Horses say No to us in many different ways. If you observe them closely in our interactions with them, they are communicating constantly. Sometimes subtly and sometimes loudly. I have made it my business to watch horses closely for all communication. I find that people don’t want to hear No from their horse and it is often a source of frustration, impatience and worse, bullying of horses. What if a horse saying No to you could be a way to build Trust, Connection and Communication?

When I am first working with a horse, I first want the horse to know that I don’t want anything from him. I need nothing. I am interested in them for them. I want to know who they are and what they are about. What kind of food do they like, What music, What is their preference in weather etc. I can only truly know a horses character when he is in his element without any tack and possibly with other horses. Many horses resign themselves in tack and you can see some of who they are or none of who they are. In order to train a horse optimally with his well-being in mind, I must get to know his character.

Only by sitting and just observing a horse in his environment and just enjoying his company, not needing anything from him and being completely non-judgmental towards him or his behavior, can I get to know a horses character. Then and only then can I start to know what path to take with his training so he will feel like participating wholly and enthusiastically with me.

After I have allowed the horse to get to know me and he has become interested in me of his own choice, then I can start asking him some questions. When I ask these questions of the horse, I will let the horse answer how he wants and I will listen. The questions I ask will be similar to the questions I ask a new person who has come to study with me. I will be looking for what the horse will say yes to and what the horse is saying no to. If I have been told that the horse has a “Big No” that will be left on the back burner until the horse and I have built rapport. I find that with this approach, sometimes the “Big No” goes away all by itself without ever being addressed directly.

I have been working with a young Andalusian mare. I started her under saddle. I was told she said “No” quite strongly to be clipped. I built the connection up with her over time and when I felt we had enough rapport, I asked her if she would be willing to play my “Clip me” training game. I call it “Clip me” because I want the horse to ask to be clipped. When it is their idea, they volunteer. Once she understood the baby steps, because she trusted me, I was able to get her to engage in the “Clip me” game. She realized that clippers were actually not bad at all despite their noisy, vibration.

I want horses to tell me No. I want them to tell me what they like and what they don’t like. I want to be able to accommodate their desires because I am going to request that they accommodate mine. If a horse is traumatized, The No is the best way to build that trust back up in humans.

These are the a few of the questions I ask when I see a “No” in a horse:

  • I ask myself, why is that No there?
  • Why did you feel like you had to say No?
  • Are you uncomfortable?
  • Are you afraid?
  • Are you Confused?
  • Are you unsure?
  • Are you used to being over pressured?
  • It may be none of the above. It could be simpler or more complex?

But the first question is “Why is the no there? And why did they feel like they had to say No?” Ask yourself how you and some person who you are close to got to deeper understanding. Knowing when to ask a question of a horse is tantamount to raising the odds of you getting a Yes. I call this the Window of Softness or Setting Yourself up for Success. If you observe these patterns in your horse, you are likely to get a yes more often then not. Remember when we’re kids and we say “Don’t ask dad now, he’s in a bad mood he’ll say NO” I try always to ask my horse when he is in a good space. Sometimes this is not possible and we have to do things in haste because that’s what needs to happen in that moment. But if the bulk of our relationship foundation is built on this platform, we then have the Connection with the horse that can withstand a more stressful moment. The horse can trust you more in those moments because of the connection. Just like you can trust people in your family to help you through times of stress. If you would like to learn more about this work, I have several clinics coming up. Click the link See you there! Share your experience with working with your horses No.




  • Lance

    Thanks for the informative post, Farah.

    I’m very new to horses and am juggling with the whole issue of asking the horse for what I want.

    On the one hand I want to treat him well, kindly and with respect.

    On the other I am finding out that he won’t accept what I’m asking for if I’m not clear what I’m about.

    My ambivalence at the moment is not going to make me a respected leader:-)
    He is a real gentleman and curious, I want to honor that in him while still gaining his acceptance as leader.

    How can I work with myself to improve communication etc without hopelessly sending mixed signals?

    Thanks, lance

    • FarahD

      Hi Lance thanks for your good question. There is a difference between clarity and mixed signals. Clarity means that you are clear with your intent. Your horse may say yes or know regardless of your clarity of intent. Your job is to show your horse what your likes and dislikes are as well. But it will be balanced with his. Here are some good ideas to think about. Safety is non-negotiable. So anything that makes me feel unsafe, I have the right to be clear about boundaries around that. So does your horse. If I am approaching the horses’ personal space, I need to be conscious of my manners. And if the horse is in my intimate zone, they need to be conscious of their manners. I have to be the one to show them what makes me feel comfortable. So try this exercise. Have a clear idea of what you would like from your horse. Make a clear request, see what his reaction is, then evaluate it. Did he say yes or no. If it was no, ask yourself those questions from the blog, You can ask again or move on to something else and ask at another time. Experiment with different levels of energy in a safe way. But keep watching for your horses feedback to guide your actions. Remember it is a two way conversation. Let me know if you need more guidance. A Virtual coach session might be helpful 🙂

  • lance

    Thanks Farah.

    I re-read the post a few times in the context of your reply and it’s pretty clear I’m getting ahead of myself and the relationship.

    I especially like the part about getting to know him in his natural environment, without any tack.

    Thanks again for the help.

  • Jenny Keeton

    Hi Farah, I’ve been working with Summer a lot at liberty lately and I often encounter ” no” from her. Most often this is when I ask directly for her to move her shoulder away from me, I recall last year she did this in the arena with me when you were there. I spend time just moving with her and as long as I give her space she’s ok, it’s when I make a decision to ask her something that she says no. Her ears go back and she will only move away from me if I insist. The last two times this has happened I’ve stopped and really thought about where I’m at. I’m not afraid however I think I may be hesitant and my response to this is to have bigger sharper movements which she doesn’t like. I guess what I’m asking is, I think I’ve been working with her enough lately for me to feel ok about taking the lead and insisting and saying move away when I want her to. I spend a lot of time reflecting and I think Summer wants me to show her at the moment how to move off and then feel good about it. I can move her, she will follow, she is happy for me to lead from behind, she will wait for me as I draw her and she’ll companion walk, up to a point. It’s there that it ends really, once I’m in close it’s pretty hard for me to move her off me.

    • FarahD

      Hi Jenny great to hear an update about Summer 🙂 Have you tried much Touch Training work with her? I don’t think we got there last clinic but it could help. It involves direct clear laying on of hands on the parts you would like her to acknowledge. It is not sharp but firm, slow and deliberate with an eye on the instant she takes herself away from the Touch. Experiment with her trust in your touch and your request to move. Make you touch pleasing, Inviting and clear in your request. Let me know if this makes sense. 🙂 Then practice both tactful work in her space and from a distance. You both just need to get comfortable in each other’s space up close. Let it unfold organically and as always, be safe!

      • Jenny Keeton

        Hi again Farah. Thanks for your reply. I have tried asking by touching her shoulder and often get the same response ie ears back and a push into me. I think though if I was gentler and sort of created an energy wall and just waited we would work through the moment of resistance. I’m going to do what you suggest this week and see how we go. She’s just had her teeth done today. All the trees are starting to bloom and it’s suddenly starting to feel like spring.

        • FarahD

          Try when she pins her ears to hold your space in a neutral way when she pushes into you. Don’t push back. See if she will move herself away when she sees you as a “soft but strong fence post” Then try again and see if the moment she pins her ears you stop wait for it to pass and try again when she is soft. Let me know how this goes. 🙂

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