Let’s talk about the #1 horse problem and how to fix it. You may be thinking that the #1 horse problem is bucking, or bolting, or buddy sour. But those are simply symptoms of the #1 horse problem.

After years of working with countless numbers of horses and their owners, I can confidently say that the #1 horse problem is the human failing to be black and white with their pressure. Why is that such a big deal? Because if there is no clear communication, the horse can not comply with what you are asking. He will then begin doing random other things in an attempt to figure it out. And that’s never good.

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When a rider uses gray or varying amounts of pressure instead of being crystal clear, it creates a horse that is pushy, confused, and lacking confidence. And this is the root cause of spooky, bucking, rearing, bolting, you name it.

Has a misunderstanding of the Natural Horsemanship philosophy contributed to this problem? Find out here: Carson James Blog


There are situations where you would want to put the horse in a little bind and wait longer for him to figure his way out of it. For example, on a colt you would add some pressure on the reins, maybe wait 10 seconds, add a little more pressure, and wait a few more seconds until you feel his weight shift or a slight change that you can reward. 

But most horses I come across have been unknowingly taught to ignore light pressure or a slight signal from the rider. So that requires a different approach.

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#1 Problem When Stopping Your Horse

Stopping is a good example of how the #1 horse problem can cause unwanted results. You quit asking the horse to go forward and pick up your reins to give the horse a suggestion to stop by applying 2 lbs of pressure.  No response or change. Typically, the rider then gradually amps up the pressure to 4 lbs, then 5 lbs, then 9 lbs. But the horse has learned to ‘wear’ and ignore the pressure. So it takes 10 lbs of pressure before the horse finally responds to your cue. And he adds in a little head tossing to boot.

A more effective way would be to quit asking your horse to go forward and pick up your reins to give the horse a suggestion to stop with your body language and maybe one ounce of pressure on the reins. Give the horse a couple of seconds to respond. If there is no response, smoothly (without jerking) jump to 10 lbs of pressure and help him know what you meant by the first subtle cue using only one ounce. The horse will quickly begin responding to the one ounce of pressure because you have made it clear what that one ounce means.

What Is Light Pressure

At clinics, we practice stepping the horse’s hip one step to the right. I tell the riders to first ask very lightly with only one ounce of pressure. But they typically continue using 3 lbs.

Most people think that one ounce means bumping the horse with their heel or calf. So I go around to each participant and show them what one ounce feels like. One ounce is barely grazing the denim of your jeans across the horse’s coat or a slight movement of the stirrup fender. It’s a lightbulb moment.

#1 Problem When Backing Your Horse

It’s the same with backing. Ask with one ounce of pressure. Give them a second. If they don’t at least shift their weight back or move a foot backwards, fluidly pull with 10 lbs. On the other hand, If you start with 2 lbs and then gradually go to 3 lbs, 4 lbs, etc, the horse will learn to lean on and ignore that pressure. But if you go straight to the 10 lbs, the horse starts paying attention to the one ounce.

I am not advocating jerking on the horse or being unfair. It’s more unfair to keep the horse confused than to make it clear what you are asking and expecting. 

Give Your Horse A Reason

A horse can not become lighter if he is never given a reason to not remain heavy. We all know that a horse can feel the slightest changes (like a fly landing on them) but we don’t ride like we believe it. 

We should always ask with one ounce first, even if we’re sure they aren’t going to respond. Then when we come in with more pressure, that sets them up to stop ignoring the one ounce. The #1 horse problem is solved.

I encourage you to practice being white or black. Gray pressure is a trap you don’t want to fall in to. Become self aware of everything you are doing. Expect a slight signal to mean something to your horse. Don’t hang on your horse and nag him until he becomes frustrated. That will not end well.

The Virtual Clinic course on the Buckaroo Crew membership site is filled with examples of how to work towards eliminating any gray areas of pressure. Access all those resources here: Buckaroo Crew

Get in the habit of riding like you believe your horse can feel the slightest change. It will transform your horsemanship and your horse.

Find out what the top 8 horse myths are and why you shouldn’t believe them: Horse Myths.

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Carson James
Carson James

Carson James' background is in Vaquero Horsemanship, and for the majority of his career, he worked on cattle ranches where he rode horses all day, every day. His knowledge comes from real life experience using traditional Buckaroo horsemanship to train horses and fix problems. He is now taking all of this knowledge and experience and sharing it with horse owners through his blog, his Insider list, and his Buckaroo Crew. He has a unique way of breaking things down where they're easy to understand, both for the horse and the human.