Much like people, respect is earned and definitely not always given with horses. That being said, dealing with 1000-pound animals, there needs to be a level of respect in place for safety purposes.
Some people don’t even recognize the warning signs of disrespect and may not even realize their horse is being less than a good citizen.
I have been surrounded by horses my whole life, and I now know every possible glimmer of disrespect in a horse. It is crucial, because you have to be able to first diagnose this issue before then being able to sort it out.
I have condensed all this knowledge into the following 15 Signs of a Disrespectful Horse.
1. Your Horse is Steering the Ship
Occasionally I’ll pass people on the road with their dogs and so badly I want to shout out, “Who is walking who?!”. Well, you can see this a lot in the horse world as well.
You should be able to lead your horse from A to B without much difficulty.
That being said there may be distractions along the way, but for the most part, where you lead, your horse should follow. Chances are if you end up at G between A and B your horse is not respecting your guidance.
A horse that wants to go where they want to go whether you’re beside them or on their back is not respecting you as the leader.
Sometimes they have every reason to do this as they may have experienced previous poor guidance and just assume you will also be unreliable.
2. Not So Lovely Love Bites
Some people like to say their horse gives love nips or that they tend to be a little “mouthy”.
This can be cute when we are talking about an 8-week old puppy and can be a lot less cute with a 1000-pound horse.
Biting not only could be painful it can be potentially costly if you’re wearing your nice breeches that day, and honestly… it’s just annoying.
Oftentimes, horses in the wild will correct each other or establish dominance with a nip or a bite [Source].
Your horse doing this to you could be them trying to establish a pecking order and placing you below them. This biting should be corrected as it could lead to your horse thinking that they know better than you and that THEY should have the reins instead of you!
3. Bulldozing for Grain
If you find yourself being bulldozed by your horse while trying to dump grain in their bucket, your horse is lacking respect for you and your personal space!
Not only could you be potentially injured during this, it makes feeding stressful for you and your horse.
This behavior starts on the ground with your horse not invading your personal space anywhere – whether that be walking them into the ring or while giving them a bath. Horses can be very physical especially out in the field.
They may make other horses move away from hay, good grass, or just separate them from the herd by using the sheer weight and force of their body to establish a pecking order.
Maintain your number one spot in this order by not allowing your horse to make you move your feet.
4. Slamming on the Brakes
Is your horse more whoa than go? This is natural for some horses who tend to be a little on the lazy side and lack their own little engine.
However, if your horse is just refusing to walk and slamming on the brakes – that’s just plain rude!
This again just comes down to your horse thinking that they know best. They also may have learned the routine – this is the path that leads to the riding ring where I have to work hard.
Respect is when I say move your feet, you move your feet. This can be forward, backward, or side to side. It’s one thing if your horse is scared by something ahead of them and does not want to move forward.
It’s a WHOLE different story if they just would rather go back to their stall to munch on hay.
5. Talk to the Booty
You should never walk into a horse’s stall and be greeted with their tail.
When entering the stall, it’s good to get their attention so they are facing front before you walk in.
This is especially important so they know you’re coming and you don’t accidentally startle them.
If they face front only to quickly swing their butt around when you try to approach, this is a warning sign and you should think fast and get out of the way!
Some horses are territorial and maybe giving you a sign that screams “this is my house and I didn’t invite you in”.
Other horses may associate their stall door opening with you taking them out for something they deem unpleasant like working, getting bathed, getting clipped, etc.
You should avoid having to go into a stall when the horse’s tail is facing you because it gives them a good opportunity to nail you with a swift kick. [Source]
6. The Stall Gate or the Starting Gate
Your horse running in or out of the stall like they are off to the races is a sign of complete disrespect and disregard.
The number of times I’ve seen little kids be smushed into stall doors as their pony races inside to get a bite of hay… is unmeasurable.
Not only is this just rude, but you both could be hurt if either of you gets stuck on a door latch that’s sticking out or if you run into a wheelbarrow that’s still in the stall aisle.
This could just be your horse trying to get away with controlling where they want to go and not respecting your directions, but also rule out that their neighbor isn’t giving them a not so gentle nip on the butt every time they turn to go in or out of their stall.
7. Head in the Clouds
Usually when we think of someone having their “head in the clouds”, we think of someone who doesn’t pay attention much and lives in a state of ignorant bliss.
Well, when I think of “head in the clouds” I think of horses shooting their heads to the sky when they are being disrespectful for putting on their halter, bridle, or getting wormed.
When horses do this behavior, it’s showing resistance and disrespect for the task at hand.
I can’t blame horses for sticking their heads in the air to avoid getting wormer in their mouth (have you smelt that stuff…yuck).
However, lots of the time we are haltering our horses to get ready for a fun trail ride or to go outside for a graze under the shade. This behavior not only is disrespectful but can be very frustrating for anyone under 5 foot 3 (and ever those who are taller)!
8. What’s Personal Space
If you find yourself being constantly bumped into, stepped on, or rubbed against, your horse is lacking the concept of personal space.
Some people may find it cute that your horse wants to be in your bubble. However, you will find it less cute when your horse attempts to jump into your lap when they hear someone’s car backfire in the parking lot.
Not only does staying outside of her personal bubble show that your horse respects your space, but it is also a much safer place for you to be if your horse suddenly spooks or even trips.
Your horse doesn’t need to be in a perfect heel like a well-trained police dog, but it should stay on your right side (their left) and should be approximately an arm’s length away from you.
That’s close enough to you to have good control, but far enough that you can avoid being stepped on – most of the time.
9. Leg Sandwich
What is a leg sandwich you ask?
A leg sandwich has 3 components.
The first is your horse which is one piece of bread.
The second is your leg which is the inside of your sandwich.
And then the fence is the last component and your other piece of bread. Some horses tend to disrespect your leg by attempted to “sandwich” your leg between their side and the fence.
Not only does this hurt and may scuff your boot, but it will also potentially stop you from doing whatever signal with your leg you’re attempting.
Of course, you should rule out potentially something bothering your horse like a mid-ride belly ache or perhaps your boot zipper has fallen down and is irritating your horse’s side. When all else fails, this is simply a big meaty disrespectful sandwich!
10. The Threatening Leg
The threatening leg is a warning sign before a swift kick to the upper thigh.
Some horses do this after you put on new back boots or bandage their back legs. This behavior isn’t disrespectful, it’s just your horse telling you they are confused by what they are feeling.
If your horse does this while you are entering their stall or walking next to them, this is disrespectful and is a behavior that should be taken just as seriously as your horse trying to kick out at you.
This is a precursor and shows disrespect towards you being in their space.
11. Blowing You Off
Have you ever sat in the middle of the ring talking to a barn friend for a few minutes and then when it’s time to get back to work your horse simply won’t move?
Oh no? Just me…?
If you’re like me, this is the equivalent of your younger sibling sticking their fingers in their ears and completely blowing you off. This is disrespectful and as always your horse should move when you say move!
To avoid this headache, you should always be persistent and consistent so when you say move, your horse doesn’t even second guess doing anything else!
12. Pinning the Ears
We all know pinning ears means anger in horses. It means “stay back” or “I don’t like that” [Source].
When there’s something going on that makes it justified ie: their neighbor is being a little too nosy having their nose up against the stall during mealtime – then that’s a time when the behavior is somewhat excusable.
However, if they are pinning their ears back while you’re taking too long to break a large carrot in half or when you’re approaching with your saddle – that’s a behavior that’s not excusable!
13. Grass Dive Bombing
I always dreaded dragging my pony in from turn out and having her dive-bomb for grass and nearly ripping my shoulder out of the socket.
If your horse is more worried about getting in their last bites of grass than they are about following you back to the barn, they have no disregard that you have a lesson in 20 minutes and you just don’t have the time!
Sometimes you’ll find that only you have this problem, but the barn workers have no problem leading your horse to and from the paddock! Again, this could be a sign that your horse is telling only you “I’d rather not”.
14. Moving While Mounting
So you’ve finally dragged your horse in from the paddock, avoided getting ran over walking out to the ring, only to have your horse try to do the cha-cha as you swing your leg over the saddle.
Not only could this be potentially dangerous, it just starts off your ride on a bad foot. Obviously, if you’re slamming into your saddle every time you get on, or if your saddle fits poorly- then your horse may have learned this behavior in response to pain. [Source]
If these reasons are ruled out, it may just be that your horse is lacking the patience to stand still while you scale up the mounting block to hop on. That’s a little rude don’t you think?!
15. I Don’t Want to go Home
So now after you danced the cha-cha slide to get on – you’re getting off, you’ve rolled up your stirrups and your pony has decided that he’d just like to hang out in the ring today.
Maybe he prefers the nice breeze through his mane, or his best barn bud has just shown up to stretch their legs. If your horse plants his feet, this is disrespect towards you.
For your horse not to want to go back home where there’s plenty of bedding, water, and hay – he must really have the urge to do nothing that you say!
So next time you realize your horse is doing any of these behaviors, you may want to think of ways to earn your horse’s respect and build your relationship into a positive mutual understanding!
Horse-pros.com. Solve horse mounting problems. https://horse-pros.com/5589/horse-problems-mounting-issues.
Solutions for a horse that bites. Horse&Rider. https://horseandrider.com/horse-health-care/solutions-for-a-horse-that-bites.
Why is my horse aggressive in the stall? The Horse. (2018, September 4). https://thehorse.com/160103/why-is-my-horse-aggressive-in-the-stall/.