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Balking & won't walk forward

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  • Balking & won't walk forward

    I'm still pretty new to driving. I've taught 4 horses to drive, and now run into a problem that I can't seem to work around.

    Mark is older, and has a lot of dressage training under saddle. Easy going and very responsive. He's been casually driving for a few months now, and has been doing very well. Over the past few drives, we've run into a problem. After a halt, i'll tell him to walk, get no response, cluck, get no response, and tap him with the whip and get a huge overreaction. Admittedly, I don't use my voice undersaddle, and he's so responsive to weight cues, but if nothing else, he damn well knows what a cluck is. I've repeated the whoa/walk over and over with a header and without, and sometimes he gets it at "walk", and sometimes he waits for the tap of the whip and then freaks out.

    Compounding on this problem, last time we drove, we had walked and whoa'd a number of times, then drove through a gate. I halted about 20 ft in front of the gate, to wait for my header to close it and walk on with us. When I asked him to walk, he started scooting backward. This is a horse who HATES backing up under saddle. HATES IT. I tapped him with the whip, but was hesitant to scare him, and my header caught him just as he bumped into the gate. At that point we both heavily encouraged him forward and had a good lesson on walk/whoa/WALK.

    Yesterday we ground drove, and worked a lot on our transitions. He had one reminder that walk meant walk, and did really well the rest of the time.

    Today, we ground drove for a bit, and hitched up. Did a few very nice walks with just voice, and headed toward a gate to drive in another field. I stopped him parallel to a fence, about 30 ft away, with nothing behind him. My helper went to open the gate, and when I asked him to walk, he started shooting backwards, turning the cart at the same time. I knew my header couldn't get to us fast enough, so I did everything I could to get him to whoa. Voice, clucking, and I really laid into him with the whip. Nothing made a difference, and we smashed into the fence, breaking a post.

    Got him on a lead line, back into open space, and made him work his butt off. Walk. Whoa. Back up. WHOA. Walk. It was a pretty serious conversation, but he got the point and started to do really well. I had the header let us go, and eventually asked him to trot to reward him for good behavior. He started getting light in the front end, balky and then planted his feet. Not backing up, thankfully, but would. not. move. No encouragement from in front or behind got him to move. I unhitched, got him unstuck, worked his butt off on forward, hitched back up, did some nice basic work and called it quits.

    My driving experience doesn't nearly touch my riding experience, but I really can't think of a situation where i've given Mark a reason to feel overfaced. I feel like i've been conservative with his driving training, and set him up for success. He KNOWS walk, and whoa undersaddle without a single doubt. He hadn't had any trouble with them ground driving until our one time yesterday. I can certainly imagine he feels hindered without some of his vision, and lack of body weight cues, but i'm very consistent in cueing with my voice, cluck and then whip. I would have expected a few repetitions of this would have him 100% solid in the process. Does it sound like i'm doing anything to cause his reaction?

  • #2
    Only possible things I can think of

    1) Are you certain you're not inadvertently cuing him to back? I've seen a lot of drivers who keep thinking their hands need to be much heavier because they are behind the horse. (It doesn't sound like it, but anything is possible)
    2)Have you tried him in an open bridle? There are some horses that want/need the reassurance of SEEING "their human"
    3)Is there someone in your area that is more experienced with driving? Sometimes they will see something that you can't.

    I've driven for decades and still like to have someone out that knows more than I do. Their advice and eye are extremely valuable.

    Good luck!
    The other female in my husband's life has four legs


    • #3
      I would add saddle fit, getting pinched/uncomfortable with the harness, and a bit/bridle issue to the list.

      getting heavy handed with the whip knowing that he is spooky/sensitive with it could create a monster. Instead use your voice and the whip cue at the same time to he associates the two aids together.

      Sounds like Mark could use some back to basic training as there could be holes in this training and he is letting you know now.

      Also, you could try just going forward, forward, forward.


      • #4
        Backing up in the cart is a defensive action that is not particularly uncommon with beginner horses, and its a HUGE problem and not always easy to fix.

        From my point of view, Id be saying that you are pushing this horse too fast for what HE is ready for and he is reacting and telling you so by backing up

        From the reaction to re-starts after the halt. I would say he is probably still uncomfortable with the cart - its weight or how it moves on him and pushes him around.

        Our Cooper went thru some of this (not the backing up - thank you very much) but he would lurch forward to re-start the cart and wasnt very good at standing - every time the cart even hinted at pushing him, he would move to counter balance

        My thought would be to go slower and smoother - baby steps with this boy
        He is not comfortable with what you are asking/expecting
        Id probably find one area to work that does not involve the gates - until he is more trustworthy
        and Id keep it flatter so he doesnt have to deal with the terrain moving the cart on him
        And Id keep what I was asking him simpler and smoother until he is more comfortable with the routine

        One other thought is to work on long-lining with someone holding the traces (yes extended with rope or something) and giving the horse some resistance. Same thing with getting the breeching engaged while long lining. At the very least attach the breeching hold-backs up to the saddle so he feels it and it moves with him

        Some horses just take longer to get it.
        And remember too - that some just never do ( not that I am saying you are there yet)

        And I do agree with getting a knowledgeable outsider to check what you are doing
        Best of luck


        • #5
          I agree with what's already been said, but had a thought with one of my beginner issues that created some of these problems. Try tightening your breeching. Some horses do not like the "play" in the breeching when they halt or move forward, that rocking action of breast collar pull, breeching bump, etc... If things are a little more snug, not that you want to put a hole in his rear end! but it's more of a comfort than the bouncing stuff. My mini preffered his breeching tighter than i use it on my cob. My little welsh mare prefers her's pretty snug too.

          If he wants to back in resistance to whatever is asked, i would not be asking him to back for a while. Everything should be forward forward forward until he's happily going forward.

          Check breast collar fit. It might hurt for him to push into the breast collar. If it's too high, it might be cutting off his air supply. If it's too narrow, it's a lot of weight on a narrow area of chest. Chewbacca here had issues with her QH not wanting to go forward, i believe a shaped breast collar cured a lot of her problems. He might have tollerated your breast collar for a while, most horses try hard to please through discomfort, but it might be to a point now that he's starting to say, OUCH and letting you know it. That could be a very easy fix and poof, back to perfect horse again... Kind of amazing how quickly they fix themselves if something doesnt hurt anymore.
          Your Horse's Home On The Road!


          • #6
            I would love to chime in.....but....you really haven't supplied enough specific information to really help pinpoint where the source of the problem resides. Lots of general information only generates lots of general answers - of which I've read some excellent, thoughtful advice.

            You say you've already trained 4 other horses to drive, so I'm going to assume you aren't a total novice regarding tack and training. Without knowing what the history timeline you have with your training with this horse, I'm going to stand with the others who have all suggested some good points to consider. In order of importance (in my mind):
            1. Your horse may not had enough time to fully understand what pulling is all about....OR....he may be a balker.
            2. The harness may not fit to his comfort. Too loose or too tight or too restrictive (rubbing/galling/irritating)
            3. The vehicle may be too heavy for him, which will also cause him to react with hesitation and balking even while being long lined (because he doesn't know that weight to be pulled isn't there)

            Otherwise, he's had enough training under saddle to understand a cluck or voice command to move forward. I don't like the reaction you are getting when you apply the whip. You may want to give him a heads-up that you are planning to move by saying "Are you ready, Mark?" Then cluck and say "Walk On" and if he fails to do so just gently drag the whip thong over his barrel at the same time you again say smartly "Walk on!" with firm clucks. If he still doesn't "get it", then have your groom on the ground next to him to encourage a forward movement by employing a gentle wiggle of the bridle along with a soft cluck and a gentle, quiet voice to say "come on, Mark. Move the feet". Have your groom hop in 'on the go'. Don't stop the carriage. And let Mark keep moving, keep drafting that carriage, while you tell him what a good boy he is.

            Stop and go is VERY hard on a horse that is just learning. Fine when they have the pulling lesson safely under their belt.

            From the sounds of it, he has yet to get to that point, all other things being equal.

            Good luck with him, and hope you find your answer.


            • #7
              Does he do the same thing in long lines as hooked?

              ETA: I had a confirmed balker, what finally fixed her was 3 weeks as part of pair. Quitting was not an option.
              Last edited by red mares; Jun. 11, 2012, 03:36 PM.
              Visit my Spoonflower shop


              • #8
                I don't have nearly the experience the others here do, but I did teach my morgan to drive and he was a true balker under saddle. His balking was the main reason I was so hesitant to train him to drive, but I he has back issues, hence learning to balk, so I was hopeful that if he learned a new job that didn't hurt the vice would melt away. It did work out that way but it was a long time getting there.

                He was also very hyper reactive to the whip, kicking, bucking and general carrying on. He had a bad former life and harbored a lot of resentment to whips of any kind.

                I desensitized him (a little too well ) to the whip by using it as an extension of my hand to "pet" him when we would work in a round pen, etc. Teach him very slowly that tap here meant move over, tap here mean walk on, etc. We spent a LOT of time loose in a round pen working on obedience to voice commands, and I would have a very consistent series of command escalation...

                First I would ask politely, "Ready Dobbin? Walk on". If no reaction, I would cluck and ask more assertively "Dobbin, walk on!". If no reaction, I would strike the ground with the whip and make a mighty crack "Dobbin, WALK ON!".

                I also have a pre-cue as GTD suggestion, I say "Ready Dobbin?" before my instruction. For him, knowing something is coming up has given him confidence.

                For my whip shy guy, striking the ground got the feet moving over threatening to actually strike him. Though we've advanced enough finally that I can strike him and he will obey, in the beginning making even a motion to strike him would invite balking or kicking out.

                He's harbored a thing against whips his whole life and it took a long time and a lot of patience to get over it, but we did do it.

                I will share my dirtiest secret.... in the very beginning his overreaction to the whip was at one point the only thing holding us back in progressing in getting hitched and actually driving. LLing finally was boring and he was ready and wanting to hitch, but I was in a tiny little jog cart and feared getting my head kicked off my shoulders should he balk and I need to go to the whip. First thing I did was get a kicking strap on him and I will never drive without one. Other thing I did that worked well.... oy I'm going to get flamed for this because its bad bad bad .... I slapped with the rein on his rump In our very beginning days, as we were learning to accept the whip, it worked better than the whip to get his feet unstuck. I could give him just a little pop just as he might start thinking of balking and it was just threatening enough to keep him moving but not so much that he felt the need to defend himself over it. A few months into driving and we both got comfortable and confident enough that I could use the whip and he would understand and respect it.

                Echo searching for a comfort issue.

                You say this problem has popped up recently. I did go through a relapse in balking with my horse when we graduated from the baby pool to really starting to get out and drive. He used to get rewarded and praised very often in a short drive, but when I finally started asking for more work and expected him to go longer in between praise/rest he started balking to the new work load. Getting past that just took patience and time until he understood his new real job.

                I had an experienced friend come out and drive him with me once, we went on our first very long trail drive together (I wanted help with me exploring new sights). My friend is very eager and bold and we went easily double the distance we'd done previously and he was very tired at the end. He balked going out on the same trails for a month following. Though mentally he was fine, I didn't realize how under conditioned he was for what I was asking and he was telling me the best way he knew he didn't want to be pushed that hard again. I got the hint, we spent 3 months working up to it and now he boldly goes wherever.

                Every horse I've known that balked has a darn good reason for balking, the trick is just figuring it out.

                Since the problem seems to have come on recently, in addition for checking comfort, go back to where you were before he balked and take a fresh start.

                Absolutely agree with not having sloppy breeching, my morgan prefers everything on the snug side. Its a individual preference thing.

                I would NOT practice backing with a balker, and frankly wouldn't do too much w/h/w either. I'd do w/t/w transitions and shifting gears within a gait.

                Anything I'm going to ask driven for the first time, I get solid in long lines or in a round pen first before ever hitching and asking for it, including switching from jog to working to extended trot.

                Finally, one of the best things I ever did for my horse when we hit rough patches was take a long break. Month or more. He's always come back better brain-wise after a break.

                eta. to add more...

                When I started out and had a helper with me, my horse always wore a halter in addition to his driving bridle and my helper was always on a 30' line just in case.

                And knowing verbal commands under saddle isn't the same thing as knowing them in harness with a blinker bridle on I've learned. Even as knowing them on the longe. I was amazed how many non verbal cues my horse relied on from me (ie body language, etc) when he was ridden or in the round pen. I really had to make sure I installed commands with his blinker bridle on.

                If my horse balked so resoundingly that I exhausted all possibility and finally had to unhitch him to get him going, my horse would consider that a major "win" (for lack of a better term). If I had that happen to me, my next drives would be hitched, or with drag poles, but with me walking by his shoulder on one side (reins through terrets, etc) and helper walking on long line on other shoulder and I would to an entire school including gates, etc, with us both on the ground (so we are safe) and he would NOT get an opportunity to balk like that again, not even for an instant. I would get a little western if I had to.

                Another thing I noticed teaching my morgan to drive was sometimes I invited issues by going a little too slow. My boy went through a spooking phase, so naturally I slowed down work, dropped back to easier stuff, etc. and he started spooking worse. A friend suggested he's bored, as we were going glacially slow in our training (he did have a boat load of issues at the outset), so I took a leap of faith and advanced and the spooking instantly disappeared. He had apparently lost completely interest in his work and started inventing excitement.

                Again, this is after all possibility of discomfort had been exhausted.
                Last edited by buck22; Jun. 11, 2012, 04:14 PM.
                Being terrible at something is the first step to being truly great at it. Struggle is the evidence of progress.


                • #9
                  In addition to the other right-on-the-money suggestions, make certain as you use your "pre-start" routine, that you pointedly sit up straight and pick up the reins. This is a subtle yet clear "wake up" cue, and it always amazes me how quickly they pick up on it.
                  They're not miniatures, they're concentrates.

                  Born tongue-in-cheek and foot-in-mouth


                  • #10
                    I've been thinking about this through the day. I would vote for making certain your bit is smooth. Some times they will get rough with age. A metal bit can have the roughness polished out.

                    I would completely stop backing Mark until this is fixed.

                    Since you ride, you may not be doing this, but I've seen drivers pull back on the reins when a horse backs unexpectedly. To overcome this move your hands forward when the horse backs up.

                    I'd get a whip with a lash and see if there are places that your horse finds acceptable for it to be used. I love the suggestion given earlier to give the horse a warning sound before using the whip. But maybe Mark simply is sensitive where you are using the whip.

                    But if at all possible get someone knowledgable to see you and Mark drive. There is probably a simple thing that is wrong that an experienced (and different) eye would see. Have them check EVERYTHING bit, harness fit, cart balance, your handling of Mark.

                    Be safe!!!
                    The other female in my husband's life has four legs


                    • #11
                      What is your vehicle? 4 wheel or cart?


                      • #12
                        Is Mark the same horse you described (below) in another thread? Just curious because it could explain a lot (regarding the issues you mentioned in your op) ....
                        etc. etc....
                        sullen, no work ethic, must be "forced" to participate, gets so resistant ...etc etc etc...

                        UPDATE: OP says above is not the same horse, and a good chiro was all the above horse needed. Glad to hear that! Sorry for the derail, folks!
                        Last edited by gothedistance; Jun. 12, 2012, 03:22 PM.


                        • #13
                          If this is the same horse that gothedistance found, I would definitely consider finding someone who could drive him with a larger horse for 30-60 days, just for the attitude adjustment, and let someone else deal with him. This sounds like a horse that could hurt you.
                          Visit my Spoonflower shop


                          • #14
                            If it is the same horse that G.o.d. (LOL) found than having an attitude adjustment is NOT what he needs, he needs this to be fun. We know that he is sensitive to the whip creating cracking noises may trigger a worse reaction, I would do more "extension of your arm" exercise in a secure area where you are standing at his shoulder holding him with a halter and lead rope and just touch him with the whip, eventually he will become used to it. And I like the suggestion of a lash if you dont have one already.

                            If he is a blast on XC. Are you mentally thinking, "oh man, I am waiting for Mark to do something stupid". or sending any tension down the lines? I would just take him out and enjoy the drive for a few weeks, forget about creating the perfect circle, making sure he is doing this or that; make it fun for Mark. If you feel confident loops and figures of 8 around trees, "training" and "work" does not have to happen in a ring, it can happen while zipping though the forest just because you are not fenced in does not mean that lessons cannot be learned. Just make them fun.

                            Some of my best lessons teaching horses to use their bodies correctly have been in open fields where I could drive as loopy as I needed too.

                            But I am going to say again that I think that perhaps there could be some holes in his training and you need to check the fit of everything including the bit. I would also check the balance of the cart if two wheeled.
                            Last edited by MunchingonHay; Jun. 12, 2012, 10:08 AM. Reason: added more and spelling


                            • #15
                              I didn't say beat the crap out of him, just adjust his attitude - work.is.not.optional. Pairs puts them in a situation where they have to go, without someone pounding on them. Take them through a field or down the road, but with an "enforcer" who knows the drill. Call it peer pressure, but it definitely helped my balker.
                              Visit my Spoonflower shop


                              • Original Poster

                                Quick reply while I'm on my phone.

                                Old post is not about the same horse. Other horse turned out to make a complete turnaround with a chiro adjustment, and has been a fabulous horse ever since.


                                • #17
                                  Sorry, ihfrogs. Didn't mean to derail. Changed my post so (hopefully!!) later responses don't get confused.

                                  PS - Glad you found the source of the other horse's problem, and that he's doing fabulous now.


                                  • #18
                                    Originally posted by red mares View Post
                                    I didn't say beat the crap out of him, just adjust his attitude - work.is.not.optional. Pairs puts them in a situation where they have to go, without someone pounding on them. Take them through a field or down the road, but with an "enforcer" who knows the drill. Call it peer pressure, but it definitely helped my balker.

                                    being put in a pair, they can still learn to avoid working and not going forward, they learn to be complacent hovering in between the collar and the breeching.

                                    Anyway, it does not matter.


                                    • #19
                                      Originally posted by MunchingonHay View Post
                                      being put in a pair, they can still learn to avoid working and not going forward, they learn to be complacent hovering in between the collar and the breeching.
                                      Yup! Absoulutely!

                                      Being in a pair is the easiest way for an equine to avoid work. Some get to be very good at the deception, too, keeping the traces juuuuuust taunt enough to have the singletree and evener even, but not enough to have to work at pulling. The only thing that tends to give them away..is the lack of sweat and lazy body position.


                                      • #20
                                        Unless you have access to a really good lead horse, team/pairs doesn't always work, they do learn that hover distance that keeps them not fulling participating. I had an older Standardbred mare that was my "you will pull your full weight or I will bite thee with great vengeance" she was great for balkers.

                                        I find "poking" them in the rear with the tip of the whip to be quite effective, it is a stimulus they aren't used to and the "goose" will get them forward, not hard, just a get your attention kind of poke.

                                        I honestly believe he is not comfortable with something mechanical, be it harness fit, the bit, needing an open bride, or as easy as the weight of the vehicle. My OTSTB trotter was very uncomfortable the first few drives in my 4 wheel cart and it took some gentle coaxing to convince him that 4 wheels can be OK. I would check harness and the cart first, then try him in an open bridle, riding horses sometimes don't transition to being closed up. I only drive my Standardbred trotter closed for shows and he is open the rest of the time.

                                        Good luck!!

                                        I would go over everything