My horse is too smart

My horse is too smart…and is indicative of issues in other areas of my life.   After getting him back from a trial summer lease I’m struck by how disagreeable he is.  Was it the time away to put his behavior and personality in perspective or was it spending the summer with a potential owner who let him get away with too much?  We went on a cattle drive today and he practically pulled my hands off.  I’m asking myself if it is worth it.  While the challenge can be gratifying when I win him over, I don’t think I’m doing either of us any favors by making training sessions a battle of wills.  I try to outsmart him as much as I can and create situations where he is soft and willing so it doesn’t come to a fight–I don’t want it to come to that and be in his understanding.  We consistently have to go way back to the basics and do simple things to build on and it’s bordering on unpleasant and unsafe.  He is buddy sour, barn sour, hard mouthed (only when he wants to be) and in general has his own ideas.  I can only bully him or cowboy him doing what I want so much before it becomes unpleasant, unsafe, and hopeless for any other rider who doesn’t have the skill and strength that I do.  Hoping for ideas and inspiration I googled “how to train smart horses” and found an article that pinpointed him to a tee by a trainer out of South Carolina.  According to Charles Wilhelm out of South Carolina there are two types of lethargic horses.  Those that are truly cold blooded and don’t have forward energy, and those that have never been expected much of.

“The other variety of lethargic horse is what I call a “sleeper horse.” Beginning riders buy these horses all the time. Super calm and relaxed, the sleeper is fine poking along and appears to be a compliant horse. What you discover later is that in the past, this horse simply never had anything asked of it. The horse has never been required to work and as soon as you start asking with energy, for good forward impulsion, you end up with a real Jekyll and Hyde situation…The sleeper horse though, is man made and is the result of poor training and expectations. [Dear God, this isn’t just my issue with my horse; this is my issue with men.  Without meaning to, this horse trainer just hit below the belt].  Way too smart – We all want an intelligent horse but if you are a beginner, you really do not want a truly smart horse. It’s not that they cannot perform; the problem is that they find the holes in your training rather than you finding the holes in theirs! They are not very forgiving when you are unclear on signals and cues, and they have an uncanny knack for training their people rather than the other way around. ” (

I got this horse as a beginner rider twelve years ago and this was our story exactly.  I constantly had to back off to get him to comply, and even though he has made me a keen and assertive rider, my years of growing into him trained him to take advantage of riders.  Crossroads–get a trainer and step up to the intelligence of this animal?  Undertake this discipline and become the rider and trainer that can have a partnership with him or find someone who can and free up my time, energy?  If only winning didn’t feel so good…and he wasn’t so cute.  Damn…just like a relationship.

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