Horse backs up when asked to walk forward: - The Horse Forum
  • 1 Post By Lakotababii
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post #1 of 9 Old 10-26-2011, 03:33 PM Thread Starter
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Location: Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
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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.

Any ideas?
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post #2 of 9 Old 10-26-2011, 03:39 PM
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Maybe it's the fact that you are squeezing. I mean , if you have a leg on each side and you squeeze her in between them, she may react by trying to slip out backwards from this pinch. Try just brushing her with ONE leg only. And if she moves forward, but also to the side, dont' worry about that. You got forward movement and you can gently modify that with the rein.

Try ONE leg only.
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post #3 of 9 Old 10-26-2011, 04:57 PM Thread Starter
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With one leg, she moves directly away from the pressure. Not forward at all, just to the side. If she can't move to the side any further (I've been riding her in a round pen), she'll back up.

The only way I can get her to move forward is by letting my legs hang, moving my hands a little closer to her neck and 'kissing' to her. She understands that as the cue to go forward. It kind of reminds me of all the Western trained horses I've ever ridden. She was ridden just once before I got her, in a Western saddle, so maybe she retained a lot more than I thought. She also seems to neck rein a bit, but is more responsive to direct reining.

Maybe I'll try brushing her with one leg further back, a little bit closer to her flank. Maybe there's a 'sweet spot' to get some semblance of forward motion out of her. Once I figure that out, I can start tweaking.

It's just odd. She's a puzzle.
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post #4 of 9 Old 10-26-2011, 05:13 PM
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Have you tried using the cues she responds to, and the leg pressure?

If she responds to you when you move your hands forward and kiss to her, then use that until she has it down really well. Then teach her the leg cue by asking her to move forward normally and also adding slight leg pressure. She will soon connect them all to "move forward"

Start where she is at and work from there. In this case, learn how she was trained and then add your own cues. Eventually, you can just use your own and not even have to use the ones you do now.
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post #5 of 9 Old 10-26-2011, 05:41 PM
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I agree with Lakotababii. This seems to be somewhat common when retraining OTStdbds as every one of the four that I have taken off the track did this with me. The other thing I did was to turn the horse's head as I asked for forward movement.
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post #6 of 9 Old 10-27-2011, 04:07 PM Thread Starter
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Really? That's very interesting to know. I'll have to try turning her head while brushing her with one leg and kissing. We'll see how that works and I'll report back. Thanks, all!
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post #7 of 9 Old 10-27-2011, 04:25 PM
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Another trick you can try is putting her between you and wall. Without giving any body language, tap her on her side. Usually I stand facing their rear at their shoulder so I'm blocking their sight of what I'm doing. This helps them go off feeling and not seeing you. She has two directions to move, forward or back. If she starts to back, tap her on the rump. If she moves forward, stop tapping. Do this on both sides. She'll figure out after a few times that pressure on the sides means go forward
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post #8 of 9 Old 10-27-2011, 07:00 PM Thread Starter
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Great idea! I think I'll do that first, and once we have it 100% on the ground, I'll start working with the same principle in the saddle.
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post #9 of 9 Old 10-27-2011, 07:11 PM
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Get someone to ride out with you, using al the aids correctly, Horses are very much so, one to follow the bunch. if she sees another horse get praised when walking forward after given the leg aid, she may respond to this.
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