Horse Problems Australia
Post Office Box 1361,
Victor Harbor, SA. 5211




by John O'Leary


We think that we are the only ones doing the assessing during the relationship with the horse but I can assure you that there is just as much assessing being done by the horse as that being done by us. They carry on this procedure in silence and make assumptions about us and decide how to deal with us as a result.

When people enter the Horse Industry, they find out somehow that horses are pretty much perfectly behaved and don't have many faults. Ok, we are to blame for most of the ridden faults in horses but they must take a share of the blame and I don't feel that they do.

Watch any Learner Rider horse and most Shetland Ponies and see how they soon work out how to exploit their rider. There is nothing as cunning and calculating and they weave their devious plans with quite some ability. It is not restricted to these types of horses however. I see most horses assessing their owners and riders in varying degrees of intensity and the difference in their reactive behaviour is only limited by their temperament imho.

Just like Humans, horses temperaments and personalities span the entire gamut and therein lies the difference between a lot of bucking horses and those that merely carry out harmless types of evasions.


  • There is no doubt in my mind that the feeding regime and the enforcement of respect and rules or the lack of them is the number one venue for horses assessing us. They suddenly loose their manners and yet when in the heard, just yesterday, they behaved impeccably in front of the bosses. So they test us out and pigeon hole us as weak, medium or an assertive leader that deserves respect.

  • The lunging game is the second most important area of assessment. Cutting corners on the circle, changing direction without permission, stopping behind our back if we just stand there and all the way up to the regular charging of the owner whilst having their ears back as they pass by. Oh, then the little side kick on the way through.

  • The subtle veering in or out of the circle on the arena. Just testing your steering.

  • Laying against your leg and ignoring it.

  • Zig Zagging whilst you are  trying to ride them in a straight line while they watch where they want to be out the back of their eyes. Checking your steering all the while.

  • The 'go slow campaign' in the arena, on the lunge or out on the trail. Putting it over you without you really knowing.

  • and of course......ground manners, especially leading.

These and many others are all test of your riding, but more importantly, your ability to demand respect from your horse rather than being assessed and marked as weak and a person deserving of having the 'wool pulled over your eyes'

So back to the temperament of the horse. The nice ones will try you out but won't buck you off, kick you, bolt with you, rear with you or bite you. Others will however.


As you know, I get thousands of emails, asking me how to fix this problem or that. Almost all of them involve the horse losing respect for their owner or buyers inheriting the assessment of humans that comes with the horse on purchase.

The danger comes when you suddenly change the rules and may up your assertiveness. You read one of my letters and decide to go out the following morning and give your horse a new set of ground rules. You are going to change as a rider, immediately and do things perhaps that you have not done in the past. You give your horse a click with the whip, something that you haven't done before and it immediately bucks you off. Something that IT has never done before.

Why did it do that? Because of the well of built up attitude, ignorance and a perception that it was really the leader. That you were only the passenger while the horse went through the motions each day, just to shut you up and keep you happy. You know, in return for all those lovely carrots that you buy by the big plastic bag full?

You see, when horses are ridden in a manner as described above and you suddenly change the rules, they often object. Something like this goes through their head. "How dare she, I am the boss around here, I'll show her."

So take this as a warning, if you are going to sharply change the ground rules with a horse that is being a bit wayward, do it gradually or get a Pro out to do it in a hurry because you must be prepared for the worst.

Here is a letter received today from a lady.

Hi There,
I wrote you the other day about my new Arab x paint mare "behaving badly". would seem that Miss Cranky Boots has decided that she really did not like her nose in my pocket accompanied by a whack on the
seems to make bucking a tad difficult..hehehehe! (how disappointing for her).
I also tried out the rolled up newspaper on the head for rearing and I think we may have "cured" her of that little caper too although she thought about it today but then had second thoughts...little vixen.
It's amazing how the light literally comes on in their eyes when they respect their human. This mare has no more ear flattening but actually looks at me now with interest and pricked ears.(she was damned dangerous when she arrived)
Thankyou for your advice and sharing all your articles.

It's called 'respect', isn't it. Pity it couldn't be put back into our schools. Thanks for letting me know. I hope it wasn't the Melbourne Cup Racing lift out.

"Listen to your Horses"

John O'Leary