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Ideas Needed: Getting Mare to Move Off Leg!

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  • Ideas Needed: Getting Mare to Move Off Leg!

    So I posted on this last year and I'm back for more help! LOL Willa has been a dream to work with since I backed her last spring. The most willing, happiest little trooper in the world...except for ONE BIG THING. As soon as you put your leg on her to go from a halt to a walk or a walk to a trot she puffs out and sucks back...sometimes to a complete halt. This is something we have worked tirelessly on and I am in need of new creative ideas. Once we get her going she's good about responding until we take a prolonged halt or walk break. Then it starts all over. The walk-canter and trot-canter cues are great. Instant response.

    She is 4 years old. A Clydesdale X 13.3hh pony. She was started in hand and on the lunge to voice cues. Perfect every time and instantaneous response. So we backed her. I was a passenger and the lunge person gave all the cues. Instantaneous responses. So we began adding in rider leg cues in addition to the lunge person's voice cues. She sucks back. Tried lighter cues. Sucks back. No cues...instant response. Hmmmm....never encountered this before! So we begin work and I begin backing up my cues. I ask lightly, then escalate and it ALWAYS ends up with some pretty solid repremand from the whip or leg (I've tried both together and whip alone and leg alone...doesn't seem to matter). So as soon as I start my ride she walks off nicely from the mounting block. Then I ask for a little more forward...slams on brakes. Escalate cues, she pins her ears and then responds. Bring her back right away and retest. She'll go instantly. Walk for a minute and ask for a bigger walk or a trot. She'll suck back. Reprimand and send her forward. She responds. I bring her back and ask lightly again. Instant response. Repeat this over and over and over and you have our rides! Once I get her going after about 10 minutes she's pretty good for the most part unless we take a prolonged break but she is still not as responsive as she should be.

    I sent her to a very good young horse trainer for a month last year who was astounded at her persistence in the problem. She has NEVER won the sucking back and we ALWAYS send her forward and then retest. The trainer had the same problem and every single ride you have to start out in a fight with a pretty strong reprimand to get a response.

    Worked with another reputable trainer who was ALSO astounded at her persistence in testing every single time and refusing forward so often. She watched me ride and said I'm not tensing my thigh or blocking with my hand in any way. However she does repond better with zero contact. Once she gets going she's lovely to ride but I'm SO SICK of having to start out every ride in a fight and with a strong aid/smart smack with the whip. Once we're on the same page we make a great team but it's EVERY SINGLE RIDE. I've tried absolutely everything I and my trainers can think of and we need outside the box ideas. I am even contemplating training a completely different trot cue without leg as this is just been so frustrating. Even when I do get a response the transition is quite awful as she transitions pissed and tense. We have tried the following over the past year:

    1) Light leg cue with escalating corrections until there is a response. Bring back and repeat until she responds to light leg cue. Reward.
    2) Light leg cue straight to a big correction. Bring back and repeat until she responds to light leg cue. Reward (this is the one that works the best as she tends to stop fighting quicker with this method)
    3) Voice of rider with light leg cue. No response.
    4) Voice of rider only. Responds but not instantly. Transitions are much smoother with this method though. But as soon as we add leg back in, even the lightest leg, she sucks back instantly.
    5) Just started trying no legs and only "think trot" and opening my body (essentially my trot cue minus the legs). She will start trotting after 5-10 seconds of this and the transition is better and softer.
    6) Lunge person on the ground to back me up with the whip. I give light cue. No response...lunge whip gets cracked. Nice response. Repeat multiple times for multiple days. Remove lunge person and she's right back to sucking back.

    I THINK that's the majority of the already tried things! LOL I just would love to get to the point where I give a light cue and she just walks or trots off. She's going back to the trainer for a month in April and I'd like for this to be better so they can work on more fun stuff then trying to get her to move! Once she's responsive she's a lovely ride. Saddle is pro-checked, veterinary cleared, diet is good, no lameness or other issues. It's defintely in her head and I can't even IMAGINE where our miscommunication is coming from! I truely am starting to believe she thinks that is the correct response because after hundreds of corrections and not a single victory the behavior should be extinguished. Anyone else dealt with this? Any other ideas? I'm open to trying anything at this point! Thanks so much!!

    OH! And as a side note...she responds instantly in the show ring. Soft, quick and instant. At least I've got that going for me! LOL
    Please excuse the typos...I'm always on my iPhone and autocorrect is not my friend. Yes I mean mares autocorrect...not mates.

  • #2
    If she responds perfectly in the show ring, the first thing in my mind is footing. Is it possible yours (at home) is harder than what's comfortable for her when she moves to trot or canter?
    Patience pays.


    • #3
      I might would treat her for ulcers. She may actually be giving in to you eventually but at first she maybe telling you something is bothering her when you put your leg on. Ulcers is the only thing I can think of if it's all the time and she has been cleared otherwise by a vet.
      Horses aren't our whole life, but makes our life whole


      • #4
        shes a mare and she's four. those hormones just muck everything up
        chaque pas est fait ensemble


        • #5
          I'm interested to hear what people have to say on this. I have a 5 year old gelding with a similar issue.


          • #6
            Tack her up and bring your lunge line to the arena. Do your usual prep and get on. Ask her to move off your leg to the very best of her ability at the very beginning. If she gives you any response other than "Sure!", get off and lunge her. Make sure she is forward and responsive on the lunge. After about 8-10 minutes, get on her and ask again. If she gives you the right response, get off immediately and make much of her, then put her away. If instead she sucks back again, just get off and lunge her again. She has to be forward and responsive on the lunge again. Don't lose your patience, just make her work. Then get on her and try again. Keep this up until you get the right response from her. But don't get greedy-it is important initially that when she offers the correct response, she is done working.

            Once she will walk off smartly without issue from the start, you can ask for a bit more work. But if she baulks at all at any point-back to the lunge.

            Some people will tell you that getting off and lunging is rewarding evasion. But it really works and I am just not into out and out confrontation. Plus I take a fiendish dellte in standing at the center of the circle watching them figure out that they are making life hard on themselves. I have never had to do this more than a few rides (4-6) with any horse.
            See those flying monkeys? They work for me.


            • #7
              I don't want to be calling in the zebras... but because she is a draft cross that seems to be resistent to work I would suggest spending the $35 and getting her tested for EPSM. Something is not right and if I were in your shoes knowing its not physical would reassure me.

              I've had testing done by these guys:

              It is the persistant resistance to work that concerns me. Frankly, sounds like the training is on the right path but something is still 'blocking' her from doing what you ask.


              • #8
                Do you take her on hacks? How is she outside of the arena?
                Horse Show Names Free name website with over 6200 names. Want to add? PM me!


                • #9
                  Good catch, mouse!
                  chaque pas est fait ensemble


                  • #10
                    I agree....this is probably a mare/hormone/temperment issue. I am dealing with the same thing right now with my show mare. The weather is horrible, my indoor is boring both my horse and myself to death and of course she is well, a mare. I have owned her all my life, shown her for 5 years with NO forward issues at all but honestly I think she is just being a little defiant and willfull.

                    I agree with the lunging idea above. I certainly don't want to get into a fight over this stupid little thing that will probably go away on its own. And I don't have the energy for a full out war in the saddle. She will get the point fast enough using positive reinforcement. And I can just hope for some decent footing so I can get outside and go hacking again.


                    • #11
                      i would find good professional help. As my trainer says there are no lazy horses and there is more than likely just a communication issue. Any sound horse should be able to respond as you wish - it is just a habit that needs to be formed.

                      i would run to the nearest excellent professional and ask to have her in full training for a month.


                      • #12
                        I would guess just needs more warmup in side reins and what not to get going. In canter ask for a bit of a gallop and canter again. Trot big trot little and same with walk. Both in side reins and undersaddle.

                        Get prompt responses on the lunge it doesnt have to be long but make sure the horse is reacting or bring them into a smaller circle where the whip is more effective.

                        Then if balky undersaddle either have ground help or jump off if need be and do in hand and really make her jump!

                        It is really about timing and the blocking you mentioned and finishing the idea every time. Make sure they know if the upward transition is lazy you will go up again. Lazy trans to trot? Then ask for canter. Lazy to canter? Then hand gallop and so on each time until this is gone.
                        ~~Member of the TB's Rule Clique ~~


                        • #13
                          My little mare had this issue when I started her in the fall as a 3 year old. Once I got basic WTC on her I sent her off to a winter camp where she is ridden out on a cross country course nearly every day, often with lots of other horses around. She also has a short ground work session to get her listening before getting on. The problem is just going away naturally as riding becomes "fun".

                          I don't know if one month is going to do it. I would also suggest sending her to a good H/J or eventing trainer that will do nothing but ride out and forward for a bit. I have seen many young horses become very sour and behind the leg from too much "dressage" and ring work too soon for their brains.
                          On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog


                          • Original Poster

                            Great ideas! I'll try the lunge technique! We lunge before every ride to get her warmed up a bit and she is prompt and perfect on her transitions. No lag time what-so-ever so I'll introduce lunging as a correction to her balking. I wouldn't be so concerned if it was just a slow reaction time but the all out puffing, stopping and going slower/stopping is what is concerning. I'm a huge advocate on light aids and not drilling a horse while you're riding. I ask once and expect them to stay at that tempo until I say otherwise without nagging with my legs. She's great about that once I get over the initial transition.

                            She is on an EPSM diet already! She was so lazy last year that we went that route. It definitely made a HUGE difference with her energy level! Totally different horse! She used to burn out after 10-15 minutes of light work. Now she can go go go but she still balks at that leg aid. It's just the wierdest thing and of all my youngsters I've never encountered one who doesn't respond after a few consistent corrections. And she's smart as a whip, one of the smartest I've met, and so accomodating and willing usually it's just the oddest thing. That's why I'm leaning towards a miscommunication somewhere. I just can't figure out where! She is going to the trainer in April but I moved into the middle of nowhere Wisconsin and there are NOOOOOO trainers who will come out to me. So I have to haul out when I can to a trainer in Milwaukee (very good eventing trainer who is great with youngsters!) and a dressage trainer in the middle of the state. Both are 3.5 hours away so or trips there in the winter are limited due to temperatures and snow. So I'm stuck on my own for a bit longer!

                            She loves love LOVES to jump so I think I've decided to throw dressage out the window for a few weeks and just work on getting forward in my jump saddle and play over some fences. At 4 years old she's so much braver than me jumping it's quite hysterical. She's ready for bigger and more advanced things in her brain. I'm telling her she's too young for bigger jumps and not to mention I'm terrified of them! LOL I'll also try the lunging technique and the if she ignores she canters technique. That sounds very beneficial. I haven't tried that yet! Thank you for all the advice. I'm really hoping she and I can get this sorted out so we can just enjoy our rides together! As soon as the weather cooperates we'll be outside hacking again but it's too cold right now. And for what it's worth she does suck back against a leg aid outside too. But without the leg aid she's very quick to go forward outside by me just "thinking" trot. Oh 4 year old mares!
                            Please excuse the typos...I'm always on my iPhone and autocorrect is not my friend. Yes I mean mares autocorrect...not mates.


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Keg-A-Bacchus View Post
                              But without the leg aid she's very quick to go forward outside by me just "thinking" trot. Oh 4 year old mares!
                              Then just back off and use your mind-seat or whatever! Most people spend years getting a horse to respond just off your seat and just "thinking", so you can use your leg just for very subtle cues. If she truly is forward with just your mind and/or seat, then use that.

                              My instructor spends so much time teaching one to just stretch up with your body for forward, and working towards getting to the point where the leg is just to tell a horse to move laterally, etc. If your horse is already going forward from just stretching up with your upper body and sinking into the saddle and "thinking" forward into the next gait, you are ahead of the game!
                              On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog


                              • #16
                                OO wow, are you sure you haven't been riding my 16.3 oldenburg mare? The list in the OP sounds exactly what I deal with. I've found that she is MUCH more adjustable and listening when she's excited (if we showed, I bet she would be great). The whip is useless until she's in the 'groove' which sometimes takes a few hissy fits to get to, but every ride is better...

                                I take her out on hacks and we trot/canter and I include leg yields to each side of the trail to get her listening. If I feel her start to back off, just a touch of the whip gets her back to where she was. When we're in the arena, I've found that keeping her on her toes is the best way to keep her sensitive to the leg (a friend and I tried the Caprilli test last week and my mare loved it!), she was very responsive.

                                I also use the long Sprenger spurs (http://store.skylandssaddlery.com/me...-grip_big.jpeg), that way I can keep my position and a quieter leg while using the smallest cue...by having the best position possible, she is much more compliant and listens to soft leg cues, but mostly responds to where my weight in my seat/heels is. Wish I were better at explaining things!


                                • Original Poster

                                  I have laughed so hard over our show warmups. She's a mess. Won't move. Stuck. Behind the leg. I laughed at my friend at the last show we headed in to and said "If I can get her to move from X we'll consider it a success!" She went from stubborn pony up until the bell rang....then she was amazing!! We did 2 shows this summer. 2 months under saddle at our first one. 2 different judges. 69% from both! She was a rock star!! Not to mention she also got Reserve Champion at our IDCTA Championship show at eventing Starter Novice. She is a show machine!!! Just no response when we're not under pressure :-)
                                  Please excuse the typos...I'm always on my iPhone and autocorrect is not my friend. Yes I mean mares autocorrect...not mates.


                                  • #18
                                    My vote is pain somewhere. My mare does the same thing if she hurts. First time was at 6 because she had filled out with work and her saddle was pinching her. So definitely double check saddle fit.

                                    A couple years later it was hormones giving her muscle cramps, which eventually turned into full blown colics. If it wasn't for the colic timing we may never had figured out that all along it was her hormones causing her pain. Got her spayed last year and no problems with forward since.

                                    Could be ulcers in your case or any number of other things.

                                    Horses are not so stubborn that they will keep up with something when they know they can't get away with it. They are trying to tell us something. Either something hurts or she's confused.


                                    • Original Poster

                                      UPDATE!!!! Well I think we figured it out!! Because she is a 13.3hh pony my leg hangs very low on her. She's much better in my jump saddle and we always thought it was because my weight was forward and she was on no contact. Well, after a long discussion with my trainer she wondered if perhaps my leg was cueing her on her sensitive under side in my long dressage stirrups. I bought a pair of swan neck spurs and rode today. I used my upper calf/lower knee to cue forward (hard to do and not close your knee/tense your thigh!!) and rotated my toe our to touch her with the spur. INSTANT RESPONSE!!! Poor little peanut! I've been unknowingly squeezing up into her sensitive underbelly! Our transitions were soft and lovely today! We had a few ears pinned sucked back transitions in the beginning but once she realized I wasn't going to squeeze her so low she relaxed and responded immediately!! So food for thought for those experiencing this problem! I am really self conscious that people at shows won't understand the reason for the swan neck and will think I'm a big spur rider! I know it's silly as the SRS all use them for the same reason but I've heard so many people at shows gasp at the sight of them thinking they are very severe...and if course they aren't! Ill just have to suck it up and get over it though as it gave me just the right height to give a soft cue without drawing up my leg! Thanks for all the ideas!! Really hoping this continues to work!!
                                      Please excuse the typos...I'm always on my iPhone and autocorrect is not my friend. Yes I mean mares autocorrect...not mates.


                                      • #20

                                        Love it when someone arrives at a simple uncomplicated conclusion. I hope she continuous to work well for you.
                                        Some riders change their horse, they change their saddle, they change their teacher; they never change themselves.

                                        Remember the horse does all the work, we just sit there and look pretty.