It is almost inevitable that in some point in your riding journey, you will come across a horse that simply does not want to work.
In fact, we sometimes joke in The Parbery Program that it’s the program for tricky mares 😉
Mares or not, these horses may express their displeasure by stopping and planting their feet, or maybe threatening to buck or rear. So, what’s the best way to correct this behaviour and move forward with your training?
Of course, you must first be confident that the horse isn’t in pain; an ill-fitting saddle, overdue teeth or muscle soreness may explain your horse’s unwillingness to comply. If you think your horse is healthy and sound, and you’re up to date with their maintenance and general care it’s probably time to address the issue in your training.
Let’s say you’re riding across the diagonal and all of the sudden your horse plants its feet and refuses to move. You ask them to move off your leg, but they refuse, so you ask again, and they start to jack up. At this point, most riders recognise the threat and take the pressure of the aid off, so that the horse relaxes and stops the negative behaviour. This reaction is totally normal and understandable, but it’s a problem! Taking the pressure off the moment the horse threatens misbehaviour effectively teaches the horse that the pressure comes off when they misbehave.
Instead, you need to call your horse’s bluff and keep up the pressure. At this point the ride can go one of two ways; positive, your horse moves forward off the leg after he understands that the reaction he’s giving doesn’t stop the pressure, or, the misbehaviour escalates, and the horse commits to the buck or rear.
If the horse responds positively, reward instantly with the pressure off and enthusiastically with your voice, letting them know that they’ve made the right decision. Alternatively, if the horse escalates the misbehaviour you can try to stick through the ugly stuff, not releasing the pressure, and then ask them again to move forward off the leg. Once this pattern has been repeated again and again, the horse will begin to understand that their negative reaction isn’t making you take off your aids and they should begin to look for another answer to your aids.
When correcting misbehaviour, it is vital that you reward, take pressure off and praise with your voice. Horses learn from the release of pressure.
Ultimately, correcting misbehaviour is not for the faint-hearted so if you are nervous or concerned about riding through whatever your horse may throw at you, it would be best (and not at all a cop-out or anything like that) to outsource this section of your training to professional. Safety first!
I hope that gives you some food for thought and inspiration. Ride well!