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How to work with a horse that refuses to move forward

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  • How to work with a horse that refuses to move forward

    I have a 7 year old mare that is schooling First Level, but we have hit a bit of a wall in our training.
    She will out of nowhere stop midstide and plant all four feet.
    When you ask her to move on she will kick out and then progress to crow-hopping backwards.
    It is very inconsistant when this will occur. Sometimes at the walk, but mostly while trotting.
    She has had a saddle fitter look at her and we got a saddle that fits her quite well.
    She regularly sees a chiropractor and he has not found anything wrong.
    She just had her hocks injected as she was lame on both hinds, but has been back to work for at least a month now with no problems.
    Beyond that she has had a full exam to check for cysts or other reproductive issues which all came back clean.
    So I feel that this is not a medical behavoir and stems from a hole in her training.
    This behavoir has been going on for a long time, even before I got her. This is part of the reason she came to me, and I got such a good price for her.
    My trainer gets on her and has no problems getting her to forward and working.
    She will still test me but she will adamantly refuse to work if someone she doesnt know gets on her.
    When she does move forward she is a pleasure to ride and seems to enjoy her work.

    So I come here asking for ideas and advice on how to approach my mare with her sucking back.
    Using whips or spurs on her just causes her to react more violently and has never gotten positive results.
    We have tried waiting her out, turning her in circles, or backing her up. None of it seems to work well, or if it does for long.
    Even going outside the ring into a field doesnt seem to make her any less liable to suck back either.

    Thanks for any ideas you all have!!!
    Free and Forward Motion through Massage Therapy

  • #2
    Hocks injected at 7 years old? I'm just wondering if this is normal. I would wager a bet it is probably something physical.


    • #3
      What is her breeding?
      "Where knowledge ends violence begins." B. Ljundquist


      • #4
        I don't believe that this is necessarily just a hole in training. I feel this way particularly since you mention that whips and spurs cause her to react violently.

        Just because a vet exam cannot find anything, does not mean that it does not exist. Things like pinched nerves, internal cancers, and brain lesions usually will not be discovered without a necropsy.

        That being said, assuming that it is a training problem, balky horses can get extremely stubborn and willful if they have been allowed to get their way repeatedly in the past. If they have frightened the rider, and the rider dismounts and takes the horse back to the stable, then the horse will repeat the misbehavior to test the rider, particularly a new one. Once a horse has been spoiled in this way, he can become very dangerous.

        In order to get her over it, the horse absolutely cannot be allowed to balk. So you need a very patient and courageous rider. You need to work with positive reinforcement as well as negative reinforcement. When the mare plants her feet, she must be made to go forward, whatever it takes. When she does, she should be rewarded with much praise and even food rewards, to make it very clear what behaviors are in her self-interest and which are not.

        You do not need to beat the horse, but you need to get a reaction. Sometimes asking the horse to back in the direction she is refusing to go, and then turning her around again works because it is easier to go forward than to back up. Sometimes using the whip in the other hand works or using it on the shoulder rather than behind the leg or on the rump. Sometimes spinning the horse around in a tight circle a few times works, again because it is easier to go forward.

        Sometimes you just have to sit there and wait for the horse to get bored. If you are patient, the horse eventually will want to move. When she does move, reward her.

        If there are no physical problems, you can usually reschool the horse in this fashion. But a balky horse that has been spoiled will always remember this and can never be trusted 100% particularly in a new situation or with a new rider.

        good luck.
        "Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain" ~Friedrich Schiller


        • #5
          Is she in training or do you just take lessons?

          I like the turn in small circles and back up ideas for when she balks, especially when you are riding by yourself (oh wait, just saw that you've tried this...).

          Another option would be trying to work through this on the ground with longlines (probably your trainer would be best - why I asked if she's in training or not). Does she ever balk in that setting? You can sometimes get them through some difficult times with work on the ground, it allows them to not have to deal with a rider and allows the person on the ground a little more ability to "get after them". Timing is really important with long lines though, so I wouldn't recommend it for you personally to do unless you are very comfortable with it.

          Have you ever had somebody with good timing (perhaps your trainer during a lesson) work on the ground while you're riding? When you say a whip causes bad results... have you tried a forward encouragement with a lunge whip (or just something that she recognizes that will drive her forward and not freak her out) from the ground while you're on her? This has worked in the past for me. If your trainer can help encourage from the ground (since the horse works fine with her), then perhaps it would eventually carry over. Now the lunge whip could be anything from a brush of her hind legs or a snap, depending on her reaction.

          Speaking of reaction, what reaction exactly does a whip/crop/spur cause? Not saying you should beat on her by any means, but I'm wondering what sort of resistance she produces when you use one of those tools lightly or with more force.

          Most importantly, what has your trainer tried or recommended?

          Could perhaps just be that you need to get a little more demanding with your seat (since she responds to your trainer), and, to sound a little Ceasar Millan-y, develop a more assertive "energy." Haha, basically just meaning, keep it in your mind that you absolutely will not take no as an answer from her. Maybe try to take a lesson on another horse once in awhile and work on this. It's easy to develop one horse habits that you don't even realize you have = )

          This is all assuming of course that she doesn't have an existing physical problem.

          If all else fails, perhaps 30 days with a trainer (unless she already is in training, of course) could help adjust her mindset.


          • #6
            The horse I am working with does this sometimes. We'll be trotting along and he'll suck back and stop, and then act as if he won't go forward. Same thing with ruling out health issues.

            My interpretation of this (at least for the horse I'm working with but it might be true about yours) is that it is just an extreme example of wanting to drop back and avoid work. This horse, like yours, moves forward and seems to like working otherwise. It is as if he is either working great---powerful, over his back, full of impulsion--or he tries to stop. So I think the horse has an "all-or-nothing" behavior towards work--either he is great or he is tired and wants to stop. Other horses will drop behind contact, lose impulsion at the trot, etc etc, this horse just tries to stop. It's just another type of avoidance.

            My way of dealing with it is to ride him with more leg all the time. I think part of the issue, in this horse's case, is that he needs leg support from his rider even when moving forward to provide him with direction. The stopping seems partially from being tired, and partially from confusion over if he needs to stay forward or not. Think about it- the horse trots around and around because it feels good to him. After a while it starts to feel tired and he stops, like he would in the pasture. A more constant feeling of guidance from his rider might be all the horse needs. Otherwise, he feels he can make the decisions himself.
            2007 Welsh Cob C X TB GG Eragon
            Our training journal.
            1989-2008 French TB Shamus Fancy
            I owned him for fifteen years, but he was his own horse.


            • Original Poster

              Originally posted by bort84 View Post
              Is she in training or do you just take lessons?
              Right now I am just taking weekly lessons on her. She may end up back in training once the weather improves.

              Originally posted by not again View Post
              What is her breeding?
              She is a homebred Thoroughbred.

              Originally posted by Entourage View Post
              Hocks injected at 7 years old? I'm just wondering if this is normal. I would wager a bet it is probably something physical.
              Well it still truely may be phyisical but so far we can find no reason for the behavoir. The hocks have no radiographic changes at this time. She was a bit thinsoled in her back feet so we felt she was carrying herself funny to take some pressure off bruised soles. She now has backshoes on and is alot happier with those there. The hocks may have had temporary inflammation due to her compensating for the bruised soles. Time will tell on that front.

              Thank you all for the suggestions that are already being thrown out.
              I do work with her alot on the lunge and she has NO issues then. She is a champ then and will work and work all day.
              My trainer and others have followed behind with a lunge whip and will respect that and move off from her balking then. But a inhand whip only causes her to kick out more, and start really throwing herself backwards while crowhopping.
              Free and Forward Motion through Massage Therapy


              • #8
                She's training you!!!! This is a not uncommon exhibition of nappiness. Spinning in a small circle with her nose to your knee will take the fun out of it for her. If she runs backward, keep her going backward, then when you decide to stop, do something basic like a turn on the forehand. Pick up the trot again and be prepared for the next exciting episode. Because it will happen..You will get less and less of it, but the tendency to try shutting down will rear its ugly head again. I find it frequently takes place in a particular area of the arena.
                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.


                • #9
                  I would also recommend putting the mare back on the lunge line, long lining, or in a round pen and going back to the basics of 'forward'. If she goes well on the lunge or long lined, it may be a leg/hand issue with the rider. If she's already getting hock injections, long lining would be best, lunging sessions would need to be very short. If you're in a round pen or on the lunge line, slowly add side reins after the first week, first very long, then shortenend a hole every few days. If she balks on the lunge with side reins, or once they're shortened, its probably a head restraint issue, as I had a mare with this problem.

                  IME, using a stronger and stronger leg will just eventually make her more resistant and dead to the leg.
                  Lowly Farm Hand with Delusions of Barn Biddieom.
                  Witherun Farm


                  • #10
                    To me it would seem like it is "stop-go" confusion, and using this hole in the training to stop work when it gets hard. I had a young horse that was very well started, but when the work got hard he would dig his toes in. Because I had insisted so strongly right from the word go that when my legs went on he went forward, he had no option but to move, and he got over it quickly.

                    I think this is more likely to be the problem if there are no physical issues. I also think this is supported by the fact that there are no problems when the trainer is on. A really interesting book to read is Andrew McLeans new books/with DVDs.
                    If you want to feel rich, just count all of the things you have that money can't buy.



                    • #11
                      Oh lord, I know this problem well. I'd be going along fine and all of a sudden the horse would stop, refuse to go forward, back and get light in front. Annoying! After trying all avenues physically (many vet visits, teeth floating, tack checks, feed changes) I finally realized he was just being a jerk. He'd pull it inside and outside and in several areas of the arena. I spun him in circles and booted him forward. Once he realized I was serious he finally went. It took a couple months before he finally quit doing it but it did eventually stop. God I actually hated riding that horse. He was opininated and stubborn! It wasn't the only evasion technique he pulled but it was the one I hated most. My nickname for him was "King of Evasions".
                      '10 Dolce Latte G - Thoroughbred Mare


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by merrygoround View Post
                        She's training you!!!! This is a not uncommon exhibition of nappiness. Spinning in a small circle with her nose to your knee will take the fun out of it for her. If she runs backward, keep her going backward, then when you decide to stop, do something basic like a turn on the forehand. Pick up the trot again and be prepared for the next exciting episode. Because it will happen..You will get less and less of it, but the tendency to try shutting down will rear its ugly head again. I find it frequently takes place in a particular area of the arena.
                        I agree. It sounds like she's got your number. Does anyone else ride her and does she do this with them on?


                        • #13
                          I'll toss my 2¢ into the pot.

                          IMHO, your mare has a very logical reason for behaving like this – logical to her – and the key is to figure that out. You've already addressed saddle fit, pain, etc. What you can do is pattern her... try to pay really close attention to every minute detail and try to figure out what happens just before she balks... thats the best place to try to find a clue.

                          Also, you mention that you took the mare out hacking, but did you get her in the woods, and let her go on the buckle for an afternoon? Not for nothing, but if it were my horse, I'd take a vacation and just hack, on the buckle the entire time, and see what that brings after about a dozen good w/t/c/g rides, without picking up on the reins. Even if I couldn't get outside due to weather, I'd just hack indoors for the pure pleasure of riding, and not school at all, just get some good forward positive energy going, and get those ears perking forward... on the buckle.

                          Its possible, as she's gotten away with it for years, that she's simply testing to see if she can get out of work, but if she's pleasant with a work ethic on the lunge, then, imho, her protests undersaddle deserve consideration from her point of view. (if she were balking on the lunge too that would be a tad different imho, but clearly its only when being ridden there is a problem). It might be as simple as her needing a break, her needing a lighter hand, lighter bit, less schooling, or something that she finds confusing cleared up for her. Or, maybe she's bored. It honestly could be something as simple as her not feeling that the rider is confident moving forward freely, causing her to doubt.... sort of an emotional "kick n' pull" (you did say that your trainer has no problems, just you and other new riders)... Sadly I'm speaking from experience here, its sincerely humbling to discover that the reason your horse wouldn't move is because you weren't 'ready' and he knew it, despite your being too proud to admit it to yourself.

                          on the entire opposite end, its possible that no one has been quite firm enough.... one seriously scary whack from a rider with a heck of a seat might be all thats needed... but, I hesitate there as you say she's a work-a-holic on the lunge. Imhe, "lazy" horses don't like to work anywhere at all for any reason.

                          Hope this helps. good luck

                          oh, and btw, horses that choose to balk when confused or upset or irritated are, imhe, extremely clever... so, you've got your work cut out.

                          Biggest thing you can do is be light hearted and supportive and never loose your temper or get frustrated no matter how irritating this behavior can be. The instant you get frustrated, your mare will likely shut down, because you've just given her a very good reason to do so.

                          good luck!
                          Being terrible at something is the first step to being truly great at it. Struggle is the evidence of progress.


                          • #14
                            I had a horse that, if he felt you were putting him under too much "pressure" (ie, leg yielding, too much -in his opinion- half halting etc) would suddenly put on the parking brakes.

                            If you kicked or spurred to get him to go, he would stubbornly ignore you for a brief while before exploding upwards, backing up thirty feet, spinning, leaping through nearby pricker bushes or some combination there of.

                            Opening rein and a cluck got him going again quite happily.

                            I learned to quickly employ opening rein when I felt the stop coming to "defuse" the response.
                            I also learned to ride him in a manner that did not cause the frustration which would make him do this: if I rode pleasantly and non-dictatorially, and asked extra nicely I got MUCH further than trying to say, "You are the horse you just need to listen."
                            If he started to get tense or frustrated I backed off a little and asked again a little further down the longside.
                            There is a difference between giving in to the whims of the horse and respecting how he prefers to work and trying to work WITH him.

                            I do not think that trying to battle it out with a horse like this is a viable option. All it will get you is a big ginormous rodeo and at some point it is necessary to listen to the horse and meet him halfway. The horse is not the only member of the partnership that needs to make accomodations to the other party.

                            Especially in this instance where the trainer can ride the horse just fine but the student is having some trouble, the student may need to work on her input into the equation. I am not trying to pick on the OP, but maybe there are some clashing aids, or some less-than-tactful aids, or just less subtlety of feel and timing that frustrate the horse until she says, "UGH! I NEED A BREAK!"

                            Try to develop a feel for when the mare starts to get steam coming out of her ears, and then pat her and say, "OK, we'll try something else for a minute and come back to this later, hmm?"
                            The Noodlehttp://tiny.cc/NGKmT&http://tiny.cc/gioSA
                            Boy Wonderhttp://tiny.cc/G9290
                            The Hana is nuts! NUTS!!http://tinyurl.com/SOCRAZY


                            • #15
                              I'm definitely all for working with your horse, but perhaps you should try taking additional lessons with your trainer and see what they think about the incidents. If she can help you pinpoint exactly what it is that you're doing to irritate her, then yes, fix it. Again, maybe lessons on another horse would help work on or pinpoint some of your issues that might be bugging your horse.

                              Also, the appropriate correction does quite depend on your horse's personality and may require a different degree of correction depending on her degree of sensitivity/stubbornness.

                              Generally issues are caused by rider faults. Unfortunately, these often have to be fixed by that same rider, and bad habits are much harder to fix and often require slightly more persistent and firm work. Some horses really are just confused and can't be pushed through it but must be shown the right way.

                              I'd really look to your trainer for the best combination of methods. Your trainer can help you really determine the root cause. I'm curious as to what her/his thoughts have been thus far.

                              All things that have been mentioned here sound like good options depending on your/her needs = )


                              • #16
                                Have you long lined her? Does she respond to the aids in the same way then with balking and backing up? If not, I'll buy it's a training problem but I lean towards a physical problem that you just haven't found yet.

                                Try getting on her bareback or in a bareback pad and see how she does. Sometimes even the best fitting saddle (it seems) can cause them discomfort. Borrow a treeless from someone and try that and see if she's different. Make sure that your saddle is not sliding forward on her and hitting her shoulders at all...that can make some horses shut down.


                                • #17
                                  Generally issues are caused by rider faults. Unfortunately, these often have to be fixed by that same rider.
                                  I agree.
                                  I don't think balking/stopping is due to soundness, especially if a horse is willing to go some of the time. Physical pain can be caused by something as simple as asking a horse to bend or collect; i.e. anything that makes the work a little hard. Some horses work through the pain, and others are wimps and chose to stop. Then, after the horse has stopped even once and was successful, it becomes a habit that anytime something sets off the trigger, the horse will stop again.

                                  The key that the pros have is that they rarely get into the situation where the horse stops, because they feel the problem coming before it occurs.

                                  I think of balking as just a resistance, and one of the worst. Other horses might bolt, spin, invert, get real crooked, go above the bit, etc. etc.

                                  Having owned quite a few mares, I've found that the one thing that sometimes gets them balky is putting your leg in the wrong place. They are real pissy about the leg......some of them.


                                  • #18
                                    I owned a horse somewhat like this a few years ago. I do believe that he had a medical problem that we just couldn't figure out. Once I had him warmed up he could do the easy work, but the problem always re-surfaced once I pushed him. He would just plant himself, I would be quick at turning him and getting him moving forward but constantly dealt with it - he would also buck and rear. The problem got more and more obvious as we worked through to 3rd level....I finally gave him up and he became an awesome school horse for lower level students. Now, I run and not walk away when I see horses with this behaviour. My advice would be to find a good trainer and observe...if the trainer is still running in to the problem but just able to ride through it better then maybe that says something. It's a tough one. Sorry that I couldn't offer anything positive, but I do wish you luck. Please post if you resolve the problem.


                                    • #19
                                      DVT- welcome to my world.

                                      My guy will plant his feet and stop. If you kick him or smack him with the whip he bucks/kicks out. He's testing. He knows it can intimidate and unfortunately the only way through it is to show him he's not scaring anyone (even if he is).

                                      I also learned to ride him in a manner that did not cause the frustration which would make him do this: if I rode pleasantly and non-dictatorially, and asked extra nicely I got MUCH further than trying to say, "You are the horse you just need to listen."
                                      If he started to get tense or frustrated I backed off a little and asked again a little further down the longside.
                                      There is a difference between giving in to the whims of the horse and respecting how he prefers to work and trying to work WITH him.
                                      THIS is what I'm learning. Praise the little things ALOT. Push the issue you have a fight, ask and praise and he gives and seems happy.

                                      Trouble is when you mess up and get into that battle of him not moving. Like today . Unfortunately we had to get over that moment and show him that he needs to move forward and not kick out at the whip. It took me 30 mins today to get him to walk/trot/canter off my leg.....that said it DOES get better.

                                      He's gone backwards because he's had 5 weeks off. Prior to the time off he was going fantastically well, no issues in four months, starting all lateral work and simple changes. SO I know this is mental not physical and I know its testing.

                                      Ya just got buckle down and ride it out, lie to yourself and your horse and tell both that you're not scared or intimidated
                                      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.


                                      • #20
                                        some ideas

                                        I'm in the camp that suggests it is likely your riding if your trainer does not have this issue. I have known horses that will stop/balk if the aids are confusing:

                                        *rider leans forward (doesn't have to be by much)
                                        *strong and/or conflicting aids - especially balance or hand vs leg aid (one says 'go', the other says 'stop')
                                        *** try to keep torso vertical and SIT in the saddle with slight forward direction of your seat (as if you were leaning back, sit on your '6 o'clock' position)

                                        In my case the one mare never stopped but she will 'protest' if I am 'out of sync' , especially on a canter depart. We practice the transitions several times a session and they get smoother the 2nd or 3rd try now.

                                        My younger mare is one that would just stop, and spurs made it worse. What worked, in addition to having my trainer ride and validate that it was 'me' was my trying the lightest aids possible and practicing the transitions so she was listening and I was constantly in 'touch' with her. If we got 'stuck' the soft opening rein and a bit of sideways movement (step of leg yield) would get us unstuck. Working that way also was very rewarding - we progressed faster and happier.

                                        I like using lateral work for horses that are avoiding/not listening as it is a little harder work for them (helps when they are thinking of taking off in the field also) and helps keep their feet working under them in balance.
                                        Forward...go forward