If you’ve never encountered a stubborn horse, consider yourself lucky. These horses simply refuse to leave the vicinity of the barn or their favorite companions. Their refusals run the gamut from standing with their hooves “nailed to the ground” to jigging, bucking, backing up violently, rearing or even throwing themselves on the ground.
The good news is that with some simple training exercises you can teach a stubborn horse to get over his issues and willingly go forward wherever and whenever you ask.
GETTING TO THE ROOT OF THINGS
Stubbornness can be caused by laziness, fear of the unknown, or a lack of faith in the rider. When you teach your stubborn horse the following lesson, you are teaching him a higher level of obedience. You will also move up in the pecking order and prove your leadership abilities, thereby giving your horse the confidence to carry out your requests.
The first step is recognizing that this problem is primarily caused by the lack of a “go forward” cue. It can be cured by teaching a stubborn horse to move forward on command. This can be accomplished most easily and safely by beginning on the ground. You’ll need a lead rope, a halter, and a dressage whip.
Lesson one: go forward
1. Stand on the left side of your horse’s neck, using your left hand to hold up the lead rope by the snap. Push the lead rope forward and use the whip in your right hand to lightly tap the horse’s left hip bone until he moves forward.
2. When your stubborn horse does walk forward, stop tapping and pushing, turn in the direction he is going and walk with him for five or six strides. Stop him and reward with a good rub and a kind word. Repeat this procedure over and over again.
3. As your horse starts to understand what you’re asking, begin to move your left hand further down the rope, while still pointing in the direction of travel.
4. When he’s really good with this lesson, teach it all over again on the right side (right hand holds lead rope, left hand holds dressage whip and taps the right hip point).
• The confirmed stubborn horse that refuses to go forward may initially react by backing up rather than going forward. Just remain calm and focused, and stay with him while continuing to “push” forward and tap with the whip until the backing stops. Then release and try again.
• It’s important that you keep your wits about you because a stubborn horse may rear up. If you can safely do so, keep your emotions in check, step to the side and let your hand slide down the lead rope (to stay out of striking range of those front hooves), all the while acting completely unimpressed. “Yeah, yeah, that’s nice; you can rear. But I’m going to keep on tapping until you go forward.” Be sure to continue tapping with the whip until he stops rearing and moves forward; otherwise he’ll learn that by rearing he can cause you to change your focus and back off.
• As always, if an inner voice says this is too dangerous for you to handle, remember that safety is always first! Live to train another day and get a pro to help you.
Lesson two: groundwork to saddle
Eventually, every time you point with the whip your horse will move forward. Now you’re ready to transfer the cue to your saddle.
1. Mount up, look forward, engage your seat and squeeze with your legs while simultaneously pushing slightly forward with your reins. If your horse moves forward, release all cues and praise him.
2. Most horses will not go forward on this alone. If this is the case, start bumping lightly with both legs at least ten times, or until he moves forward. When he does so, release all cues and praise him.
3. He probably still won’t go if he doesn’t know what the bumping means (hasn’t yet been taught). In this case, continue bumping with your legs as you start tapping his hip with your dressage whip. Be sure to stay focused, looking forward as you tap.
4. If you’ve done your groundwork properly, he should move forward as soon as he recognizes the tapping cue.
In time, your once stubborn horse will realize that step one always precedes step two, in which you bump with your legs, and this always precedes step three, when you tap his hip with the whip. The tapping is more annoying than the bumping, so he’ll begin to go forward on the bumping to avoid the tapping. Likewise, the bumping is more annoying than the leg squeezing, so he’ll go on the squeeze to avoid the bumping, therefore becoming lighter and more responsive. Eventually you can “think” go forward, and your mount will willingly comply.
LEAVING HIS COMFORT ZONE
Once you have these two lessons down pat, begin by riding just a short distance from the barn, then return and praise the horse, showing him he won’t be gone forever. Leave the barn again and again, going farther each time, reinforcing the right behavior, building a whole new level of mutual trust, and putting an end to his days as a barn sour horse.
“WE WANT TO STICK TOGETHER!”
The stubborn horse usually has an overwhelming desire to be with his equine buddies whether at the barn, in the arena, or on the trail. He often has leadership issues with his rider, and feels safer in the company of his equine friends.
If you’re wondering why, consider this. Even if you ride your horse every day, you’re only around him two or three hours out of every 24. His barn or pasture mate is with him the rest of the time, between seven to ten times longer. If you only show up on weekends, that differential goes up to more than 30 times longer.
Even though you may only separate the horses for an hour or two, they can still get very stressed because they don’t know if they’ll ever see each other again. You need to teach your horses to deal calmly and confidently with being separated from their buddies.
AN EXERCISE TO CURE “BUDDY” STUBBORNNESS
1. The “go cue” lesson is an absolute prerequisite to this exercise, so be sure you’ve got that one under your belt before you start.
2. Get a friend to help with this arena exercise. Each of you will groom, tack and mount up a horse.
3. Walk the horses side by side, right down the middle of the arena.
4. On signal, the rider on the right will make a small 10’ circle to the right at the same moment the rider on the left makes a small left circle.
5. Both riders return to the straight line, walking side by side.
6. Congratulations! Your stubborn horse has just experienced a low stress separation, and has been reunited before he had the chance to get upset. One small baby step (a 10’ circle) is one giant step towards developing your horse’s confidence!
Go through many repetitions of separating and immediately coming together again. This will relieve the anxiety or fear the horses feel of losing each other forever. As soon as they remain calm performing this exercise, increase the size of your circles to 15’, 20’, 25’ and so on, until they are no longer bothered by the separation.
Once they are relaxed at the walk, bring them up to the trot, and repeat the same process of going from small circles (brief separations) to very large ones (longer separations). When your horses are confidently separating from each other at the trot, it’s time to introduce the same exercise at the lope or canter. This should solve your “riding apart” problems.
2. Place one horse in a pasture or holding pen where he can see you as you ride your other horse.
3. Start working the horse you’re riding right by the fence line. Do some figure eights, circles, or other patterns, going about 10’ from the fence line then coming right back.
4. Increase the separation gradually to 25’ or 30’ and more before returning to the fence line.
5. The horse you are riding will be forced to concentrate on his job and will be under your control, but the horse that is loose on the other side of the fence is probably digging a trench, yelling loudly, and generally staying pretty upset. Since you’re not in contact with him you can’t control it, so for now just don’t worry about it.
6. Once you’ve worked the first horse for a minimum of 20 minutes, it’s the “trench digger’s” turn to be ridden. Work him fairly hard, asking him to circle, move away from leg pressure, break at the poll, follow his nose into a figure eight, move his hindquarters outside the circle and then inside the circle, etc.
7. The horse who is not being worked will soon figure out that he has the better of the deal (he who fusses gets worked, while he who is quiet gets to relax in the paddock!). He will not want to call attention to himself by being a nuisance.
Depending on the horse, this may well take more than one session, but you will soon achieve your goal.
Do these exercises, and your stubborn horse will become more confident in you as his rider, and more comfortable with daily routines. You’ll enjoy the journey together. Until next time, ride safe, ride right, and have fun!
Bob Jeffreys and Suzanne Sheppard travel nationwide teaching horse lovers how to bring out the best in their horses. Their home base is Two as One Ranch in Middletown, New York. To learn more about their unique, cross-disciplinary teaching methods, Two as One Horsemanship™, visit twoasonehorsemanship.com or call 845-692-7478.