Is it ever okay for your horse to say “No”?

horse communication

 If you’ve been around horses more than fifteen minutes you’ve experienced a refusal. When your horse doesn’t do what you expect, do you automatically assume the horse is wrong? Horse communication includes asking correctly as well as properly interpreting answers.

Your Response Checklist

  • What precisely did your horse say No to?
  • Are you sure you asked for something rather than making it optional?
  • Does your horse understand what you asked for and what Yes looks like to you?
  • Is your horse 100% able to do as you asked?
  • Is your horse 100% willing to do as you asked?
  • Are you 100% certain that your answers to these questions are accurate?

Horse Communication Isn’t Always Clear

Not long ago as I entered one of our local horse emporiums a clerk called out, “Lynn, can I ask you a question?”

“Sure,” I replied. “How can I help?”

She wasn’t sure how to interpret her young stallion’s response (or lack of response) from an encounter that morning. He was happily grazing in the pasture when she went to the fence and called to him. He looked at her but didn’t come to the fence.

She asked, “Was he being disrespectful? Should I have gone into the pasture and schooled him?”

I responded, “What was your intention when you walked over to the fence? “

What do you mean by intention?” she asked.

Did you command him to come or did you issue an invitation? The answer to your question depends on what you had in mind when you got to the fence.”

I don’t really know what I had in mind.”

It’s a little difficult for our horse to give us what we ask for when we don’t really know what that is. This bit of common sense isn’t exclusive to horses. How many times have you asked a question but got an answer different than the one you expected? Have you ever experienced less-than-perfect communication?

People regularly confuse invitations, inquiries, and commands. If her stallion was given the command to “Come” and did not, then the right thing to do is figure out why. Was he unable to come (didn’t understand or lame) or was he unwilling to come (he just didn’t want to)?

The difference between an invitation and a request

Before calling out to a horse over a fence I predetermine if I’m asking him to “Come” or extending an invitation to wander over for a short visit. Invitations are basically, “Do you wanna?” There should be no doubt on the horse’s part if I’m just visiting or expecting a “yes.”

If I ask my horse to “Come” I expect his little hoofies to start making hoof prints in my direction. If I’m just popping by for a few minutes or simply want to admire the beauty of my equine family I ask (invite) him over for a pet or chat.

There is no right or wrong answer to a genuine invitation. “Do you want to?” has no hidden agenda. There’s a world of difference between “Please come” and “Do you wanna?”

Horses Aren’t As Disrespectful as People Think

If the store clerk was extending an invitation to her young stallion then he wasn’t being disrespectful, he was simply giving her an answer. “No thanks, I see you, hope you are well, but I’m content right here.

There is a radical difference between making an offer (invitation) and issuing a request. An offer allows for a negative response; a request does not. The worst thing a horse owner can do offer an invitation then punish her horse for not accepting.

The huge balance you’ve carefully built up in the relationship account with your horse will take a huge hit when you chastise him without cause. Whenever you’re not sure, give the horse the benefit of your doubt!

Invitations are one of four types of questions used in communication with horses.

When Your Horse Says NO

Sometimes horses really do say “No.” When that happens some response is required, but it must be the right one if you want to deserve your pedestal of leadership.

Horses, like everyone else, say no because they either can’t do what you want or don’t want to.

If your horse is UNABLE to do what you ask, then help him become more able. Sometimes that means clearer direction, additional lessons, or asking for a smaller step or response.

If your horse is UNWILLING to do as you, then you have one option: motivate him. Do whatever it takes to move him from unwilling to willing. What that is differs with every horse.

YOU are responsible for distinguishing between inability and unwillingness correctly.

Always give the horse the benefit of your doubt, and above all –


You can read about them in Discipleship with Horses or get a free Kindle book introducing the 4 type of questions in The Art of Getting to YES

Related Post – Rethinking the Use of Pressure in Horse Training

The Gospel Horse Series

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Lynn Baber

Lynn Baber

Lynn Baber is a best-selling Christian author, speaker, and coach promoting personal, intimate relationship with Jesus Christ. She provides support, resources, and encouragement to kingdom-minded people.

Lynn Baber

Lynn Baber

Lynn Baber is a best-selling Christian author, speaker, and coach who helps people accomplish God's unique purpose for them and advance His kingdom on earth. She's also a retired World and National Champion horse trainer and breeder.

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