New York 11 year old Standardbred with Professional Training, ridden in western snaffle and western saddle in paddock, fields by novice.

Question: We purchased this horse from the track as our son was attending a SUNY college for harness training. He decided this was not for him but since we had become attached to this horse we decided to keep him.  He has been pastured at a boarding facility most of the time.  We did train him to accept a saddle and last year he was great for my son to ride.  This year has been different.  He just won't move.  My son has given up-he is at a loss as to what is going on in this horse's head.  I have been his primary keeper and wanted to ride him.  He is easy to tack up but when I mount,  he walks 3 steps and stands like a statue.  I have tried to change his direction using the reins, and I hate to
say it the crop, but he just stands there and sightsees.  

This has been happening in a paddock.  I do know that if I tried this in the open he would treat me as a passenger.  Because I am a beginner I have not done this.  A friend that has experience with stbs says that not all will make the transition to riding horse, is it likely that my friend is a carriage horse at heart?  He was not a good race horse and I think he has found a way to be not used as a pleasure horse.  He is quite smart.  After awhile of
just sitting  there looking stupid, I get off, untack him and put him in his pasture.  What do you think?  Also, where I board, I have asked other more experience riders to try him and so far no one has wanted to.  

Thanks   Karen

From Panelist Liz


In this case I might try a riding buddy and see if you can get this horse to go by following another horse.

These horses can be very intelligent and in many cases I have found with novice riders that this can happen and when a horse feels a riders insecurity or lack of firmness and  confidence in asking one to move forward they just shut down and stand there and then I'll
get on and away they go. So many times  it is in what they are sensing with a rider and there probably subtle testing signs going on before he got to this point that you may not have realized he was doing and now he has it figured out. Maybe some professional training and some lessons for you may just be the answer to have that horse that you want.


From Panelist Stella

Its pretty normal for all horses to "try" their riders under saddle, because they always need to know who is the "dominant" creature in their interactions with other beings.A horse with a long established habit of always interacting with humans more dominant than it may come to expect the human to be dominant and least, initially! But even they can be 
"unravelled" over time, if they find out the human is just a "passenger,"  and too many decisions are left to them. They tend to at least start out  being much more subtle in "taking over," once they find out the human is "abdicating their leadership responsibilities" and eventually simply impose their own will - you just dont have their trust in your judgment.

Those that  are green undersaddle are likely to test each individual early in a session, 
especially those people who already have given "clues" to being permissive  in the relationship on the ground;they are also more overt in their  challenge for the position of leadership.This can be lessened to just a  minor challenge if they've already surmised from previous interactions that  you are consistent in maintaining a leadership position...only
when they feel they have a good chance of "winning" (or feel you've made a bad 
decision, or asking more than they are capable of, such as crossing a stream 
at a bad place,etc)will they directly challenge your authority.Certainly if he went well for your son last year, hope is there, but you can't completely blame him for preferring the long vacation he got over the winter, over work, especially in warm weather! With you as a beginner, he likely became aware that the odds are in his favor...(horses would do great in
Las Vegas!)

I do believe the method they choose does have a genetic origin...I currently  have a colt I'm starting doing the same, but so did his mom, and so did her  sire! That's one reason I like seeing a pedigree even on a gelding, helps anticipate what personality, behaviors to expect, and strategize accordingly- well beforehand, so I'm prepared. While "passive resistence" is one, if not THE, safest "methods of challenge"  for the rider, its certainly one of the most frustrating ones! It does require alot of patience and self-control NOT to give up until the horse has moved, and doesnt stop til YOU tell it to, even just
MUST win! By getting off the horse and "giving him exactly what he wants" - go back in 
the pasture and not have to have given him success, so he will make it a habit to continue this "proven" plan of winning.

Remember, he's just demonstrated that he has more patience and perseverence than
you do to see thru to a goal...certainly a "test" of who makes a stronger leader! 
Strength in leadership is not so much about physical strength, but psychological stength, and that is the level one needs to "play the game." Its a mistake to think horses are dumb and only react; you must have a keen  awareness of what is going on at this level. Your assessment is right...your  horse IS smart!

Of course, the best thing to do would be to have a trainer work with him,  and WITH YOU, to also develop your assertiveness. By learning more,and  becoming more confident in your own capabilities, you will not only become  more assertive, but know how to respond quickly enough without hesitating to  figure things then, its often too late, the horse already has some  success, as it only needs to get halfway to its goal to give it
motivation  to try again.

The place they will start, and you can too already, is on the ground. Start  paying attention to every little minor(to you!not the horse) you let him eat grass whenever/wherever he feels like it when leading? Do you give him treats for absolutely no good reason?(coming to you to get caught is a good reason)Do you allow him "into your space" without invitation? Do you lunge this horse? That's a great way(or roundpenning, but  use a lungeline first, til YOU get good at it)to start building a new relationship where YOU are in charge, and not the horse.(a horse can "ask" for your permission, let you know when its tired, that it would like to eat some grass, etc, but do so without our sayso-matter of principle!You're the BENEVOLENT dictator)

Most people dont realize that being dominant does not make horses LOVE YOU will make them love you MORE, if done kindly but FIRMLY, and above 
all, CONSISTENTLY. As a natural instinct of survival, the more dominant being in the relationship is the protector-a big responsibility...but the horse has to know his protector is highly alert(not one iota escapes their awareness of even nuances of circumstances), ready for instant action and decision-making, RELIABLE-never "dumps" any decisions on them;beassertive, yet relaxed and self-confident. If there is a "gap," the horse feels a NEED to "fill in," you have just created a hole in his security blanket! Just like the leader in a herd, you must PROVE your worthiness for this  position,gain his total trust in your authority, not just take it for  granted that you get it just by being the human. The smarter and more dominant in the herd a horse is, the more little tests we are given(they 
have "higher standards," being you must prove more capable than they  are...and they are the elite in their species).


From Panelist Erica

First, the bit you are using is perfect for the way I explain and teach the go forward cue in the saddle. You want to use the least severe bit you can (which in this case would be a snaffle - Tom Thumbs are not included in the snaffle bit category either). Quite probably your horse was never taught how to go forward under saddle - and rather than bolting with the rider when cued improperly (thank goodness! :-)) he freezes in place. What you have
essentially taught him by getting off when he doesn't move is that you didn't want him to move anyways - just wanted to sit on him for a bit. It will take time to train this out of him - but it is not impossible. 

Here is what I would do in your case: First, take ONE rein and take it to the side as though you are turning him - when he picks his foot up drop the rein and reward him
vigorously. Then pick up the other rein and take it out the same way, release the rein 
and reward the second he picks up his foot. Keep repeating. 

Eventually work your way up to her moving her foot to the side, then one full step, then two, three, four, etc. Moving back and forth. Do not do this with a curb bit. Curb bits are leverage bits and work off of the pain principal - i.e. enough pain is applied to get the job done. Unfortunately what will happen with a curb bit when trying to move a horse laterally is usually the opposite of what you want. With curbs you have two cues with the
bit itself - no pull, or direct pull back. Although, in the right hands curbs can be very refined tools, but not hardly in the beginner rider. Snaffle bits are directional bits and work  off of direct pressure on the opposite side of the mouth, i.e. you pick up the left rein
and the right side of the bit will push against the corner of the horse's lips.

Once you get him moving consistently this way, slowly introduce your legs.
In this I don't mean tapping at all yet, just resting your legs on and applying gentle pressure when you ask him to move with your reins. Eventually weaning him off the reins altogether as a go forward cue and using your legs solely. The less you use the more responsive your
horse will be. I hope this helps, and I commend you for seeking help with your horse -
he sounds like a sweet boy! Good luck!

Erica Frei


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