Tuesday, May 2, 2023

The Balky Horse

I’ve always gravitated towards the hotter more sensitive type of horse, so Cruise is a new experience for me.  Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate his level headed-ness in general and his lack of drama.  When the big ball rolled underneath his belly and he high centered WHILE I WAS RIDING, I pretty much thought he would be chill until I could fix things.  And I was correct.  Especially when it is above 70 degrees, he is copacetic with just about everything.  Except horse traffic, but that is another post.

The flip side is that unless he is cold or really whipped up about something, he just likes to balk.  Ask him to walk forward with a light squeeze or touch on the lead rope and sometimes you get nothing.  I remember distinctly the first time I asked him to trot in hand and he just ignored me.  Energy up, whip taps, BIGGER whip taps.  Nothing.  And he wasn’t defiant just HUH.  Through many miles of groundwork and clicker training (which has been super helpful for motivation and focus) he is much more interested in going and doing, but his default is still HUH.  And if you try really wailing on him he braces, occasionally kicks out, but mostly blocks with his body and acts like a recalcitrant mule.

So, you’re asking yourself how the hell I have gotten a canter on this horse.  It basically comes down to, in the groundwork and under saddle, lightly asking him to do whatever and if he doesn’t immediately respond positively, then tapping him lightly with a stick until he does the thing I asked for. The stimulus does not go away until he does the thing. Then asking lightly again with my regular aids and going to the tapping if there isn’t a prompt response.  This happens a few times usually until he decides it is easier to just do the thing and sometimes it will only happen once in a ride or ground work session.  But it is always there.  And if I’m not on him about having a light response, he gets duller and duller rapidly. I call him the cart horse.

We’ve had several rides this past week with successful canter transitions (and even got both leads on ride!) and the key has been following the recipe(walk trot walk trot to trot leg yield from the 1/4 line to counter bend to canter) without escalating when I’m asking for the actual canter.  If I start really pushing him and getting heavy with the whip taps and leg, he blocks with his body and can’t canter.  If I follow the recipe, use light whip taps that never escalate and just keep asking and encouraging, he usually says “FINE” and steps into it.  If he doesn’t, we go right back to the beginning of the canter recipe and try again.  Usually by round two or three he sighs, releases and steps into the canter.  

Between learning to ride his huge gaits and dealing with more of a true warmblood temperament, Cruise has been an adventure.  I just adore him though, and have learned so much getting him going.  

Have you ever had a truly balky horse by nature?  What worked for you?


  1. I've got one! In her case she is easily bored and has a low tolerance for things that feel like work. She has a high sense of self preservation, so it's always about keeping her guessing and mixing in 'fun' things, making it seem like it's her idea. I only achieved canter transitions by starting her over jumps (jumping was exciting to her) and need to respect the line between pushing her slightly and having her shut down. I still get it wrong sometimes.

  2. Casey is definitely this! To get a walk, a jog, bend to the right while still going forward.... The list goes on. Under saddle. Same thing. Introduced an annoying tapping whip and we have all the things. (Haven't pushed for 3rd gear yet, but someday.)

    In harness she is as light, forward and easy going as you can ever hope for. She's also bold and brave, trying everything because I said "Maybe?" Night and day this one.