Learn from your Sensitive Horse


This week, we hear from Best Horse Practices Summit board member, Julie Kenney. Julie lives and rides in Harpswell, Maine where she manages Blackberry Farm.

Kenney writes:

Anyone have a sensitive horse? You know, the one that won’t tolerate roughness or loud voices or unjustified correction?

I have one and I am so much better because she came into my life. What I call a sensitive horse, others might call difficult, crazy, or hard to deal with.

Recently, I was having a conversation with Amy Skinner. She was lamenting how folks brand red-headed mares as crazy. In reality, we agreed, these mares are quite capable of doing great things, like toting around a beginner rider with no “crazy” showing up.


Derogatory labels?

Preconceived notions?

It happens a lot in the horse world. I’ve heard them too. But I’d like to share how a sensitive horse taught me to be gentler and quieter with all horses.

Khoura and Kenney at a parade

This is Khoura, my chestnut Arabian mare. She can be the bravest horse on trails, but will not tolerate rough behavior from her rider. If that’s what she gets, she’ll balk at everything asked.

Khoura will not put up with fast cinching or rough grooming. Because of her, I learned that that kind of treatment wasn’t appropriate for any horse, even one that was tolerant of it.

She taught many of my students how to talk softly, how to take their time grooming and tacking up, and how to ask instead of demand. In the end, she rewards her rider with her gentle demeanor and kind eye.

Those same students learned that ALL horses enjoy the same quiet treatment as Khoura does. At almost 31 years of age, Khoura still teaches us that a kind word and gentle touch are all she needs, and all any horse needs.

You can still discipline a horse, but make sure it is deserved, consistent, and then let it go after the correction. Don’t draw it out.

One of Kenney’s students atop Khoura

I am a better horse owner, rider, and teacher because of Khoura. I hope my students have taken those same principles forward in life, whether with horses or not. We can all learn from the sensitive horses out there. And Lord knows, the world could benefit from more kindness and gentleness.

Posted in Reflections and tagged , .


  1. Well put! I am learning from a sensitive mare myself right now, so this article “hit a nerve”, so to speak, with it’s timing and relevance. While some might label her “honest,” (a good descriptor) , others see her as frustrating, dominant, hard to engage, and the list goes on, usually negatively.

    Thanks for clarifying an important concept! She and her “kind” have the potential to make us kinder, more patient, adaptable people. No small feat!

    • Thank you Mary Ellen! I love your descriptor of honest. Sometimes it is as simple as changing our tone from derogatory to positive, isn’t it? I’m so happy you have this horse to learn from. Believe me, a horse like that will teach you lifelong lessons that you will carry with you always. Keep in touch on how it continues to go for you.

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