Monday, April 23, 2018

Leah’s Week of Refusing to Go Forward

I had a major set back last week, she stopped going forward.  Just stopped.

Like anyone who has a problem with their horses, I scoured the Internet for answers. Apparently, it is a common issue. Unfortunately, there are not easy answers. It could be physical pain or it could be behavioral issues. Both possibilities loomed large. On the one hand, I had been asking her to do a lot these last few weeks, so there could be pain.  On the other hand, she’s surrounded by spring grass she can’t get to, which could be frustration.  I found out my husband was accidentally graining her--possibility of pain.  But it started in response to the loping training--behavioral.

This was particularly odd because I had a long ride with her Wednesday morning and she did great. We worked on obstacles and then rode out in the pasture.  All the pictures in this post are from that very morning!

That night, I had a loping lesson with my trainer—our second. I worked Leah on the ground, all was good. Then, my trainer got on and Leah started to refuse to go forward. She’d just stop. If she asked her to go, she’d throw her head up. All of this was at the walk, and my trainer is a believer in listening to your horse and not creating fights and/or bad habits, so she suggested we stop until we could figure out if it was pain or behavioral.

I was shocked at the change from morning to night, so I asked to switch places. Leah went through some obstacles for me and then did the same thing. She was done.

The other horses were grazing at the edge of the arena, and she was having to work, so I highly suspected it was frustration with not being able to also eat. I worked her on the ground a bit and then tied her up for an hour and a half as I did other things. I did that so she didn't get the impression her action won her any special treats.

Questions, questions.  Was it because she knew the trainer would ask her to lope and she doesn’t want to lope? Because of her physical history, it could be that she is only suitable for light work—trails and obstacles. Knowing the trainer was there to ask more, maybe she decided to let us know her limits.

Maybe not.

Thursday morning, I went back out to body check her again. Nothing found. And ride her. She still refused forward and still threw her head up. I drove her in bridle from the ground. No problems.  So, teeth were probably not the issue. I decided to give her a few days of stall rest.

And, then I started to feel dreadfully sorry for myself.  All my time.  All my training.  All my hope.  All my heart.  And, what was worse?  I had finally seen Leah give me her own heart after all that waiting!  All of you can attest to how long I've waited for it.  And finally, she was doing so damn well--winning the admiration of everyone who saw her.

All of it...possibly....gone.

But a slight glimmer of hope.

Sunday, yesterday, I rode Leah bareback and let her go anywhere she wanted. I didn’t even ask for forward. I just sat on her, ready for whatever she'd choose--stand, walk, trot.  Hopefully, no head throwing or rearing--but I was ready for that, too.

I brought her to the mounting block.  She stood still and close enough for me to easily swing a leg over--a good sign she was willing.  As soon as I was situated, she was waiting for the cue to move.  I didn't give it to  her, but I didn't restrain her either.  She moved out. We meandered around the obstacle course.

She was doing so well that I decided to add in leg and neck rein. She thought about balking, and began to bring her head up, but then she corrected herself, as if she had thought it through and decided to partner up.

We did a little more and then I dismounted and praised her.  I didn't want to push my luck.

Today, I’m taking her to the trail because she loves that work and it’s the best place to get forward. Arenas can make horses sour, ESPECIALLY when they see their buddies right next to them feasting on green grass.  It can be hard, tedious work for horses, and I think it is a breeding ground for behavior issues--especially in horses who struggle with conformation.

At this point, if I had to guess, I’d guess it was a behavior issue.  She was great on the ground and standing tied. She is very respectful—extremely respectful on the ground. Personally, I think she was telling me what her limits are. I’m not the type to “make her” do things. It’s a partnership. What she does, she does because she wants to, and she likes being with me and accomplishing new things. We’ve worked in small increments to get where we are today, and we got here based on trust. I’m going to be doing some soul searching to find out exactly what that means for us going forward. I think one thing for sure is that I have to do the training myself and Leah will tell me when she’s ready for each new step.  I'll find out a lot today on the trail.

The question in my mind: How much of what our horses do for us is only because they WANT to do it?


That BS was behavioral!  I went out to work with her today at home, rather than at the trail, and she started grinding her teeth as soon as I put pressure with my legs on to ask her to move out.  Then, I sat on her back and shifted around to see if there was any pain--I couldn't detect any and I'd already worked on the ground and gave her an all over massage/checkout--so I asked her to move in circles.  She did.  Pretty soon, she snapped that head up and tried to come to a stop, but I pulled her head in tight, kicked her haunches over, and had her do a circle.  We moved out, and she tried it again, I repeated it.  Every time she'd look out at the mares and see them eating, or we'd pass the gate, she'd snap the head up in a halt--but before she'd get it all the way up, I'd circle her. 

Pretty soon it ended, and she was moving out nicely again.  I realized when I used to whoa her, she'd come to a stop with her head snapped up high, so we worked on whoaing with the head low.  During our work, I chose a height that I felt was acceptable and whenever her head even slightly passed that imaginary mark, we circled tight and came back around on our line.

We went over our obstacles, to the gate, walk and trot transitions, backing, and ended on a very positive note.

After our work, I tied her to the trailer and came in here.  I'm going to leave her tied until I go to work at 1:30.


  1. Oh they do try don't they! That's what Rosalee did - she had no interest in going forward, I could make her go but it was like pushing a wet noodle. All behavioural, but I wasn't invested enough in her to deal with it at the time.
    I know that self doubt too, and it can be crippling if you don't talk yourself up and out of it.
    Good on you for getting Leah to overcome her pout.

    1. I didn’t realize that was Rosalee’s evasion. This is a part I left out: after our Wednesday morning ride, that went well, I came in and checked Facebook, and there were several videos of horses rearing. I googled rearing and watched more. Then I studied rearing and what the signs were. That evening, when my trainer came by, I told her about the rearing videos before she got on Leah.

      The signs for rearing are stopping (they have to stop), and throwing the head up or jumping up in front.

      The problem is, that is just the way I’ve always allowed Leah to stop. I say whoa, and she just halts with her head up.

      So when she decided to say no and stop she did that. She also grinds her teeth whenever she’s slightly put out—a horse passes her, she has to wait her turn to eat, etc.

      I wonder how much of this was the power of suggestion.

      Last night, I went out in the evening to test her again. The other mares were grazing next to the arena—so it was a perfect replay of last week. I jumped on bareback and rode her around and didn’t get one balk or head throw. She even remembered to whoa with her head in the neutral position. It looks like we’re past the refusals and back into a partnership.

    2. Just curious, when you were stopping Leah and she put her head up, did you immediately ask her to back up? I always teach backup with the stop as it gets them working on their hind wend and they can't do that if they have a high head and a hollowed out back, they have to stop 4 square with a nice rounded back to be able top step backwards. I actually teach this from the ground as babies; for example with Mesa, as I am leading her, I stop and step backwards and she stops and steps backwards too. I have to teach that of course, but the desired result is a horse that stops smoothly and squarely and can move off in whatever direction you ask- back, sideways, whatever.

    3. When I first started her I did, but I switched to verbal and seat cue, no reins, and she obviously wasn’t ready for that. I accepted the high headed stop because it was on a dime and I didn’t anticipate the long term complications. And you’re right, they’re not ready for the next move with that stance.

  2. When I read this I thought it was a behavioral problem. Then I read your reply to Shirley. I’m glad Leah seems to be over it. They get in their moods too and I think they’re smart enough to know when their actions pay off and when they don’t.

    1. Absolutely! They are excellent at figuring it out. 90% of the time she likes to go, but that night, she’d rather have been grazing with the mare herd. She’s also cycling.


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