View Full Version : The MULE won't move....

Oct. 20, 2009, 01:00 AM
Ok, so maybe he's not actually a mule, he's a 17 hand six year old Irish TB/Perch that just came to me for training after spending 14 months basically untouched in a pasture in GA. He is in decent shape, there are no noticable physical issues, he has been seen by a vet, I have checked his back for soreness, he is well muscled and well put together. He is sound, has great feet and a charming personality. He just won't GO FORWARD. Under saddle, we get twice around the arena at the walk and then it usually starts. He usually throws a shoulder to the inside and stops, or just stops. At the trot, we get a nice little cadence going and then...halt, out of nowhere. The first day I rode him I chalked it up to him being lazy and not having been ridden for 14 months. He doesn't do it when being lunged. At the canter we get about five strides...halt. He completely refuses to move forward. He will back up just fine, he will "half pass", he will walk two steps and then it starts again. His saddle fits, he is ridden in a snaffle, his girth his not too tight. There is no tail swishing or uncomfortable body launguage etc. He does it with me and with his other rider and with his owner. There is no real "cue" that causes him to do this- he just stops- out of the blue. Especially at the canter, it is frustrating because there is no downward transition he can just halt midstride. He is a wonderful ride when he will actually move and we have trotted three foot fences with no issue at all- he is quite a cute package but has quite honestly earned his nickname "the mule". I am a little puzzled as to what to try next. I ride with dressage spurs and a whip- which he seems unphased by save for his half hearted bucks when I pop him with the whip. Is he just laughing at me or could there actually be something going on with him physically? It's just so weird when he is doing so well, ears up, forward trot, on the bit and moving off his hind and then BAM. HALT. Help?!

Oct. 20, 2009, 02:00 AM
Have you tried getting him move his feet in any direction (EXCEPT backwards)? pulling him to the left/right, adding one outside leg, anything to get his feet unstuck?

The above would logically be the first step. If that wasn't working, I'd get someone on the ground with a longe whip. Just something different to add incentive to get his mind "moving" again - time a kick with your ground person cracking (or even just swishing toward his hocks) the whip and when he moves off pat him and try to keep the forward momentum going in whatever gait you get.

It just sounds to me like he learned a trick to get out of work and instead of getting nasty he figures it's just as easy to stand there and be thick skinned. Good luck : )

Oct. 20, 2009, 04:55 AM
Maybe a stupid idea but it is 5 am and I've only slept for 6 hours since 10 am Sunday morning, but....

You said he doesn't do it on the lunge.... just with a rider. What about having someone lunge him while you ride! Maybe that would convince him to keep moving while carrying a rider and then eventually he'll forget about it??!?!

Just a thought!

I have a "Mule" too, but it's just cause his ears are so big!! :)

Oct. 20, 2009, 05:56 AM
Ages ago I used to break/gallop race horses. Every spring we'd have 10 or more two year olds that we broke at the farm, got them going really well before they went for their advanced classes and gate cards at the track.

One big colt broke very well as a two year old. Lazy, but was easy, good natured, gave no problems at all. In the spring of his three year old year he continued to improve... was still slow on the farm, but there was no place there to breeze, or even pick up much past a canter.

At the track - that's where it all started. The stopping and just plain standing. He was over 17 hands by then, would slowly jog and canter around, but when asked to pick up the pace, he'd just get slower and slower until he simply stopped. Did nothing bad, just stared at everything.

This went on for a month! He was so big the little jocks, including me, could not get this guy to move! The trainer put the big nervy boys on him to crack his flanks with the bat. Sometimes he went, mostly not.

Anyway, eventually he learned to run, and in fact turned out to be quite a nice mid level allowance horse. Trainer ran tried to get a quick win in a high dollar claimer one day, and he got haltered. Never did find out his ultimate fate..... wish I'd been able to get him for a hunter! :yes:

Oct. 20, 2009, 07:10 AM
Have you tried him outside of the arena? I know of several large horses that seemed rather frustrated and weren't getting forward in an arena. Three cases I know of, were solved by taking them out on the trail, hunting etc. When they weren't constantly going round and round their brains finally kicked in and got it. They found going forward was fun. Good luck.

Oct. 20, 2009, 07:29 AM
I'd try him outside of the arena, with some buddies. I'd also try him in the arena with a GOOD ground person with a lunge whip. Get him forward off a light aid backed up by the lunge whip, then you make the decision to stop and put him away. Next day increase the time he is forward etc etc. I have known this to work with a number of horses who just don't get that go means go. Oh, and check his teeth!

Oct. 20, 2009, 07:29 AM
GO FOXHUNTING!! That should take care of this issue. While you are hunting him only ride him outside the arena at home until he starts to "get it", then when he feels more confident about going forward start to take him back into the arena.

Best of luck to you!!

Oct. 20, 2009, 07:47 AM
I have a mare that I got because of this very reason. She would stop and stand and would not go anywhere. Her past owners had had enough of it and she had 30 days to get the heck out.
She would do it at random but most reliably when you put your leg on. Nagging made it worse.
It's been about 6 months and I'd say she is 99.9% resolved. She will occasionally act like she wants to "sink to the bottom of the pool" but I'm able to catch it in time.
I rode her with no spurs as that made it worse, but ALWAYS had a dressage whip and a ground person with a lunge whip. I would ask her very softly and lightly to go forward, even just to increase her walk speed. If she didn't respond immediately I would whack her with the dressage whip, and if that didn't get an immediate response the ground person would get behind her with the lunge whip. Smother her with praise when she responded. Rinse and repeat. Over and over for about 4 months.
The key was that you had to be definite about it every. single. time. If she did not respond to leg then she was told to go forward.
I kept the sessions short- 10-15 minutes. And once she was forward; trotting, cantering etc, I'd do circles, figures, even just weave around the ring, anything to keep her busy. This mare loves to jump, so I'd also have tiny jumps set up that I could aim her at randomly. On a loopy rein, just to give her something to keep her busy.
I tried many things and this worked the best, but took a long time. Ponying her off another was a joke. We'd be cantering along and she'd stop dead and the other horse would get whiplash. On the trail she'd be going along nicely, following a group, and then just plant her feet.

I'm glad this is a little mare though, can't imagine doing it with a big one!

Oct. 20, 2009, 09:30 AM
Take him trail riding with another horse as the leader. Then, after a few weeks, have him lead. We had this issue with one of our IDs when we tried to start him with ring work as a 4 year old. He was not mentally ready for ring work and would stop if we asked him to canter. After a month of trail riding and some cross country schooling, he was ready to learn to show jump over low fences. Then, 6 months later, he was ready to learn some basic flat work.

I talked with an Irishman who trains several youngsters each year. He said they do trail riding in a group, then cross country schooling, then fox hunting. After 6 months of outside work, he feels they are ready to go into the ring. He thought we Americans do things backwards when we try to start horses in the ring.

Lori B
Oct. 20, 2009, 11:17 AM
AKB, that is very interesting.

Mach Two
Oct. 20, 2009, 11:30 AM
I'm not knocking Percherons or Perch crosses, but of the drafts I've seen, they seem to be more prone to doing that kind of thing.
Yeah, get that big guy outside, and if your set up allows, once in a while canter a loop into and through the arena and then go out of the arena again. Keep it fun, lots of praise when he's going forward.

And tell him with no uncertainty that you'd like your goat back, please. :cool:

I've had TBs that did this on occasion. They just need to learn that they HAVE to go forward when you ask. NOW. But sometimes it needs to be for a better reason than going around the arena. Good luck and keep us posted!

Oct. 20, 2009, 11:42 AM
Speaking to the Percheron mind, I'd also recommend ground driving. This way you DRIVE them forward at all times.

Oct. 20, 2009, 12:36 PM
I have a mare in for training right now kind of like this.

Short & sweet of it:
She was with another trainer for give or take about a year. The other trainer was very quick, according to owner, to use whips and spurs to get this mare forward and 'keep' her there. She is a big (huge bone and a back and barrel big enough for two horses her size) 16.2 Clyde (7/8)/TB, 7 years old. Well towards the end of her training with this guy, she began just shutting down and bucking at canter.

So she is now in our barn, since the beginning of Sept. On the lunge- great and forward at walk n trot, canter was a bucking bronc show;) Under saddle- well when I asked for trot or forward walk it was either slam me into the indoor walls/or ring fence outside, bucking bronc show again, etc. When she would accept the leg, even a little, it would only last for two or three steps, then she would slam the brakes on, if i asked with my leg to move forward again, she would try to lay down or threaten to rear.

So I basically treated her like an unbroke two year old:winkgrin: Every step she took (while accepting my leg) she got rewarded with a pat and cheerful voice. Once she began to understand that riding was not painful and she actually gets rewarded for moving forward from leg and now seat aids, its going well. She is trail riding at the walk in company of another horse, and going walk/trot/canter in the ring. Shes by no means ready for her owner to ride her yet (owner is a beginner taking walk trot lessons), but we a huge "stride" closer:D

This is a little different from the OP, as this mare as been ridden, but same may apply. You have to take you time (not saying you are or arent), but some just have to understand what and why someone is asking them to do things from their backs. Another horse we got in for training would rear and literally try to kill us by rearing and all but falling backwards in the process, then turn on us if our feet hit the ground during on of his fitts. We put decided to try a hackamore on him, he is perfectly happy now out trail riding with our western rider/trainer. Nothing found to be wrong with his mouth or jaw, but bits up set him to no end.

Just throwing this out there. It may help spark an idea which may work for the OP.

Mach Two
Oct. 20, 2009, 01:29 PM
Skip, originally, your "Mule" in the title caught my eye...and I think there is something to this...let me explain.

Mules are notorious for saying "no" to anything they deem silly or unnecessary, for the most part. That's why they are great in the mountains, because you can't make one do something it thinks is stupid, like or instance, falling off a cliff. And you will have a hard time spurring a mule into going forward if it sees no reason to go.

And being that they are bred to conserve energy anywhere possible, I think drafts are somewhat the same. And pushing does seem to amplify the problems.
So all the posts about praising ANY forward movement, til it becomes the natural thing, seem to make sense. I havde a little OTTB that I evented for several years til he retired, and last year I started hacking him around the farm after several years of not riding him. He'd plant and stand sometimes if he did not care to take me somewhere I wanted to go. I know that even at 22, I'm not going to win a battle with him, and back when he evented , he gave me plenty of forward...so I'd just sit quietly on him, not letting him go sideways or backwards, but not insisting on forward...and every time, in a minute or two, he'd sigh, lick his lips, and go on towards my chosen path.
I agree that every horse should go forward when asked, but some that have learned evasions (my TB had them when I got him at 7, and we worked through it) just need to be sat on, and praised for "forward"

Here's a thought....take that big pony outside the arena and ride around a bit, then stop and sit there on him. Sit for several minutes, reminding him you want him to "stay" if he does try to move off...even 10 minutes or more...then, if he, when given rein to move off does so, pat and praise and just wrap you leg around him a bit more at the same time. He may start to associate the leg with pats and praise.

After all, you are not gonna win a kick and smack battle with a big guy like that.

Oct. 20, 2009, 09:11 PM
thanks so much for all the great ideas!
we did take him on a hunter pace last weekend and he was a star- none of the stopping at all- except for refusing one coop- but it was going into the woods (dark) and after about ten minutes he popped right over it.

when i say "arena" in my first post i mean large area of mowed down grass in our pasture. this guy has never seen a real arena yet. he still does it when hacking out over 8 acres at home, but didnt even think of it on the hunter pace as he was with friends and didnt want to get left behind. we tried to get him to lead but he isnt there yet and flat refused with a big kick out with both hind feet. im a big believer in getting them out in the field FIRST before putting a big unbalanced youngster in the ring so thats where we spend all of our time.

as for the ground person with lunge whip, we tried it and he got a little nasty on us- kicking out at them with both hinds again and throwing some rather large bucks in each time the whip snaps. i didnt want him to learn that he can control the situation with that kind of behavior (which he total has the strenght to) so we gave up and took him away from the ground person. as for the driving idea- it seems interesting but he can't really be trusted yet as he has kicked out several times and is still communicating with me on a "horse to horse" basis. we are working pretty hard on him learning that i am NOT a horse and he needs to respect my space etc. and so the ground manners have a little ways to go before i would try anything like driving.

for now, i am working through the sudden halts with changes of direction by basically pushing him off balance with my leg and a pretty strong rein aid at this point. i am working on always having something for him to think about BESIDES planning a stop so I weave and circle and probably look like a crazy person but anything to keep him moving forward. i am using TONS of praise with my voice and he seems to respond to it- he is VERY attached to me and when i put his owner on him the other day, he wouldnt leave my side at ALL- which was slightly embarassing, but after jogging next to him for a while as he trotted, i ducked behind a jump and he did pretty well. mach two- you are totally right that i am not going to win a kick and swat competition with him at all so positive reinforcement is my battle plan for now. he has a BIG old buck that he can pull out of nowhere (which, turns out, is why he got sent to me) so he hasnt unseated me yet but with constant provoking with whip and spurs- he could. it ends up the owner wants him as a hunt horse which i think he will excell at- so we are going to take him cubbing soon as well. i would LOVE to seem him in the dressage ring one day as he seems built for it, but we are a long way off! theres such a nice horse underneath the "mule" behavior. i do plan to get his teeth checked- thanks again!

Oct. 21, 2009, 12:04 AM
I am not going to tell the long story here, but over 50 years ago I had the best horse I ever had.

He came to me as a total outlaw. No one could ride him in the ring. And I mean NO ONE.

I found out that he liked to hunt. And I sure did. I never missed a hunt.

The first time I hunted him, he put me on my face in the middle of a red mud plowed field.

That was the last time he ever threw one of his fits in the hunt field.

After a year of hunting, I could do anything with him except jump him in the ring. He would walk into the ring and jump out over the ring fence, around an outside course and back into the ring, but that was it.

Bottom line:

If your horse likes hunting, take him hunting every chance you get and do not mess with his mind.

If you can hunt him hard twice a week, 3 hours or more, don't ride him at all between hunts. Turn him out between hunts.

As for driving with long reins, lunging, etc., don't.

I tried that with my outlaw before I found out what he needed and he ran me out under the fence.

I dived at it and rolled under it the same as if a bull were after me.

Don't push him. Hunt him, hunt him, hunt him and by the end of the season he will be OK.

I can't emphasize that enough because a horse that will kick out at you so quickly, buck when provoked, etc., could easily become an outlaw if pushed too hard. Don't push.

One more thing. That horse loved sugar. I got a box of Domino cubed sugar and carried it in my pocket when I hunted him and would occasionally give him a lump. I do not believe in and in fact oppose feeding snacks to horses, but in his case it helped.

You might try that or some of those horse cookies.

But then again, it might work against you so think that one over before you do it. With his mentality, he might become aggressive.


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Oct. 21, 2009, 12:25 AM
Maybe try clicker training? I KNOW they have to stop to actually get the treat (reinforcement) but it doesn't seem to matter, as long as you click the correct response to the "go" aid in a timely fashion.

Oct. 21, 2009, 09:36 PM
I have a big 16.2+ youngster - TB/Irish/ dab of paint - gelding who is quiet under tack, accepts a rider with no problem, but gets in the same "mode" occassionally. I believe he gets confused with his job and errs on the "halt" side rather than the "bolt" side and believe me I'd rather them err THAT direction. Yesterday we rode him a bit in our big round pen then went out on a trail ride with a good lead pony. He was good, but a little "stickey". Today I put him back in driving lines. When he would balk, I could "thwap" him a little on the cheeks of his butt and send him forward. Without the job of balancing a rider, a greenie is usually more willing to go forward. Today I started in the pen then drove him out into adjacent paddocks at a walk, jog, halt, back, circling and MOVING forward from the stand still. We ended up going all around the farm that way. He's not spookie or mean, I just think mine gets a bit confused!!! I'll do the driving another time or two then go back to trail riding and simple flat work in a paddock. Any time they relapse, I go back to the driving lines. I also like them going in a very free form - no collection until they learn to go forward.

Oct. 22, 2009, 11:05 AM
(read with VBG!)

This is an insult to Mules!!!!!!!

Oct. 22, 2009, 08:37 PM
who is now 9. In the arena, originally, I'd get a lap or two then, he'd just spit the bit. In the huntfield (or any other) he's fine. It's taken me years and patience to get him going. He did not enjoy flat work on any level til about last summer, but would gallop toward anything he thought he could jump. Send him to me if you get bored.

Oct. 28, 2009, 01:32 AM
thanks so much ya'll! he's going to his first REAL hunt this weekend!
ps- no insult to mules intended in original post :)