How to Avoid Numbing Your Horse’s Sides

We all want to ride primarily with our eyes, breath, seat, and legs, but there are so many challenges that come up as we attempt to do this.

Recently I was asked this question: “Barb, Do you have advice for keeping your legs still. Sometimes I will be bumping my horse with my spurs, not hard, but it’s a bump, bump, and then he gets numb to my leg cues. Sometimes I don’t even realize I’m doing this. Can you give me some tips to hold my legs/feet still but still stay relaxed and not grip with my thighs?” ~DG

That’s a great question – and – I know she’s not the only one who has challenges getting their legs to do what they want them to do!

That’s what this video is all about.


There are lots of different leg challenges like stiffness, gripping, heels up, and in this case bumping with the result of a ‘numb-sided’ horse.

I’m going to share three key points here to help you develop new and effective ways to use your legs.

#1. Understand why the unconscious ‘bump-bump’ results in a lack of responsiveness from your horse.

  • For all cues, horses are rewarded for the behavior we desire when:
    • We ask with a light cue.
    • If they respond appropriately, or try, or get closer to what we want, we immediately release the pressure of the cue.
    • If they do not respond, we add more energy to the cue. The goal is to find the place where it’s just the right amount of energy that elicits the response in that horse without overdoing it. Then we immediately release the pressure.
  • If we do not follow this sequence (in this case, unconscious bumping) a horse becomes unresponsive or ‘numb’ to a cue.

#2. Understand and focus on what you want to do with your legs instead of what you don’t want to do.

  • In your discipline, how do you use your legs? Feet? Press? Bump? Heel? Spur, etc.?
  • When and how?
  • Ask your trainer or trusted mentor, so you have the ideal picture in your mind for how to use your legs effectively.
  • This ideal is the replacement (what you want) instead of focusing on what you don’t want.
  • The power of a laser focus on what you want cannot be overstated.

#3. To develop a new habit of effective cueing with your legs…

  • Always begin your ride with good seat position and body alignment. Your leg cuing cannot be effective without your seat as your center of balance and the rest of your body is soft and well-positioned.
  • Check-in with your body from head to toe at the beginning of your ride and throughout your ride. Consciously release excess tension in your body. The goal is to be loose so your seat and joints can move effortlessly with your horse.
  • Envision what you do want your leg cues to be, how to use them, and the pressure/release sequence.
  • Be mindful of a sequence and practice at a walk.
  • Be patient with yourself as you train new habits at progressive stages. You must train slowly first.

Leave a comment and let me know if these ideas resonate with you.

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6 Comments on How to Avoid Numbing Your Horse’s Sides

  1. Vera Widmer on Sun, 5th Sep 2021 2:23 pm
  2. Hi dear Barbra, thank you for this video. Yeah, this is a good question. Some say with the reining you need to give the rhythm to the horse and he is not allowed to do one step without, others day the horse should keep his speed by himself without bumping. I have the same problem and do not exactly know what is right and what is wrong. But of course nobody wants to make the horse numb. Thanks for help. Vera

  3. Kathy Faust on Sun, 5th Sep 2021 4:40 pm
  4. Excellent advice. I am working with a horse who has been drilled with no release. She is coming around good learning to walk out, jog, etc with an ask, light cue & release. This mare is bred to have all the potential in the world, however she was rushed and became dull, no desire, and to just be compliant. Thank you for your advice & videos.

  5. Carol MacGregor on Sun, 5th Sep 2021 6:25 pm
  6. Hi Barb, So nice to see you and Nic in your arena doing that nice slow work that you two do so well. What a great example to all of us! I just have not ridden very much this year with the terrible heat, then recent fires with bad smoky skies many of the days. But I did go to a covered arena the other day and I just used your deep breathing/relaxing ex when I first got on my horse (ground work first) for several minutes before I asked him to do anything for me. It helped me relax and focus. Thank you

  7. Carol MacGregor on Sun, 5th Sep 2021 6:28 pm
  8. Hi Barb, I realize that my response above really did not relate to bumping the sides of my horse/making him dull, but I just wanted you to know how all of your coaching helps in one situation or another;)

  9. Diane Godwin on Wed, 8th Sep 2021 1:47 pm
  10. Barb, Thank you for the great advice. The clarity in what I do want is the key and practicing at a slow pace. Breathe!!!! Breathe!!! Breathe! I appreciate you!!!

  11. Lloyd Estes on Thu, 16th Sep 2021 12:58 pm
  12. Commonly, spurs are considered being a fashionable cowboy. Therefore, Barb can explain several methods of using spurs, including rowels, etc. For any horse, but especially the numb horse, the horse sounds spur bound, though spur bound also applies to an over
    achiever.Solution, take your spurs off, and KICK until over time the horse frees up. With your BARE heals for the over achiever,check and bump.Lite bumps are a form of petting.

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