Fear-related balking - The Horse Forum
  • 4 Post By Avna
  • 2 Post By Filou
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post #1 of 8 Old 04-17-2019, 08:58 AM Thread Starter
Join Date: Nov 2017
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Fear-related balking

Since we have been riding alone a good bit lately, Chase seems to be picking up some bad habits related to confidence. It’s mostly in one spot... it’s been his “scary” place since we came here over a year ago now.

When we ride out with another horse, he will walk right through it (following of course, he won’t go first) but as we’ve been riding alone more, he’s been resistant. And each case of resistance is escalating, to the point that last night I actually had to dismount and walk him through as none of my prior “tricks” to get him through it were working.

I tried making him work in small circles, then going, tried side-passing through, tried approaching from different angles, tried backing through, tried just moving a few steps at a time and waiting it out, tried being more energetic with the split reins and less energetic all together...

He moves...he goes sideways, backwards, left and right, but he’s fearful of going through that area. He’s snorting, sweating, breathing heavy, and recently started kicking out and offering small bucks.

When I walk in front of him, he goes right through... but I want to teach him to go through with me on his back. Any ideas?

Ps. I never let him turn around and go home... getting down and walking through is a last resort. But once we get past it, he’s fine.

And, it would be one thing if it was only this area... but, he had a scary experience with flapping plastic last week (that he had previously walked by no problem, but this day was really windy) and now last night wouldn’t walk by THAT area either. Same deal.

For that one, since I know the plastic is the issue I brought him up to it, let him look at it, got down and shook it around, walked him back and forth, shook it around some more, etc. Just basically desensitizing.

But, since there isn’t anything particular in his other scary place... I’m not sure how else to get him to walk through consistently?

And to get him to keep moving forward even when he is unsure or worried about something without it escalating into a power struggle. I’m open to suggestions!

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post #2 of 8 Old 04-17-2019, 09:42 AM
Join Date: Jul 2015
Location: Western Massachusetts
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With my particular horse, I have found that the best thing is simply patient nagging. I face her forward, and thump her sides (gently, rhythmically) and just keep doing it, patiently. If she goes backwards, however, and I'm sure she is not terrified, just being resistant, I will give her a little swat on the behind. Because once she starts backing up I've kinda lost the battle. If she is terrified and I do that, she'll go UP. Not good. In that case, I just make her stand there and face her fear without turning away, until I feel like I can ask her for a step forward.

Once he makes one forward step, PRAISE HIM. Every step is a big step, for him. When he goes past it, even if he jumps past it, PRAISE HIM. Then turn him around and make him do it again.

And again. And again and again and again and again and again until he is bored to death. THEN go on. I will bet you that the next time he passes that spot he will be a lot better.

In my opinion the best way to get a horse to learn to go forward when unsure, is to take the time to work all the way through the emotion he is having, on the spot. Totally give up your trail plan for the time, and devote yourself to this teaching opportunity. Eventually his emotion will get less and less with new stuff, as he realizes, through experience, that you are going to stay right there working with him until he no longer is afraid. He will come to trust that you will not lead him into a dangerous place, but you have to put the time in. In the end, what he needs is confidence in his rider. That is what will give him confidence in himself.

It is very important that you hold on to an attitude of "no big deal, we can get through this together, my friend". Once you lose your cool, you may as well just go home.

Short horse lover
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post #3 of 8 Old 04-17-2019, 10:11 AM Thread Starter
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I feel like he’s worked this spot up in his mind so much... that maybe I need to “break the cycle” so to speak. I was thinking of maybe stopping him well before we get there, so it’s “my” idea to stop, and then walking him through first, maybe 2-3 times. After that, getting on on the other side (he does better coming back) and trying to ride through it back and forth several times.

Sitting/nagging and waiting it out unfortunately doesn’t work because the second I touch his sides he gets antsy and starts backing up or side-stepping into the yard (that I’m not really supposed to ride in per the owners) and then I have to do circles, or back track or side-step along the lane for several strides before I can get him to get back up onto the lane and facing the spot again. It’s maddening...

I don’t lose my cool by any means, even in his worst moments he is still my baby lol but I’ve tried being “firm” and I’ve tried “ignoring” him and just letting him sit and watch for a good long while, until he was standing relaxed in a sleepy pose with one leg rested, but then as soon as I ask for even a step we go through the cycle all over again.

The last time we went through this, it took following another horse through for several rides and he eventually got over it, even when we would ride alone. Unfortunately, the horse I usually ride with is having soundness issues so we might be on our own for an indefinite amount of time... so I need to figure out a way to bring his confidence back, with me only.

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post #4 of 8 Old 04-17-2019, 10:33 AM
Join Date: Jan 2014
Location: California
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Usually I will start on the ground in a halter and work/mentally stimulate the horse around the area for a while, until they are bored. Sometimes that's 20 minutes, sometimes it's 60. Then I'll leave, tack up, ride a bit to get the horse a little tired, then come back to that spot on saddle. Sometimes they go right over and remember the work we did on the ground, and sometimes they don't and it's starting over from square 1, back on the ground, back to the ride and back to the spot. Sometimes I do this once, and sometimes I have to do it for a month before they get it.

Some horses you can just point at the scary thing and keep them looking that direction, no nudging required, until they get totally bored of just standing there, then just a little nudge forward and you won't get a reaction. Others you can push forward more.

I think it's good to have a plan but also okay to deviate from it if your plan doesn't work that particular day.
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post #5 of 8 Old 04-17-2019, 04:03 PM
Join Date: Oct 2009
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IS this in a narrow , pinch point? I mean, your strategy may be dictated in part by the lay of the land. You may not have the physical freedom to put into place some of the advice you will be offered.

In general, I would say, remember that it's about winning a battle, not necessarily winning the whole war at once. I would try approach and retreat.

If you have some room, I would approach the scary thing (st) and as soon as your horse starts to try and stop, you veer off to one side, keeping his head turned toward the st. He will likely trot off and try to turn around. Keep him turned toward it, and after a few feet, turn him to the other direction, but turn TOWARDS the scary thing, trot the other direction, zig and zag back and forth, always slightly facing the scary thing. If your horse starts to feel more accepting, less fighting, let him stop and rest, but NOT turn away from it. Then start again, zig zagging , and trying to get a bit closer with each zig, and letting him rest when he seems calmer.

And you might then , when things are pretty good, decide to turn him around, walk away for a bit, then head back toward it.. you won a battle.

If you can get him close to it, but not to pass it, and he's getting super upset, 'win' a set of zig zags, (meaning get him to stay facing and moving past the st), and then to rest there, and take that victor, and turn around and go home. But DON"T get off and lead him past.

The next time, you try for more. I don't think this is the only way. I"m sure there are others. Consider this video from Warwick Schiller

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post #6 of 8 Old 04-18-2019, 09:46 AM Thread Starter
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@tinyliny the only problem with not going through, is any ride I do have will be greatly reduced lol A good chunk of our trails are on the other side. And he’s been through this gate dozens of times now... but, his first “cow” encounter was here and it spooked him. So now, even though he’s not afraid of the cows anymore... he’s still afraid of this spot

With another horse, he doesn’t even give it a second look. It’s only when he’s alone. I’ll have to get a picture of the area itself the next time I ride.

The red line is where the gate is... the lane we ride on passes through it. To the right is an embankment with shrubs and trees leading up to the woods. To the left is a big field which is actually the yard of the property owners and I’m not technically supposed to be riding in it. I have to sometimes, but I try to keep it minimal.

So I really don’t have a ton of space to work in... but I do have to go through to get to the rest of the trails.

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post #7 of 8 Old 04-19-2019, 07:02 PM Thread Starter
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So, I took Chase out this morning with a plan. I left his halter on and carried a lead, and rode to the spot. As soon as he started to look a little worried, before he had a chance to refuse...I pulled him in a little circle and asked him to stand facing that direction.

Then, I got off and hooked up the lead and walked him through. Like maybe 10 times. Then, let him kind of check a couple things out, did some stops and backing, yielding, etc. Walked once more, to make sure he was relaxed. Then went back to the entrance, re-mounted, and walked right through. Even rode back through a second time for good measure.

I silently pat myself of the back and ride on....He’s doing great.

Don’t you know he picks a spot he’s NEVER had an issue in before and balks?! It was definitely more of an “I don’t want to” then a “I’m afraid to” type of balk.

At this point, I felt required to ride it out. We had a big field to work with. He would try to back up instead of go forward, so I alternated taking him in circles, and making his backing “my” request rather than his, and always ending with his nose facing where we needed to go.

When he would stand still, I tried the “relentless nagging” method and I think it did help some (Thank you!)

Eventually he caved, it took probably 20 minutes or more...

So, I’m thinking there is definitely a “rebellious youngster” aspect to it, maybe not only a fear thing. I’m going to do some groundwork this week and try to get him back “in tune” with me.

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post #8 of 8 Old 04-19-2019, 10:28 PM
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Well done, little sister!
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