Why Horses Might Refuse Cues

Acting disobediently is an animal’s natural response to many situations. Animals act out for a variety of reasons, ranging from pure personality to defensiveness. When animals aren’t responding to commands as they might have previously done, we assume that they are simply being “bad,” but that is not always the case.

Horses, for instance, can be temperamental and they often choose to not respond to commands for what might appear to be no reason. However, there could be several reasons you’re getting the “cold shoulder” from your horse.

A horse is born to evaluate all things as a part of their dominant trait: survival. Based upon that, the horse will make a decision to respond, or not to respond, in certain situations. A variety of factors can affect a horse’s survival trait and the way the horse chooses to respond including:


Horses are built to resist a situation when they sense danger; this is because horses are prey animals. If a horse feels as though their life is in danger, they will run for their life. If a horse feels as though a predator is near, the horse might refuse to continue. Regardless of their owner’s commands, they will run or resist if they fear danger is close.


Horses respond well to clear communication. If we want out horse to respond positively to our commands, we need to communicate the command to our horse in a way that they can understand. If we command a horse to trot and they do not, we might assume the horse is being lazy or disrespectful. However, the horse might not be reacting because they genuinely do not understand the cue they received.


Horses have the ability to mask a tremendous amount of physical pain, but if a rider makes a request to do something that will add to their physical pain, this creates vulnerability for the horse that the horse can sense. Horses can often recognize that going any further, such as running the extra mile, will jeopardize their health. A horse might resist a command if they are ill or in pain, and the command would contribute to it.

The next time your horse refuses a command, consider if any of the above might have made them respond that way. Self-preservation is in important to a horse and they will react to commands with that in mind.

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