I have a four-year-old mare that does NOT like to lope, and tells me so pretty clearly. She pins her ears, braces, and goes stiff-legged. It takes a lot of leg to keep her moving.
Though its always a possibility, I think I've ruled out physical issues. She's been seen by the vet, chiro, farrier, dentist, and saddle fitter, and nothing's amiss. Besides, she lopes just fine on trail.
My trainer thinks it's a learned behavior. Mare was a reining futurity crop-out, and we think that she was pushed too hard too fast too young. She was SUPER sour when I bought her a year ago, and I think her reaction to loping is a holdout of the defensiveness she developed from endless reining drills.
So, what do I do about it?
Right now my approach is to ask her for a sustained extended trot. Eventually, she breaks from the trot into a lope, and I stop all my cues. She usually breaks back down to a trot after a few strides. I hope I'm teaching her to be confident about the lope--making it her decision, showing her nothing bad will happen, and rewarding her. Does that seem like a sound philosophy? Or am I just spoiling her, teaching her that she only ever has to lope three strides? She's improved in so many other areas, but after a year, we haven't made much progress int he loping department, so I think my approach has to change somewhere.
Short answer is don't lope her in the ring - she already associates it with hard work and, if worked too hard, with discomfort and maybe even pain. Mindless drilling is hard on a mature horse and a killer for babies. If she lopes fine outside, I wouldn't worry too much about it; if showing is in your future just take it slow and she will eventually learn that she isn't going to have to do endless spins, rollbacks and sliding stops
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Have you tried a different saddle, maybe even an English saddle? I know you say you've had saddle fit checked, but this sure sounds like she's got pressure points somewhere that makes loping uncomfortable.
Agree, too with SK_. Leave off the hard arena work for a while. She may be sour, too. Or, if you DO arena work, make it different -- set up cones, cavalletti grids, ride different patterns through and around them. It's what I do with my 3rd Level horse and we can't go outside...
Have you had her hocks and stifles looked at? Is she worse one direction than the other? Will she lope on a lunge line or in a round pen? Does she lope with your trainer riding?
My suggestions, for what they're worth: pony her from another horse out in a pasture or on a trail. Watch her reaction to loping then. If she's still crabby about it, then I'd be concerned about a pain issue of some sort.
If she's fine with loping while being ponied, then you need to make her happy and enjoy riding time. If hard training fried her brain as a futurity prospect, then I guarantee she dreads seeing anyone come at her with a saddle and bridle. Try going to a snaffle or even a hackamore, and just ride around somewhere beside the arena. Spend time walking and seeing the sights. Play around walking over and around obstacles. Just get her mind off "training" and pressure to perform. She needs reprogrammed.
When I first got my mare she was sour about pretty much everything, including cantering. I COULD NOT get her to canter in the arena at all no matter what I tried. I ruled out all types of physical problems. One day I took her out into a huge hay field and asked her to canter, she picked it right up. I let her go how fast she wanted for as long as she wanted, just stayed out of her way. Few days later I took her back into the ring, asked her to canter, and she picked it up. Never really had any issues since then.
I don't really know why it worked, but it did. I would suggest taking her outside of the arena for a little while and just making riding fun for her again.
Maggie Bright, lovingly known as Skye and deeply missed (1994 - 2013) The Blog
Regumate - really helps some mares just get rid of that grouchy attitude. I have a 4 yo that is very similar to yours - balky about going forward, and she can be a little territorial when you approach her. I see a difference in her when she is on Regumate, and when she is not.
Ground work with an emphasis on respect. I just started riding this mare a couple months ago, and she will pin her ears when you approach her or when you put the saddle blanket and saddle on her. We do ground work where she has to stay out there and move her feet, and as I letting her stop and rest near me, I toss the saddle blanket on her. Big difference in attitude in just two sessions. We also do about 10 - 15 minute of groundwork before I get on, and I just started doing this a few weeks ago. Again, big difference in attitude about going forward.
A comment in the defense of mares - a mare that is not ready to be bred will pin her ears, lash her tail and kick at another horse (stallion) when approached. I think it is a very natural reaction for many mares to have when their personal space is invaded in a certain area or in a certain manner (ie, lifting a large saddle onto the back may trigger a defensive mechanism just as if a stallion was trying to mount). And it may be that these types of mares may need continuous reinforcement and/or extinguishment of certain behaviors. When you are asking a mare to go forward, you are sitting down in the saddle and also touching her along her sides, and stimulating those two areas may trigger the "NO" reaction just as if a stallion was checking her out.
she could be looking for direction a slight but of pressure on the reins letting her know your there may help she may be scared she not going the right way and scared to be punished for it. especially if she was pushed to hard