's new routines.  It's a big commitment, but the whole process can be quite rewarding for all.

If it is decided that the horse and owner are not a suitable or safe for one another, I can assist in finding them both new partners.

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handsEquestrian Arts Foundation is looking for a few dedicated individuals who are interested in being a part of our vision.  If you have time and/or expertise that you would like to contribute, we would love to hear from you!  Contact Us.