Can't or Won't? What is your horse telling you?
Know the Difference between Can’t and Won’t
It is amazing the number of people that refer to their horse as naughty.
"Why won't my horse canter?"
"Why wont my horse stop?"
I always ask: won't, or can't?
What’s the difference?
A horse that CAN’T do what you requested is a horse that either lacks the physical capability to perform the task (either due to lack or fitness or a break from training), or lacks the understanding of what you want.
A horse that WON’T is a horse that understands what you have asked and can physically perform the task, but won’t do it.
How can you tell the difference?
A horse that can’t do the task will attempt to give you something. Consider the aids you are applying and the response you achieved. Could one of those aids alone result in that response? Or was the response partially there but not complete – in which case, a definite win!
A horse that won’t do the task will often repeatedly do the opposite of what you request. This horse knows exactly what you are asking and is trying to avoid doing the 'hard work'.
Of course, all of this is only prefaced with the simple fact that you are having a proper conversation with your horse to start with - which is a whole other topic to cover off.
What can you do?
For a horse that can't do the requested exercise, you will first need to identify the underlying issue.
If the horse physically is restricted from performing the exercise, you will need to take your training down a level - or ten. If you don't know the training scales for horses, sign up to our newsletter to be the first to know when we release them!
If your horse has worked up the training scale and simply doesn't know which aids you are using, you will need to use the principle of pressure and release - simply reward the horse by releasing the pressure (and lots of pats!) for even a half stride in the right direction. Perform the exercise three times, then switch it to something your horse can do to keep him in a positive mindset.
A horse that 'won't' understands the exercise and can physically do it, he or she is just trying to avoid working hard, and is testing your resolve to the exercise. Again, pressure and release at the right time is key here - keep applying the aid until the horse follows the requested exercise - and remember to immediately release when he or she does so, so that doing the exercise is now easier than avoiding the exercise.
If you are unsure about the use of pressure and release, read our article on it here.
In the case where the horse becomes dangerous in his or her avoidance, I would recommend seeking professional advice - you can email us by clicking here.
So, the next time you say your horse can't or won't something, remember this, and rethink your situation.
Is your horse not doing something you want? Comment below or contact us here.