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My horse wont go downhill!

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  • My horse wont go downhill!

    I have an OTTB that is a dream. He acts his age (3) sometimes, but for the most part he's a gentleman. We just recently started trail riding. I noticed he wont go downhill. The trails around our barn are full of hills and such to go up and down and he goes up just fine, but when he looks down, he balks and starts snorting. If I lead him he'll follow me any where, but on his back he acts afraid and nervous. I thought groundwork going down hills would help, but it hasnt. He does fine on the ground but not under saddle.

    ???? What to I do now?

  • #2
    He walks downhill with you leading him, so you already know he's physically capable of doing it. But he's young and still inexperienced on the trail and may not know how to balance you yet.
    So IMO the next step would be to take it step-by-step, literally. Once you get to the top of the hill, let him look around, snort if he wants, then urge him on. Every step forward gets him a reward, either a pat or a treat if you're not against that (treats make new things sink in faster, as soon as the lesson is learned, no more treats though...)
    On your first day, only go a few feet forward downhill, praise him lots, go home. Try a little further the next day and make sure you only reward forward movement!
    Also, make sure you help him by balancing your weight really well. Be very aware where his (and your) center of gravity is and what his next move will be. Anticipate and make it as easy as possible for him, especially if there's gravel he could slide on, or mud, or any other difficult footing. Be patient. Good luck.


    • #3
      I'd have a chiro come out for the once over. Whenever my mare's pelvis is out, she is balky about going down hill, up to and including spinning to avoid it.

      15 minutes under the ministrations of the chiro and she's good as new
      <>< Sorrow Looks Back. Worry Looks Around. Faith Looks Up! -- Being negative only makes a difficult journey more difficult. You may be given a cactus, but you don't have to sit on it.


      • #4
        At 3 your horse is probably not balanced enough to handle downhills well with rider up unless rider is helping him balance himself.

        I'm learning how much more help I can be to my driving horse than I thought I could be as I learn more about balance, what that feels like and when he's not balanced. Since I'm in the re-learning phase, I'll suggest you find someone local to help you better understand rather than give you the bits I do get.

        All I can tell you is it's worth the effort to figure it out. A balanced horse is way more fun to ride.


        • #5
          In addition to balance, it's possible the saddle has slid down onto his withers and is preventing his shoulders from working right. At 3, he's still growing and a saddle that fit great a few months ago may need a different pad or just plain may not fit now.

          I was riding a young mare once (she did not have TB withers!) down a hill and suddenly I found my self and saddle practically on her neck! That was weird and she did not appreciate it.


          • #6
            My mare had a real hard time with going downhill at that age, too, and would do the exact same thing. I'd say listen to your horse, he's probably telling you he's not ready.

            We did a lot of ground driving and hand walking out on the trails, and that helped her quite a bit. Then when I did start riding her down hills, I had her serpentine down any hills she acted uncomfortable on. She is still uncomfortable carrying a rider down very steep hills (and she's nearly 6) so I still let her zig-zag down any hill she wants to if the trail is wide enough, and we're also working on strengthening her back muscles, teaching her to carry more of her weight behind and drive from there instead of going around on her forehand all the time (it's hard for her, she's butt-high and a bit clumsy) and working on balance in general. Just be patient, slowly (possibly very slowly) but surely, it will come.


            • Original Poster

              I think yall are all right. He is off the track, and so his body may be out of alignment, so i'm going to call the chiro. Also, he was never taught to engage his hind end and really use his back muscles for anything except running! So doing exercises that work his back may be useful. We have a really small hill out in our pasture, with a nice even slope, I think i'll start working with him on that to build up muscle and confidence and then start taking on bigger hills once he's good with that. He is a lot of leg, and tends to be clumsy and trip a lot, so going down steep hills is nerve racking for me as well!


              • #8
                yes, definitely check your saddle fit - if your saddle slides forward even a little, it can pinch his withers and shoulders and make him very uncomfortable, especially if it's combined with other issues such as his own balance and confidence in himself.
                RIP Victor... I'll miss you, you big galumph.


                • #9
                  My horse had confidence issues with going downhill at first. His was a result of a fall. We found a gradual ditch and shoulder along a nearby field to work on. We zig zagged over the ditch and in and out of the field starting with the shallow part until he was comfortable enough with the footing to go up or down at any point. I think my horse has poor depth perception, and he also hates hates hates having his saddle slip forward. It took awhile, but now he's climbing happily up and down familiar territory. If we go through a new trail in the woods, sometimes I have to have someone stand at the bottom of the incline to help him judge the slope and give him a little confidence. He will never be a Snowy River horse.
                  Last edited by SmartAlex; May. 4, 2010, 12:10 PM.
                  Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans


                  • #10
                    My young mare wouldn't go down hills without rushing, throwing her head up, and running down on her forehand. All that stopped when I switched to the treeless saddle. She didn't like the bars digging into the back of her shoulders on the downhills. Now that there are no bars or tree, she's perfect about the hills.


                    • #11
                      You might consider backing him in hand up small inclines, no more than 10-12 steps then walk foward and repeat.... as a part of retraining his body.


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by ThatGirlTina View Post
                        I have an OTTB that is a dream. He acts his age (3) sometimes, but for the most part he's a gentleman. We just recently started trail riding. I noticed he wont go downhill. The trails around our barn are full of hills and such to go up and down and he goes up just fine, but when he looks down, he balks and starts snorting. If I lead him he'll follow me any where, but on his back he acts afraid and nervous. I thought groundwork going down hills would help, but it hasnt. He does fine on the ground but not under saddle.

                        ???? What to I do now?
                        Check YOUR balance in the saddle, and give your horse more time to adjust to carrying the extra weight. PS. Vets use downhill travel to help diagnose stifle issues.
                        ... _. ._ .._. .._


                        • Original Poster

                          I've heard great things about treeless saddles, and i'd love to trade mine in for one! But I deff cant afford a new saddle. My saddle doesnt rub or leave dry marks, and I cant feel it slipping, so how can I tell if thats the problem? Just eliminate everything else?

                          If anyone wanted to trade me a treeless for a worn in western with new stirrup leathers i'd be more than happy


                          • #14
                            Depending on the environment your OTTB was brought up in, some track horses have never been exposed to hills (especially going down hills) - only flat surfaces. Some of them are not used to "natural environments such as hills, wooded areas, water, farm animals" but are comfortable around machinery, etc. But of course it could be a physical issue also.


                            • Original Poster

                              Yes I have noticed he doesnt care much about trucks, tractors, or any machines really. But if a dog runs up, or a bird flies out from the grass, he startles. I figured it was from the track... He doesnt mind roads or cars, but flourishes on the dirt and grass. I'm not used to his way of movement yet either. I've always ridden quarter horses, and this is my first TB. His strides are long and slow, but ground covering. I'm used to short quick strides, and it takes some getting used to! I was also unsure of riding him at first, because he's not used to cues or bits that i'm used to. But I found by riding him like i would me quarter horse, he catches on with time. He's very level headed and a good listener (when he's not spooked!) but can be a slow learner.