There’s No Such Thing As Lazy

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The idea that a horse is lazy is such a falsity. I was chattering with my sidekick Liz yesterday, who’d been with me while I worked three of my ponies; Nadia, who is a Hanoverian warmblood; Saffy, an Irish Sport Horse; and Merc, my patchy pony, of a somewhat heavier build, and who you might describe as a station bred type.

Of the three of them, Merc has had the most challenges finding a free and easy forward. In fact, in the beginning when we started playing in the arena, it felt like if I wanted to do anything but walk, it might be easier for me to pick him up and carry him.

In many ways, it would have been easy to label him as lazy, but the reality is, he’s anything but. As a riding partner and companion, he’s infinitely generous and always does his best to find the yes, even if he has no idea what that looks like or is confused about what we’re doing.

The lazy label is problematic because from the horse’s perspective, the idea of laziness really doesn’t exist. It’s a human metric we assign that has no meaning or value to the horse. I see clearly now that the moment we slap a label such a lazy on a horse, we enter a universe of our own making; a sliding doors instant where what we experience is defined by the lens we’re looking through. That our energy, the way we use pressure, how we might set out to motivate forward are all defined by the perception we have of the horse we’re in relationship with.

It’s for that reason, that when it comes to horse and human partnerships, the idea of lazy, I believe, is a dangerous one. People perceive laziness as a decision stemming from a “bad” attitude. No-one wants to be called lazy. It gives us righteous humans license to motivate movement in ways that are questionable, and which are ignorant of the underlying reasons as to why a horse might have trouble moving freely forward in the first place. Where we rest solidly on the foundation that we are right. That’s never a good place to start.

So, if there’s no such thing as lazy, what is it that we are dealing with then?

Here are some things I’ve consistently paid attention to with Merc.

** Please note all possible explanations relating to pain, saddle fit etc. were paid attention to, although I recognize this as a moving feast. The question then becomes, is this getting better or is this getting worse? A conversation for another day.


Most horses that we label as lazy are actually really tight. In Merc’s case his body did not have the strength or the length (I’ll get to this part in a moment) to support me in a weight bearing posture and easily travel forward at the same time.

The tightness is an inside out job; it extends beyond the muscular, down to the level of fascia and organs. The organ bag is like a big fascial sack holding all the organs inside. It’s like a balloon with an end at the top and at the bottom, starting at the tongue and extending all the way down to the anus.

As part of our fight flight response, the organ bag contracts and pulls the organs to the side, to both protect them and make the flow of blood more efficient in survival situations.

If you think of having a balloon on your inside that gets pulled tight, your ability to move your limbs is only ever going to be proportional to how far your balloon can extend from the inside out.

For the body to move freely, the fascia doesn’t need to stretch; it needs to grow.

For fascia to grow, it needs two things:

  1. The presence of ground substance, the sticky component of fascia which is only produced when we’re in the parasympathetic nervous system
  2. New movement patterns that trigger the brain that it’s a priority to grow new fascia (otherwise, why waste the energy).

So, when I’m thinking of tightness, I’m thinking of this. How do I get the nervous system to a place where the expansion is going to happen from the inside out?

How can I introduce purposeful, novel movement that allows new patterns to form and allows my horse to find a freedom in their body that is all framed through the experience of choice, not force?


Merc was really out of balance. His back to front balance was all wrong (he landed heavily on the front end, particularly on the right fore) and his ability to centre weight equally on all four feet was off. This also reflected in his rhythm.

If I had simply “pushed forward” from this place, the only result would have been screw-drivering into the ground, and we probably would have ended up digging holes to middle earth (and beyond that, making him unsound).

Shoulder Control

To work with the balance, we had to develop lift and control in the shoulders. I’ve mentioned before that in Merc’s particular case, our initial work began in the saddle. From this place, I was better positioned to assist him and develop shoulder control and a relationship with contact that assisted rather than hindered his balance when he was in the position of carrying a rider.

For other horses you might start things on the ground- it’s very individually dependent. There are many roads to Rome, but this was an essential point of focus for Merc.

Renegotiating The Use Of Pressure

The amount of pressure I added in attempts to motivate forward was proportionate to the amount of brace I got back. Instead, I had to create an energetic conversation with Merc to communicate what was wanted and to begin from that place.



Things don’t change overnight. In February, I will have had Merc for two years. Over that time, we’ve worked consistently together (save a couple of months rest over this winter), and I would say I’m only just starting to get the kind of forward under saddle that genuinely feels good, where front to back are connected and his whole body is moving in conversation. It takes time.

Let’s lose the label of lazy. It says more about us than it ever will about them.


❤️ Jane

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