Trials and tribulations of a sensitive horse

This past Sunday Bobby and I hauled over to our dressage trainer’s place to ride in his nice arena with mirrors. Henry was a little high and tense, and after trying with varied success to work through it for most of the ride, I convinced Bobby to get on for a few minutes.

Before I ruined Bobby’s good time
bored with my mirror selfies

Henry has only had a few other people on him since I’ve owned him – a couple friends hacked him for me once when I first got him, and then my dressage trainer rode him once last spring. I have to admit that when I handed him to Dressage Trainer that time, half of me was hoping he’d get on and Henry would just magically be this lovely dressage horse. The other half was hoping that he’d get on and have the exact same struggles that I do. Of course, he had the same struggles, he was just better at getting through them.

My struggle is constant

While I don’t think that Henry is hard to ride necessarily, he’s certainly not simple. Well… jumping him is pretty simple. The flatwork, not so much. He’s not bad or naughty, just super sensitive and naturally anxious. Every tiny little move you make gets a reaction, and a lot of contact and leg sends him through the roof. Less is more. Lots less. Very little, really.

Even now, two years later, the fact that his brain was fried before I got him is still easily evident. There is no doubt that he’s come a long way even from just a year ago, but it’s very slow going. He’s also not a horse that you can drill or try to force into anything – he’s too sensitive and gets nervous too easily. I’ve come to terms with the fact that we will never be fantastic in dressage and I will always have to be very careful with how I ride him, and I’m mostly ok with that. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t get frustrated sometimes. Anyone who has ever owned a horse like this will understand what I mean when I say they have the most spectacular ability to make you feel completely incompetent on a regular basis.

at least he’s handsome

So when Bobby got on I thought it could be really interesting. Bobby is one of the best dressage riders I know. He has those long skinny legs that hang perfectly, a really lovely position, a great seat, and great feel. Would Henry go better for him?

I like how they both look equally annoyed here
Stop touching me
Ok fine, since you stopped trying to make me dressage I will disengage dragon mode…

Answer: No. He had the same struggles I do. In fact, I think Bobby was pretty happy to get off and hand the reins back to me, and I think he has revoked his claim to Henry in the event of my death. He just said wow a lot for the first few minutes, and gradually started to figure out how to ride Henry. Or really, how to not ride him, because Henry is the king of “oh my god don’t touch me leave me alone AHHHHH YOUR LEG MOVED A LITTLE”. Sensitivity, we gots it.

So… sorry Bobby for torturing you (not really) but thanks for making me feel better about myself. It’s not just me. Poor Henny, he’s a delicate flower.

35 thoughts on “Trials and tribulations of a sensitive horse

  1. In the beginning with my girl, I would cheer to get three steps of connection because OMG YOU TOUCHED ME. And then we would put a 12 year old girl on her and she would immediately go round and soft. Now, after 3 years of full training with someone who is not me, I can finally get a whole 20 meter circle of connection…most of the time. That now 15 year old girl got on this weekend? Yeah, apparently she’s just better, lol.


  2. Bobby i do believe she threw some compliments in this blog to you. FRAME THEM! 🙂
    Bobby I hope she at least bought you lunch after that! (She practically said you have a good ass (seat):))

    It is always good to see someone else riding your horse. Good or bad they usually sigh with relief when you get back on them LOL!

    PS everyone that rides Remus loves him BUT they all marvel at how easy he looks to ride until they get on him. Cause he be QH (DEAD HEAD) and sensitive (2 years of dressage/eventing training) so that is an odd mix 🙂

    Glad you guys got to ride sans mud for a bit 🙂


  3. “Or really, how to not ride him” This sums up the sensitive horse so well. “No, I don’t like that ” “ACK! Don’t do that, EVAR!” “nope nope nope”

    Luckily Henny got hops in him.


  4. Could be Kika where any movement or shift in weight can be met with hollowing/head lifting & the search for the offending dragon/scary-horse-eating-thing-that-prompted-the-slight-shift.

    Love the red breeches, are they the ADE spark ones? *swoon*

    I love watching better riders than me ride my girls to see if they meet the same road blocks and how they deal with them. Although watching people ride my girls when they start to throw shade leads to knots in my stomach & nerves for riders which is stupid as they are typically much better jockeys than I but also when it comes to people riding Kika the fear that something will re-trigger her i-don’t-wanna/don’t-make-me response of threatening to and/or rearing. No Bueno Miss K, that trick can stay squarely in the past please gracias!


      1. I’ve been lusting after the aubergine & the blue ones (the red and the grey are awesome too) since they were released…Sadly they weren’t on sale after Christmas and am a bit cash poor at the moment so no special gifts for myself. Although I cannot get enough of wearing the two pairs i got last year ♡♡♡


  5. Huh. It’s like you wrote this about Courage. I always want magical transformation when I put other riders on him and it’s like “nope… pretty much exactly what I get, except they don’t know all the keys to him, so it takes a little longer…”


  6. Almost 6 years on the track has made this struggle so real with Val. He’s sometimes so stiff that it’s hard not to push, but on those days, pushing and nagging only exacerbates the problem. Usually after someone else gets on he’s in llama mode for a day or two unless they’re really quiet and patient. I definitely get the “I thought I rode pretty well, but evidently not” rides.


    1. After every dressage ride (where inevitably he feels pressured at some point), my next ride is always a long and low w/t day. It seems to help settle him, put his brain back in, and get him back from the brink. I also can’t canter in dressage warmup at shows or our test is a big puddle of shit. Ah, the joys of these creatures.


        1. Funny howbyouncan work thru things at walk/trot, then suddenly it’s back to square one at the canter, lime seriously, the hose didn’t move, you are just going faster, ugh.


  7. I get this. My last horse was this way with me. Not a good fit for Weenie McWeenerson me.

    I also get the hoping that others similarly struggle. When Doug Effing Payne got on Ollie last year and said “Wow, he can be really strong, huh?” it made me feel so much better that I wasn’t just a Really Bad Rider.


  8. My gelding, Dijon, is the same. Any contact is magnified and his responses out of proportion to them. If you try to reprimand him for something, he literally freaks out. He’s a very difficult ride if you want to get anything done. If you just want to meander along and not touch him with leg or hands, he’s lovely. Thankfully, he’s semi-retired and I’m not trying to compete with him.


  9. Reason # 256849 why I think Henry and Bacardi are long lost twinsies. I can relate SO much that it hurts. I’ve become a better and more careful rider now, but it can be a PITA when one littler movement sends a horse through the roof in anxiety


  10. Power to you for being able to stick with it. I have humbly learned I don’t have the cahones or patience for uber sensitive, spooky, crazy shenanigans. Currently dealing with one of the 3 with my mare, and that’s enough.


  11. totally SOLD on navy blue DSBs now – my plain TB gelding has just the same amount of red in his coat as Henry. Navy is totes his color too 🙂


  12. I know I’m way late to this (only saw it because it popped up at the bottom of today’s post)… but wow, this was great to read. I’ve been having a bit of a rough time lately (also with a sensitive horse), and it has helped me feel a bit better – like maybe there is a light at the end of the tunnel. So, a very belated thanks. 🙂


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