4 year old newly started won't move forward - any advice?

Hello! I’ve seen some similar posts in my training research but nothing quite exactly the same so I’m hoping you all have some advice for me! This might be long, I apologize!

I imported my hew Hanoverian gelding about four months ago. He turned four in April and I believe was a bit misrepresented by the seller and was not under saddle long before coming to me. He’s a very sensitive boy so he had a few weeks off when he arrived to settle in. When we started training, he was very shy of mounting and it took 1-2 weeks just going up and down the block, leaning on him etc to get him to stand calmly to mount.

Once that was tackled, you would get on and he wouldn’t move an inch. It was like he didn’t understand your leg at all. So a ground person had to lead him with treats for a week or so until he moved freely from your leg and seat. He is lunged 10 min or so both directions before jumping on, the trainer uses side reins usually. I don’t normally but am now. He is excellent on the lunge. Calm, responsive, forward.

I had a lovely trainer working with him 5 days a week and he was making progress. He moved out to the sand arena from the round pen (we don’t have a fenced arena so round pen = safety first), was trotting on, easy to mount etc.

But in the last 2.5 weeks he won’t go forward, scratch that - he literally goes backwards. You mount up, he stands still, gets his treat, put leg on and backwards we go. The first time he did it with me, he won. At the first touch of leg, he marches backward. I’m usually alone so I didn’t want to get us tangled up without someone to save us. The second time, the barn owner (a highly respected trainer and all around horsewoman) came out with me. She suggested the hard rein turn to change his focus and balance. That worked. We ended up with easy Trot.

But then last week the trainer who’s been working with him had a “come to Jesus” discussion with him when he started going backwards. I don’t know if that was his first time doing it with the trainer but it was an all out battle apparently (round pen dirt up the walls, shoe lost). The trainer had to go out of town so I lunged twice then had a riding day. He started with he backwards and I decided to do the opposite of arguing with him and praised him like a puppy how we did when he wouldn’t move when we first started riding him. IE: you can dooooo iiiit!! Cooomeeee on ponnyyyyy! That worked a bit, got two walk circles, no trot. I Thought I succceeded, trainer said not so much. Warned me that Fritz knows how to go forward, being a brat etc.

So the trainer rode twice this week with the assistance of the barn owner and had the backwards thing happen. He’s at a loss except for wanting to whip him forward and doesn’t want to get injured personally and asked if I could find a ‘crash’ rider.

In my research, half of people seem to think you must win the battle. The other half think to let small steps be enough and praise praise praise for it. I can’t decide which is more effective, though I lean toward patience with this sensitive horse. I don’t want to let this become an irreversible habit though and would love advice from anyone with similar experiences!

Health recap:
The vet has been out, he is a little stiff on one leg and his front feet are different sizes so she recommended some things for the farrier who made the changes. No signs of ulcers though that’s what I first thought since he’s a little girthy and I’ve read some people start the medication anyway with good result. He has verrrry little teeth, so the dentist is coming out next week. He’s very good to bridle though. He got a massage yesterday and had some sore spots, he was smooth and lovely on the lunge after. His saddle is custom and fits like a dream.

I really don’t want to choose the wrong path and love this horse so Im hoping to get us in the right direction, literally ha! I’m going to take his training down from 5-6 times per week to 3-4. He’s not particularly muscular for such a big horse (17hh) so I’m concerned about that but maybe it’ll help him enjoy the work more. Also going to move out of the round pen to the grass and sand arenas, I rode in the grass arena for the vet after his Flexions and everything was fine and it was the most Ive gotten from him ever. To be fair, the vet clapped behind us when he started his antics. That was before the trainer’s two unsuccessful rides this week.

I have another trainer (she’s a lovely Grand Prix rider) who came out and said to vet him first before we went any further, so she’ll come out again but I have an inkling she and everyone else is going to say to win the battle by all means necessary and I’m not convinced I suppose. This is just my assumption that most trainers will think of him as being obstinate. But I wanted to have my own thoughts together before that conversation with anyone else.

So dear horse friends, what do you think? Thanks so much for reading my novel!!

My now 7yo mare was like this ^^ exactly when first backed. The first week or two, she would walk forward when asked and generally follow an open rein to change direction. By week 3, however, the brakes were fully engaged and any insistence to move forward (i.e. squeezes, clucks, kicks, whip taps, etc.) made her kick out at the leg and/or go backward. Very frustrating to say the least. She had been vetted right before backing, and had been given the green light too. We settled for a combination of “come to Jesus” and “praise the snot out of her”–at the first sign of resistance, the forward cues would be escalated until she put even one foot forward, and then I dumped on the praise and sugar cubes. This process continued for a few weeks, with us getting gradually more forward steps before the brakes locked up. I also gave her a lot of time off to think about things (we usually “worked” 3 days/week for 3 weeks and then took 3 weeks off for the first 2 years she was under saddle).

At 6yo, she was still confrontational to the leg–she was showing 2nd/3rd level, but her go-to when something was difficult or new was to go backwards and/or kick out at the leg. Had her vetted by 3 different specialists and tried Regumate, but nothing really worked. Then, I changed her diet to be mostly beet pulp (no molasses) and hay with just a bit of senior feed. It took about 2 weeks to see a difference, but one year later, she’s a completely different horse! She seems much happier in the work and is showing PSG and schooling Intermediate. If you suspected ulcers, maybe he has hindgut acidosis (like I suspect with my mare)? If he does, adding beet pulp might help.

I would double check the saddle fit with a quality fitter

when I had this going backward issue, it was a saddle pressure issue

He is just young right? Have you contacted the people you bought him from?
Have you tried lunging him with a rider?

I do not agree with your trainer: sounds like she is thinking he knows what he should do, but is being obstinate (so deserves punishment), but backing is MORE work, not less, and this is a YOUNG horse. It makes much more sense to believe he is receiving conflicting input (and doesn’t know how to respond) or just doesn’t understand in the first place, and his “guess” as to what to do is that he should back up.

Conflicting input could be: leg to go forward combined with a pinching saddle, dental issue (or too much front end contact), ulcer pain, rider that pinches with the knees or tips forward and so on.

Consider too, that his former trainer may have not taught him leg yet. They may have asked for go with a tap from a whip, a vocal command, or some other cue. He may take the feeling of leg wrapping around his thoracic has a feeling of being trapped, causing him to think going back is the best option. Leg aids are not intuitive to a horse…you have to teach them, so I would go back to basics and combine a cue he does understand with the leg aids. (so ask for walk with a vocal cue or on the lunge, and THEN add the leg. Once that works consistently, add the leg at the same time as the cue, and then add the leg with the other cue as a back up).

I absolutely would not tolerate someone giving a “come to Jesus” moment on a young horse…that could REALLY backfire.

From the sounds of your post describing how you got him to walk forward from the mounting block, you did not teach him forward from the leg or whip aid. You taught him step forward if there’s a treat then you get that! I would treat him like an unstarted horse and send him to a breaker for 6 weeks. Tell them to put walk, trot, canter, turns on him and take him out trail riding a time or two.

I’m no expert, but holy crap you need to find a trainer who knows what they’re doing with a young horse. This horse has no idea what you want from him and he’s being treated as though he ought to. You are going to have one confused/pissed off/ruined horse if you continue on this path.

Seriously, do not work with this horse until you have a competent trainer come out. He’s better off sitting doing nothing than continuing with what is described above. And I agree with CHT, a come to Jesus session with a horse who has no idea what you want is about THE WORST thing you can do to him right now. Not only is it the opposite of helpful, it’s completely unfair to the horse. If that is what the GP trainer’s plan find someone else, she’s not qualified to work with a young horse.

Had that with an 11-year-old who came to me. I suspect she had gone through the “CTJ” meetings. My solution: patience. Get on horse, sit until totally calm. Ask for walk with leg aid. She backed, I let her back, where’s she gonna go in a round pen? When she stopped, take a deep breath and ask again. Lather, rinse, repeat. Calmly keep asking, she figured out she was working pretty hard! FIRST inkling of step forward, get off and praise her to the moon. Nice relaxing grooming session, and lots of scratchies.
Next day, same. But she had to offer one full step forward before the spa session. Third day, two steps…
Took about two weeks, but got a lovely forward installed.

Been thru this myself…saddle fit, patience, calmness (can’t overemphasize this) and lots of positive reward for going forward.

I had a friend who was given a horse that had been thru the CTJ training method. Problem was, the horse, although beautiful conformation, could not do what was being asked. The said “trainer” (cough, cough) basically taught this horse how to fight (rear and spin) as a defense and created a dangerous horse. When friend got the horse, we had to start at step one like a newly backed horse.

It is much, much better to progress slowly than to have to undo poor training. A 4-year old horse is still a baby.

Get a new trainer, or follow do it yourself and the suggestions above.

[QUOTE=lecoeurtriste;8273162]
My now 7yo mare was like this ^^ exactly when first backed. The first week or two, she would walk forward when asked and generally follow an open rein to change direction. By week 3, however, the brakes were fully engaged and any insistence to move forward (i.e. squeezes, clucks, kicks, whip taps, etc.) made her kick out at the leg and/or go backward. Very frustrating to say the least. She had been vetted right before backing, and had been given the green light too. We settled for a combination of “come to Jesus” and “praise the snot out of her”–at the first sign of resistance, the forward cues would be escalated until she put even one foot forward, and then I dumped on the praise and sugar cubes. This process continued for a few weeks, with us getting gradually more forward steps before the brakes locked up. I also gave her a lot of time off to think about things (we usually “worked” 3 days/week for 3 weeks and then took 3 weeks off for the first 2 years she was under saddle).

At 6yo, she was still confrontational to the leg–she was showing 2nd/3rd level, but her go-to when something was difficult or new was to go backwards and/or kick out at the leg. Had her vetted by 3 different specialists and tried Regumate, but nothing really worked. Then, I changed her diet to be mostly beet pulp (no molasses) and hay with just a bit of senior feed. It took about 2 weeks to see a difference, but one year later, she’s a completely different horse! She seems much happier in the work and is showing PSG and schooling Intermediate. If you suspected ulcers, maybe he has hindgut acidosis (like I suspect with my mare)? If he does, adding beet pulp might help.[/QUOTE]

Thanks so much for this! It sounds like patience was the key for training your mare. It’s lovely to hear she’s doing so well! I’m debating asking for backwards even when he stops so he gets sick of it then trying the praise for forward.

It’s super helpful to hear your schedule with your mare, it wouldn’t have occurred to me to give him so much time off. I’m going to try adding some beet pulp too, it’s amazing what feed can do sometimes isn’t it? He was on “musli” in Germany which is like a sweet cereal so he’s been on a digestive supplement since he came over but it’s not been very long.

Thank you again!

[QUOTE=CHT;8273206]
He is just young right? Have you contacted the people you bought him from?
Have you tried lunging him with a rider?

Consider too, that his former trainer may have not taught him leg yet. They may have asked for go with a tap from a whip, a vocal command, or some other cue. He may take the feeling of leg wrapping around his thoracic has a feeling of being trapped, causing him to think going back is the best option. Leg aids are not intuitive to a horse…you have to teach them, so I would go back to basics and combine a cue he does understand with the leg aids. (so ask for walk with a vocal cue or on the lunge, and THEN add the leg. Once that works consistently, add the leg at the same time as the cue, and then add the leg with the other cue as a back up).

I absolutely would not tolerate someone giving a “come to Jesus” moment on a young horse…that could REALLY backfire.[/QUOTE]

Thank you so much for the help! I’ve not lunged him with a rider yet, but that was my first inclination when we started training a few months ago. He ended up going for the trainer well so we didn’t, but that’s where I’m starting Monday. I’ll be riding with the barn owner/trainer lunging. She is extremely calm and thinks through situations clearly so I think it will be a good fit. I plan on letting her lunge him as if I’m not there to begin and then gradually add rider aids.

And you’re totally right, his previous trainer might not have taught leg without another cue. Though He did apparently complete in some young horse classes last June, the prior owner said he placed 2nd in his class at the artland championships but I’ve only been able to find qualifier placing class results (Riding Horse WB - Artland Championships - 3+ 4jähr. Horses ).

In my opinion, he seems to resent the spur and I haven’t tried the whip but he is not whip shy across his body at all so I’ll try that next week if day 1 rider lunging is successful.

Thank you again!

Thanks for your advice! He gets a treat when mounted, as soon as my feet are in the stirrups, I ask him to stay still, pat him and give him a treat. This is the result of the mounting block issues we had. Mounting was not possible with how shy he was to it so we broke it down to make it fun.

After he gets his cookie, we chew and ask for forward. The Grand Prix trainer suggested a young horse specialist she uses but this horse is so incredibly sensitive to his environment I can’t imagine that going well. I don’t want to sound like I’m coddling him, he is expected to behave politely like any other horse. But he’s odd, he’s excellent for the farrier for example but panics if someone pops their head around the wash rack. Thankfully he comes back to you quickly; startles, then listens to you, processes and settles back down. He’s just a jumpy baby and at this point it seems more important that he trust his humans.

Sorry, missed the quote. In Response to:
nzrider nzrider is offline
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From the sounds of your post describing how you got him to walk forward from the mounting block, you did not teach him forward from the leg or whip aid. You taught him step forward if there’s a treat then you get that! I would treat him like an unstarted horse and send him to a breaker for 6 weeks. Tell them to put walk, trot, canter, turns on him and take him out trail riding a time or two.

Thank you for the perspective! It’s also mine, that arguing with him is not th solution so I’m becoming more reassured with everyone’s responses. I am assuming that the gp trainer will want to force him forward, that is simply from a conversation in which she asked if he was being lazy. Thanks again!

another vote to put him on the lunge line with a rider. If he’s happily forward on the lunge with those cues, then coordinate rider cues with lunge person - so rider says “I’m going to ask for trot” and both rider and lunge person ask for trot. Until he understands from rider alone. This can take a few weeks. Then ask person to stand in middle of arena with NO lunge line, but help “support” the cues - do this for a few rides until the horse is comfortable with the process.

This is a young horse and may just be very green. He needs help, not a beating!

Sorry my iPad isnt quoting, in Response to:

Aug. 15, 2015, 12:21 AM #7 Diamontaire Diamontaire is offline
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Had that with an 11-year-old who came to me. I suspect she had gone through the “CTJ” meetings. My solution: patience. Get on horse, sit until totally calm. Ask for walk with leg aid. She backed, I let her back, where’s she gonna go in a round pen? When she stopped, take a deep breath and ask again. Lather, rinse, repeat. Calmly keep asking, she figured out she was working pretty hard! FIRST inkling of step forward, get off and praise her to the moon. Nice relaxing grooming session, and lots of scratchies.
Next day, same. But she had to offer one full step forward before the spa session. Third day, two steps…
Took about two weeks, but got a lovely forward installed.

Well you’re wonderful :slight_smile: this sounds like exactly what I want to do but wasn’t sure if it would work! So you let one step be enough the first day, then two the next day and so on?

I feel like he’ll be immensely relaxed and pleased if he takes a few steps, I hop off and tell him he’s awesome. He really listens to you, which is why I first thought he was in pain, he doesn’t ever seem to want to be bad although I think he knows he’s supposed to walk forward. For your 11 year old, she certainly would know that going forward is correct but still had the same behavior, so that is hopeful to me! Fingers crossed that he’ll be excited to be praised and make the connection.

[QUOTE=LAuclair;8273595]
[I]"…Mounting was not possible with how shy he was to it so we broke it down to make it fun."

"… this horse is so incredibly sensitive to his environment I can’t imagine that going well. "

"…But he’s odd, he’s excellent for the farrier for example but panics if someone pops their head around the wash rack. Thankfully he comes back to you quickly; startles, then listens to you, processes and settles back down. "

“He’s just a jumpy baby and at this point it seems more important that he trust his humans.”[/I][/QUOTE]

You have the solution to your horse in this post…

What you have seems an incredibly sensitive and intelligent horse. This is the clue for how to approach his training. This is a horse that could possibly go to GP.

As in the Chinese proverb, this could be good, and it could be bad.

The good thing is that these horses hear a “whisper of an aid”…the “bad” is that it places great responsibility on the rider to be a quiet, effective rider…one who can actually hear what the horse is saying…and respond appropriately.

These are the horses that can be ridden off the seat. These are the horses who can do GP on a snaffle, who piaffe on loose reins. Why??? Exactly BECAUSE they are sensitive to light aids.

Again…this places enormous responsibility on the rider/trainer to be very self aware and aware of the horse’s reactions so he/she can adapt and respond. This is the horse that will make you a better rider and a better horseman.

There are many so called “trainers” that are oblivious to what such a horse as sensitive as what you have is trying to say. They are deaf and blind to the horse.

If you want to improve as as horseman, to develop your equestrian tact, my suggestion is to train this horse yourself. He will become your friend. You will get to know him and his sensitivities and this will show you the way to his brain.

I stopped a Cadre Noir trainer at a clinic when he was over riding my stallion…this was another one of those exceptionally sensitive horses.

I suggested to the trainer that you had to tone down the volume (e.g…, intensity of the aids) and just to “explain” what you wanted to the horse and reward the try. Fortunately, I had a relationship with the trainer, he listened to me, and the horse went on to perform beautifully.

So be prepared to be the advocate for your horse throughout his career because this will NOT be the last time this happens.

[QUOTE=MysticOakRanch;8273609]
another vote to put him on the lunge line with a rider. If he’s happily forward on the lunge with those cues, then coordinate rider cues with lunge person - so rider says “I’m going to ask for trot” and both rider and lunge person ask for trot. Until he understands from rider alone. This can take a few weeks. Then ask person to stand in middle of arena with NO lunge line, but help “support” the cues - do this for a few rides until the horse is comfortable with the process.

This is a young horse and may just be very green. He needs help, not a beating![/QUOTE]

Thanks! This is what I’m trying Monday and I think should have started with when I wanted to a few months ago when we first backed him here.

I do think it’s odd he could compete at any level last year but at this point, i think going back to the basics seems like the right place to start. Fingers crossed!

I let the EFFORT be enough for the first day. Break down the forward into increments- first he has to know in his mind that’s the right answer. As soon as I felt in her body, a willingness to pick forward, YES! right answer! and rewarded that.
If I would have kept going for more, it would have been confusing. “Was that the right answer? I’m not sure now, you keep asking”

First, a full vet exam to rule out pain…
Then: Do what you have to do to find a young horse specialist who has years of experience starting large, sensitive warmbloods. I think your horse is boing over faced.
I also think that longing with the rider, as a passive element at first, is a good start to try to sort through all the variables of tack fit, understanding of aids, etc. start with the rider doing nothing, them add one aid at a time.

This is a very big problem, and getting behind the leg as a habit is one of the worst problems you can have in a dressage horse. Your trainer is correct to treat it as a serious issue, but I think her methodology is off.

I STRONGLY suggest that this horse get OUT of the arena and on trails with a lead horse ASAP. And a lead horse in the ring is very helpful in a situation like this too. Once the horse has committed his body to a backward balance, its very hard for them the literally “change gears”. A horse in front of him will help him start to think “forward”.

All of these things will only help with a very skilled rider/trainer on board, and a totally calm lead horse who won’t pulverize junior if there is a little fender-bender. Also, of course, it’s hard to find appropriate outdoor areas for riding a young horse.

Best bet may be to find a GOOD event trainer. They get out of the ring early, ride out all the time and have facilities to support that idea. My bet is that few months with an event barn learning to use his body outside will unstick him :slight_smile:

[QUOTE=Diamontaire;8273749]
I let the EFFORT be enough for the first day. Break down the forward into increments- first he has to know in his mind that’s the right answer. As soon as I felt in her body, a willingness to pick forward, YES! right answer! and rewarded that.
If I would have kept going for more, it would have been confusing. “Was that the right answer? I’m not sure now, you keep asking”[/QUOTE]

Thanks! I almost feel like any change in attitude is what I praised the last time I was on. His ears go back when he goes back, but when I stopped asking with leg (and I had on a 3/4" rounded spur) and starting telling him you can dooo iiiiiit, he pricked his ears forward, his neck and back relaxed and forward we went. However slow it was!

Thanks for the reinforcement! I really wish it wasnt storming at the moment so I could go hop on!!

Another thing to be try, is to deliberately and obviously to the horse, push your hands forward whenever you ask the horse to go forwards. It’s very usual for people to unconsciously take up the contact when they ask for forwards, as you can on an educated horse. You probably can’t with this horse.I would have someone calm and sensible on the ground with a longe whip that they only raise when the horse sticks, and lower at all other times.They probably won’t even need to wave it at him if you keep the front door open.
Stay his friend, because the very last thing you want is to have an athletic sensitive horse viewing you as something to fear :wink: