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Refusal on trail- any advice?

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  • Refusal on trail- any advice?

    I am new here... though I read the forums regularly, I haven't really posted anything. But now I have something that I could use some varied opinions on (PLEASE help me!:~)

    Just to give some background- I grew up riding as a "back yard western rider". No real training until I was 19... I started taking riding lessons in western pleasure, competetive trail and a few english lessons thrown in. I decided I'd like to be a trainer and I apprenticed with a trainer for a while. (Not at a show level, but I loved starting green horses.)

    To pay the bills I worked at halter breeding facilities with some of the most idiotic, hot blooded, over fed, stalled horses I've ever known (including a few stallions that tried to kill people on a regular basis). I mostly did exercising, some grooming working with the show horses on setting up, etc.

    I have had "project horses" all my life and have always enjoyed the challenge and relationship that develops... but I always drew a firm line with them and it was my way or no way at all.

    Then I met the man that is now my husband, we had some kids and I was away from horses for about 6 years. But I hadn't really spent any time in the saddle for about 8.

    Fast forward to now- In the past year my kids are now old enough to stay with a sitter and I decided it was either medication or I needed to get back into horses. My sanity requires equine time.

    I am finding that a lot has changed for me during my time away. I am much more considerate of my horses... their feelings about things, where their mind is. I am also more keenly aware of the fact that they could kill me if they had the whim.

    One of my new loves is a 5 year old percheron x gelding. He's about as mellow as they come. I've been riding him for the last 2 months and he's doing great. Learning to yeild his head nicely, has a great whoa, backs with a light hand and is learning to pivot on the forehand. I've trotted him under saddle regularly and he's only offered the tiniest buck once, when he didn't want to work harder :~)

    I've been taking him out on trails with another horse about twice a week and everyone else thinks he's the biggest angel. I, however, seem to always be waiting for a bolt or some sort of fit. I am trying to remain relaxed and breathe out any anxiety I feel and I have finally started to feel more at ease on his back. I know I've only had him for 2 months and we're still getting to know each other (I went through the same thing with my VERY broke arab mare and it took about the same amount of time for me to feel like I had a good feel for her personality and what she would do in different situations).

    BUT, just as I start to feel confident (as they always do) he brings me back to earth. When I took him out last week, we didn't get more than a mile away from the trail head. He just kept refusing. Now it's normal for him to balk a bit, stop and look at something that might be scarey... take in some strange sounds, etc. He doesn't freak out, just stops and takes it in and we move on once I feel his body soften and his neck relaxes again.

    This time, though, I thought for sure there must be a problem. I thought maybe he had to pee (he hasn't quite gotten used to peeing under saddle yet and often holds it until the very last minute) or that the saddle was pinching somewhere- I figured there had to be a reason. I tried to keep him moving by getting him going sideways a bit and doing some small, walking circles. Every time I tried to get him going down the trail again he stopped. I tried getting off and walking... he still stopped and refused to go on.

    So, we decided to head back to the trailer as there must be something wrong. That little turd was just fine on the way back! So we stopped after a hundred yards and turned around again. Stop. Again. I took him to a clearing and did a bunch of ground work (I felt like he was being lazy and I'd make him work one way or the other). He did some lovely cantering on the lunge and was very respectfull. When I finally felt like I had his mind, I took him in the direction he didn't want to go... but only for a short while and then I'd turn him. Then we'd go down that way again, but I kept turning him before it was his idea to stop.

    It was a small success, but I took it and we headed back for the trailer, taking a slightly different route than the one we came.

    What the heck?! I have never had a horse do this before and I'm a little stumped. He's the biggest sweetie pie, and I joke that he is not a horse but half dog, half mule. His mule side was out in teams! I know I have confidence issues in the saddle and am more comfortable on the ground... Is this seeping through to him and he doesn't trust me to protect him out on the trail? I guess he could have simply been not in the mood to go out and testing me to see how much control he could have...

    Should I have stayed on for the exercises I did? Even when he "acts out" it isn't anything I couldn't sit through. I know this in my head, but my butt tells me to bail every time things get out of my comfort zone. How do I know when I should be stretching my comfort zone and when it's the smart move to get off?

    And have any of you ever dealt with a horse that refused to even follow another horse down the trail? How do I convince him it is the fun and engaging thing to do, lol? (By the way, even the slightest bit of frustration or "punishment" that I might start to show turns him from the thinking/mellow guy and flips his off switch, so I can't just make him do it).

    Any and all advice and suggestions would be appreciated.

    A friend recommended *That Winning Feeling!: Program Your Mind for Peak Performance* and said that it has a great chapter on addressing fears. (I am now awaiting it's arrival from Amazon, lol) and I borrowed the Parelli level 2 dvd series... Any other books/dvd recommendations?

    I am taking him out again tomorrow morning... and hoping the balk doesn't even surface.

    Thanks & Blessings,
    Jenni

  • #2
    Well, for what it's worth, here is my advice. Your problem is a little weird and could pass like a ship in the night. But if he doesn't you might try this.

    When he stops going down the trail, hop off and lead him after the other horse. You might need to ride with a dressage whip that you can use to suggest he keep going when you are on the ground. Do not make a big deal out of it though, just show him that you keep going. Eventually I would hope he would stop that behavior - sounds like something temporary/testing to me. I don't think this is the battle you should pick with him, since you are a bit afraid and he is a bit unsure.

    Good luck to you!

    Comment


    • #3
      He sounds like he's a pretty smart guy! IMHO, he has your number.
      I think you're on the right track; patience and persistance. I'm certain others will give you better advice than I can, but I'd say stick to it and keep challenging him and yourself.
      And, I've heard of a lot of new mothers (well mothers in the saddle after having babies) have this "survival instinct". You're not just taking care of yourself anymore! I've been told it subsides over time.
      Whenever I'm having a tough go at it I just always think to myself, "Rome wasn't built in a day". For some reason it makes me feel better!
      Good luck!

      Comment


      • #4
        The first thing I do when one of my horses refuses to go forward because they "just don't feel like it" is I turn them around and back them up. And I keep backing them until they don't want to anymore, and then I'll back them a few more steps. Makes them realize it's better to go forward than it is to back up. [However, I had one mare that would back forever - she loved it. Crazy horse.]

        Anyways, sometimes they get a bee in their bonnet and decide to be complete and utter brats and test you. I think what you did worked, maybe if he does it next time try the backing? It's worth a shot.

        I hope it was a one time thing and next time he's fine
        (¯`·._¤ Jess!·._¤ ´¯)

        Comment


        • #5
          Backing sounds like a fine idea!

          Comment

          • Original Poster

            #6
            Oh thank you so much for the encouragement and suggestions! I hope that tomorrow goes smoothly, but I feel that I have more tools in my tool box now, in case we have a repeat. I really like the backing idea because then he doesn't learn that I just get off every time he refuses to move forward (which is what I was afraid I may have taught him at first the last time).

            This new survival instinct is taking some getting used to- but I wear a helmet for the first time in my life, and I look back and can't believe the things I rode out instead of just getting off. I'm glad that I have it, but I'm looking forward to hopefully getting it to lighten up a bit :~)

            Jenni

            Comment


            • #7
              This may sound crazy but the one time I could NOT get my Percheron mare forward was because a critter had died in the underbrush. I could not see it the first day. We circled. I tapped/whacked with a crop, etc. etc. etc. alllll the things we know to "do" to make them go forward. Finally she was doing little rears and I didn't want to push it anymore and get dumped.

              Two days later we went back to the same spot. I acted like nothing had happened the day before, anticipating/expecting in my mind that she'd go forward or we'd work on her Issue. That's when my nose caught it....that very distinct smell of decaying critter. The mare didn't like it either, so we did avoid that spot for about two weeks (it was summer time).

              Finally went back and she walked past it like it was nothing...just another part of the trail like any other part. Have never had another instance of refusal again.
              <>< 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.

              Comment


              • #8
                I went through this with my Arab for a little while. We were going along lickety split, and she'd slam on the breaks, swell up to 3 times her size, plant the feet and flat refuse to budge. And we'd sit there for 10-15 minutes!

                My friend gave me a John Lyons DVD and he addresses this problem quite thoroughly. I followed his technique and it really worked.

                Basically this is a trust/dominance issue. Horse either doesn't trust that you know what you're talking about, or he just doesn't want to allow you to be the leader. Point his nose at where you want to go, keep steady legs on, keep his head straight, and cluck or tell him "WALK" until he moves even the slightest muscle. He doesn't have to actually walk forward, but if he leans forward, or even takes a step backwards, stop your cues, scratch his withers with your fingers and rest for a minute. Then start again. If you have to keep this lesson up for an hour, you do it. You're rewarding any movement in response to your cues. Forweard, back, sideways, leaning, anything. Horses naturally want to go forward. It's embedded in their DNA. It's not normal for them to want to stop and let the herd leave them for no reason. So JL says this problem is really easy to solve for that reason alone.

                I had to do this twice with my Arab before the problem resolved and never came back again. That gentle but firm consistency of you NOT backing down gets it through to them that we CAN and we WILL do this. And you do it calmly, safely, and effectively. There's no yelling, hitting, crying, screaming, or getting mad. You just determine that you're going to devote the time to this lesson.

                It helped that the girls I rode with knew I was working on a young horse and were willing to ease through all these bumps in the road with me.

                Comment


                • #9
                  First of all, that is great that you kept him going until it was your idea to turn around. I never let my mare make the decisions.

                  2 months is a very short time for both of you to get used to each other. My mare is good, but in the first year we were still getting used to each other.

                  Perhaps there was something truly frightening him that you didn't see.
                  Do you ride in hunting areas? I know the hunters put out different scents to attract the deer, maybe he smelled it?

                  I would just keep trying and make him go a few more feet everyday. When my mare balks, I really use my hips strongly to keep her going.

                  Singing believe it or not helps..lol I must have sung for a year... It keeps you from tensing up and help your horse concentrate on you.

                  Good luck.
                  MnToBe Twinkle Star: "Twinkie"
                  http://i236.photobucket.com/albums/f...wo/009_17A.jpg

                  Proud member of the "Don't rush to kill wildlife" clique!

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    I'm with ChocoMare--this could have been something close by the trail that bothered him and told him it was NOT SAFE to proceed. Had this happen once with the Incredibly Brave Horses who were very good at dealing with the unexpected--loose cows, trains, trucks on train tracks (the contraptions with the set of flanged wheels that whiz along at warp speed) people butchering pigs, goats, dogs, gigantic horse eating saws clearing powerlines, you name it, those horses coped. However, one time one particular dirt road turned into the entrance to the Pit Of Hell as far as they were concerned. To me and my riding buddy, no dectable odor, sound, object nothing except peaceful woods. Not too hot, not buggy, NOTHING we could find. But both horses balked and when we tried to insist they became extremely fearful, sweating, trembling, and very clearly saying to us If We Go On We Will All Die a Horrible Death. So we rode elsewhere. A week or so later they had no objection to going down the same road.

                    Being as how we are waaaaay out in the sticks and in the Deep South it was possible that there was indeed something large, dead, or predatory/dangerous in those woods that the heese could detect. (We even took a truck out later and did a little patrolling further down the road to see if we could find the booger--nothing.) We surmised it could have been wild pigs close by or an alligator or possibly misplaced aliens trying to get to Roswell NM.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Long ago I leased a mare who did the same thing when we rode out alone. I know you're not sure if it was fear or attitude -- but you definately handled it well. With the mare it was attitude, and backing up didn't work (because she was happy to back up towards home!). We tried schooling and going back and forth, but it was difficult because we were on a wooded trail without much room. In the end I won the test by just making her stand still for about a 1/2 hour, pointed down the trail away from the barn. I essentially bored her into going out on trail alone with me. Each time it took a little less time, until she just gave it up. She would try to refuse or walk slow until we got to the "stand still spot," and then she would throw in the towel and enjoy the ride.

                      I agree with Huntertwo, two months is a short time together. Building trust takes time.
                      "Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall." - Confucious
                      <>< I.I.

                      Comment

                      • Original Poster

                        #12
                        Well, today we had a GREAT ride! He did a brief refusal at the very beginning of the ride... I squeezed- nothing. I squeezed again, a little firmer- nothing. I squeezed with a bump of my heels- he looked back at the trailer. So, I flopped my leggs around all loose and wierd and it irritated him enough that he decided he rather go for a walk.

                        Now, I chose this "tool" from the tool box because I spent the last few days with him on a line and trying to figure out his triggers a bit more. He doesn't respond at all to more pressure (a spanking won't convince him to cooperate, but may incite a buck, for example).

                        He was definitely just testing.

                        The only time I've ever been thrown off a horse was due to a whiff of a dead cow in the sun... so I can relate to that critter in the bush! Pete (my balker) didn't have any sign of fear- I try to respect that as much as I can. Either they know something I don't and there really IS a death monster in the bushes or they just need help to feel more confident in me and themselves/surroundings. That's why his initial refusal had me thinking it was a comfort issue at first... Nope, it's just him being a baby and seeing how far he can get with mom and the "No I won't".

                        We had such a great ride today and as we approached the trailer, he wanted to turn onto another trail! He had a good day!

                        Thanks for the support and suggestions! It helped so much!!! (Especially with my confidence).

                        Jenni

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          I'm so glad to hear that!!
                          (¯`·._¤ Jess!·._¤ ´¯)

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Yay!
                            <>< 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.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              My OTTB was very barn sour for a while. I got him over it by keeping his trail rides fairly easy and relaxed, mainly w-t work on the buckle, and when we got back to the barn or trailer, I schooled him in dressage. He soon learned to appreciate trail rides since he quickly realized that going home didn't mean food and relaxation, it meant more work for him.

                              Another tactic I used, especially during the summer when the last place I wanted to be was riding 15 and 20 meter circles in the arena, was to ride him past the barn a little ways, and then I'd get off and lead him home.

                              Comment


                              • #16
                                Originally posted by gieriscm View Post
                                My OTTB was very barn sour for a while. I got him over it by keeping his trail rides fairly easy and relaxed, mainly w-t work on the buckle, and when we got back to the barn or trailer, I schooled him in dressage. He soon learned to appreciate trail rides since he quickly realized that going home didn't mean food and relaxation, it meant more work for him.
                                Good tactic! I've used it a few times before too.

                                Comment


                                • #17
                                  Great news... Crafty little guy
                                  MnToBe Twinkle Star: "Twinkie"
                                  http://i236.photobucket.com/albums/f...wo/009_17A.jpg

                                  Proud member of the "Don't rush to kill wildlife" clique!

                                  Comment


                                  • #18
                                    Glad it's working out better for you, sounds like he was maybe just testing the waters.

                                    I can also relate to the folks mentioning them stopping and absolutely refusing to go forward due to honest circumstances. This happened to me once. I was riding an EXTREMELY experienced, very very seasoned, old-pro trail horse. He looooved trail, and was very forward out there. We were riding right after a light snowfall, so everything was covered with just enough snow to make everything white. We were riding along this kinda back trail, not gravel, just grass. Going along just fine, then all of a sudden.. my guy SLAMS on the brakes. Plants four feet firmly into the ground, and just says, "Nope, not goin ANY further, thank you." I (foolishly) thought he was just being a brat, and kicked and circled and did everything I could think of to get him to walk on. I could've set his tail on fire, he was NOT gonna take one more step forward.

                                    Finally, I got off.. took a step forward, then realized there was a GIGANTIC SHEET OF SOLID ICE under the snow, all the way across the entire path, and probably about 30 feet long.

                                    Yep, another case of dumb rider, smart horse. I guess he didn't feel like going ice skating that day.
                                    Tell a Gelding. Ask a Stallion. Discuss it with a Mare... Pray if it's a Pony!

                                    Comment


                                    • #19
                                      re: ice skating

                                      And good thing he refused so you both didn't go slipping and sliding over the ice!

                                      Comment


                                      • #20
                                        Originally posted by ruffiannyc View Post
                                        re: ice skating

                                        And good thing he refused so you both didn't go slipping and sliding over the ice!
                                        Yep. That horse got me out of trouble a LOT on trail. He was amazing. He still is! 27 now, and very happily retired.
                                        Tell a Gelding. Ask a Stallion. Discuss it with a Mare... Pray if it's a Pony!

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