Advice for retraining and rehabilitating the spoiled horse

A spoiled horse has a certain look, an expression that shows fear, anger, defiance, typically due to being poorly trained, or not trained at all. This horse purposefully does not want to do what you ask him to do, and might possibly fight with you to avoid working.

Rehabilitating a spoiled horse is not for the inexperienced. Your goal must be to overlay distrust with trust and disrespect with respect. It must be a combined effort of knowledge, understanding, patience, time and determination.


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  • understand why the horse needs rehabilitation
  • be an experienced trainer/rider
  • understand the various problems and defenses you will meet
  • read up and study books on retraining
  • be careful and take your time

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  • anthropomorphize your horse
  • neglect his health concerns
  • depend on uncomfortable auxiliary aids
  • be impatient
  • allow others to ride the horse you are retraining

[publishpress_authors_data]'s recommendation to ExpertBeacon readers: Do

Do understand why the horse needs rehabilitation

Before a trainer takes on the responsibility of rehabilitating a spoiled horse, he needs to know exactly what defense or defenses the horse has developed. Get as much of his history as you can, even if it means tracing back through several owners, and you will probably find quite a few depending on the horses age, as he is passed from one bad rider to another; each of these riders using more bad training techniques to conquer the unruly beast. If you cannot locate any previous owners, you will need to be skilled and experienced enough to fathom the source by yourself.

The main thing to comprehend is that the horse, in all probability, has had no training. He has only been ridden and ridden badly. Many horses have no real training. Many riders use painful aids to control an unruly horse. Many trainers at commercial stables try to get the horses sold as quickly as they can, and spend little time with correct training, their goal being just to get the mounts to a point where they can be sold. Mounts from stables where there is rapid turnover of horses in and out usually suffer from lack of proper training. It is rare for a well trained horse to fall into the hands of a bad rider and then become a renegade, although it must have occurred.

Do be an experienced trainer/rider

Rehabilitation of spoiled horses is not every trainer’s cup of tea, and should only be attempted by trainers who have successfully trained young horses and have a thorough understanding of equine psychology and physiology. It begins as simple retraining from the early basics. Care in the stable: grooming, feeding, proper vet care for teeth and parasites is a must. Begin the spoiled horse with the same work you would put to a two or three year old, and make sure that each and every step in the Classical System of training is satisfactorily completed before going to the next step. Deal with displays of temper, rebellion and defences as you would a young spirited horse. Natural horsemanship can be a good place to start to begin to gain his trust and respect, but for schooling or retraining the horse, the Classical System offers a complete training program and schedule.

Do understand the various problems and defenses you will meet

A horse will develop head and mouth problems from cruel bits, hard hands, teeth not cared for. He will kick if badly handled by a farrier. He will run away with the rider if faced with painful work, knowing that the unwelcome and frightened rider will soon get off his back. He will run backwards if he is afraid of what is in front of him. He will buck or rear if badly saddled or not well warmed up before work or worked with a sore back. He will quit at fences if he has been over faced, over jumped or punished because he refused. He might be a biter if he has been fed sugar and carrots or other treats from by hand. Some of these defenses are easily overcome and others take more time and sometimes even months or years.

It is also good to know that when a horse has developed one or more defenses against a bad rider, he will, in all probability, attempt to develop others while you are retraining him. Be aware of this and be ready to nip it in the bud.

Do read up and study books on retraining

Lt. Col. A. L. d’Endrody was an officer in the Hungarian Cavalry and was a former member of the Royal Hungarian Olympic Equestrian Team. As a Lt. Col. in the Cavalry, he was in charge of buying remounts and supervising their retraining, or doing it himself. Because horses were used so extensively before they were replaced by vehicles and because of the mortality rate during warfare, he needed to purchase many horses from breeding farms throughout the country. Most of them had already been trained and ridden, some badly.

In his book, “Give Your Horse a Chance,” he explains how he dealt with badly trained horses and corrected defects and rebellions. He covers nearly every resistance a horse can come up with. It is a valuable book for every horseman’s library. Additionally, he covers the normal defenses that a young horse reverts to even in the course of excellent training and those new defenses that the horse you are retraining might attempt to get rid of you. This gives the rider a way to alleviate the defense without resorting to extreme aids and yet to win.

Also, study “Tug of War: Classical Versus “Modern” Dressage” by Dr. Gerd Heuschmann, (Written for the Good of the Horse) and learn WHY horses rebel.

Do be careful and take your time

Coping with a rebellious horse is not a task to be taken lightly and should only be undertaken by skilled trainers. Have someone with you capable of aiding in handling the horse and in case of emergency. Always wear protective headgear and a padded vest when mounted. Take your time. Slow and deliberate movements are more comforting to a tense, frightened horse than sudden and quick movements. Use a quiet soft voice instead of shouting and yelling. This is indeed a situation where you must make haste slowly and be pleased with little improvements when they come and then give them much praise. Long, quiet trail rides with an older horse as companion is a great way to get the rebellious horse to come to a state of unconstraint. And that is the goal.

[publishpress_authors_data]'s professional advice to ExpertBeacon readers: Don't

Do not anthropomorphize your horse

Don’t approach this effort as though a horse is like a dog or even another person, with emotions, thoughts, appreciation as a person. He is an Equine, pure and simple. Equines are not aggressive animals. They are defensive animals. Evolving as an animal of prey he lives close to his instincts. He runs when he is startled or afraid or hurt. If he cannot run he will kick, bite, buck or otherwise attempt to rid himself of his tormentor. As a mount if he cannot defend himself he will either become a sullen, dull and defeated mount or a renegade and act out in viciousness his fear and pain.

Don’t expect him to love you if you feed him carrots. He will enjoy the carrots. He will run across the field to come to you because you may have carrots. It is true that some horses are affectionate and some more than others; however, don’t expect it and don’t be disappointed if the horse has a naturally aloof personality. His favorite companions are other horses.

Do not neglect his health concerns

The very first thing that should be done is a visit to the vet or ask your vet come to you if the horse will not load. It is of utmost importance that his mouth be examined, his teeth checked for rough and sharp edges. This may be one of the biggest problems. Sharp teeth that have not been cared for can cut the inside of his cheeks making the bit a painful intrusion into an already sore mouth. Abscesses can develop in his mouth and need to be cared for before a bit is given again.

Worming medication needs to be administered. Parasites can cause pain in the digestive system, causing a horse to be irritable and difficult to train.

He may lack enough selenium in his feed. A test should be done for that because a lack of selenium makes work difficult and painful.

If his feet are sore the vet needs to take x-rays to see if there is navicular disease or any other problem that might show up on deep examination. His hoofs need to be checked by your farrier. The horse may have painful soles or other problems that a farrier can repair.

Do not depend on uncomfortable auxiliary aids

He has already been there and done that. He is fighting pain, so do not provide him with more. Tight draw reins to control his head and strong bits to keep him from running away will only reinforce the fear he already has. Depend on your own riding ability, your understanding of horses, and your training skills to bring him to you and to make him trust you. If you do not have these qualities, do not attempt to rehabilitate.

Many high bred, sensitive horses have been ridden/trained by amateur riders or uneducated trainers and put to work before having attained the state of unconstraint. Tension builds upon tension, discomfort turns to pain, and then we have rebellion resulting in painful methods to control. Your first goal will to get him to that point of unconstraint and do your best to keep him there as you work him. The Classical System of training has all the information you need to retrain the horse. Remember that you are to begin from the beginning because his start was probably quite unpleasant to him.

Do not be impatient

Since horses cannot reason as people can, they simply act on instinct. The instinct of self preservation is a strong one and just because the horse is now in the hands of a kind trainer, he will not automatically begin to trust and behave. All he knows is that people—riders, trainers, vets, farriers—cause him pain and trouble. He knows that bits hurt his mouth. He will never forget those things. You will have to take the necessary time to plant new lessons over those old lessons and your new lessons must not be painful to him. It will require time to overlay good lessons on top of the bad. You must earn his trust and respect, each with the other, and this will not come easily. And it is certain that when he finally comes to you willingly because you have treated him kindly, earned his trust and respect, he will revert instantly if he is then sold or given to a bad rider.

Do not allow others to ride the horse you are retraining

It is said by some experts that it only takes three bad rides to ruin a sensitive horse. It is important that the horse develop trust in you as you are retraining him. He needs to know what to expect. If you allow another to ride him before he is retrained and safe, much of your effort will be lost because he may well attempt the old defenses with the new rider. Unless he/she is as good a rider and trainer as you, the horse will win and your work will be set back.

When the horse has learned to trust you, is working in a safe manner in a state of unconstraint and there is no more rebellion—that is the time to allow another excellent rider, who knows his history to mount him. Only when he is working safely with several riders should you consider selling him, if that was your original purpose. And if you do sell, please have the courtesy to explain his history to the prospective buyer. If you are retraining him for his owner/rider, you will have to retrain the owner/rider as well.


Taking on the task of rehabilitating a spoiled horse should not be done lightly. Unless you have the time, patience, skill and knowledge, and can afford the necessary expense, leave the job to someone else. This endeavor cannot be hurried and no step in the retraining can be skipped; however, when you are successful the personal reward is worth it all.

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