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Horse Problem - Balking - Horse won't go forward on trail in unfamiliar areas - What to do?









QUESTION: I have a registered quarter horse that I bought four years ago. He is now seven.  (I also have two other horses). I have been riding since I was eight, which is now forty years! He is very smart and catches on quickly. I have worked with him on the ground as well as in the saddle. He has many good points about him and I have worked with him a lot. There are several nice places for me to ride and I have ridden him in these same areas since I got him. This year I decided he was ready to go in a few different areas close to my home. Well, he has refused to go in these new places. He acts like he's scared with his head up and then he starts to hesitate, then he stops. I even rode through these areas with another horse along and he still refused to go. I have worked with him alone and he pulls this in the same spots over and over. He backs up and tends to rear when he refuses. I turn him in a circle and back him up the road where I want him to go. If he starts to rear up, I pull his head to the side to keep his feet on the ground. One time he bucked. I eventually get him past this point but not without a fight. Actually, there are four different places where he does this. These are all fairly new places for him. When I got him I didn't have any trouble riding him in his new surroundings. I feel that he has established his boundaries and knows his way around now. He will go in familiar places but not new ones. How can I get him over this fear - or is this a case of being barn sour? He used to be in a hurry to get home but I cured him of this by turning him in circles when he started to get wound up and jiggy. I had read that circles were a cure for a barn sour horse wanting to get home fast. He now walks home very well. My problem now are these new areas that he absolutely refuses to go! I end up smacking him on the rear or on the shoulder with a crop to move him forward, but it's a fight and he gets upset easily. Being nice and petting him through it does not work. He has a major stubborn streak. Any suggestions would be a help. Thank you.

REPLY: Hi. Horses don't get stubborn, they get "stuck" when they feel they simply cannot do something, don't know how, or feel they don't have what it takes to fulfill a request from us. Your horse lacks confidence and trust in his human leadership and his fears are overwhelming him to the point that he switches to irrational mode at those points. I was going to suggest riding him out to those spots where he gets stuck with another confident lead horse ahead of you, but sounds like you've already tried that. When he acts up like that at those spots, I would suggest breaking this down into baby steps more. Climb off him at those points and work him from the ground in those threshhold spots, on the end of a 12-foot lead rope -- you can put the natural horsemanship halter w/12 foot lead rope underneath your bridle/bit for this schooling exercise. Have him circle you, both directions, driving him from the rear (I teach that here: This will remind him that you are the leader in charge of his feet. Reward him for that correct behavior via using these relaxing/bonding techniques:
That will help to calm him down and return his brain to rational mode, him listening better. Then perhaps take a walk with him (you on the ground) on the lead rope past that threshhold point that he feels he cannot cross. A long walk if needed. But make sure you have these cues down for good leading and backing manners, which you can teach him yourself via this route:
Real important to have full control of all four feet on the ground, every direction, before expecting to have control of them in saddle. Be patient. Getting mad at him or striking him isn't going to help, but will only escalate his irrational response. Don't get mad, get creative!

Also, make sure you're not tensing up at those threshhold spots yourself. Focus your mind and eyes far ahead and on what you want the horse to do, not what you fear the horse will do. Horses pick up the tiniest changes in our thoughts and body language and will often indeed act out the negative we are silently fearing they will do, us manifesting that as leader. Keep your mind at all times on what you want the horse to do, patiently.

More importantly, I suspect you simply still have holes in his training foundation that you're not aware of, which is usually the case in this kind of problem. I would suggest applying horse whispering/natural horsemanship training techniques in a very clear step by step program, which you can learn more about in my DVD set, the Whispering Way 12-Step Total Training System, and you can order that here: CLICK HERE

After watching the videos, and after learning and applying the methods, you, as the horse's primary teacher will have taught the horse:

  • How to be bonded to you more deeply so that he trusts you to the max and he will be far more willing to do whatever you ask, even when he is in doubt;
  • That you both have a "bonding place" (a "safety zone") to come back to always, from then on, if he's ever upset or afraid, on the ground (or later, in the saddle); we plant a one-rein stop in the foundation of every horse, on the ground first, so that in the saddle, it is automatic. This keeps you safer and the horse more rational, and feeling supported, bonded, connected more deeply emotionally to you.
  • How to relax him when he is tense about something before he is called upon to react negatively.
  • How to have him yield easily, in any direction when asked -- he'll learn how to yield properly to pressure to receive the release of pressure. All horses learn from the release of pressure what it is you want, not from the pressure itself;
  • How to progress bonding to even deeper levels to the point of downright intimacy; makes a horse feel like he never had it so good being with his owner!
  • How to move him from the rear, and him learning to do that rationally, which is so important to teach a horse to do before you ever ride them, and which you'll be using for a lot of other things like trailer loading, going in and out of a gate, into a stall, and so many other places/situations; this also teaches a horse that you are in charge of their feet.
  • How to address effectively any fears (and his reactions to them) that you flush out in his behavior at any given time; my program focuses greatly on finding the fears before they find you and fixing them -- safely on the ground first! Even lay folks can do this. It's all about: safety. This then builds a far more rational, confident, happy horse, because, in essence, you have effectively raised his "fear/anxiety bar." And you will have taught him simultaneously in the process, how to turn to you for nurturance support when/if he is ever afraid or upset.
  • How to do all this first on the ground, then later in the saddle, in that order.
  • How to keep you safe and the horse safe at all times, throughout all of this --- always my biggest training focus.

This video set will help you to lay down an even stronger, more solid and trusting foundation under your horse there that will then serve you well, tremendously, actually, when you do step up into the saddle. By the time you complete the steps, you will have a transformed horse. The final steps are in the saddle and those exercises will more deeply plant into your horse's foundation the one-rein stop/the "safety zone," and more, that will turn him into a far, far more rational, trusting, happier -- and safer -- horse in saddle as well.

And you can do this yourself if you just back up and learn a few things yourself there. This video set will get you there the fastest with your horse, which is why I'm recommending this route. It's designed for anyone on any level, horse or human, to get professional trainer-like results.

I'm a very strong believer that every horse owner is their horse's primary teacher/trainer whether they realize it or not. Every time you are with your horse, he is learning something. You just want to make sure he's learning what you want him to learn, not what you don't want him to learn! Natural horsemanship training techniques are gentle, effective, and powerful. Works with every horse every time!

But it's real important to back up and break down all teaching steps in a way that you are releasing baby-gives, allowing the horse to feel the release for the right answers incrementally, so that they learn that's really what you want.

Hang in there and you'll find the answers you're looking for. Don't ever hesitate to climb off the horse when needed to continue to work with them from the ground to break things down into a more understandable level to them so they can regain confidence. Sometimes...that's all it takes!


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