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Looking for a Hail Mary solution to try

Going to try and keep this short. Had to retire my horse in Jan. Bought a new horse, half Friesian half QH. 8 yrs, Last 3 years has been used as a pony horse at track. Horse is safe safe safe, personable, everything I wanted in a new horse. BUT… 5 months later, and we still can’t get this horse to go in the arena. I mean literally go. Trainer is strong enough to pony kick him to move, but he is always looking for a chance to stop. I am not that strong. I get on and he walks a few circles then stops. Then I spend a half hour kicking and slapping reins on his withers. I have had one decent ride in 5 months. When trainer takes him out of the arena to walk around the property, he is a completely diff horse, alert, happy, ears forward, striding freely out.

Our assumption is that he just wants to be a trail horse. We have had him vetted for pain. Injected hocks, stifles, front coffins. Done shock wave on front heels for tendonitis of the deep digital flexor. All this resulted in huge improvement in his movement. Had a 5500 dollar saddle on trial that fit beautifully, made no diff. Saddle went back. We have tried every western saddle in the barn plus 2 that I mailed ordered that their fitter said would be “perfect”. Neither fit.

I suspect that before he worked at the track, someone tried to Charro him and make him dance. He has scars that look like wire cut scars on both back feet just above the heels. He has scars on both front cannons halfway down the bone. He freezes when hit with a whip, although a couple of times when I have tapped him on the lower haunches, he started to piaffe behind.

Could he be associating the arena with dancing and pain? I have contacted the person I bought him from and he has offered to take him back and trade me for a diff horse. Which is what we are planning on doing, but I just hate to give up on this boy.

If anyone has any thoughts on things we can try while we are waiting for ex owner to send possible new horses (via video) I am open to anything. I do not want to force him to do something he just does not want to do, but I want to make sure I have exhausted all possibilities before I give up on him. He is such a sweet wonderful boy.

  1. There is no fast way to solve this. So far all you have done is teach him that the ring is where you two fight and he shuts down.

  2. You could try what kind of worked for me. Stop riding in the arena. Go for trail rides and get horse nice and forward and warmed up. Then on a day you can leave the arena gate open, practice trotting into the ring then back out. Do it over and over. Don’t allow yourself to hit him or start a fight. Make it just part of the trail ride. Just keep doing this and extending the time in the ring slowly. Don’t ever take him in cold. Do this for a couple of months before you decide whether it’s working

  3. Even so he may always revert to shutting down in an arena. You might be best giving him back to the job he enjoys and picking a horse that loves the arena


Sorry to say I had a friesian cross here like that. After a year and four different trainers the owner sold him. I think some of it was his conformation. He was great on trails so went to a trail home.

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It could be the footing in the ring. My guy was similar at a previous barn. He’d be forward (or his version of it, lol) out in the field and on the trails, but go in the sand arena and it was obvious he just wasn’t comfortable and didn’t enjoy it. He’d literally go from a happy, forward walk to barely crawling along once we’d go through the arena gate. And there were at least a few times when I’d push him through and “make him work” in the arena that he’d come up back sore the next day.

I never pushed it once I realized what was going on. We ride in fields and on trails. But he’s part of the family and I no longer care about any type of competing, so I’m totally fine with riding where he’s comfy. I wouldn’t want him in a home with people who were going to keep pushing him to do something he’s not comfortable doing, so it’s probably good that you’re looking to trade your guy out for one that is more suited to arena work. Let this one go do trails. You’ll both be happier.


If the horse is smart this might work (it worked with an absolute Einstein I had that also had a rearing problem that fed off my fear and frustration) and it shouldn’t take long to suss out whether it will or not.

Anyway, tack the horse up, take the horse into a nice “open” part of the arena (not against a wall or in a corner) and hop on. Give one small squeeze of your calves and then let them relax again. Prepare to sit there for an hour or more paying attention, but asking nothing. Think positive thoughts of feeling your horse take one tiny step forward. Do not do anything but think and wait. No fidgeting, no asking one more time because maybe he didn’t hear you the first time, just sit.

When that horse takes one step, and eventually he will to adjust position or to gtfo of Dodge because clearly you’ve died up there and he must get himself back to his stall/field before he starves to death, immediately lean forward and jam a treat in his mouth. Tell him he is the best horse. Make the biggest fuss you can imagine. When the fuss is over, repeat the exercise - one small squeeze and then release and then wait.

My own horse “turned around” in about an hour to the point that I could school him in the arena later that week and have zero fear he would mistake/dislike my aids and act inappropriately.

It’s worth a try … but for a horse that has quite possibly be beaten and not just terribly confused, I don’t know if you’ll get results that last :confused: if you don’t get results that last/grow to allow you to do arena work, you have your answer - too messed up and can only be a trail horse. Great life for the horse though! Just disappointing for you.


Horses are rear-drive animals. They move away from pressure, and that’s the goal when riding. Physical pressure in front of the girth is not motivating to move forward. incentive to move forward needs to come from behind the girth, not in front.

I suspect that while this horse is quite safe, he’s generally that way because he’s agreeable, and he doesn’t actually lead well/move from pressure well. So start back there, go back to some ground work and find his holes, because they’re there.

Scribbler has the right idea for starting out. The arena needs to be re-taught to be a safe and enjoyable space. Walk ONE circle, or even half, and then leave. Over time, add another half circle but don’t just mind-numbingly walk the rail. Do a figure 8, or 4 serpentine loops, something to engage his brain.

Work outside the arena for now, use the arena for some cool down, and then finish cooling down outside the ring.

IME, horses who are like this in rings, have either been bored to tears in them, or who have learned that rings mean work they don’t like. so make things fun. Lots, and lots, and lots of arena rides never get off the rail other than to change directions. B O R I N G.


Three ideas, no guarantees on any but I think #2 is the most likely to work if you can do it.

  1. Another horse to literally follow around the arena, nose to tail or nearly. Some horses who have no arena experience are very uncomfortable when they feel isolated from the “herd”.
  2. Clicker training. Similar to sascha’s suggestion it relies on treats for desired behavior, but by pairing the “click” with the treat as the reward it gives you a structured way to move gradually away from constant treats. I am not an expert but have seen it work wonders with a balky horse whose rider previously could not get the horse to go around the arena at all. There are videos that give detailed instructions. Or better yet if you could find someone with experience to help. If it is going to work you will see some improvement fairly quickly.
  3. Is it possible for the horse to be turned out in the arena, with hay and ideally with another horse? I normally don’t like to use the same space for riding and turnout, but it can get a horse comfortable in the arena if fear of being in an enclosed space is the main problem.

How does he do with ground work in the arena? Obviously you’d want to avoid anything like what you think might remind him of past rough training. But maybe something highly rewarding (lots of treats) that is more like play - stepping over poles, pushing a ball around with his nose. I’ve never done clicker training, but something like that might be a possibility. I’d start there, and then maybe move to having a “passenger” rider up while doing the arena games, and slowly have the passenger start taking the reins.


This, for sure. All other suggestions are good and worth trying.

I’m going to add to ideas proposed by @Scribbler and @sascha.

I had a horse that was a fabulous trail horse but was extremely arena sour, to the point that the show barn had kicked him to the curb. While I wanted him mainly as a trail horse, I also had a huge arena behind my house and yeah, I wanted to sometimes ride there, too.

Here’s what worked, but it takes time and patience. I carried unwrapped treats (my horse loved peppermints) in my pocket. I always started with a brief trail ride so my horse had a relaxed, positive mindset. Then I’d just mosey into the arena. I didn’t ask for anything, just walked once or twice around and before there was any resistance, I halted, reached down and gave my horse a treat. Then we’d leave the arena and do another short trail ride.

The goal was to gradually increase the amount of time spent in the arena, always rewarding the good behavior with a treat before the bad behavior starts. Time in the arena was bracketed on both ends with short, pleasant trail rides.

This is the only tactic that worked with my horse. He’d already had the “pony kicking”, the whipping, the spurring, the turning in circles and booting forward— he was numb to all that. But the positive rewards, via yummy goodies, really helped him gain a different outlook, and he became an enjoyable horse for all sorts of arena work.

You just have to decide it you want to put this much time into this particular horse to see if it works for him.


I’m with Scribbler, Sascha, and Long Time Lurker’s #3. That said, if it were me, I would not give up at this point if you really like the horse. If you have tried all of the above suggestions with no improvement, I think (and you all may call me a nutjob, I don’t care) my court of last resort would be to contact an animal communicator and find out what’s going through his noggin when he shuts down.

All of these suggestions are great, but will TAKE TIME. If you don’t have months to work on things gradually, then yeah, maybe find a more suitable home for him. Have patience and focus on the horse you want him to be. I think he’ll come around.

Good luck!


The scars may be from wire. More likely he got tangled in wire in his former life than he was beaten solely low down. I am very unhappy and unproductive sitting in an office. Some horses just don’t like the ring. As someone who likes/needs a horse that is light in the contact and on the aids I am very sympathetic to your difficulties! But few light horses are very quiet. If you desire to work in the ring is greater than your desire for a super quiet horse, rehome him so you can both be happy.


Thank you everyone for the thoughts and ideas. I suspect the treat idea might work the best. a little more background. there are no trails to ride on where I board. can just walk around the propery a little bit. Also, I developed fear issues about 10 years ago and am still recovering from them. I feel pretty good in the arena now, but still get shaky at thought of riding outside arena. I was really looking forward to getting comfortable on him to ride outside. I need to lunge him before riding (previous owner said it was def needed, and he does buck alot), however he is almost impossible for me to lunge, you have to chase him and do a lot of rope shaking to get him to move. I get so tired I am on verge of passing out/vomiting trying to lunge him. And no turnout not allowed in arena. I have tried putting him in allowed turnout areas, but he just stands there waiting for me to come back.

I had joked with my trainer about tying a carrot to a whip and holding it out in front of him while we tried to ride. guess I should have followed that thought thru to treats and rewarding any positive movement.

Can’t use a whip on him or even slap him on butt with rein, he just freezes. so we pony club kick (and my kicker is not very strong, thats why trainer can get him to move and I can’t), and move feet to get him going, but no progress.

I have also considered calling the animal communicator! Especially because we found so many sources of discomfort. the hind is much better after injections, but his front still extremely sensitive to hoof testers, even after shockwave. This poor boy.


This doesn’t sound like a very safe horse, and your trainer doesn’t sound like they know how to deal with a very basic issue of a horse like this.

ok, now we’re getting some where. Why is this horse being ridden if his feet are “extremely sensitive to hoof testers”?

Is your vet involved? This horse needs a good work up to find out what’s wrong. Until then, no work, no lunging, no riding. A horse with feet that sore likely has very thin soles and/or is actively laminitic.


If you have to lunge him before every ride, he is not the “safe safe safe” partner you want/need especiall with your confidence issues. I am not judging the lunging nor the confidence issues at all–I’ve had horses I’ve lunged frequently, and confidence issues are an ongoing thing–but this is indicative of a hole somewhere, along with the refusal to move forward in the arena. Trade him back for something that wants to do the job you have in mind, and that doesn’t need a lunge every single time you ride.


After 5 months and no improvement I would find a horse more suited to do what you want to do.
You are not giving up. He is not suited for what you want to do unless you want to do things outside the arena.

I don’t think it if fair to continue to make every arena riding experience a fight for him & you. Let him go to someone who wants a willing trail partner.


Okay. So this “very safe” horse has NO IDEA how to move away from pressure, AND he bucks a lot. That means he’s not a safe horse. He also doesn’t seem to consider you the “alpha” in the relationship.

ETA: I missed the “extremely sensitive to hoof testers” part. It sounds like you’ve done a lot to make this horse comfortable, but I wouldn’t continue to ride/lunge him if he’s that sore; I’d want my vet and farrier to discuss what this horse needs to be sound.

I would start from zero with this one. I don’t know how you’re lunging him, but when I lunge, the horse needs to be WORKING. It’s not about getting out the energy; it’s about “we are moving forward, your brain needs to start engaging, and that’s it.” The way you’ve worded it, it sounds like you’re basically chasing him with the end of the lunge line? Rope shaking? Where is your lunge whip?

Everything you’ve said in this new post tells me that he’s not scared of being in the arena; he’s got your number (and possible is sore to boot). And where is your trainer in all this? As @JB said, they don’t sound very knowledgeable or experienced.

If you were my student, based on the limited amount of info we have here, you would not be riding him right now. I’d be doing ground work with him, starting with teaching him to move away from pressure and to accept that the whip means MOVE. He ignores the whip, he ignores your kicks, you say you’re not strong enough to kick him hard enough to get him going - yeah. This isn’t a scared horse. This is a horse that might be sore, but definitely has an attitude issue.


I’d have an attitude too if I was being beaten to move with feet that hurt like that :frowning:


Do you trail ride with another horse? This horse is used to ponying other horses, so have you tried to go side-by-side walking in the arena with another friendly horse? How does he do then? Also, do you hand walk him in the arena, and if so, how does he react?

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Ah, I missed that part. I do wonder why he’s good on the trails, then, but not in the arena.

OP, if he’s “extremely sensitive” to hoof testers, what have you done to diagnose the issue? Is he shod in front or barefoot? To me, “extremely sensitive” to the hoof testers indicates something very serious; as @JB said, I wouldn’t even ride or work him until I knew what was going on.