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I have a new horse and I am concerned about her grumpy behaviour and ear pinning with most things that I do. What are your thoughts?

Original Question

Hi Angie,
I have just purchased a 16 year old mare called Jewel.

She is a trained Reiner and has spent the last few years as a youth horse.

My plan is for her to be my lesson horse. 

She is a lovely quiet girl and generally very nice to be around but I am concerned about her grumpy behaviour when being saddled and sometimes even when being rugged.

She can be quite ear pinny and even snappy on occasion.

When asked, the previous owner said that she was always like it.

I’ve only ridden her a couple of times and she also feels tense under saddle so I’ve put the riding aside for the moment to focus on her groundwork.

Interestingly She even pins her ears when asked to lope in the round yard.

She feels like she is learning from scratch in regards to the groundwork but she’s picking it up really well and I have noticed some improvement in her attitude.

I know that the previous owner doesn’t do any groundwork, but I don’t know about what went on prior to that.

She doesn’t feel sore in her body but I’m getting her checked out just to be able to rule that out.

I would really appreciate your thoughts. 

Angie’s Answer

Hi Kath,
I love that you are leaving the riding for a while and working on the groundwork. I like the advice for checking for ulcers and any physical problems.


As for the groundwork goes, my feeling is that she is a SUPER sensitive horse with a BIG face and body bubble and this has probably never been acknowledged or heard from people in the past. Obviously it wouldn’t have been intentional. Soooo my suggest would be working through all the groundwork with her BUT slowing yourself, your energy and how you ask for things down HEEEEEEEAPS! and when you think you have slowed down, slow yourself down even more.  

Also, REALLY ‘asking permission’ from her with everything you do. Do lots of going in and out of her face and body bubble and stopping and acknowledging the slightest movement of her ears and eyes and taking big breaths into your belly when she shows the tiniest sign of acknowledgment or relaxation. Use LOTS of slow approach and retreat (this is a way of asking permission). I would suggest watching Bobby the Brumby under Follow a Horse and see how SLOW I went with him, you will see how I acknowledge all the tiny changes in expression. I had to play in and around his bubbles and thresholds for 9 hours before I could touch him for the very first time (I captured 20-30 minute sessions ever few hours in all the videos but if you watch this series you will pick up so much). He was SUPER, SUPER sensitive. If I made one mistake or went a tiny bit over threshold he would have become a super defensive horse or I believe a dangerous horse.

It sounds like her go to state is ‘fight’ state behaviour. So her learnt reaction to human interaction is defensive behaviour. By REALLY slowing EVERYTHING you do and how you are around her right down (this will take time for her to trust) she will start to slowly trust and hopefully enjoy human interaction.   

Also, just standing and ‘being’ with her with NO expectation will rock her world. Just stand or squat off to the side and focus on your breathing, like horses do when they stand and rest for a 30 minutes here and there during the day.


Also lots of undemanding time with her and also play ‘follow her lead’ in the arena. This will probably be really unusual for her but help you both a lot.

Don’t be in a rush to ‘teach’ her anything. 

I believe we get all our horses for a reason, at the right time and they are all here to help us grow. I have no doubt you are going to learn so much about yourself and your approach to training from her, how exciting!!! and how lucky is she to have found you, both your lives are about to change.

Please keep us updated.…/follow-a…/major-bob/



Angie Wicks

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