December 18, 2017

Liar, Liar. Pants On Fire!

Liar, Liar. Pants on Fire-

            I was watching TV the other night when this commercial came on. The people on the commercial lied about their car insurance and their pants burst into flames! Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire! Just like when we were kids. It got me to thinking about how we sometimes lie to our horses. We don’t always say what we mean and we don’t always mean what we say. Later that week I was teaching a lesson to a long time student. She was working on side-pass. She knew the basic cues and was practicing getting a straight side-pass. My kind and tolerant school horse, Lace, felt that it was entirely too hot a day to be walking sideways, so she refused to move. After increasing the firmness of her cues my student finally got Lace to take a few, less than graceful but straight, steps sideways. I told her to stop and reward Lace for her effort. The student promptly said “Whoa”, released the rein cue and petted Lace on the neck. However; her leg (compete with spur) was still pressed into Lace’s side. When I pointed it out to her, she removed the leg pressure but it was too late. The student lied to Lace. She told her to stop with her voice and hand, rewarded the stop, but was still telling her to move with her leg.

            This is a common problem with students who are learning new skills. The process is so complex that they forget some of the steps along the way. This leads to “lying” to the horse just like I described above. This is one of the reasons school horses get dull and don’t respond to cues very well. They have been lied to so often they don’t believe anymore. Have you ever had a friend who liked to tell tall tales? They tell such wild stories you don’t really believe them anymore. You listen, nod your head and then go about your business. That’s how some of our horses get. They just nod their heads and then go about their business like you aren’t there. If this is happening to you, maybe you have been lying to your horse and don’t even realize it.

            When you are working your horse on the ground, how do you use your body language? Do you always face forward when leading your horse and face backward when standing still? If you expect your horse to understand your body language it must always mean the same thing. My showmanship horse knows that if I face forward, she is supposed to move forward. So if I turn my body and face forward I better plan on going somewhere because my mare is!  If not, I’m lying to my horse with my body. I see handlers doing this all the time. They will face forward and then correct the horse when it starts to walk. That’s wrong. If you want to stand still, you need to face your horse. Body language, voice command and expectations must all match. If not you are lying to your horse and they will start ignoring your cues. Before long the horse won’t move unless you start tugging on the lead. That has become the new cue and the old one of facing forward has vanished.  In a showmanship class that simple thing can mean the difference between a 1st place trophy and nothing.

            How about when you are riding? One of the most common mistakes I see is the use of the word “Whoa”.  I’ll see people loping down the rail saying “Whoa. Whoa. Whoa” every other stride. They are trying to slow the horse down. Later they use the same word to stop the horse. When the horse doesn’t stop, it gets corrected. Usually with some very harsh yanking on the bit, backing up, or rolling the horse back into the rail. The problem is the horse has been lied to so often it doesn’t know what “Whoa” means anymore. Sometimes it means slow down and sometimes it means stop. What’s a poor, honest horse to do?  He might be thinking something like- Uh Oh, there’s that word “Whoa” again. What do I do? Slow down or stop? Oh no, she’s gonna yank on the bit. I better decide and quick! I know! RUN AWAY!  Your horse has lost their training because you are a liar. 

            Or how about this one. A few days ago one of my students was working on the rail tracking left on their horse “Beau”. Someone else was exiting the arena and left the gate open. Beau got just past the gate, realized it was open and turned to the right into the rail and was headed out the gate. The rider tried in vain to turn Beau back to the left so they could continue down the rail. Beau was stronger than his rider and continued to pull to the right. Finally the rider turned Beau in a full circle to the right and was able to continue down the rail. Victory right? Did this rider win because they continued down the rail going in the original direction? Or did Beau win because he got to turn to the right when the rider wanted him to go left?  Beau won because his rider lied. Beau was told to go left but was allowed to go right when he wanted to. Beau learned that if he really, really wants something he can get it if he insists long enough. Like going right when told to go left. The rider should have stopped Beau, continued to cue Beau to turn left and not given up until he complied. That way Beau will learn that he must always do what he is told or he will be corrected. That will keep the horse honest.

            Are you lying to your horse? Come to our FREE CLASS on 1/22/12, Horses 101 to learn more about horses and their natural behavior. You can also see the optional ground handling demonstration a small fee. For more information go to the Events page at

Cheryl Rohnke Kronsberg is a Certified Horsemanship Association Master Instructor and Clinic Instructor. She is also a registered AQHA Professional Horseman. Cheryl has been teaching riding and horsemanship for over 30 years. Currently she and her husband own and operate CRK Training Stable in Yorba Linda, CA. We welcome your comments and questions. Please feel free to share this article with your friends, but rights to publish this article are restricted.



  1. Found your link to this on the Equestrian Professionals forum.

    Cheryl, well said. Consistency and mindfulness are so critical and so difficult for not only beginners but also for those of us who are “old” hands.

    I’m just getting my blog started – a lot to learn yet. I like the crisp, professional look of yours.

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