Join Date: May 2011
Location: Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
Horse backs up when asked to walk forward:
A few weeks ago, I brought my 16 year old Standardbred mare home. She was a Pacer in a previous life and spent the last 11 years in a broodmare band. She's very well mannered and extremely willing. Quite docile and easy going, considering the fact I'm introducing a bunch of new things to her.
I've put 2 rides on her since I brought her home, one completely bareback and one with a saddle. Both times, she seemed utterly confused about forward movement. If I squeezed my legs, she would back up. She was completely calm and focused... she just didn't understand what I wanted. And yet, if I 'kiss' to her, she walks forward with no issues. When she walks forward, I praise her.
If this was any other horse, I would bring a crop along with me as a way to gently prompt her to move forward. However, Vanna has a phobia of crops and whips and will quite literally melt into a puddle on the ground if she sees one. I have my suspicions, but not a concrete answer. All I know is that she has had this fear for her entire life (I knew her as a baby and she was terrified of whips), and it has never gotten any better. I have tried carrying a crop with me and just letting her get used it it, but we're not making any progress with it. The longer she sees the crop, the more nervous she gets and the less focused she becomes. I've decided that a crop just isn't worth it, and have stopped trying to condition her to it. We'll revisit the issue later, but for now... it's not a pressing matter.
Anyway, how would you go about conditioning a horse to move forward from leg pressure? If she only reacted this way under saddle, I'd wonder if the saddle fit was to blame, but she also backs up when I'm bareback. I've tried adjusting myself and squeezing in different points along her barrel, with the idea that maybe I was asking wrong. Nope, but I did find out that even a quick nudge with my heel in her flank will cause her to calmly back up. I considered her hooves, but they were just done and the farrier said her feet look great. I haven't used a bridle on her yet (monster sized head), so it can't be her teeth. A chiro has ruled out any soreness. I thought maybe I was subconsciously pulling on the reins, so I made sure to hold them at the buckle and give her as much slack as possible. During last night's ride, I tried really exaggerating my cues to see what would happen, and all that accomplished was causing her to back up a little faster than normal. I know I'm doing something wrong, but I'm having a hard time figuring out what it is. My next idea is to have someone at her head, holding a lead line while I cue her to move forward. If she backs up, they will lead her forward a few steps. Then we'll repeat over and over until she begins to grasp the idea. Is this a stupid way to go about it? I know it seems like a stupid question, but this is a new situation for me. Most of the horses I've ever ridden (green or otherwise) have moved forward when squeezed. If not, they jump forward when prompted with heels. Vanna is the only horse that calmly backs up - she doesn't lay her ears back, crank her neck, swish her tail... she just backs up as if I asked her to. Completely calm.