Minnesota, 13 year old TWH with Professional Training ridden in walking horse bit and western saddle in round pen, outdoor arena and 10 miles of trail by intermediate level rider.

Question: Blaze is a polite and kind-hearted horse, willing to go on trail for long rides.  He's fun to ride and light with touch commands. The problem is refusing to cross a
small creek with a wide path over the water. With the same forward drive he's so famous for, he spins and spins and drives backward-fast.  I've been run backward into a dead
tree, the crashing noise didnt stop him. Now he is applying that refusal to leaving the barn.  Last night he did the same thing, I kept him backing and backing on MY command
until it became unsafe.  Then what?  He wins. He snorts and snorts and refuses like a cartoon mule.

From Panelist Laura

You're right, this can become very unsafe.  Here are two suggestions for you to try: 

1. Take your horse back to basics on the backing.  By this, I mean teach him that everytime you ask him to back, you will immediately ask him to go forward.  What you want to do is to associate backing with always going forward in his mind.  Lead him out to your arena or work area, mount there and quietly ask for a couple of steps back.  Praise him and ask him to move forward.  Stop.  Praise & pet him.  Repeat this several times.  Never back up without asking him to go forward.

2.  Don't engage in a fight with him while you are on his back - you won't win this one.  Long before you get to the stream or barn door, dismount and lead him forward.  Since you already know where he will go into fast reverse, think ahead of him and be in a safer position to teach him to move forward.  You won't "lose" by working your horse from the ground.  Ground driving your horse past the "rough" spots can also be very effective.  Good Luck & be careful. 


From Panelist Steve

Common problem. The easiest solution is to ride with a bunch of friends and use the pressure of being left behind help him to make the right calculation and cross after them. Then reward/praise him and repeat it over and over. Five times in a row wouldn't be too much. If he won't cross to stay with his buddies then beating the horse won't offer any greater pressure, trust me.

Some "don'ts": just tap with a crop, don't beat the horse...just increases the adrenaline and makes everything worse. Don't get off...that is a reward which sends the wrong message.

This horse probably spent most of his life in a stall. Water scares him. Its a phobia. We deal with phobias either through avoidance or exposure...chronic exposure, preferably "immersion". As an example of the latter (I don't recommend this necessarily) the Amish teach their horses to be road safe by tying them next to a highway. It works.

Steve Chasko

From Panelist Erica

Try getting off his back and building confidence from the ground. Many of the horses I've worked with are afraid to cross water when being ridden for the first times, but when led across and shown it won't hurt them they get more confidence and trust that it is okay. Horses have no depth perception so that small little creek probably looks like the edge of a cliff to him. 

Be sure to have plenty of patience with him though - the slower you go in advancing towards the water the quicker he will get it. Good luck!

Erica Frei

From Panelist Lee

Seems to have a little glitch in his "forward gear" doesn't he?  For the creek situation, where he might actually be afraid of the water, the solution is to first lead him through it -- a LOT!  Get some rubber boots, a couple of pockets full of apple slices, put him in a strong halter (don't do this in a bridle at first) but carry your bridle with you.  Go to the creek. Stand in the creek. Let him see you splashing in the creek.  ( a hot day is a good choice for this).  Offer him an apple, keeping his lead line slack, so that he has to stretch his neck over the water. Back up, a bit at a time, until he has to really stretch out to get that apple.  Keep the line slack most of the time-- but pull and slack it  to ask him to walk forward a step or two from time to time.  Be ready to stand there all day if you must, but
eventually he will put one foot in the water (and freak and run backwards). 

Don't make a big deal of it, just keep on asking, pull/slack,  pull/slack until he tries again. This time the instant the hoof hits the water, give him an apple slice.  Eventually (it may take a long time) he will put both front hooves in the water, decide it is no big deal, and stand there. Praise him lavishly -- give him more apples, then start again to ask him to
put all four feet in the water.  He will, it will take time, but he will, once he decides it is not going to hurt him.

Now, for the barn leaving problem --- this is entirely different -- he is not afraid of leaving the barn, he is barn sour! Two things will help with this -- making life away from the barn a little more attractive, and making stopping and backing while leaving and life under saddle at the barn less attractive.  Don't feed him grain at the barn the day before you try this.
Fill your pockets with a large baggie of grain, whatever his normal ration
is. Be sure that you can keep your seat., or if you are unsure, find a cowboy who can stick on! -- Equip yourself with light spurs, a long dressage type whip (that you can apply behind your leg on his butt without moving your hand) and when he tries balking and backing again, shake out your reins (no tight rein, but be ready to keep him aimed forward if he tries to whirl) and at the *instant* he starts to hesitate  in his forward motion, before he is stopped and backing, give him both spurs and a sound whack or two from the dressage whip.  You have to time this correctly, because if you wait until he has totally stopped forward momentum, he may rear or whirl or try some other evasion.  Ride him away from the barn -- then somewhere far from home, stop, get off, and give him a small feeding of grain. Stop all grain feeding at the barn.  Feed him grain only away from the barn -- at odd intervals, when you go out on the trail.  When you ride in the arena at the
barn, work him HARD, then let him relax with a light ride away from the barn afterwards.  If he balks, return to work in the arena and ride him HARD again, then give him the opportunity to relax while walking away from the barn.  In time he will figure out that he gets to relax on the trail and has to work his butt off when he is at home, gets goodies on the trail, and nothing but boring hay at home, and he will be more eager to leave home.

Good luck with your horse!

 Lee Ziegler

From Panelist Liz

 Yes this sounds like it is getting a bit hairy to ride!!
It is so common to have horses avoid water. I work with this early . I do it a home where they are secure in their surrounding . Not out on the trail for the first time. When ever it rains I take advantage of the small puddles first and get off and lead them though and many
times even if it means me walking through it right with them or before them first. If they trust you they will do  as you ask and some just have to see you do it first to be sure that dark looking hole doesn't swallow them up. I also lead over a sheet of heavy ply would and have a small bridge . These all get them used to going over what ever I may ask. You may even want to give them a treat after going through or  over, so there is a reward for doing the scary task. Since this horse seems to have discovered it can gain control by this
present behavior you may now need to lead and mount the horse away from the barn to get it out and moving. If this gets to be to much please seek a professional to help you get your horse past this. Backing is not the answer here but driving forward is.



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