Can't figure out the "GO" button on my ottb

I adopted a 3 year old OTTB last year who was retired early with a ‘right knee injury’. However his PPE was perfect, radiographs clean, and I think the following is the real reason he was retired. I restarted him my normal way, with focusing on ground work for the first few months. He has been interesting from day one, and that he does not spook, does not act like a normal 3-year-old off the track, and does not want to go forward.

He has had multiple dentists, chiro, massage therapist, vet checks over the last year to confirm that he does not have any physical ailments, but I cannot for the life of me find his go button!

I restarted him in a hackamore for the first eight months or so, and even on windy days trying to encourage him to trot was an issue. I have tried the acavello sensitive bit, and an assortment of other simple bits, now he’s just going in a copper roller D. I’ve tried a dressage saddle, a bareback pad, a jump saddle, a saddle fitter, nothing seemed to make any difference. He does not make any mean faces, does not buck does not kick does not respond to a crop or whip, but he just won’t work.

Over the past year, I’ve ridden him on trails, indoor arenas, outdoor arena’s, sand arenas, grass jump fields, grass hacking fields, put him down a jump shoot, and have not seen him perk up for anything. I’ve ridden him alone, with ponies, in a group, and still no changes in work his work ethic.

It has been almost impossible to advance his training passed a walk/medium trot, because he just will not go. If I do get him to go over a log and fall into the canter, It is so exhausting to keep him catering that we haven’t made any progress cantering.

At this point I am dumbfounded about what to try next, and welcome any and all ideas out there to find his spark! I know I should be counting my blessings that he’s not a typical 4 year old OTTB, and that he is just a cool cucumber, but I’d also like to be able to do something with him at some point

I’ve been leasing an OTTB for a year now after his fun loving, forward foster brother was sold. He was really unmotivated to go forward but I could make it happen. Long story short, mutliple things happened that made him even more lazy. At the end of the day the right feed combination and lots of transition work were the two keys. I had always done transition work with him but the right feed recipe really made a difference. And to be clear, this was not about a weight, that stayed consistent.

costs $4.95


LOL @clanter

OP, do you literally get no response to applying the whip? Like he doesn’t even feel it? I have ridden some lazy horses that are constantly offering to downshift, but they still respond to the usual cluck-spur-stick (however temporarily). Is it possible that his extreme laziness has prevented your care providers from really being able to examine his way of going? Have you done any neurological exams?

Besides all that, you might look into clicker training (assuming he’s food motivated). Go extreme on the reward.

1 Like

You don’t mention his feeding program at all. What does he eat? Any possibility of some sort of deficiency there? I’d consider trying something like Red Cell to see if there’s any improvement.

What about his feet? How is he shod?

I have no idea how advanced you are, so feel free to throw this advice out if you already know all of this.

If this is truly a case of a lazy horse and not a vet issue it’s not about bits or saddles. It’s about making him understand the upward transition with big spurs, a dressage whip, a million transitions, and a ton of patience. Start with halt-walk and be firm but appropriate with the aids. Let up as soon as he walks forward. If this is exceedingly difficult maybe have a stronger rider try for a few rides. If they agree it’s exceedingly difficult or if either or you are worried you’ll break skin and you’re still not going anywhere… I’d get the vet out again.

1 Like

Thanks for responding! With a whip or spurs all I get are ears… No motor change, no difference in carriage: simply just have his attention a bit more.

All of his neurological exams are fine, bloodwork is fine, he’s been checked by three different vets to confirm, as well as a chiropractor that literally told me he’d the first truly balanced ottb she’s seen in the past 6 years and having me come out to continue to work on him would be a waste of my money.

Thanks for responding!! He’s on triple crown, bloodwork has been normal, he’s was on some flax seed, has been on Cavalor Hoof, gets timothy, and full overnight turnout (We’re in FL) on half peanut grass. There’s always a possibility of deficiency, but I cannot find any indication!

Thanks Skydy! He has been on Cavalor Hoof since day one, and his feet are great now. He came with four shoes, is now down to fronts, and that didn’t seem to make much of a difference. He was noted to have some slight rotation of the hood capsule in one front off the track, but has been receiving corrective shoeing, has never tested lame, and is more than happy to take off running and kicking his heels up when turned out, so I don’t think he’s in pain at all

Thanks OnDeck for responding! Im taking all advice at this point!

I was trying to rule out a cause for not wanting to work by trying different bits, saddles, bridles, halfpads, everything I could think of to see if he was uncomfortable at all that would hinder his want to work. He’s actually quite responsive to walk-halt-walk transitions, turns on the forehand, turns on the hind, leg yields, but trying to carry all that into a decent trot or canter is impossible! The best “working trot” we’ve ever gotten would be just past a medium trot but he’s not enthused to go past that.

I have had other riders hop on and try, and he’s got a bit of a ‘stranger danger’ mentality and forgets everything he’s learned until he knows the person is safe.

And I really don’t want to use the whip on him, I’m trying to coax an attitude that loosely resembles enjoying being ridden out, and don’t want to make a ride a bad experience and have that set us back again!


You say “ground work”… what sort of ground work? Lunging and long lining? Training is a progression, from one step to the next, gaining understanding and two way communication, cues and responses and reward. If he does not w/t/c on the lunge adequately, responsively, establishing a good connection with you when you are with him, why even try to ride him when he has not mastered these preliminary steps? Because that is where he learns the basics of training, he learns “forward”. Ground driving connects “forward” that he has learned on the lunge to your leg cues… connect what he already knows to your leg pressure. This all happens long before you get on his back… the final step. If the horse has no physical issues, and this has never been done correctly before you purchased him, it is your only way forward at this point. Many horses will allow a human to sit on their back, but that doesn’t mean that they are “broke”. “Broke” infers adequate and accurate responses to cues, and all that has to be taught before riding takes place. If his previous trainers and riders did not know this, he may have been taken into race training without ever being truly broke to ride first. There are idiots like this around.

The use of spurs is for highly schooled horses, to make your leg cues even lighter and softer, not for pounding on a green or troubled or uneducated horse to try to hurt him into action. The use of a whip is to direct the horse’s attention onto your leg, not to try to force a horse to run away by hurting him. If he does not know to respond to the leg already and understand “forward”, use of the whip is not correct. To do so is the same as punishing a child for being unable to read when you have not introduced him to the alphabet first. If this is the sort of treatment that this horse has experienced, you may be dealing with resentment and a negative and nappy attitude to riding and training that will take some spectacular training skill to change his mind and overcome at this point. If you can’t change his mind, he can still find a use and value as a pack horse.

It is possible that the horse has NEVER been correctly broke to ride, schooled in the basic knowledge that all horses who are ridden need to know, and sent into race training without being truly “broke” first. You would have to investigate who has trained him previously, who broke him, and determine if they have actual skill and knowledge and experience, or if they were charletons or fools, or if this issue originated with the horse himself with skilled riders and trainers doing the work, due to some yet undetermined physical or mental problem.

Does he run around normally in a field by himself and/or with herd mates? Could there be a neurological problem?


Can you get him to go from the ground? Have you tried having a ground person there when you ride?

1 Like

You might want try some clicker training on the ground and longe then segue that to riding.

He sounds great actually, to me!

I hope you and he figure it out!

1 Like

Does he respond to voice commands when you do ground work? Have you tried ‘kicking’ him with your knees? A lot of TBs respond to that as an intermediary to using your whole leg. It’s more like what exercise riders do to get them to go forward.

As an aside, it’s super unlikely that this is the reason he didn’t make it at the track. If the horse was just too slow, they wouldn’t have been shy about saying so.

Thanks for responding IPEsq! I have tried a ground person, and he either wants to hang with said ground person, or just walk. I have tried riding him on a lunge line and a ground person and he refused to trot, even with a lunge whip encouragement.

He will walk, trot, canter on a lunge both directions without much issue, as well as will go in a round pen, just does not want to go when ridden.

1 Like

Thanks No1! He does respond to voice commands, and has caught on that my knee pressure means I want more of a half-halt response, I never got a ‘speed up’ response from attempting it.

I truly cannot figure this guy out!

I’m sure you’ve thought of this, but have you tried different saddles? I’ve known two that just wouldn’t go in saddles that appeared to fit well. Once we tried different saddles, they were forward and comfortable. :woman_shrugging:t3: I know it sounds silly, but it was true.

Thanks for responding NancyM!

We have worked on manners, not running people over, mastered the mounting block and does not fidget in the cross ties. He will walk,trot,canter on the lunge and the round pen, will follow me over brush, poles, logs, water, you name it. He will lunge over raised cavaletti, is good with dogs, tarps, jumping squirrels, cows. He responds to verbal whoa, verbal backing up. He is very responsive to side cues if I ask him to let yield, yield his haunches/shoulder etc, and while he was dull to start with that, he responds to one finger pressure to ask him to move and he will oblige without a fuss.

I am not saying he’s broke by any means! I just am having trouble finding the key to unlock the rest of our training: he doesn’t seem enthused with anything I try, in any different setting.

And let me clarify the spurs: I agree with you 100%, and guarantee this horse has NEVER been pounded on. I’ve tried a tickling/annoyance approach trying to see if this little annoying thing in my side will stop if I move forward, and it has helped,but again not past a medium trot.

The reason I’ve tried a whip is because he responds to the lunge whip when lunging, and thought carrying it would encourage him to move, but it hasn’t helped. I don’t think even if I gave him a proper smack, that he would respond at all.

He runs in his field without issue, he plays with his neighbors, he bucks and kicks and plays like a normal 4 year old (thank goodness he doesn’t buck or kick like thst when ridden !) And now will come barreling up to the gate if you approach it to bring him in, so Im thinking he enjoys the human connection and doesn’t resent the training were doing? But I really just want to find what is going to make him want to move! I thought for sure a grass field, and large grass jump fields, and the trails would get him to perk up but nope, not yet

1 Like

Thanks for responding NaturallyHappy! I have tried about 4 different saddles (and a thinline bareback pad) and even got a saddle fitter to come out and bought a new saddle that was flocked to fit him, and nothing yet has made a difference!

I don’t think he’s uncomfortable, I think he just has a quirk I have to figure out!