Is my horse paying enough attention? How focused should my horse be while I am riding?

“Stacy-When I am riding my horse at home, I notice that she is watching other things while I am riding. She isn’t doing anything wrong, but she appears to watch people walking around even when I am loping. I am preparing to show her and I am concerned that she isn’t really  focused on me. What should I do? Should I be concerned?” Linda Y.

Having a confident, relaxed and attentive horse is a balancing act.

Ideally, the horse is confident and relaxed as we ride…but some horses will go a little too far and move towards ignoring the rider.

Other times, it is possible to see horses that are attentive to the rider…to the point where they no longer look relaxed and confident. These horses may have all the ‘right answers’ but they also appear intimidated…the opposite of relaxed and confident.It is very possible for the horse to be attentive to you and be aware of her surroundings. In fact, this is ideally what I want. Stacy Westfall

When you are working with your horse at home and you can tell she is watching or aware of other things going on, it is not necessarily a problem. It would be a problem if she doesn’t notice your cues or ignores you because of her lack of focus. The only way to know if this is the case is to ‘test’ her. The next time you notice that she is watching something else, ask her to make a transition. If you are jogging, ask her to walk. Did she hesitate or was she sharp? If she was responsive then you’re fine, if she didn’t pick up on your cues easily because she was distracted then you will know she is truly not focused on you.

It is very possible for the horse to be attentive to you and be aware of her surroundings. In fact, this is ideally what I want. I love watching Roxy’s body language during the bareback and bridleless ride because it is so easy to watch her switch her attention. When I am walking into the arena it is easy to see that Roxy is watching the crowd; her ears are flicking around, and she is looking around with her head and neck.

However, when I ask for her to do something more intense, she quickly and seamlessly switches her focus back to me. Watch her ears when I ask for the spin or when I run my fast circles, Roxy pulls them both back tight as a sign that she is very focused. Then when I back off, she relaxes them again…look at her, she is watching the crowd with both her eyes and her ears during all of my slower maneuvers.

Roxy arrived at this point because I use training cycles in my program. During these cycles there are times that I increase my expectations and times that I have fun and enjoy my horse. By cycling through this mental, and physical, training I eventually end up with a horse that can be both very aware and very in tune with me.

Here are links to some other blogs about training cycles:


  1. firnhyde on August 10, 2014 at 12:51 am

    Great, thought-provoking post. Thanks! I think I need to build a little fun time into my horses’ regimes.

  2. Janette on August 9, 2014 at 4:56 pm

    Stacy, all your horses have the perfect expression, as you described. That’s why your my heroine.

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