How to Develop Light
Responsiveness in Your Horse

One of the things I see when people ride is that they don’t want to hurt their horses with the bit or their feet.

Of course, you don’t. No one wants to do that.

The other side of that coin is that if you ask too lightly with your cues and they don’t respond, then you release them; you have just trained them to be unresponsive to light signals. That’s not good, either.

So what I’m about to share with you are guidelines for developing your horse’s responsiveness to light cues. That’s what this video is all about.


There are four essential elements:

  • Ask lightly first
  • Release the horse if they respond appropriately
  • If the horse does not respond, find the threshold of pressure where they do respond
  • Release

Here are the steps explained in more detail. , Each one is important.

1. Always ask with a light cue. A common mistake is that folks think their horse is not responsive, so they begin by giving a higher energy, more forceful bump or bang. Here’s the problem. That’s not allowing a horse to respond to a light cue; they’re teaching them to respond to force. Always ask with a soft touch first.

2. If your horse responds to the light cue, release them immediately. Immediately is the keyword. If you wait to release the pressure, they may begin random behaviors you do not want to find the release. And then, if the discharge is at the wrong time, horses associate their odd behavior with how they got relief. And they’ll likely do what you don’t want again. That’s how poor habits are developed. Horses are primarily trained by the release of pressure, not the application of it. Be precise in the release.

3. If your horse does not respond to light pressure, add more energy to your hands or feet in gradients—release when you get a try or the response you want. For example, push more firmly with your foot for some disciplines. Or give a bit of a boot to spark increase their speed or crispness. And once again, the moment your horse tries or improves their response, immediately release the pressure.

4. Don’t drill, drill, drill. If your horse tends to be laid back or not very responsive, once you follow the steps above and get a good response – and release – you can repeat the sequence, but that’s it for that lesson, or at least give asking your horse to repeat the behavior a rest for a while. One of the biggest mistakes folks make is to keep asking and asking.

It’s about being clear about how you ask (lightly) and your follow-up – release or more energy – and constantly releasing at the right time.

Let me know what you think. I hope that helps.

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7 Comments on How to Develop Light
Responsiveness in Your Horse

  1. Carol on Sun, 30th Apr 2023 7:50 pm
  2. So great to share these helpful reminders. So many things to think about when letting our horses know what we’re asking. Breath,relax, look up, seat, legs and less rein,heels down, and then release with right response! I’m learning, when we have successes I quit and move on. Thank you 😊

  3. Carol MacGregor on Sun, 30th Apr 2023 11:36 pm
  4. Thank you Barb, You demonstrated the two scenarios very well with Nic. I’ve heard it said by the great horsemen that “a horse will never get any lighter than the amount of pressure that you first apply”. You must start with the lightest pressure, and then build from there until the horse responds, then release quickly so the horse knows “he got the right answer”-:) Thank you again for your demo with your pretty boy! 🙂

  5. Caroline Mackinnon on Mon, 1st May 2023 3:28 am
  6. Always fantastic to have a review on these fundamentals. Thanks, Barb.

  7. Camille Abbott on Mon, 1st May 2023 2:23 pm
  8. Excellent as always!

  9. Joyce a Strezo on Tue, 2nd May 2023 7:17 am
  10. A very good reminder of how to be light.

    Thank you,

  11. Cheri on Tue, 2nd May 2023 10:49 am
  12. Great reminder. Struggle with this at times.

  13. Barbra Schulte on Wed, 7th Jun 2023 10:58 am
  14. Thank you to everyone for your comments!

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