Stubborn or Fearful?

Is it Fear, Stubbornness, or a Lack of Confidence?
by Pat Parelli

This article was originally published in the July 2005 issue of Savvy Times magazine. Recent back-issues of Savvy Times are available for Parelli members in the Resources section of Parelli Connect.

How do you tell the difference between a fearful horse and one that is just plain ol’ stubborn?

Many times, what we may perceive as fearful or stubborn is actually a lack of confidence.

I think most people recognize some obvious factors that indicate fear, like the whites of the horse’s eyes showing. When some horses are really afraid, they’ll move their feet in a nervous and unconfident manner, and may form foamy sweat on their bodies.

But other horses, who maybe don’t have as much fire in their feet, may not exhibit their fear or lack of confidence that way. Oftentimes those horses don’t want to go forward at all and they’ll plant their feet. In assessing a fearful or stubborn horse, I try to determine how a lack of confidence will exhibit itself—flight from fear or a more a passive resistance?

Horses, even fearful or stubborn ones, are looking for leadership. I find that when a horse is confident in a person’s leadership ability, the horse will be a natural follower.

We need to build a horse’s confidence a little bit at a time—whether going forward confidently or going farther away from the barn or crossing something he wouldn’t cross on his own. A lot of times these horses just are not confident in the person’s leadership. They’ve learned how to use opposition reflexes like stopping, not going forward, sashaying to the side, even rearing up a little bit. Learning about opposition reflex is critical to learning how to read a horse, as well as understanding why he is reacting. It may involve a lack of respect, but this is due to a lack of trust and esteem for the human as a leader.

Often if we can get a horse to be confident in himself, his environment, and in our leadership, these fearful or stubborn behaviors will go away.

Your Role

Your attitude applies directly to your relationship with your horse. If you are confident, the horse gains confidence. If you are nervous, your horse will feel unsafe and lose confidence in you as his leader. If you are overaggressive or inconsiderate, the horse may become fearful (or fight back).

In so many ways, your horse is your mirror. Lots of people blame the horse for his attitude and not realize the part their attitude plays in this two-way relationship. Your attitude and behavior determine the amount of respect you’ll get from your horse. You’ll be amazed at what your horse will do for you once he trusts you as his leader.

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