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Correcting rearing/unwillingness to go forward

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  • Correcting rearing/unwillingness to go forward

    Newbie here, please redirect me if there's a more appropriate place for this. I'm looking for some advice in dealing with a large, obstinate, barely-knows-what-a-saddle-is 13 yo TB/DWB gelding I recently, erm, inherited. He's a very dominant personality, not afraid to fight (bite, strike, the works), and does not do well with correction. I've been doing ground work, and the respect has improved significantly, but I can't seem to transfer that to saddle time.

    Sometimes, he's awesome, goes forward off light contact, loop in the reins, turns and backs on cue (if you can't tell, we're just starting under saddle; walking, backing and turning are about all we've got right now). Other times, he's the devil. I'll put my leg on and ask him to walk, and he'll ignore me. I ask again, same amount of pressure, and he pins his ears and flings his head up and down in what I can only describe as a dominant, "I'm warning you" kind of way. Ask again, especially if I kick or increase pressure, and he goes right up. And keeps going up until I take the pressure off. I know that's rewarding him for misbehaving, but I'm afraid he's going to go over backwards. Frankly, at this point, I'm a little afraid of him, and would send him to a trainer if it was at all feasible. It might be a few months down the road, but I hate to completely give up on him in the mean time, and I'm kind of enjoying the challenge when I'm not afraid of being killed! He's obviously very smart, and I'd like to think he could be useful if we could just get through this.

    So, basically, I'm asking for suggestions as to how to proceed. I think that diversion, versus hammering the point, might be more effective with him, and will keep us out of show-down mode. At the same time, I don't want to produce a horse that needs his hand held all the time. I'm not opposed to judicious use of spurs or a crop/whip, but I think anything that traps his head would be disasterous.

    ANY suggestions/war stories would be greatly appreciated!!

  • #2
    I'm not sure how much help I can be, but here are a few of things that come to mind. First, make absolutely sure you are not sending simultaneous stop/go signals. Pushing and pulling will wind a green horse up faster than anything I know.

    I would not include backing in the list of things I would work a green horse on especially if he has a not going forward issue. A correct rein-back is hard because of the difficulty in have the horse forward while stepping back--it's a more advanced dressage movement. Chances are high that he's not doing a forward rein-back, so don't feed into his weakness!

    You are right to be afraid of riding a horse that rears, and you are right that not "winning" the issue on the rearing is teaching him it works. Personally, even when I was at my youthful best chronic rearing was the one training problem I vowed I wouldn't deal with. As unfeasible as it is to send him out, how feasible is dealing with a broken hip? It's a common injury if one falls back on you. If you have to stop asking because of rearing I'd immediately get off and work his butt on the lunge--hard. Let him make the connection that the behavior has negative results even if he momentarily wins the not go forward fight.

    In your ground work I'd reinforce that a cluck means go forward as well as a light tap of the whip (a very non punishment type tap!) Once you're sure those alternative "forward" aids are individually installed trying mixing it up a bit when riding. If he resists your leg, add the cluck and/or the whip. Also, if he resists your leg trying taking your leg OFF and then try the cluck.

    Teach him to move away from a single leg aid. From a halt use one leg and ask for a single step to the side away from your leg. This is very basic pre-leg yield even. You are possibly even doing this on the ground in your work in hand. Hand on his side and push him away until he learns to take a step from each touch. Once installed if he won't take a step forward ask for a single step to the side. If you get it big praising then try forward again. (Sometimes you can side track the bad behavior with something you can praise him for and it's enough to distract them from being obstinate.) At it's most basic though it still reinforces the lesson that rider applies leg, horse moves.

    Lastly remember less is more. Some horses just resent the leg and get fed up with it. Make sure when you use leg you are using it with a purpose and not as a continuous nag. Apply leg, get response, remove leg. With the greenies sometime they only hold the response for a stride of two so don't get sucked into applying the leg and leaving it on. I can see a green horse who doesn't like leg getting worked up over too much leg and finally telling you to go jump in a lake.

    Be generous with your praise when he's a good boy. Good luck!


    • #3
      Are you sure he barely knows what a saddle is? Why has he been left this long? I'd be concerned that someone has tried to start him and he has learnt to rear and they've given up because he was dangerous.

      I was sent a horse once who the owners wanted to learn to jump. Horse was under saddle but hadn't been worked in a year or so. I did a brief re-do of my starting and was riding him really quickly. He was not forward going and really, REALLY untalented in the jumping area (like poles on the ground). He was a sh*t to work with on the ground. Within a few days of starting slow work with him, he started to rear and nap. He'd rear going away from home. He'd rear going towards home. He'd rear in company. He'd rear when schooling on his own or hacking. He could go really high - without falling over backwards - like my stirrups slipping off the stirrup bars high. I never came off him and he never really won - but each time he reared was enough of a reward to him that he kept on doing it. I tried all sorts of attachments to keep him down. The only thing that really worked was galloping forward whenever he threatened to rear. But he was soooo slow to respond to forward commands that he'd often get a rear in before actually getting moving.

      I did a bit of asking around. Apparently he'd been started and first trainer had tried to get him jumping at owners request (so they could sell well bred warmblood for big money) and he'd started to rear. Trainer had sent him home as being started, warned owners about rearing and he'd sat in the field for a year or more.

      Owners didn't think to tell me any of this when they sent him to me. They'd pushed really hard for me to take him on a commission only basis, but I had a huge waiting list of people willing to pay daily or weekly that I said it was that or nothing.

      I sent him home fit and able to jump to a certain extent, but I would never be able to recommend him to someone as a sport horse.

      I've dealt with rearers successfully - but its about going forward, always knowing what sets them off and stopping them from getting light in front. Forward, forward, forward.


      • #4
        I assume you've done all the routine vet checks, teeth, saddle fit, etc. but there are a couple of things you could look at that aren't seen in regular check-ups. My #1 suspicion is EPSM. Although rearing isn't usually an M.O. for the condition, not going forward is.......what does he eat? Try having a look at Ruralheritage.com The other idea could be Lyme disease. That is a miserable sickness and can cause all sorts of weird behaviors.

        When he threatens or gets stuck, try to spin him, even if you have to haul him onto the (tiny) circle. Don't let him stop till YOU say so (I usually go till I'm dizzy then go the other way to unwind myself!) Other than that, I agree with the other 2 responses 100%....and please be careful. Getting through to a tricky one is a wonderful thing, not giving up is too. I love it. I also had one that was very tricky, severely EPSM and he taught me so much I don't regret having him. However, he also taught me to be super defensive and to ride backwards. I put him down in 2006 and I'm still getting over my backwards habits.....Good luck.....
        Proud and achy member of the Eventing Grannies clique.


        • #5
          I posted a similar issue in the Dressage forum...some good advice there.
          Boss Mare Eventing Blog


          • #6
            Good advice here particularly about not backing the horse up. Just dont!
            "Kindness is free" ~ Eurofoal
            The CoTH CYA - please consult w/your veterinarian under any and all circumstances.


            • #7
              Look, if you want the honest truth, I'd not mess with this horse.

              He's 13, has never had to work for a living, and clearly has a very dominate/aggressive personality. Trying to reprogram that at this point is going to be tough, if not dangerous, and frankly...stupid.

              All horses have an "evasion du jour" and if it is rearing, to this extent, well IMO you are asking for trouble. Even if you get him going to a somewhat reliable degree, he will revert back to the rearing under stress/pressure/panic.

              Sorry for the harshness, but I spent two years working a horse like this through its issues. I did get him to the point where he was actually very nice under saddle though always a PITA on the ground. However he was never 100% reliable and was really just a time bomb. I was lucky I did not end up hurt, or killed. Looking back it was the dumbest thing I ever did in my horsey career.

              There are 6,543,432 nice horses out there, why mess around with one like this?
              We couldn't all be cowboys, so some of us are clowns.


              • #8
                I will echo RiverBendPol's advice about this issue. Your timing is essential, but when the horse starts to go up, pull on one rein very quickly and kick the horse to start "spinning" them in a tight circle. Doesn't matter the direction--just keep them circling. Once you stop spinning them---then kick them forward (ala "pony club style" if needed!) The key is to keep the feet moving!!

                This technique really worked well with my big, pig-headed gelding. He was young and nappy--and would rear when his buddies left the area. If I smacked or kicked him to go forward--he would just add a buck after the rear. That was a killer move because you would go forward to stay on for the rear--and then he would buck you off over his head. He was a very bratty youngster! Anyway--I did the above described spinning method a few times to him and it really extinguished the behavior. Good luck!


                • #9
                  Originally posted by FlashGordon View Post
                  Look, if you want the honest truth, I'd not mess with this horse.

                  He's 13, has never had to work for a living, and clearly has a very dominate/aggressive personality. Trying to reprogram that at this point is going to be tough, if not dangerous, and frankly...stupid.

                  All horses have an "evasion du jour" and if it is rearing, to this extent, well IMO you are asking for trouble. Even if you get him going to a somewhat reliable degree, he will revert back to the rearing under stress/pressure/panic.

                  Sorry for the harshness, but I spent two years working a horse like this through its issues. I did get him to the point where he was actually very nice under saddle though always a PITA on the ground. However he was never 100% reliable and was really just a time bomb. I was lucky I did not end up hurt, or killed. Looking back it was the dumbest thing I ever did in my horsey career.

                  There are 6,543,432 nice horses out there, why mess around with one like this?
                  This was my first thought. Life is too short and there are too many nice horses.

                  If you're determined, I would just pack a lunch.

                  Tack him up, get on, and ask him to move forward. When he rears, bring him down, and stand still. Stand still with him for a full minute, until he gets antsy. Then ask him very quietly to move off. If he rears again, stand still again. No grazing, no moving sideways. Just standing. Until he's super bored. Then ask to move forward very gently and calmly. The only options he has are moving forward, rearing, or standing. Eventually he'll figure out that rearing just makes him stand for a while, and if he's smart he'll move past it.

                  If he continues to choose rearing over standing still or walking off for a long time, odds are he's never going to look at anything you've asked him to do and make the reasonable choice, even if he gets past this one issue. You'll have a fight on your hands whenever you ask for something, and that's not a horse I want to ride.

                  Make sure you have some time when you do this - be prepared to keep him there for an hour if you need to, or as long as it takes for you to be the drop of water that wears down the stone. And it's usually not totally fixed after one session.


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by FleetRun View Post
                    I ask again, same amount of pressure, and he pins his ears and flings his head up and down in what I can only describe as a dominant, "I'm warning you" kind of way.
                    Is he doing this when you have a contact....or just asking him to walk with a loop in the rein??? If I have a loop in the rein...and he threatens me like this...I'd get off, snap on a lunge line and pick up a lung whip and make his a$$ go foward. Don't correct...don't punish (and tell him he is good when he is good)....but don't have the discussion under saddle either...especially if he already scares you a bit. He threatens, pins his ears and his go to move is to rear....work it out on ground were he has a less of a chance of hurting you.

                    I've dealt with horses that rear...and ones that do not deal with correction. But this is different. Mine in the past want to work. They just panic when feeling trapped or if something is hard. You didn't correct them but just keep things simple and worked through it. Often, they are reacting to the rider not being clear with their aids or asking for something a bit too hard for the horse at its stage...or trapping the horse between pressure of something they are unsure of and the rider's leg. This I would work through....but just a pig reaction who wants to hurt me....not so much. It isn't worth getting hurt.....Riding is about trust and it is no fun if you do not trust your horse.
                    ** Tact is the ability to tell someone to go to hell in such a way that they look forward to the trip. ~Winston Churchill? **


                    • #11
                      If you're asking this question

                      then you don't have enough experience to deal with it.

                      Get rid of him before he hurts you and someone else.

                      Free horses are free for a reason.



                      • #12
                        Does he lunge? If not yet, start putting him on the lunge with saddle and bridle. Once he will w/t/c both directions and stop, get on and have a ground person with a lunge whip "lunge" you. If you have a round pen to do this in, it will eliminate some unwanted variables. Ask him to go forward and if he objects, have your ground person lightly touch him behind with the whip. Keep in mind though, if he's obstinate, you may have to be ready for him to argue before he gives up. If I have a horse like this, I put on a western saddle to give myself a little more security in case bucking ensues. If you're uncomfortable with the possibility of bucking and such, you may want to send him to a trainer or send him down the road. There are plenty of agreeable animals out there.
                        Allah took a handful of southerly wind, blew His breath over it, and created the horse. Thou shall fly without wings, and conquer without any sword, O, Horse!
                        Anonymous Bedouin legend


                        • #13
                          I responded in Jealoushe's post in dressage. I have a similar monster, similar story. Horse with a bad attitude, very little training, very little riding/handling over an extended period of time. Would be more or less fine one day to ride, monster the next, or more often, fine for the first 30 minutes then increasingly sullen, tricky, sneaky... always took every opportunity to loose his rider. Sweet personable horse on the groiund. Looked and acted sound as a dollar, numerous vets & chiros, professionals couldn't find a thing wrong with him. Went through extensive saddle fitting, etc. Horse never acted cold backed or sore, never in pain or stiff. Just would get pissed and aggressive and violent. Looked for all the world like a jerky horse that was overly bold, overly snotty, and just *knew* how to get out of working.

                          What bothered me was how hard he worked at trying to get out of work though. He put more effort into saying no than he would have just doing the simple work I was asking.

                          I finally begged my vet to xray him, she thought I was crazy throwing so much money at what appeared to be a sound horse. I was thinking for sure kissing spines, but after all these years was really doubting my sanity at that point.

                          Turned out he has broken withers. Now we're both learning to drive.

                          FWIW I did get the horse going u/s and over his extreme balking/refusal to move forward. Starting from scratch as if he was unbroken was one, making sure he was CRYSTAL clear on what I was asking and what the right answer was, and never being aggressive, being patient (I once waited 45 minutes for him to take a step off with me aboard, I literally brought coffee and a magazine and just sat there and read).

                          But honestly, get the horse checked out. If I had just spent the few hundred $$ to xray mine when I had my first gut feeling about his back, I would have saved THOUSAND$ in chasing wild hares over the years not to mention a trip to the ER and a huge chunk of my confidence as a rider.

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


                          • #14
                            WOW, buck 22, what sterling advice! Another example that the horse is never WRONG, he's just in pain, uneducated, or lacking in leadership.

                            Now I gotta research what broken withers are. lol!


                            • Original Poster

                              Thank you to everyone for their advice, stories and warnings; I appreciate all of it, even though some of it isn't what I wanted to hear. For those who asked, he has been checked over for mouth/bit, back, leg/hoof, chiropractic, etc. issues, and has gotten a clean bill of health. The saddle I'm currently using is adequate, if not custom-fit-esque, per my saddle fitter; I don't want to buy something else for him if this isn't going to last, as the one I'm using is perfect for my mare. I've ridden him in everything from an eggbutt snaffle and saddle, down to bareback with a rope hackamore; tried rein lengths from on-the-buckle loose to following contact. I've worked hard to make sure I'm not pushing and pulling at the same time, but stuff happens, hence the loose reins and hackamore.

                              For those who said don't back him, I can see the logic in that and will follow that advice. I was using it because it was one of the ways I could get him to move his feet and go horizontally, rather than vertically, but I can see how it might encourage/make it easier for him to rear since it is weighting his hindquarters.

                              The suggestion to spin him in circles when he starts getting light in front makes a lot of sense to me as well, and fits with what I've found to be the most effective so far - causing him to move his feet, in ANY direction, rather than staying in one spot.

                              To those who said not to bother, thank you. You don't know me from Adam, but even so, it's not always easy to say, "Hey, you're in over your head", and I appreciate the honesty of your evaluation.

                              That said, I'm not ready to throw in the towel just yet. I'm going to try some of the suggestions given here, as well as continue the ground work, and see if he improves with time. I'll post an update in a bit. Thanks again to all for your help!


                              • #16
                                Before spinning (which is what i do)--if he is just stuck, start with just turning. Instead of going backwards..just use one rein and try and get him to unstick. When you feel that moment coming--keep his head turned. They can not rear without their head straight.

                                That said....if he is really bad, and you block their rear....throwing themselves on the ground can follow.

                                I have known a few older horses like yours who these issues were worked out...mostly. But it took time and a very good rider.....and lots of ground work. You can not correct or butt heads with guys like this although you also can not let them walk over you either...you have to get them to want to work with you. Good luck...and be very careful. The warnings people are giving you is because many of us have known people who have gotten seriously hurt dealing with these issues. At the end of the day...these are very large and powerful animals who can kill or seriously hurt you.
                                Last edited by bornfreenowexpensive; Apr. 23, 2012, 11:19 PM.
                                ** Tact is the ability to tell someone to go to hell in such a way that they look forward to the trip. ~Winston Churchill? **


                                • #17
                                  I had a horse who chose to use rearing to give me the middle finger... Spinning worked well. Eventually just a squeeze of one rein would remind him it was not an option, and he was lovely. That said, the one time we did have a serious relapse... I put the fear of God into him. The tough part is for you is that does not seem like an option. My other suggestion is get out of the ring. Just walk around the farm, whatever, but being interested may help his nappy attitude, and create a horse who enjoys working (the underlying issue).

                                  But if you continue to feel afraid when he acts up, stop riding him. Period. Not only for your safety, but the longer he thinks he is getting results from this the more ingrained this behavior will become and he is already very tough.


                                  • #18
                                    Just be sure this horse will back down if you up the ante. Some will not, and in fact, will override their self preservation in an attempt to evade.

                                    Otherwise yeah, forward is your best friend. OMG never back him, ever. If he knows forward is not an option, ever, you'll make some progress. Instilling it on the ground first will be your best bet.

                                    Just please be careful! The warnings were not a reflection on your ability or competency.... this is the kind of horse even the most capable pros would probably be reluctant to attempt to sort out.
                                    We couldn't all be cowboys, so some of us are clowns.


                                    • Original Poster

                                      Anyone have an opinion on this: Someone (in real life, not here) suggested in a derogatory way that this behavior is because of "the warmblood personality". He's half TB, half Dutch WB; he seems to have more of the mellow, less reactive warmblood personality, as well as build. I've never heard that warmbloods in general have an attitude problem, though. Any merit to the gene pool theory in anyone's experience? Granted, this is my first personal experience with one, but I always kind of had the impression they were more the QHs of the English division, if you will.


                                      • #20
                                        I don't think this is WB related- I have an OTTB that will turn himself inside out to avoid going forward if it's not where he wants to go (essentially, the ring and we are working on it.) He will pop, rear, and fly backwards.

                                        I've also seen QHs and Morgans do it. So, no, in my experience it is not a breed issue. It's more of an individual personality/learned behavior issue, IMHO.