The Joys of Working with Quirky Horses


We all know the high maintenance horses at our barns. These are the horses whose athletic capability and fleeting moments of sweetness make us jump through hoops to make them happy. More times than not, you’ll hear someone say, “Oh [insert horse name]? Is she not letting you bridle her? Is her head way up in the air? Try [insert these three random tips].”

Being Weird

Even with good training and consistent handling, some special horses will always have quirks that make them a bit challenging at times. Here are some ridiculous things I (or one of my fellow riders), have done to win the trust, albeit temporarily, of the “crazy” horse at the barn.

  • Scratches. One time I found that my horse was much less girthy if I gave her a scratch in a very specific spot on her neck. This scratching has become a ritual. I’m afraid if I skip it, I’ll jinx this positive cooperation thing we’ve got going on.
  • Beautiful melodies. One horse gets stressed at just about everything. When I sing a little melody (on or off key), her ears flick back and forth. She seems just distracted enough to not throw her head up in complete surprise every time the curry comb comes down past her shoulder. I have a hunch other barn mates talk about this habit of mine when I’m not around. It’s not considered normal.
  • Peppermints. There’s one horse at the barn who just can’t handle her life when she comes within 10 feet of a wash rack. Unless there are peppermints involved. Therefore, we fill our pockets with peppermints each time we approach the wash rack.
  • Peppermint Bribe
    Wise horses know that the wash rack is scary and full of monsters and–oh, is that a peppermint?
  • A full belly. If I take my horse of out of her stall right at feeding time and she doesn’t get to eat her grain, we’re going to fight our entire ride. Some horses make a big deal about being pulled away from their dinner but can cope. This horse? No. I let her eat, and then I get ready for my lesson. From one sometimes hangry mammal to another, I can’t completely blame her. Walking past me with a plate of fresh-out-of-the-oven cookies and not letting me have a bite? Not fair, and not nice.
  • A firm redirect. Some horses can just be bullies. One horse at my barn thinks that once a rider has put the halter on him in his stall, as they leave the stall, it’s acceptable to drag said rider across the barn aisle in order to grab hay from a neighbor’s stall. I’ve found when I get this horse from his stall, if I just remind him that I’m in charge, he’s much more polite. As we walk down the aisle, I ask him to stop two or three times when it’s my idea. A strong verbal “whoa” and a firm pull back on the lead rope are not foreign signals to him. (Disclaimer: despite my honest attempts, I too have been pulled an unplanned direction by this horse in his endless search for spare hay. He acts like he’s starved and I can assure you, he’s not!)

What crazy tricks have you adopted when working with quirky horses at your barn?

Allison Griest is a freelance writer based in Texas. Follow her on Twitter: @allisongriest.



  1. We have a horse at our barn that can be a bit high strung in some situations. The only way to calm him down is to hold his tongue. He will stick it out and he just wants you to hold it! Whatever works!

  2. Interesting. I too have had an issue. My issue was with cross-tying. My mare, no matter what tricks or treats, was acting up in the cross-ties. She refused to stand still, would do this half-rear etc. I decided to tie her in her stall. Not sure why but she is ok with this and I said well if this works this is how we will do it. I am still working with the cross-ties but as a training session now without the stress of trying to groom and/or tack up.


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