My Horse is Too Sensitive (Part One.)

“My horse is really sensitive. He isn’t a just a Quarter Horse, you know. He needs special handling.”

When I hear something like this, I always peer around the barn to see if anyone else looks like their head is about to explode.  Is she saying that any idiot can ride an ordinary horse, but a sensitive horse should be afforded special consideration?

I think calling a horse sensitive might be a code word for something else- a bit of an insult with a bow on top.  Is being sensitive an excuse for bad behavior? Does the label imply mental fragility?

Conversely, are some horses just so dull and dis-interested that they need to be talked down to- perhaps ridden with spurs and a whip just to get the point across? Or so inanely good tempered as to be disabled from needing any real training?

On one hand, this is just a silly word game, but there is a reason it matters. We form perceptions about training according to how we perceive our horse’s personality. Lots of times a slight shift of perception can resolve all sorts of training issues.

Yes, all horses are sensitive, intuitive individuals. They have acute physical awareness and long memories. Horses are frequently more aware and in the moment than their riders.

And having an innate temperament that is inconvenient, or out of balance with a particular rider- is not a horse’s choice or fault.

As the superior (theoretically) animal, it is up to the rider to bring conflict to a resolution.

What if we re-name sensitive horses?  Instead of thinking of them as reactive or unstable, let’s call them honest. I think that is the real truth- some horses are just more forthcoming. They see the world as one big support group for their issue. Sure, this kind of emotional honesty is embarrassing in public, but that’s why we have humility. A smart rider will embrace that horse’s initial willingness to communicate as a starting place to build confidence and trust with their horse.

Some horses give the impression that they are almost sleep-walkers, preferring to keep their thoughts, insecurities, and even pain, to themselves. They are stoic– not less sensitive, just less emotionally demonstrative. A horse like this might appear to have more confidence on the surface, but a reluctant mentality is a lonely place for a herd animal. Rewarding a more introverted horse for being responsive is a really positive choice for these horses.

In either situation, by transcending a surface judgment that is limiting and dismissive, and respecting the unique individuality of each horse, we are immediately in a better position to evolve helpful, productive communication.

Respect is the ability to accept a horse at face value, and start at square one- with all things equal. Sometimes we get complacent about respect; it isn’t always the primary consideration in the human world, like it is in the herd.

One more time, we humans could take a lesson.

Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.

8 thoughts on “My Horse is Too Sensitive (Part One.)

  1. CAN a horse be too sensitive? Maybe one poorly raised or started who hasn’t learned to trust what’s happening, but otherwise don’t we work forever to get them to respond to the lightest touch of the heel? And aren’t we rewarded with a ride beyond description, not to mention a friend who reaches out for our soft touch?

  2. dz

    Neuroticism is a trait that is described by one’s tendency to experience negative emotions. They tend to be reactive toward the environment and are more like to interpret ordinary stimuli as threatening. However, emotional self-regulation is a related, but different trait that deals with self-control and how one can control the display of their emotion. It seems you are suggesting that the difference in “sensitive” and not sensitive horses is simply in their emotional regulation component. Some horses are better at regulating their emotion and control it while others are more likely to “wear it on their sleeve”, while discounting the fact that how they perceive the environment as an individual difference factor. You suggest that all horses are aware of the physical environment but some are just more “honest” with their emotions. This I feel is incorrect as I don’t think there is any evidence or reason to suggest that difference in the observed sensitivity of horses is only due to their ability to regulate their emotion and not their actual perception of the physical world or their physiological response to external stimuli.

    1. Thank you for your considered and well-stated comment. My goal in this short blog was to encourage riders to have a more open mind in perceiving horse response. I would like to see more riders see temperament of any kind- as an honest expression from the horse, a valid equine opinion to be heard- rather than judged as a disabling quality. Perhaps this post was not stated as clearly as it could have been. I agree that sensitivity is a superficial symptom, compared especially to their physiological response to external stimuli. Ulcer statistics alone prove that point. Again, thank you for posting.

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  7. Tracy

    Some horses are more reactive or sensitive than others, mine included. So yes I stand by the statement that some horses, like people are more responsive. My horse is fearful of open space, prefers being ‘enclosed’ in an arena or riding in the paddocks nearest the stable buildings. Ride him in the other fields further away and he becomes violently spooky – too dangerous. He has put me in hospital with a serious head injury and I nearly lost my life. I’ve ignored others advice to “get rid of him”, why the hell should I. Sick and tired of stupid dumb comments like that. No way, I’ve stuck with him and earned his trust and give him confidence but I’ve had to show him a lot of patience and leadership and time and bonding. I know his limits, and mine. We compete in showing and dressage and he copes with ‘open spaces’ with other horses and/or people around but not on his own. He is a great horse with better manners and temperament than a lot of people. Would never “get rid of him”, he’s with me for life.

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