December 18, 2017

I Don’t Wanna and You Can’t Make Me!

stubborn horse“I don’t wanna and you can’t make me!” Has your horse ever said this to you? I know mine have! They stop, go sideways, back-up, even run away. It’s called Avoidance Behavior…

            Avoidance behavior is anything a horse does instead of what they are supposed to be doing. Let’s say you are taking your horse “Duke” to the wash rack for a quick hose down. Once you have passed the paths to the turnout, barn and arena, Duke has figured out where you are headed and he’s not impressed. The last bath he had was just before a show and took hours! By the time you finished clipping, braiding his mane, giving him a bath, wrapping his legs and put his blanket on, Duke was thoroughly fed up. He is not looking forward to a repeat session, so he stops cold in his tracks. Let the avoidance behavior begin!

            You step back to his shoulder and encourage him forward again. Now Duke has realized you are in earnest so he starts to back up. Slowly at first, but increasing the pace as you get more animated in your attempts to stop him and get him moving forward again.  The next thing he does is try to spin around away from you. Now you are chasing him around in a circle wondering how things got so crazy so quickly? All you wanted to do was a quick rinse off and it’s become an all out war.

            How about this one- My school horse’s favorite- If the rider asks for anything more taxing that a shuffling amble, the horse moves closer and closer to the rail until the rider is so afraid for the wellbeing of their leg, all thoughts of trotting have gone out the window. The rider watches that fence like it’s going to take on a life of its own while desperately pulling on the inside rein in an attempt to move away. Sometimes they even lift their leg up over the saddle in order to prevent it from being squished. The horse has changed the riders entire focus with a minor avoidance behavior such as moving toward the rail.

            So what’s a rider to do? How do you deal with this kind of behavior without risking life and limb? Let’s take scenario #1- The Wash Rack Walk- As soon as Duke stopped you should have stopped also and determined that there wasn’t a legitimate reason for his behavior like a bear lurking behind a bush.  Nothing? Ok, now ask again for the walk, making sure your are cueing correctly i.e.. walking at his shoulder, facing forward, using your body posture, voice and hand to move Duke in the correct direction. If he still refuses, it’s time to get serious. I usually give several quick hard jerks on the lead rope. If that doesn’t do the trick, I will use the long end of my lead rope to tap him on the rump or anything I can reach that is behind his shoulder. Make sure you are still facing forward while you do this. Not only will your body language match your other cues, you will be in a safe position in case Duke decides to make a break for it and runs or jumps forward. Also, if the correction works, you are prepared for a nice quiet walk forward.

            Now let’s assume Duke has made a run for it- backwards! The first thing you need to do is get him stopped. That is usually best handled by the firm use of your stopping word first (Whoa, Ho, Peanut Butter, whatever!) along with some quick, hard jerks of the lead rope. Never try to out-pull a horse. Unless you are a bigger horse, it simply won’t work. 1000 lb. horse beats the 150 lb. human every time. You need to outsmart him. He can only pull against steady pressure, so don’t give him any. Pull, release, turn or push. It all works eventually. If you can’t get him stopped, turn him until he is backing in the direction you wanted to go in the first place. If he won’t walk there, back him there. If he stops, resume your usual cue for forward and make him miserable until he complies. I’m not talking abuse here, just lots of short jerks, taps with the lead rope, pulling into tight circles, backing up,  yelling. Whatever he doesn’t like, until he moves forward again. Reward the forward steps with a quick “good boy” and perhaps a pat on the neck.

          Always remember to quit on a good note. Even if it means you don’t get all the way to the wash rack today. Might not be a bad idea to skip the hose-down anyway. It will just put more bad memories on the old ones. If you get him to the wash rack, reward him and take him away. Now do it again. And again. And again. As many times as it takes until he walks up willingly and quietly, without a fuss.

            Scenario #2- The Wall Flower- When you ask for a jog, your horse, Flower, moves closer and closer to the rail until your leg is in genuine jeopardy. How do you fix this one while keeping your leg intact? Flower uses this behavior to get out of working. It usually happens by accident at first, but if it works out well, Flower learned a new trick! Again, you need to catch this one before your limb is at risk. Always make sure you start well off the rail, so you have some room to react and correct the problem. As soon as you cue for trot, Flower starts moving sideways instead of forward. This is where you need to catch it, at that first sideways step. Immediately cue with the outside leg to direct Flower forward. If she continues to move sideways, give a firm kick or two with the same outside leg. Resist the urge to pull on the inside rein as this will push Flowers rump into the rail more quickly. Use the inside rein instead by moving your hand up and across the withers toward your inside hip. This will bend Flower’s neck and head into the rail which is not where she wants to be, its where she wants you to be. If she straightens out and moves forward, continue with your trot cue. Give her a pat on the neck when she complies correctly.

             If she does succeeds in getting your leg all the way into the rail, it’s game over time. No more Mr. Nice Guy! Using your outside rein, pull her directly into the rail until she is facing the rail. Now stop and back her up very firmly. Once you are a safe distance from the rail, turn to the original direction and start over.  You can also turn a complete circle, thus moving Flower away from the rail and starting over. Just remember to make these little side trips unpleasant ones. After all, she started it! I like to use firm kicks and perhaps some taps with a crop or whip if I happen to have one handy. You may have to repeat your actions several times before the message is received. Be persistent and you will prevail.

            The most important thing to remember is what you expect of your horse. Never accept anything less than that. Any avoidance behavior can be corrected if caught quickly enough. That first stop or sideways step needs to be corrected quickly before it gets out of hand. Don’t wait until the horse has total control of the situation. By then it’s too late. Always remember your expectations and accept nothing less.

            You can never expect more than what you accept.  If you accept these kinds of naughty, avoidance behaviors, you can expect your horse to repeat them. If you don’t accept them and expect good behavior, you will get that as well. Happy Riding! unstubborn horseCheryl Rohnke Kronsberg is a Certified Horsemanship Association Master Instructor, Clinic Instructor and AQHA Professional Horseman. Cheryl graduated from Rawhide Vocational College and Fullerton College. Cheryl has been teaching riding and horsemanship for over 35 years, training students from beginner up to world level competition. Currently she and her husband own and operate CRK Training Stable in Yorba Linda, CA. We welcome your comments and questions. Please feel free to share this article with your friends, but rights to publish this article are restricted. For more interesting articles from Cheryl go to

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