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  1. #1

    Default Cross Post-Horse With Poor Work Ethic??

    Posting under an alter for some unbiased opinions on this.

    The horse in question I got very recently. He's 8 yrs old. His tack all fits correctly. He has no injuries or pain; he is completely sound at all gaits. So this is not the impetus for his behavior.

    When I first got him, he had a lot of respect issues. He learned to buck in order to evade working; which is why his previous owner passed him on. She was pretty scared of him. I have since got him to the point where he doesn't buck at all. On the ground, he is not disrespectful. He backs up, moves over, etc. when asked. On the lunge, he listens pretty well but doesn't want to do very much.

    Now, under saddle is the real issue. He has a very poor work ethic and doesn't listen well. He is always so busy focusing on everything going on outside the ring and will do that even when circled repeatedly or asked to do other conventional methods of re-directing a horse's attention. Of course, I keep him going with transitions, direction changes, circles, serpentines so as to not let him get out of work. He just goes through the motions and doesn't entirely respect me 100% in the saddle, though he respects me enough at this point to not buck or do anything dangerous to evade work entirely. I know this is a great step in the right direction, but I want to obviously get him to the point where he's eager, willing, and cooperative under saddle.

    I know the problem is that his previous owner let him intimidate her into getting off easy, so I believe he hasn't been asked to do an honest day's work in who knows how long. I know it's going to take repetition, consistency, and time to get him to the point where he's cooperative and I can ask him to do more advanced things. I was just wondering if anyone has any exercises or advice for working with a horse like this? He is very intelligent and has really progressed well since I first acquired him. Someone suggested I try doing join up with him.
    Thank you in advance!



  2. #2
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    Apr. 29, 2010
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    I'd bet there's an undiagnosed pain/physical component. Lack of visible lameness doesn't equate to a pain free horse. The fact that he doesn't want to move forward on the lounge w/o rider tells me there's more to the story. Could be ulcers or kissing spine or?????

    Horses don't sit around thinking of ways to get out of work. When they are comfortable physically, ridden correctly, and not pushed too fast or far, they work. Having a scared prior owner doesn't mean anything. One of my horse's prior owners was so scared of him, she wouldn't even canter him. I haven't had the 1st issue.
    You don't have to be good to start, but you do have to start to be good.


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  3. #3
    Join Date
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    Hey there Have you had the basic vet/dentist/saddle check?

    I have to say I agree with the previous poster - have you tried doing a bute trial? If he seems more forward on painkillers then you know there is something else going on. Could be anything, from ulcers to low level arthritis. Could even be as simple as he lacks flexibility and finds the work tough. What are his fitness levels like, does he seem supple with a good, even muscle coverage?

    We've had one that stands out as similar - he was extremely school sour, he'd come from a riding school where he was stabled 24/7 apart from when he was ridden in an indoor, and it had just made him backward thinking and nappy. Getting him outside the school worked wonders. We took him hunting, we took him to gallops and to the beach, we even took him on holiday to the new forest. Completely changed his outlook on life and he was so much happier in his work. He went to the Pony Club dressage champs at Badminton Estate with my sister, so it definitely all translated through to when he did actually have to go in an arena.

    Hacking seems to me to be the best way to get a horse more 'tuned in' to you, especially riding out alone.


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  4. #4
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    Get him out of the arena. Sounds like he hates it in there or has learnt to.

    As the previous poster said, trail ride him, hunt him, jump him, get him thinking forward and enjoying life, then slowly put him back in the arena.
    I have horse to sell to you. Horse good for riding. Can pull cart. Horse good size. Eats carrots and apples. Likes attention. Move head to music. No like opera! You like you buy.


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  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dressagelvr View Post
    I'd bet there's an undiagnosed pain/physical component. Lack of visible lameness doesn't equate to a pain free horse. The fact that he doesn't want to move forward on the lounge w/o rider tells me there's more to the story. Could be ulcers or kissing spine or?????

    Horses don't sit around thinking of ways to get out of work. When they are comfortable physically, ridden correctly, and not pushed too fast or far, they work. Having a scared prior owner doesn't mean anything. One of my horse's prior owners was so scared of him, she wouldn't even canter him. I haven't had the 1st issue.
    I agree with you ... to a degree. If the OP is really, honestly, insistently and consistently asking this horse to go forward and he doesn't, the problem may indeed be physical.

    But if the horse was allowed to lolligag and buck his way out of work for years AND the current rider isn't absolutely clear that the horse is to go forward until told not to, it could very well be old habits dying hard.

    I speak from experience. The OP could be describing my horse, only he's never bucked to get out of work. That would BE too much work.

    Oh, we'd have maybe one ride a week when he was energetic and willing. But he wasn't consistent and I didn't MAKE him move. Enter new instructor who has me riding with two whips and not taking any backtalk about moving out when I say so.

    Eight months later, he is a different horse. He has a much better work ethic now than in the entire eight years I've beenr riding him and it shows in everything we do.

    He'll always have ADHD to a certain degree, and I swear he DOES look for any distraction to get out of work. But I just insist he pays attention to me and after minimal grumbling, away we go.
    __________________________
    "... if you think i'm MAD, today, of all days,
    the best day in ten years,
    you are SORELY MISTAKEN, MY LITTLE ANCHOVY."


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  6. #6
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    To assume a horse has any kind of ethic is a stretch. Learn how to train effectively.
    ... _. ._ .._. .._


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  7. #7
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    I agree, get him out of the arena. Horses get burned out on jobs just like people. Give him a change of scenery and work. If you have some big open areas take him out for a nice hand gallop, work on things outside of the arena.
    "My treasures do not chink or gleam, they glitter in the sun and neigh at night."
    ~Gypsy saying


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  8. #8
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    If pain has been absolutely ruled out (a bute test as the other poster mentioned would be the best way to do this), then it boils down to a horse that hasn't ever learned (or did but unlearned) how to move energetically forward. People who've never ridden truly "energy conservative" horses from day one of their training cannot imagine how much work it takes to teach one of them to move forward. It is in the horse's nature to conserve energy for important things like fleeing from danger and finding food. It goes against their nature to expend a lot of energy just trotting and cantering around in a ring or field for no good reason. It also goes against their nature to let a 100+ pound predator ride around on their back. Combine the two, and we're asking horses to ignore two pretty string survival instincts so that we can have fun.
    That said, we tap into that flight instinct by teaching them to move away from pressure. A horse with a submissive disposition that recognizes his rider/handler as the alpha in the partnership will flee/move when pressure is applied just as he would if a dominant pasture-mate pressured him to move (now!). But a horse with a dominant disposition that doesn't see his rider/handler as an alpha will respond to the pressure with aggression to establish that he calls the shots.

    If pain is not a factor, establish the working relationship from the ground up and make it crystal clear who's in charge. It may not be pretty, and it could even get dangerous if he's not easy to convince, but hopefully it is just a matter of redefining who's in charge. I've had a couple horses brought to me that had learned to bully their timid riders to get out of working. These were otherwise good souls who'd just figured out they didn't have to listen to these silly people on their backs. It took less than five minutes for me to adjust their outlooks. They were easy fixes, but some can be pretty rank if that dominant streak is strong.

    Good luck!


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  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by Equibrit View Post
    To assume a horse has any kind of ethic is a stretch. Learn how to train effectively.
    Not every horse will give 100% every ride but some will. I know many horses who are pain free and give 75% or 100% some days and 50% other days. Horses also have different levels of tolerance for mistakes and learning exercises. To think that every horse approaches work with the same mindset is problematic. Some really enjoy learning, others learn to enjoy, and a select few learn it is easier to be dutiful but they never offer up an ounce more than required.


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  10. #10
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    Horses do not buck to get out of work, they are either in pain or trapped into tension/held together by fearful riders. So, that issue seems to have been partly settled. Since there is no bucking, then I would say that tension/being trapped was the cause of that. Moving on....

    If he is focused outside the arena, then it is the rider's job to keep it focused (as you are doing.The question is if you are asking him BEFORE he is unfocused, or after. Otherwise the horse will look for 'incomings' (in the surroundings) because they have had to take a leadership roll rather than the rider. Imho this is nothing out of the ordinary with horses that are either not well started, or are left to their own devices (with a fearful rider). Keep the horse up/open/active, do your figures, keep the horse 'in position' (seeing the inside eyelashes) and pulse the aids (NO holding steadily). Work on your equitational standards as well (which contributes the horse's better reaction.)
    I.D.E.A. yoda



  11. #11
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    Oct. 29, 2007
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    I've had two like that. Both had passed extensive vet exams. It turned out that one had EPSM and one had serious chiropractic problems. When they were fixed physically it took awhile for them to not dread being asked to work.



  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by Equibrit View Post
    Learn how to train effectively.
    I don't think this is fair, it sounds like what they are doing is having a positive effect so far. Training takes time, it isn't instant, and retraining someone else's mistakes takes even longer!

    I do agree that a horse doesn't have a work ethic. Although some horses are naturally energetic, in my experience, most prefer to conserve energy, which I'm guessing is where this problem comes from (so long as it's not physical) and I can totally understand how that's frustrating.

    Correct training from day one tells them that going forward sweetly conserves energy, because they then avoid correctional riding and the pressure is released. A horse that is not ridden correctly can learn that rearing or whatever, or even just threatening to rear, means the aides for forward cease. He then thinks he is being rewarded (or probably it is less complex than that) for these behaviors. It's normal equine learning, they don't know what is 'good' or 'bad' in human terms, they only understand pressure and release/reward. So when suddenly someone else comes along, and says 'no, that's the opposite of what I want', there's bound to be a transitional phase, and probably a degree of insecurity.

    Also, at the time we bought the horse I mentioned in my last post, we had very little understanding of correct training. We were 13. We still managed to fix him, and to be honest, when it boils down to it, it wasn't about good horsemanship - we were the sort of kids who liked going over jumps facing backwards to see if we'd fall off - it was about instilling a sense of enjoyment in movement in him. Perhaps a brilliant trainer could do that without the beaches/trails/hounds, but to me if a horse doesn't seem keen on forward, perhaps he simply isn't seeing enough of the horizon?



  13. #13
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    If you went to the length to get an alter, I assume, you are quite experienced and known on this forum. I would guess, you know very well, how to evaluate a horse, so, please, forgive me, if I sound too impertinent to you.

    I believe, horses have preferences just like people and the trick is to find what kind of discipline a particular horse might enjoy doing.

    Can it be, he is just sour on the whole idea of dressage? Perhaps, he wants out of the ring to freshen up? Change a discipline altogether?

    In our dressage club, we sometimes had horses, who were similar to what you describe- no health issues, fitting tack, etc., just no "work ethic" and misbehavior or aloofness under saddle.

    Invariably, it turned out, they had a work ethic after all, just not exclusively for dressage.

    This was in Europe many years ago, so most horses turned into jumpers, eventers, or hacking pleasure horses.

    Fast forward, I live in the US and own a Morgan horse. We originally purchased him to be a dressage horse. He comes from a great breeder of dressage horses.

    Well, it has turned out, he is not into it at all. He is a smart and quick learner, nice gaits, knows all his schooling and does it on a cue without hesitation, but... puts no heart into it and gets annoyed, if drilled.

    Show him barrels or poles, take him on a trail and he becomes a completely different animal. His heart just grows million times larger (he is not really fast on barrels at all though).

    I even had him evaluated by a very seasoned knowledgeable horse professional and the verdict was: "Oh, he just wants to hang around and be friends."

    So, here I am with a great family horse, who likes to be out and about, just not in the arena.

    I am a pleasure rider though, so it does not matter to me. I'll do whatever he wants to do.

    PS: Some people practice dressage movements on cattle and it has helped them to improve their horse's attitude. They believe, it gives their horses purpose and understanding behind schooling.
    Don't underestimate the value of doing nothing, of just going along, listening to all the things you can't hear, and not bothering. - A.A.Milne


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  14. #14
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    It might be interesting to track cows on him and see if he brightens. That would speak to a habit of being shut down versus pain.


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  15. #15
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    I agree with the suggestions that he might have a great work ethic, just not for the discipline of your choice. Try some new stimuli and see what he does, could be fun!

    Something else that I didn't read about (and please correct me if I missed it) but definitely use positive reinforcement. What things make him happy / motivated? Is he a food guy and does the addition of a sugar cube make his day? Or does he crave attention and praise?

    We have one who has a stubborn streak and in addition will focus on anything other than what's being asked. With him I've found that convincing him something is his idea, and then coupling it with super huge praise and maybe even a sugar, well this just puts him over the edge of puffy-chested-proud-of-himself-super-horseness. He gets a little spring in his step and I think if he were a person, his ego would be a bit inflated. Finding what makes him feel good has made a big difference!

    Good luck and let us know what you try and how it goes, there are some great and creative ideas on this thread! =)


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  16. #16
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    Something to consider: just about everyone rides with pressure and release and not everyone is particularly generous with the releases, which means that horses are often inadvertently punished repeatedly (pressure without release results in punishment). The problem with punishment is that it can lead to learned helplessness, and the symptoms of that are unwillingness to move freely.

    So if the previous owners were inadvertently punishing the horse for moving, and now the new owner is punishing the horse for not moving, the horse has likely experienced quite a bit of punishment as the result of the combined efforts. And then if there's some degree of underlying pain that adds to the pool of punishment that the horse has experienced, that could also be contributing to his unwillingness.

    OTOH, if the horse moves freely on the ground then either the added weight on his back is causing pain, or he's associated the negative consequences (punishment) with moving under saddle.

    A good experiment might be to let go of his face completely and then push him to lengthen across the diagonal, and then give him a treat immediately each time. Do it a few times and then see if he's willing to lengthen across the diagonal. IOW, if he knows that he'll be rewarded when he moves, is he willing to move?

    If so, then pain is probably not a significant factor in his unwillingness, because food rewards won't overcome pain or fear. And if not, then either he's been too traumatized to get over it so easily, or he's in too much pain, or he hasn't been able to associate the rewards with the desired actions.



  17. #17
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    Have you tried any other activities on him, such as pole work or even jumping, trail rides etc. Is he balky then as well? Will he go forward when not in the ring?

    Also have him checked for ulcers ad for EPSM, both of those can have a negative effect on willingness to work.
    MW
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  18. #18
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    I think 'poor work ethic' can absolutely exist in a horse who didn't really have a job until later in life, or like your horse was able to put one over on his rider/owner consistently for some time. He never learned he had to work, get tired, recover, that people have fun stuff to do, or he learned behaviors that made his owner put him away for the day.

    As others have said finding out if he's just fine doing other activities is key - if he thinks jumping or cutting cows or just trail riding is fun and doesn't pull these behaviors then yes, he probably is trying to get out of work. If he bucks/balks no matter what you do there may be physical issues.

    My mare does this. She is keen as all get out when the jumps are up, but working on the flat at home? Nah, she's rather not thanks, and tries to evade by bucking/spinning/balking. Not always, but work is hard and she's not sure she sees the point of leg yielding or proper transitions. She didn't learn as a young horse that she could work hard and it would end and she'd rest & recover, so teaching her that it's ok to work has been a challenge.

    It's not rocket science to drive her forward and say knock it off but it takes some bravery on the rider's part. When I make it clear that yeah, she does have to circle away from the gate, and no, she isn't going to intimidate me by leaping randomly she settles down to work, but she will test me.

    Ground work will help overall, but translating it to respecting you when you are riding isn't automatic and you have to be diligent.



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