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dressage arena sour, wwyd?

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  • dressage arena sour, wwyd?

    just seeing if anyone has an idea.i bought a super talented
    very well bred mare a few years ago and she was shown
    quite a bit as a youngster. i would say she may have been
    pushed a little hard. i know many horses are pushed and some
    fare better than others, but this mare is flat arena sour. i know
    the best thing is to take her outside and work her out of the
    arena, but just curious if anyone has bought a young horse
    that is so stubborn about working in the arena. i would say
    she is even a bit balky when you start trotting. her work
    ethic is questionable but her talent for upper level work is
    not. she is a powerful girl. please keep this thread positive.
    i don't need any rude replies. thanks, lisa

  • #2
    My mare can be much the same...especially when first warming up the trot. She eventually works through (especially if I do some lateral stuff), but the initial balkiness is annoying.

    The best thing I can do for my mare is to get her out on a hack on the roads around the barn...or, take her to a local show and just pay the schooling fee so that I can ride around the grounds, ride in warm up, etc. That's all I did last summer...I didn't compete in a single class. But, getting off campus, getting out where her mind is stimulated differently, really changed her attitude in the arena.


    • #3
      A trip or two or three around Dawson Butte.

      Or some such place on a regular basis.


      • #4
        Best thing you can do is get her out of the arena. That doesn't mean her training needs to halt, just do it outside. You can work on the trails, in a field, where ever. Also, she may just need a break, trails, maybe a little jumping. If she's bright she might just need to do different things to inspire her. You take vacations and crave variety in your life - why be so depressed that your horse does, too?
        Shop online at


        • #5
          yes, my morgan was/is very ring sour. I've boarded at 3 different places with him, and all had 3 different set ups, so I had 3 different solutions.

          The first place had lots of trails and a fenced in large riding ring. The BO was a h/j at heart, so we jumped in the arena and worked on our flat work out in fields out at the ends of the trails. This kept the arena fun and he was less likely to plant his feet and balk.

          The second place had a small indoor, an a huge fenced outdoor, and no trails. The indoor was spooky as heck so we had no problems not balking. The outdoor was enormous and there were always some jumps and cavaletti, so I'd warm up on the flat and as soon as I felt him getting sour pop him over a jump or three to get the go go go back, flat a little more and try to end the flat session before he wanted to.

          The place I'm at now, I have a large dressage ring thats unfenced, a half mile galloping track, tons of trails, and an enormous fenced jump ring. When flatting in the dressage ring as soon as he starts going flat on me, I'd deviate without breaking gait right out on to the galloping track and go for a spin to get forward back. One lap around then right back in to the dressage ring and pick up exactly where we left off. Its been incredibly handy to have.

          In essence, changing things up, making the arena a fun place, avoiding beating our heads against a wall at all cost, and bringing school to an end before my horse feels the need to plant his feet and say so, all went miles to help combat ring sourness.
          Being terrible at something is the first step to being truly great at it. Struggle is the evidence of progress.


          • #6
            Have you ever done any jumping with her? Sometimes super talented, athletic horses just love the challenge of jumping, it gives them something to do.
            "The sea was angry that day, my friends - like an old man trying to send back soup in a deli"


            • #7
              Be sure to praise her often and give her a reward that she actually looks forward to. Try teaching her more tricks- spanish walk, piaffe etc... something you can immediately reward with attention or a treat so it changes her whole mindset into seeing riding as a game to get points (treats, or whatever it is she likes). Change the whole session into a more praise oriented session and make a big deal about any sort of improvement. You should be praising several times a minute.


              • #8
                I will be in the minority i guess, but you do not fix a problem by avoiding it.

                If she is ring sour, what exactly is she sour about? Has she been drilled repetitively with no reward? Is she tired of working on the rail? Is she bored?

                Stop being so predictable. Ride off the rail, ride a different size circle every time you circle, never turn in the same place twice, include more transitions within the gait and between gaits. Ride triangles, squares, and pentagons, do lateral work, do transitions between gaits, or within the gait, while doing lateral work. Give the horse a reason to actually listen to you, rather then follow the rail around.

                Try, for one whole hour, to never ride on the rail, or do a 20m circle. Look up, look ahead, and and ride toward where you are looking. Horses are ring sour because they are bored, so its easy, dont be boring.

                If she is ring sour because she has been forced into a frame then need to work on effectively activating the hind end, while seeking a connection, but not caring where she puts her head. carriage being secondary to the connection.

                It is difficult for me to be more specific without more information, but i laugh when people tell me horse is ring sour, and the advice is to fix it by leaving the ring. That is like trying to fix a horse that is spooky on the trails by riding indoors exclusively.


                • #9
                  Trails. Definately mix up your work. If you want to warm up in the ring (five minutes of walking) and then immmediately hit the trails, the horse will begin to look forward to the short warm up in the ring, because trails are next. That is assuming your horse feels secure outside of the ring.
                  Last edited by BaroquePony; Feb. 14, 2011, 09:35 AM.


                  • Original Poster

                    thanks everyone. she definitely needs to be outside more and now that the
                    weather is nicer, we can get outside. yesterday, we were outside walking around the grounds and as soon as we got to the outdoor dressage arena, she
                    balked, planted her feet and refused to go in. i got off her, walked her in,
                    mounted and walked her around the arena. as soon as she gets toward the
                    opening, she balks again. i think she was worked pretty hard as a young
                    horse and shown alot. she won quite a bunch too. but she had a young
                    german woman riding her that obviously was quite forceful in her riding. i
                    don't like forcing horses. i wan't them to enjoy what they are doing. she is
                    the nicest horse for me right now that i could show. i just have to get her
                    brain right. thanks for all of the comments. oh and by the way, did i say
                    she is a redhead? haha


                    • #11
                      While my friend's horse isn't ring sour at all, I watched her get the most amazing rides out of him over the last couple days despite the fact that turn out has been limited lately due to super cold temps and the horses have been inside, inside, inside.

                      She simply spent more time stretching him - doing contented, floppy-eared happy laps of energetic stretchy trot. And, what was really cool, is that as he stretched and brought his back up, he started to offer some new dimensions to his trot - he really got moving, and started to extend and suspend (and this is a horse that is not a stellar mover.) I watched it all, bug-eyed. While she supported him, he kept offering more and more and more. It wasn't perfect but it was 1) great exercise 2) something totally new and 3) offered very enthusiastically by the horse. It was also a total break in routine. Fun to watch, and something I'll keep in mind.
                      Don't wrassle with a hog. You just get dirty, and the hog likes it.

                      Collecting Thoroughbreds - tales of a re-rider and some TBs


                      • #12
                        If she associates the arena with hard work or harsh discipline, which might have lead to physical/mental discomfort, you need to break that connection. Try different stuff in the arena, free lungeing, jumping, ground work ~ lots of praise.

                        Also, because it has not been mentioned yet, how is her saddle fit. Possibly when you are walking around, no problem, but once in work, could this be causing discomfort?

                        Good luck, don't you wish they could talk, even if it was just 1 minute every month!!


                        • #13
                          I would set certain boundaries of what is allowed of misbehavior and not allowed.
                          You may find that your mare is taking totally advantage of your sympathies and using her balkiness to her advantage.
                          I would have her teeth checked, saddle fitted correctly, perhaps that is an issue that you are not aware of.

                          Go do your riding in a hay field, on trails, jump the mare, have some variety in your rides.


                          • #14
                            Jumping, trail riding, lots of praise for good behavior. Even cavalletti work if you aren't too keen on the jumping. Don't "avoid" issues, but figure out a way to address them without a huge fight. The trail is perfect for dressage work, and most horses enjoy jumping.
                            Follow us on facebook - https://www.facebook.com/pages/River...ref=ts&fref=ts


                            • #15
                              If it is not possible to go outside right now, I put my mare on the lunge in just a halter, let her play safely, and bring lots of treats. (You could also free lunge, but if I free lunge my mare tears around like a crazy horse). Turn the arena into a "fun" place and not just an "office". Just a side note, sometimes putting them on hormones makes all the difference in the world. Kind of takes the edge off of them a bit especially when they are feeling uncomfortable.
                              Welcome to my dressage world http://www.juliefranzen.blogspot.com/


                              • #16
                                make the arena more pleasant

                                I would make the arena a more fun, pleasant place for her. Think baby green hunter warmup and work - forward pace, long neck, lightly on the bit. Just long loops around the outside of the arena and large figure eights. I would do that indoor and in outdoor dressage arenas. practice her bending around your leg and change of direction. And basic transitions, walk-trot-walk, trot-canter-trot.

                                If she was pushed too hard she may feel she cannot be successful in her dressage work. I saw this with another mare - very talented, but every time she did something well the rider asked for the next step up so eventually she spit out the bit (I am told she jumped a 4' wall to get the H*** out of the arena).

                                So I would try to work more on things that are 'easy' and you can 'enjoy' doing well - make sure to smile !!!. And truly do not try to do any more in those sessions.

                                Then go back to the upper level work but space it out. It's very demanding physcially and mentally for the horse. I am saddened to hear that she balked at the dressage arena outside.

                                FWIW I started to take lessons with other adult amateur hunter riders 1x a week and it really opened my mare up, just to go over cavaletti gymnastic patterns on very light contact. (we are very weeny hunter riders, so we jump a cross rail if anything more than poles on the ground).
                                Forward...go forward


                                • #17

                                  I don't know about your horse...
                                  But I have a coming 4 yo mare who can be balky at the beginning of the ride. It's much much worse when she's coming into heat. I dont know if she gets 'crampy' or what, but where she is in her cycle makes a huge difference.
                                  That being said, We work all over 30 acres. In the arena, across the hay field (since it's not growing yet), around the pond, over cavalettis... And once she 'works out of it', she's great.

                                  Another thing I've noticed with this mare, ANY leaning forward encourages the balky behavoir. Since its my natural tendancy, I have to police myself about my position. Young horses are not nearly as forgiving to mistakes, since they assume that it means something.

                                  Good luck with your mare!


                                  • #18
                                    I don't think getting the horse out of the arena is "avoiding the problem," necessarily. If I'm at work laboring over something difficult or trying to put together a presentation that I know needs to be great, the best thing I can do is take a break and get out of my office, even if for a few minutes. Coming back, I'm much fresher and willing to sit and work.

                                    I teach writing, and one of the best pieces of advice that I can give any writer is to get some work done, then walk away from it. Come back in an hour or even a day to look at it a second time. Fresh eyes will always give you an opportunity to say something better or rearrange your thoughts or catch your grammar mistakes, etc.

                                    I see riding a ring sour horse in much the same light. If you give the horse a chance to encounter stimulation in a completely different way (which is still training, by the way), it's amazing how much freer and willing he may be when you head back to the arena. Or, as others have said, COMPLETELY changing what you do in the arena can help address the problem. Obviously, this horse has negative associations with whatever is going on (the arena, the work being done, the repetitions, whatever)...you can change those connotations by mixing it up.


                                    • #19
                                      Well, I agree with others that taking her out of the arena, jumping and generally varied training sessions will help, BUT balkiness is pure attitude (of course if anything physical to cause it is ruled out), and a horse that doesn't go forward when asked IMHO can become dangerous quickly. Forward is one button that must be properly installed and maintained, and be respected by the horse. If the mare is giving you "not gonna happen" answers, you (or someone) needs to say "yes it will" and make it happen. I have a young mare who similar to yours has TONS of talent and an equal amount of opinions, and it has been made clear to me that the only way for me to screw her up is to not commit her to the forward. We had gotten into issues b/c the place I boarded before only had a very small indoor arena to ride in, and as a very green horse she just couldn't figure out how to go forward enough. Luckily she LOVES to go forward, she just has to learn that I can ask her whenever I feel like it .
                                      "Reite dein Pferd vorwärts und richte es gerade.” Gustav Steinbrecht


                                      • #20
                                        My mare tends to be like this (also a red head!). She was never drilled or in a situation where she was made sour but rather it's just in her temperment to question everything and she enjoys sharing her opinion. She is young and quite talented, she could have very easily been soured if in the wrong hands. Now she doesn't flat out say NO quite near as much and rather will respond correctly. She would baulk due to the following:

                                        1. She had my number (and still sometimes figures it out!)
                                        2. If I got the slightest bit tipped forward she would use it to her advantage...She is super reactive and sensitive to me and it could be the slightest tip forward that people on the ground couldn't even see.
                                        3. She just didn't feel like doing something.

                                        What we (myself and my instructor - who is actually VERY good at bringing along the difficult horse and fixing the problem horse with a lot of baggage) did to correct the behavior:

                                        1. I had to ride her extra forward and slightly above tempo at the beginning of the ride - I still have to do this on some days.
                                        2. I can't let her get bored...some days even if I was just planning on doing dressage I would have to bring out cavalettis or jumps just to give her something fresh to do.
                                        3. We actually tried to avoid confrontation until she was further along in her training. Early on, if she felt like she was getting baulky I would immediately do something we knew she does not get baulky about. NOW - my mare is further along and if she wants to state her opinion in the WRONG way(baulking) we have a discussion. The reason we waited until she was further along was b/c we never wanted to be in a situation where I would LOSE the argument...if I have to have an argument with her nowadays I ALWAYS win and she becomes agreeable. Your mare seems further along and has training on her, so this may not apply.

                                        I think you already got a lot of good advice and I also definitely agree on getting her OUT and not always do the same thing every day.

                                        My mare is a TB...never raced...started her myself. She was good up until she hit the terrible 5's. My instructor said she knew that it was coming just b/c the type of horse she was and figured we would have to deal with issues like this at some point. We basically had a year long phase where she really liked to tell me "No way in he!!"....Now she is coming 7yrs old, even if she is unsure about something, she will go if I reassure her. She doesn't shut down and become a witch. If she does baulk on the rare occasion, we have a quick and painless "tiff" about it then she is right back to work. If she gets bored these days, she lets me know but not in the same manner..she is a lot more rideable and although she clearly still has her opinions, she is a heck of a lot more agreeable even if she thinks what we are doing is complete garbage.

                                        I think that this issue can be fixed with careful and tactful training (which will depend on the individual). Do you have a good trainer/instructor experienced with horses with such issues and/or rehabbing problem horses? It's not an easy path but it does feel great once things smooth out! Good luck!

                                        You said, "My life is like a bad movie"
                                        And I said, "It's true of all of us"