HomeExpert AdviceArticleMy horse is dead to the leg, spurs don’t seem to work, what shall I do?

My horse is dead to the leg, spurs don’t seem to work, what shall I do?

Posted in Riding Schooling and Training

Q: The cob I bought a year ago was sold by his previous owner because they were bucked off a couple of times. I am finding him dead to the leg and he basically does as he wants unless I use spurs. Should I try and re-educate him myself?

Lynn Wickes answers:
Before you tackle any training issues with your horse, you must consider whether or not the behavioural problems could be induced by pain somewhere.

The most common causes of discomfort/pain are:

Saddle fitting

A badly fitting saddle can pinch like a tight pair of shoes, causing soreness of the back and bruising of the muscles, which will often make a horse reluctant to go forward and can induce bucking. Get your saddle checked by a qualified saddle fitter, who will be able to advise as to whether or not you need a new saddle or maybe some re-flocking.

Misalignment of the spine

Vertebrae can be positioned slightly out of alignment as a result of a trapped nerve or pulled muscle, caused by an accident as simple as landing awkwardly after a fence or slipping. If you have ever had back pain yourself, you will know how debilitating it can be, so perhaps your vet could recommend a qualified physiotherapist who could check your horse for you.


Vet check

Bear in mind that your horse’s lethargy could be due to physical problems rather than mental ones, so why not ask your vet to take a blood sample to check your horse’s general wellbeing? A blood sample could show whether or not your horse is anaemic or viral, and a worm count would also be useful, because a worm burden can lead to listlessness. A thorough examination of your horse’s feet may also be a good idea, as conditions of the feet can cause great discomfort.

Once you are completely satisfied in your mind that there are no physical causes making your horse behave inappropriately, you then need to examine his temperament and training. He may be naturally stubborn and just needs to understand the order of hierarchy – that he is not the boss! And consider that generally, the younger the horse, the easier he is to retrain. Cobs, however, are often strong-minded by nature, so maybe your boy has just learnt how to have life on his terms.


It may be difficult for you to retrain your horse due to your limited experience, so I suggest that you find a professional rider/trainer, who can train him to be more ‘off the leg’ and to understand that he is not allowed to buck in defiance.

And whoever you choose should come highly recommended, as you require an educated opinion as to whether or not the situation is salvageable and whether or not the horse is suitable for you.

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