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I have a horse that when he is not getting his way will back up uncontrollably. I have tried kicking him forward, pulling his head around to circle, I tried spurs and I have tried a a crop. This horse is the alfa horse, and he wants control. I do not let him control anything when I am working with him, so he starts this backing. He knows exactly where he is backing. He will back into anything that he feels will make me dismount. When I try to circle him he will back at the same time. I have backed him up all over the pasture and he will threaten to rear. I then tied his head down. He has backed into an electric fence. I held on for I knew he would launch forward when it hit him. He did but it did not teach him a lesson, he then turned to back into a barbed wire fence. He will back into the barn and try to crush my leg on the barn door. He will back into trees. I am at a loss as to what to do with him. He does great on trails but at home he is awful with this backing. I have tried every training method I can think of. Has anyone got any suggestions as to how I can break this dangerous habit? Right now I am doing more ground work but he is fighting even this these days and will back when he gets temperamental. I have had him for 5 years and he was fine until recently. I suspected when I purchased him that the previous owner had a problem with him. The seller had been hurt when a horse fell back on him. But they swore it was another horse that had done it. I would love to have any advice or suggestions.
 

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You'll get much better replies than me, and I'm far from a trainer...but if it were me I would want a helper. I'm thinking someone with maybe lead ropes (one each side halter or bridle) leading him forward. Then command word if he starts backing up. Maybe that helper even with pocket of treats. Whenever he backs up...it's "whoa boy"...pulling on ropes.
I would think repeating that he'd get the idea.
He backs up...it's whoa boy, rope pull.
Forward gets a treat.

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I have had him for 5 years and he was fine until recently. I suspected when I purchased him that the previous owner had a problem with him.
Not enough info to give more than a generic sort of reply. A vid of you riding/working with him would help.

First & foremost, if this is a recent thing & you've had the horse for a long time, doing the same stuff without issue, it's very possibly a physical issue. Try to rule out/treat any possible discomfort/pain that may be causing it. Saddle fit, teeth, back/neck pain, hooves... etc.

If you've had the horse so long & this is only a recent issue, I wouldn't jump to suspect it was a prior issue the seller lied about.
I have tried kicking him forward, pulling his head around to circle, I tried spurs and I have tried a a crop. This horse is the alfa horse, and he wants control. I do not let him control anything when I am working with him, so he starts this backing. He knows exactly where he is backing. He will back into anything that he feels will make me dismount.
Assuming it's a training issue, you must be doing something different if there has been no issue until recently. It might have started with him just 'trying it on' in frustration one day, and it worked, so he tried again... and it worked... etc. Horses learn to do what works & quit doing what doesn't work, so you do need to ensure this behaviour never ever works for him again, esp as he's had so much inadvertent training by the sound of it, if it's become a 'habit', that it does work.

Perhaps you are being inconsistent about what you're doing - chopping & changing & 'trying' all sorts, without sticking to one clear consequence. Perhaps your timing is not good, so whatever you're 'trying' is not clear to him. Perhaps what you DO want of him is not 'working' for him - you don't release, quit asking when he's Right, you never let him be or reward him for what he DOES give you.

But I think more important than treating/'correcting' the 'symptom' is discovering & addressing the *motivation* for the angst in the first place. Why does he feel the need to fight what you're asking? Perhaps it's 'just' one - or combo - of the above possibilities, that it just doesn't work for him to 'do Right' - he doesn't get rewarded for it. Perhaps it's that you never allow him to relax when you're 'working'. Perhaps it's all Work to him.... What can you do to cause him to WANT to do what you ask?

Right now I am doing more ground work but he is fighting even this these days and will back when he gets temperamental.
Yes, if groundwork is not going well, I'd get that under control before riding. And perhaps, as above, groundwork was OK - or he felt he had to/was compelled, until one day he 'tried it on' and found this behaviour worked for him.

Do you have a trainer or experienced friend who can give some hands on feedback?
 

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This problem is why I recommend never using backing as a punishment. It's fairly common that horses realize it is an evasion riders find difficult to deal with.

I would recommend two things. One: don't fight. All you're doing is creating an adversarial relationship. This will compound any issues. Try to find things that will make riding or being with your horse positive.

Two: avoid backing completely to get your horse out of the habit.
If he starts going backwards, get off and walk him forward or have him stand still and relax until he is calm. Do anything to avoid backing, and most likely this will mean getting off. Not to punish, but to redirect to another, more desirable behavior.

Also consider what you have changed lately to create resistance in your horse. There is some reason he wants to evade. Are you doing new things, scary things, is there a new buddy he doesn't want to leave? Has he been asked to work harder or when he is sore?

Understand that he is not plotting a takeover. This probably began as a reaction to something and now seems like a good go-to behavior. What he understands is that you react and then he reacts to your reaction. You need to change his thinking into more positive, so he wants to cooperate because there is something he gets out of it.

Horses work very well for reward, and some will refuse to work at all for punishment.
 

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I agree with the above, especially regarding groundwork - if you can't get into his head on the ground, you shouldn't expect to get into his head on his back. Groundwork comes before all else in my opinion.

One thought - he might be looking for a way for you to let go of his mouth. Make sure your vet check includes his teeth. He might also just be sick of contact if you tend to ride with short reins. He knows that when he starts backing, you're going to let go of his face and give him the release he's looking for. Before he even starts backing, just get on and ride with floppy reins and see what he does. He might try it out of habit but don't pull on him when he's standing still or moving forward.

I would take the Warwick Schiller approach to this - "if you want to move around, let's move around!" until he gets sick of it. Only do this in an area where he cannot back into trees, barbed wire, electric fence, the stable, etc. He gets his way knowing he has the resources around him to do so. A roundpen or arena will do. When he wants to back up, put the pressure on him like you're asking him to back up. Let him bump into the fence if that's what he wants to do, but don't release the pressure until he finally chooses to stand still. If he tries to rub your leg on the fence, pull the rein that's closest to the fence (sounds counterintuitive but it works 100% of the time because it makes the horse's barrel bend away from the fence).

Both methods above combined turn this into no rein pressure when he's moving forward/standing and rein pressure when he's backing. It's the opposite of what he believes and if an aversion to contact is the reason he's behaving this way, this should help fairly quickly.

Last thought - maybe he's telling you he's sick of on-property work. If you're both unhappy in the arena at this point, perhaps you should spend more time on the trails.

Here's a video you might find applicable. Different reason for teaching, same principle.

 

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Since it is a recent issue, I would also not rule out physical issues.

Have you had a trainer involved yet? That is what I would suggest because (1) this is really an issue that you need eye/help on the ground with and honestly, (2) I feel as if you are or are quickly becoming emotional in dealing with him. You two are both frustrated here and your horse appears to be hating his "job" more and more everyday. Distance yourself from that by having a trainer take him on, while you can work with him on the "happy" things and rebuild that bond between you and him.

In short, you constantly 'fighting' with him is solving nothing and may actually be making this situation worse. This is not something you can take on alone, even if you had all the right tools you will at least need someone on the ground to help drive him forward, if it comes to that.
 

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My mare (who I've also had for 5 years) does the same thing.

Circling does nothing.

I put her nose on my knee and push her hind end OVER. She can't go backwards if her hindquarter is disengaged. She can't rear if her hindquarter is disengaged. It looks like circling from the outside, I guess? But it isn't circling, and it WORKS. Only thing that works with her.
 

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I'd be inclined to grab the saddle horn or a grab strap, and wait it out. They can't back up forever. Even if they hit something and shoot forward, at least you'll be holding on!

Depending on the horse's anxiety level, I might add some "noise" while the horse is backing up. Doing little bump-bump-bump-bump against his side with the flats of my calves, or doing a not-too-hard but persistent tapping on the butt with a dressage whip. And stop the noise when they stop backing up. I would leave the reins alone completely while the backing is happening, because pulling could contribute to rearing, which is a far worse habit.
 

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I used to have a black Arabian stallion who when ridden past mares in a pasture and cued to go forward would just back up to be back near the mares. He would back half a block. Man that horse could walk backward. Kick him and he would just back faster.
 

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As another mentioned, check your bit, but also check your saddle. My mare had major problems with 'forward' in general. She took short, shuffling strides in all of her gaits, and it was a pain to get her into a trot or canter, just always a fight. Long story short, I discovered that her shoulders were hitting the saddle (and this happened in every saddle I had too, and all of these saddles had been checked by many other people who swore they fit right). She couldn't move freely without it causing her pain. I ended up getting a corrective saddle pad, and it solved nearly all of my mare's many behavioral issues. All of her fighting was due to pain that neither I or the many experienced people I was surrounded by had recognized.


P.S. My mare was also well behaved on the trail and trouble at home, before I found and resolved this issue. Now she works well at home.
 

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I had a mare come to me because she liked reverse gear better than any forward one.

I didn't have a lot of problems with her until I went to have a lesson on her. She decided that it was time to reverse. My trainer told me not to fight her but to just keep her reversing.

Mare was happy with that. This continued for about twenty minutes until my lesson was finished. With permission from the next client I remained in the arena still reversing.

Two hours later she finally wanted to stop. I made her reverse twice more around the arena and then let her go forward.

Never did completely stop her doing it when she decided reverse was best.
 

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Pain and discomfort aside... with my mare less is more. She also learned to reverse (something she didn't have before my last yard). Sensitive girl she is escalating or circles just don't cut it.

I've learned to make sure:

1. give my hands so not pulling on it except to keep her facing the way I want to go
2. look where I want to go and make sure she also faces that direction (no yanking on her head just enough to keep her aware of where I want to go)
3. remember sit deep and lean back (reversing tipped me forward so actually remembering to sit back was a gamechanger)
4. maintain steady pressure when squeezing for forward and not stopping until she actually takes even just a single step forward. I would slightly flap the reins as well so reversing just was plain old annoying/uncomfortable
5. every time she stops or walks forward I quieten the above and praise

Doing the above I quickly learned that she is very impatient and can only manage the above for 4 minutes lol. Then she does a big sigh and off we go. I don't need to get angry or escalate because I can simply out-patience her. Something to think about.
 

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Many great words to consider. Yeah, my first impression is that there is something this horse finds so objectionable that he is more will to fight than anything else.



Usually a horse's natural evasion tactic is to run, . . . to go forward and go fast. Or, to sull up and shut down and refuse to move. But, a horse that goes backward, is one that may also rear, because somewhere, going forward has not worked for them. Either, it hurt due to the bit or tie down, or, when they went forward, it meant hours of working through pain.


When the horse is out on the trail, the distraction my make them less mentally focussed on the discomfort, and, a trail can often function like a funnel; drawing them naturally forward into this long, visually diminishing line.


Without those things, the horse focussed solely on the fight.


I'd be curious about what you could do to get the horse excited about going forward. Such as riding fast in teh arena , perhaps with another horse and rider. Chasing something. Running up big hills.

That, AFTER being very sure that neither bridle/bit nor saddle are a source of pain.


And, seriously, but how would tying down the horses head help with your problem?
 

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And, seriously, but how would tying down the horses head help with your problem?
I speak only from my experience with my mare but using a running martingale on her keeps her from being able to get her head high enough to properly rear, which helps keep ME safer.
That's rather nicer than a tie down, but keeping the head down CAN keep rearing to a minimum.
(I should add that we know 100% that my mare is not in pain, full investigation has been done and she's kept up to date on bodywork to manage old injuries, she's just a big horse with big opinions and has a tendency to rear and run backwards when not allowed to go forwards as fast as she wants to)
 

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Have you tried working in long lines? If he listens to your hands from the ground then at least you can eliminate the "attitude" thing and look for other potential problem areas. Its also safe for you and the horse.
 
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