How much motivation does a horse need?

How much motivation does a horse need? foal ignored subtle cues

That depends on the horse.

I was sure Maggie was a bad mother. Maggie was gentle with Newt at first but by the time he was a month old Maggie was removing small clumps of hair with her ‘corrections’. By the time Newt was three months old he had scabs from her constant reminders to respect her space. I questioned Maggie’s motherly instincts…but after he was weaned the same treatment was continued by the other horses. If a dominant horse wanted to move Newt it often took repeated bites or kicks to move him. Newt wasn’t aggressive…he just didn’t seem to perceive pain at the same level as other horses. He would stand and take the kicks with a pleasant, slightly confused, look on his face. Motivating Newt was clearly going to be a challenge…as evidenced from birth. some horses ignore subtle cues

Just as each person, dog, cat and horse is unique in personality-they are also unique in their perception of pressure. Newt showed from birth that he was willing to handle more physical pressure than the average horse. Does that mean that his mother was mean? Or that she used as much pressure as was necessary? I think only Newt could accurately answer that question.

One horse may respond to the subtle squeeze of a riders leg, while another may choose to ignore it.

How do we know how much pressure is correct for each horse?

By asking each horse.

Because by learning to read their body language the horse will tell you whether a bit is too big or if he will happily ignore it, or if the hand was too quick, or if he needs the lesson repeated again because he isn’t clear.

A horse will tell you a lot if you know how to listen….or you could also ask their mother.

Mustang stallion displays his battle scars...scars he thought were worth fighting for.

Mustang stallion displays his battle scars…scars that, in his opinion,  were worth fighting for.


  1. […] How much motivation does a horse need? That largely depends on the horses commitment or outlook on his job. Consider the horse as an employee for a moment; […]

  2. Carlye Cebul on March 12, 2014 at 9:06 am

    This is anew question but not sure where to ask it. How would you handle a horse or in this case a tiny mini that wants to nip at you . And he is serious. Much like a real cinchy horse. Thoughts ? Thank you. Carlye

    Sent from my iPad.


    • Stacy on March 13, 2014 at 12:05 pm

      Carlye-Can you send me some photos of the little guy in question? I would like to write a blog about it.

  3. Annette on March 11, 2014 at 11:47 pm

    Not sure I completely agree with this since sometimes there is a health or mental or physical issue that impares the horse from responding in a healthy manor. I have a horse with physical injuries and abuse issues that responds well to pressure under saddle with someone he has learned to trust but he had issues with dead nerves so couldn’t feel pressure from horses and would take a kick cause he couldn’t feel the more subtle warnings. He is learning to watch instead of relying on feeling but…if he was left to deal only with the school of hard knocks he would be dead by now (he is only 3). I have learned from my experience that when a horse is not responding maybe there are reasons unknown. (took me more than 6 months to find out about the dead nerves or pinched nerves and another year to work on the healing…we are still working on it even now).

  4. Jodi C. on March 11, 2014 at 3:22 pm

    Ah! Good to see my own observations validated. Yankee is such a horse, he will completely ignore lesser correction if he feels like it – he has a very high pain tolerance. It has taken a lot of patience, and requests/corrections that felt like borderline abuse (well, felt like it anyway!), to get him to a point that he’ll respond to less pressure.

    I know he can feel it, because when he’s responsive, he’ll practically respond to a thought.

    The hardest part is still trying to lunge him when he isn’t in the mood. Sometimes I think I could use a cat’o’9’tails on him (not that I ever would!!!) and he’d just stand there. Still working on alternate ways to motivate him to MOVE when I ask.

    • Stacy on March 11, 2014 at 9:34 pm

      Jodi- I do agree that eventually when they get it they can be great…that is what I’m hoping and working for with Newt.

  5. James Moore on March 11, 2014 at 12:29 pm

    how about a horse that is over sensitive? I got a mare that by nature is reactive. The previous owners used spurs for barrel racing. One minor touch from my leg sends her sideways. She’s great on the trail where she’s confident: goes anywhere.

    • Stacy on March 11, 2014 at 9:35 pm

      James-I think it works both ways, observe, observe, observe.

  6. Karen on March 11, 2014 at 12:08 pm

    Very, very good points. Not all horses are the same, and not all horses fit all riders. I had a gelding like Newt and I had to be so hard on him to keep him light that I didn’t like riding him, as I tend to lean towards being too nice to my horses. That gelding would not listen to leg, unless you used leg, then immediate hard spur. He would take a soft roll of the spur up his ribcage all day as a normal cue. It took much harder reinforcement to get him to respect the more subtle cue. I have another gelding who does not like being handled by hands and legs, so listens to seat, weight and breathing cues to avoid leg and hand. He can be a fun ride, but we have to work on anticipation problems and softly accepting some physical handling. It was quite a challenge to adapt my riding when I was riding both on the same days.

  7. Julia on March 11, 2014 at 11:49 am

    What a wonderful reminder! I’m often reminded when dealing with my horses that one technique does not fit all – much like raising kids. This is why I try so hard never to act like I know “the answer” because sure enough another horse will come along and turn that idea over on its head when I forget and think I’ve got it all figured out 🙂

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