Is asking a horse to stand still the wrong approach?

Hi guys, I’ve never been a trail rider, it’s new to me so I am hoping for a little advice from some regulars regarding the best way to approach an issue.
I have a 20 year old warmblood that I’ve had for almost 10 years who is now too creaky to do dressage any longer so I thought we’d start riding out, just to keep him moving into his old age and spend some time out of the arena.

To give some brief background on my horse, he comes from a line that’s known to be difficult. They’re beautiful movers, good conformation and they’re known to do well but the closer they get to GP the more their brain lets them down. I don’t think any of the sire’s progeny ever made it to GP despite having everything needed to get there, except temperament; they all started to unravel and don’t have good brains for pressure.

They’re sweet on the ground but when things get too hard for them under saddle they have a tendency to have little meltdowns and can lash out, they get angry, they stop co-operating, they plant their feet and refuse to go forward, they go backwards, they paw, kick out, rear, buck… basically anything. They can be good one second and then explode, and they can be quite dirty about it. I know of several trainers who will no longer accept horses of this particular breeding, they’re well known for being dirty and not completely trainable.

My horse is pretty true to that type and has done all of those things. I’ve had him for 10 years so know how to defuse him in the arena for dressage work but as a trail rider I’m new so I’m not sure on the best tactics to get what I’m asking for. I can’t even really call myself a trail rider as I’ve never actually gone out on a trail, we haven’t gotten there yet, so far I’ve just been riding him around the property to check the fences every day, it’s probably only about 50 acres but there are plenty of places that are new to him. Before heading outside the property I want to know what sort of horse I have away from the arena. I should have done this with him many years ago, I only have myself to blame on that front.

The biggest issue I have at the moment is having him just stand still in new areas. I just want him to stand still when nothing is being asked of him, which is a pretty normal thing to ask of him in an arena and we haven’t had issues doing just that for 10 years!. But is this something that should be avoided for horses in unfamiliar areas? Is it a better idea to keep them moving along? If I take him somewhere unfamiliar he’ll stand for a few seconds but then starts walking off despite not being asked. I’ve been pushing his quarters over whenever he moves off and then having him stand again until I’m ready to move off, that’s what I’d do for any other horse but because of my horse’s neanderthal brain it makes him angry. He’s now bucking like a bronc and snaking his head at being asked to stand still. He doesn’t want to stand still, I want him to stand still.

I don’t excuse and let him get away with bad behaviour but I also can’t ignore his nature, this is a horse who will happily escalate and the more you push the worse he gets. I get around it by asking him for the same thing a different way but I can’t think of another way to ask him to stand still.

So what do you think? Any ideas for the best plan of attack with this horse? I feel like perhaps asking him to stand still is too much, that he needs to keep his feet moving to keep his brain happy but I just don’t know so I thought I’d come ask people who do this far more than I do.


It really depends. He may want to stop and take in a looky place and other times you’ll be better off.keeping him slightly busy, just walking a circle even if it means circling a tree. The knowing is in the doing with all horses.


I am not the “voice of experience” in this myself, but you might find some helpful information on the Hunting thread, where I have read about schooling hunters to stand still and quiet at a check.

Good luck with your guy!

First of all, IMHO it sounds like you’re blaming his behavior on his pedigree/ breeding. People always think “trail riding” should be easier because that’s what beginners and non serious horse people do so it must be easy to do right? Not really. You’re taking a horse that has meltdowns in an enclosed arena that he knows and now asking him to go in an unfamiliar location and stand perfectly still and to keep his cool. You’re asking too much right now. Trail riding SHOULD be easy and your horse SHOULD be able to relax because it’s just a trail ride, but that’s not how he sees it.

This horse doesn’t sound naughty on the trails he sounds anxious. IMO, anxiety isn’t a disciplinary issue. It’s your job to teach him to relax on the trails and that he doesn’t need to worry. Once he’s relaxed, he’ll stand still just fine. But you can’t take a horse that’s anxious and spooky and then get mad when they won’t stand still.

It always makes me laugh when people blame their horse’s behavior on trails on their breeding. My mare is a 4 year old warmblood and we trail ride all the time. I took her on a trail ride on her 3rd or 4th ride ever as a 3 year old too. Warmbloods are perfectly capable of being good trail horses. You just have to be patient and take the time to teach them to relax.


I think you might be reading a bit much into what I’ve said. I am only saying that I need to keep his temperament in mind whatever I do with this horse as he is a problem horse, as are most of his breeding. If your warmblood is fine, that’s great, I am happy for you, you’ve got one of the good ones. This horse is a problem horse, many in his sire line are, several trainers actively refuse to take on these horses and ignoring all of that when working with him would be a bad idea in my personal opinion. When so many horses from a particular line have the same behavioural problems and explosive natures, and never make it to even GP, most people would see that there’s something genetically involved here.

If you’ve ever heard of those rare horses who are classified as dangerous and the best thing to do would be to have them put to sleep, this horse is one of them. In the wrong hands he is a dangerous horse. He’s the only one I’ve ever had like it and yes I am blaming a large part of his behaviour on his temperament as several other horses of his breeding have the same explosive nature.

I haven’t gotten mad at this horse either, I’m not sure where you got that. There is no getting mad at this horse as it will lead to an argument and if you get aggressive with him he will come for you. It hasn’t happened to me but I’ve heard it in his past and can see it in his nature. He’s been onsold many times. He’ll work “with” you quite happily but he will never work “for” you, is how I like to put it. He and the others have so much natural ability that I do wonder if perhaps they were all pushed too hard too soon maybe, but there’s something else there in these horses, they are a ticking timebomb mentally. I wish I could explain it to you in a way that you’d accept but to be honest it’s something that even horse owners don’t really believe until you have one for yourself. I’ll keep my fingers crossed that you never inadvertently end up with one. You’re free to not believe me of course, and think that I’m just another horse owner making excuses about my horse but there isn’t much I can do about that, you’re free to feel that way.

I’ve done my best to give him a good life but when he goes unsound there’s a green syringe waiting for him. I’ve had him for 10 years and I won’t be sad to see him go. He won’t ever be a lesson or therapy horse, a child’s horse, a beginner’s horse, he will seriously injure someone.

That aside, I might keep him moving as that sounds like it might be the better way to start with him. I don’t actually think it’s because he’s anxious as he’s never really been an anxious horse, he’s quite bold and tends towards arrogant but I could be wrong, perhaps he is anxious about this new world I’ve put him in. I’ll give it a try and see how we go.


How is he about standing IN the ring, and in familiar places?

I’m interested in why anyone would continue to breed their mares to the sire of your horse if the majority of his offspring are rank and unsuitable for their intended purpose (Dressage.) Is there anything that they do well?


Not that you want to create a potentially buddy sour horse, but many times horses new to trails do better in company.


He could stand there all day on the buckle, I’ve never had issues with him standing still as there’s nothing he loves more than not having to do anything. Trucks, busses, trailers, clanging objects, dogs, pop-up gazebos, all no problems, he’ll just stand on the buckle or walk near/past them on the buckle. The place he had his last meltdown was actually in the far corners of his own paddock so that particular spot wasn’t even unfamiliar to him, he just didn’t want to stand there, he wanted to get going and when I said no he let me know about it.

I shouldn’t be surprised as that’s his nature to a tee really and I went through the same nonsense in the arena in the early days. It’s always been a case of asking for the same thing a different way if he’s taken offense to what he’s been asked to do. He is argumentative by nature and knows every evasion under the sun so perhaps he’s going to make a terrible trail horse but I’m determined to make it work dangit.

I have actually tried that as I thought for sure he’d be alright with a friend. The other horse lead the way and he still didn’t want to follow, he was nappy the whole way and we were only doing a lap around his paddock which is probably 30 acres or so. I know it’s not pain related as walking TOWARDS the gate that goes back to the untacking yards was fine, he was eager to walk foward and had his ears forward… but walking AWAY from the gate he’d plant his feet, snake his head and try walking zig-zags so that he didn’t have to walk away in a straight line. It’s his nature, he is not a willing horse or an easy ride.

Since then I’ve actually been riding him by himself as he is more willing to listen when it’s just him, and he’s much better, he goes where he’s told now and is happy to go by himself. He’s very opinionated and just doesn’t want to stand still though. I think I made a mistake in trying to ask him to stand still, keeping him moving even in circles as someone else mentioned might be a better idea for him.


Again I’m surprised that the sire of your horse is known for getting rank useless nutters and people continue to use him. He has no successful get at all?

I feel a little bad for him since you seem to be looking forward to putting him down. If he is dangerous perhaps you should put him down now.

Many of us have known horses that are not wired correctly, so I wouldn’t assume that Equkelly hasn’t. Thrying to make trail horses out of “dangerous” horses that lose their minds and explode is risky.


Noone knew at the time. As young horses they were easy to handle on the ground, quiet, non-spooky, well-conformed and were beautiful movers. As they started under saddle they had natural talent, great canters and as they progressed they had a good ability to ‘sit’ and collect and showed every sign of being top level horses that would go to FEI levels. They excelled through the lower levels of dressage, won a lot of comps in a few different disciplines and people started breeding their mares. But then as the horses reach about novice it all goes to pot. They can’t cope under pressure, they mentally shut down and if people try and push them through it they can lash out.
There are horses that we all know as horses for professionals but even the professionals on-sold these horses. They’d never make it to the upper levels of dressage and their brain made them unsuitable for people who ride at the lower levels.

Whatever his breeding, what you’re asking him to do is a completely new job. Yes, to us it’s just doing the same thing but this time on trails rather than in the arena, but to him it’s very new. That tree that he’s seen from a distance from the arena? Suddenly it’s developed a sinister side when he’s outside the familiar confines of the ring.

So, take it slow. He’s not going to be perfect. Sometimes it does help to have a “been-there-done-that” companion to ride with, but if that doesn’t work for him then it doesn’t.

Don’t think of him as a trained horse; think of him as a green horse once again, because on the trails that’s what he is.

And most of all, just enjoy the outings.


Sorry, my post was flagged as spam so out of sequence. If he is bucking when you ask him to stand and is as dangerous as you say, I’d let him walk in small circles. He may get the hang of it yet when riding fence lines becomes old hat to him. Amazed that anyone puts their mares to his sire if none of them are sane.

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The sire is dead now so noone is still breeding to him and if there’s any frozen semen left I doubt it’d be used as people generally know of his nature now. I don’t know of a single horse that made it to the upper levels, no.

Don’t feel too sad for my horse, he’s had a good life. I only ride the lower levels myself so I don’t usually put him under enough pressure that he explodes but he does have some quirks that need navigating. He’s old and creaky and struggles with dressage now which is why I’m looking for another job for him. I thought he might like to get out of the arena, I’m not jumping straight to euth him as I like to give him a shot at things and see how he responds but if we can’t work through it and he ends up dropping his bundle then yes I’ll have him put to sleep. What do you suggest as an alternative? There’s no long and happy retirement for this horse unfortunately.

Edited to add, when my horse was younger he double barrelled a galloway and knocked the poor thing right over. I didn’t know about his nature at the time so he was being introduced to a new herd, they’d spent a week getting to know each other over the fence and when put in together the galloway walked up to sniff my horse and that was that, my horse went for him. It was an overreaction, the galloway wasn’t at the top of the pecking order, didn’t have his ears back or his bum towards my horse, he’d only walked up to meet him but my horse doesn’t give warnings, he goes straight to 150%. That’s what I mean about when I say he’s dangerous in the wrong hands. You’ve just got the constantly assess where the line is.

Things like that just influence how I feel about putting him to sleep, so no I’m not looking forward to putting him down but there are horses that you’re devastated when they need to be put to sleep, I guess I’m just saying that this horse isn’t one of them.

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I’m sorry, WHAT?!? Jesus, no wonder this horse has issues. This is completely the wrong attitude to have.

There are horses that are a little more introverted and a little quicker to react and those horses do not do well with aggressive hands and a demanding attitude. I’m not saying those horses don’t exist, I have one too. But I don’t think of her as a “Neanderthal.”

These horses need a different and more empathetic approach. Most people just don’t bother with that and just throw their hands up and go “Ugh these damn X-line Holsteiners! Am I right?!” Asking your horse to stand still would usually not be asking too much on most horses. But for this horse it is. So instead of “making” him stand still and punishing him for walking off, you should let him walk if that makes him for comfortable and focus on getting him to come down mentally. Don’t ask a question if you know the answer is going to be “no”.

This is a horsemanship issue. Not a genetics issue.


That’s very helpful, thank you. You’re right, I need to remember that this is very new to him. I’ll give it a go.


Yeah you’re free to feel that way. I’ve not aggressively handled my horse and I don’t think I’ve punished him for not standing still. If he stands still he can just chill and nothing is asked of him, if he walks off then he can step over with his hind end a few times which is a little bit of work. It should lead him to the idea that standing there is easier than yielding his quarters. I don’t see that as a punishment at all?

Feel free to be outraged at the idea that I’ll have my horse put to sleep when he goes unsound in his old age but it’s a reality of horse ownership.


Putting a lame horse down is not the part I find gross. Your attitude is the part that’s gross. You sound like you have absolutely no regard for his happiness and yet you wonder why he won’t do a job perfectly for you. The horse is not the Neanderthal in the equation.

You have a horse that is “explosive” you tacked him up, got on, rode him in an area that is completely new to him, and when he’s (understandably) anxious and doesn’t want to stand still, you’re going to make him go in little bitty circles? Gee, I wonder how this one is a problem horse… Let me put my thinking cap on.

Your asking too much. And not just for trail riding it sounds like in general too.

Can you bring your horse in and tack him up while he’s nice and relaxed? No? Go work on that until you’re horse can be relaxed on the ground. Yes? Ok great get on.

Can you ride calmly on a loose rein in the arena at the walk? No? Go work on that before you do anything else. Yes? Cool go for a trot. (And then canter, etc)

Now, can your horse walk trot and canter and stand still calmly on a loose rein with no drama? No? Go fix that. Yes? Great! NOW would be a good time to try going for an easy trail ride while staying under his anxiety threshold. Trail ride too much? Hop off, pull your tack off, and just walk and let him graze along the way. He’ll figure out that the trails are actually pretty relaxing and fun for him.


Steady on. The way that I speak about my horse has nothing to do with the way that I treat my horse. I treat him fairly and kindly, and can still sit here and say to you that he is not a ‘nice’ horse. There are horses that we go above and beyond for and pull them through every little mishap, this horse is not one of them. It doesn’t mean I’m aggressive with him. Pressure and release is the basis of our training isn’t it? My horse walked the 1KM there on the buckle just fine. At that point we’re not far from heading back in the other direction to go “home” and he wanted to get going and didn’t want to be told no. I fully disagree that taking his tack off and letting him graze along the way back is good training, but you’re welcome to.