If your horse is willing to say 'NO' somewhere it should be a red flag.

When I was young I belonged to a contesting club. We ran all kinds of speed events including barrel racing, pole bending and more. It was common, back then, for horses to refuse to go into the show pen. Maybe even more interesting…it was not only common, it was also accepted.

red flagOver all the years that I have trained horses, I have noticed that horses often go through many of the stages that children do when learning. With a human child we understand that there is a stage where ‘no’ is their favorite word. We also understand that as teenagers develop they will often push and test authority as they develop a stronger sense of who they are.

I think horses go through many of these stages too.

The biggest difference that I see is that we adults would not trust a defiant and testy child with things of high value. Yet, through a lack of knowledge or ability to recognize the issue many adults climb onto horses who are defiant and testy….trusting them with our lives.

No person, or horse, or dog is perfect but we should be aware that a willingness to defiantly say ‘NO’ should be considered a red flag.

What does the red flag point to? It could be many things; immaturity, lack of understanding, a questioning of authority, soreness or more. The first step in figuring out what is going on is to acknowledge the red flag.



  1. Diane Cotterman on June 29, 2015 at 4:42 pm

    I do agree with you

  2. RosieB on May 19, 2015 at 6:04 am

    Thanks Stacey so much for this post. The more I learn, the more I see how the ‘little’ things can mean soo much and later add up to the ‘big’ problems. Young horses especially go through stages as they grow, just like children – learning to recognise a ‘no’ and potential problems as they arise then correcting them at the time becomes key to developing a well trained horse. Of course if they didn’t ‘ask questions’ along the way, we would never be able to train them in the first place.

  3. Sarah on May 17, 2015 at 6:45 am

    Thanks Stacey for this post!
    I find the ‘why’ is a very important question. Yes, horses push boundaries but way more often I can see people assuming their horse is disobeying when it just does not have an understanding of the task. So, I find it very important to ask why is the horse not doing what I want and I think in most cases it is a lack of training, especially when there is already a good relationship established on the ground.

  4. Jennifer Clements on May 15, 2015 at 6:42 pm

    a few years ago my daughter and I where headed home from a long trail ride, it was late and we where pushing the horses to make up some time. The trail was a familiar one, used often, a wide snowmobile trail/woodcutting road all grassed in with sturdy bridges and both horses used to cross country jump courses. Well we came to the last small bridge and my old gelding gave me a 15 minute argument about crossing a bridge we had literally crossed a thousand times!! I was a bit put out that he wouldn’t go, and I didn’t want to cross the stream in the fading light. Needless to say when I “won” it did not turn out very well….we got nearly to the other side when I spotted a huge hole in the floor and by that time we where crashing through the planks. Luckily it was not far to the ground on that side and he gained his footing and was able to scramble onto the bank with some gentle clucking and much breaking of wood. In the end he was lame for a couple of days, got some abrasions on his rear legs, and scared me out of my wits thinking I had just fatally injured my best friend! We all got home, doctored him up under the flood lights with the help of kind neighbors who called the barn ahead for us. In hind sight I should have listened more when he said NO so emphatically…he knew he was on his way home and was earlier flying along. I pay more attention to his body language now for sure!! He is pushing 30 years old and still amazing in the woods!

  5. carol haylett on May 15, 2015 at 6:09 pm

    dear stacy, your reasons for refusals to enter the game ring might be valid, but by my observation, when I have seen this in the gamers, there is often more. lack of thorough training in pattern work, pushing the horse to do something it finds painful and unpleasant, that it has not been trained for. the speed is all important. the horses no longer enjoy it. they are pushed and led in, turned loose, then spurred and beat with crops and scatbacks for every turn, then thoroughly beat for the run for home! the horse hates this excessive punishment for something they don’t know what they did wrong. and some of these riders only specialize in the speed events. they never do slow work, trail rides , pleasure , or anything calmer with the horse. is it any wonder that the horse is wringing it’s tail, rearing, backing up to avoid it , running through the fence, and even flipping over backwards. when they are ruined completely, they are sold for a new victim to beat again, and most often the gamers are something no one wants as too wild and are sold for meat. and I’m speaking from someone who has had our kids with all around horses. yes, they did games, but they also trail rode almost every day, did pleasure classes, drove their horses, did pleasure, equitation, trail classes, etc. their horses loved them and did it all with pleasure! they were never whipped to run, nor spurred. they practiced , learned the patterns, and enjoyed themselves. they did break and out, bareback classes and genuine pleasure, and we had them until they died. no pawning off the wild horse no one wanted, nor could no longer control.

  6. pattihughes on May 15, 2015 at 3:52 pm

    My horse won’t let anyone ride – he will weave, sander, charge, crow hop. He can tell exactly how much it takes to get that person off his back. Excellent ground manners. He’s for sale.

  7. Vicki DeMull on May 15, 2015 at 3:42 pm

    I have a really super smart Arabian. I bred him, and trained him myself. He had never used an automatic waterer before, so the gal at the new barn who showed him how to use it, would press on the bar along the back/top of the waterer, instead of the paddle in the bottom of the waterer bowl, to show him how to fill it…….she showed him this process for about 5 minutes, for the rest of his time in that barn, he would patiently press on the bar on the back, fill the bowl, drink it, and repeat until he drank his fill! LOL

    I’d sold him at the age of 10, to a professional riding instructor, to use as a school horse. She used what she called positive reinforcement to “train” her horses. When I sold him, I could just walk up to the back of a trailer, throw the leadrope over him, and he would load himself. She had him for 2 years, and I bought him back from her.

    When I went to pick him up, she said he doesn’t load very well, I know you’ve had a long drive, my assistant will load him for you. I just shrugged and said ummmmm, okay?!?!?! Her assistant trainer came out with him, and she had a “fanny pack” hanging off her side. As they walked towards the trailer, he paused about 25 feet out, then stepped forward a few steps, and got a treat out of the fannypack. he did that all the way to the back of the trailer, then pinned his ears, and all but ran backwards about 50 feet, returning to the trailer about 3 or 4 steps at a time, getting treats all the way! LMAO he did that several times. I’d driven 7 hours straight through to come get him, so I just sat on the bench and watched for a bit, while I rested from driving through the California crazy traffic.

    When the assistant’s fanny pack was empty, she asked if I would hold onto him, while she went for a refill. I said sure, and as she walked away, I slipped a stud chain over his gums so he wouldn’t be able to run backwards on me, walked up to the back of the trailer, just shook the chain a little to remind him it was there, threw the rope over him, and watched him load himself! LOL

    He had obviously learned to say no, until they refilled the fanny packs! He’d never said no before them, and he’s not said no since he’s been back with me for 6 years now.

    • Rebecca G on May 15, 2015 at 3:48 pm

      It’s so amazing how horses can train people lol

  8. jeaninerenzoni on May 15, 2015 at 2:29 pm

    All the ‘don’t wanna, don’t have to’ moments are keys for awareness that something isn’t right … that the training, understanding, health, comfort … something isn’t right, isn’t ready, isn’t accepted. As trainers, being aware early is the best way to deal with little fixes instead of big issues. The only thing that I think is off about this blog is the defiantly no statement (defiant seems to bring a strident judgement in about the source – defiance is usually met with force or retreated from in fear, but maybe that wouldn’t be the best answer or the way to categorize a NO). Although coming up with a big NO means we missed resolving a whole lot of little no’s.

  9. Daniela on May 15, 2015 at 1:26 pm

    A willing horse is a safe horse. If a young horse is not ready to let you on his back you must respect that I believe. Respect a horse when he says no.

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