Please tell me your stories of reformed balkers

Horse came in with a history of balking under saddle.

However, when evaluated it became obvious that he can’t even walk in-hand reliably (so we’re not even addressing the under saddle at this point because why would I). With a whip or flag behind the drive line he will go forward, but it is rather tiresome to be armed at all times because you never know when he’ll decide that he’s just done moving or going where you’d prefer he go. It’s not consistent, so it’s definitely not a “fear of something” issue, it’s a “nah, I don’t feel like doing it” issue. He’s not distressed when it happens. He just plants his feet and looks at you like “nope, not going”. I tried to wait him out once and he just…fell asleep. He does not pull back or back up. And since he’s a gumby, he can scratch his tail with his nose and not move his front feet, so just trying to “wiggle” him into moving doesn’t work.

I’m assuming at some point he will give this behavior up and we can progress but man, this is a tough one. So tell me your success stories…because I am going to need them :smiley:

why? he is winning now, getting what he wants to do which is nothing


Oh no, he’s not winning now. Not at all.

I explained the waiting him out and other tries to explain that we’ve been “nice” to no effect. He is not frightened.

He’s been smacked good with the lead rope and he will go forward but only when you’re behind the driveline. Smacking him while you’re in walking position does not have the same effect yet. And it’s tiresome to walk with the left hand forward ready to swing a rope at his butt any time he decides that he doesn’t want to go somewhere.

One balker I rode also loved backing up uncontrollably, so I had to come up with a solution.

My solution was making the horse do a turn on the forehand EVERY time the horse balked, though it may be better to do it when you feel the horse saying “no further”.

It took me several weeks (one 30 minute lesson a week) of doing a turn on the forehand every single time he balked, then he got good and tired of all those turns on the forehand and decided to go FORWARD instead when I gave him the aid to move forward.

After those few weeks the balking incidents were extremely rare.

You can do this from the ground easily.


I’ve dealt with a few of these.
The ONLY one I could not fix was one that would plant , and if pushed in any way would just rear and flip himself over backwards.
Other than a case like that , you just have to be a bit meaner to be honest. A lot meaner.

disclaimer- unless it’s a mule . That’s a different story

First the horse HAS TO UNDERSTAND WHAT YOU WANT. If you’re 100% sure he does , then it goes like this:
#1 walking horse
#2 horse stops you “encourage” with whip to keep moving - once

I don’t care if you have to scream , yell, flap your arms , act like a mental patient, or use the whip substantially harder than you’ve been taught. DO IT.
I don’t care if the horse jumps sideways with surprise or leaps in the air like a Lipizzaner stallion as long as HIS FEET MOVE and it’s not backwards.

You ask him to move and you only do it once . After that he is MADE to move. Period. No two ways about it.
He’s training you .

Once he’s done jumping sideways or leaping or snorting or whatever he’s going to do (this IS going to surprise him), praise him and tell him he’s a good boy for moving his feet.
Hit the reset button and start again like nothing happened .
Do not carry anger . Do not mentally foresee him stopping again .
Clear your mind and emotions and continue on the same program.

He will be fixed in a week.


Thanks Bluey - this is what I did to finally make him move in essence. I just didn’t have a whip in hand at the time.

First I swung the rope by his back end in a wooshing circular motion to warn him, then he got “bit” with the rope. It’s got a good length and a popper, so it definitely stung. He didn’t jump around or snort, just finally walked forward.

It is getting better, today he thought about balking briefly, but then made a better choice to move forward. So I took the next step of having him go forward on the longe - same thing, he gets one shot at being asked nicely, and then it amps to 11 and lots of praise after he goes forward. I was just hoping that we wouldn’t have to do this forever, because it didn’t seem to be getting through to him at first, and like I said, I’m not always armed with something - but I might have to be for awhile.

I’ve just never had one come in this bad. Typically it’s a specific issue - trailer, wash rack, water…this is any time he feels like perhaps it’s not his desire to do whatever it is that the human is asking him to do. Which is why I was hoping for good success stories! :slight_smile:

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Before the training aspect…Pain? Feet? Teeth? Spine? Ulcers? Have all been evaluated?


Yep. All evaluated. He’s young, fine, just a guy who had very inconsistent training before he got to me. I’m a last resort for him, as others have given up on him.

He did halter in hand (not the QH type, the Arabian type) as a weanling. Then his history gets fuzzy, inconsistent training mixed with getting passed from trainer to trainer and discipline to discipline. Lots of balking under saddle. I suspect that this is related to a gap in his early training that just wasn’t ever filled. And as a saddle-horse type, he’s wicked smart.

Generally balking is pain related or a giant hole in training.

If horse has been evaluated by vet and done a bute trial, and saddle fit evaluated, then you need to instill go on the ground and then transfer it to the saddle.

Make it a game and fun. Try follow the leader with another horse. Get a pocket full of candy and start rewarding the little tries. A stick doesn’t work on the smart ones. They just shut down and explode.


Definitely a giant hole. He’s been vetted, and bute tested, and he does it on the ground. I haven’t even attempted riding yet because until he figures out that he needs to walk forward reliably on the ground, why would I try to ride him?

We’re working through it, I’m just hopeful that at some point he’ll give up the resistance and we’ll make progress.


Well I own a balky pony. 12.2 hands of “I’m not going anywhere and you can’t make me”. He used to be a real stinker. A trainer that helped me one summer with him got him pretty much over it by asking for “forward” with a constant pressure on the lead and when he gave in and stepped up the pressure was released and he was rewarded. If he pulled back or resisted, she sent him back. She made him back up and back up quick. She was not nasty just quite firm. Once she backed him, she’d ask him to step up. Usually he did but sometimes it was a rinse and repeat. He tired of the game after a few sessions and became quite willing to move forward when asked. But being the pony that he is he’ll still try this stunt once in a blue moon. I’ve used this on a couple of stinky minis with success, too.

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I’ve always been too scared of creating a rearer to use the back up pressure method some trainers use.

Rearing scares the ever loving daylights out of me.


I’m also not a rearing fan.

This one doesn’t back up well (yet) so it isn’t a tool in his particular toolbox even if I wanted to back him up. It’s like he missed all of those lessons. Yielding to pressure, backing, yielding…period…

He’s a fun puzzle. To be sure.

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You need the correct timing and with horses that can be down to a hundreds of a second.

If you have the correct timing you will train what you want. If you have the incorrect timing you will train the opposite of what you want.

With the above method it is better to have him in a yard. The fence stops him even if it wasn’t his decision.

You ask for back as pressure, if they rear you add pressure. The pressure is released the millisecond the horse thinks forward. Horses learn from release of pressure. Praise.

You need to be able to know what they are thinking, the same way a mother knows what a 4 year old child is thinking.

Start by teaching to lead. A click and he must walk before you walk. Praise. Say halt and he halts before you halt. Praise. Back is a thumb not pushing on his chest and the word back, always 2 signals for back. Praise. Rinse and repeat.

Eventually you can do his without a halter.

Click he goes forward, you step back and you are in the position for lunging.

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Yes, it’s not for every horse that’s for sure. Mine are not “upwardly” oriented so that is why we had luck with it. And the backing up was not running him backward willy nilly, just a controlled quick back. It seemed to disengage or redirect the “stuckness” he got himself and his mind into.

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I think for some horses, getting their feet unstuck at all helps them go forward, and I’m glad that worked for your guy. This particular horse has an opinion about where he wants to go or not go, and “just” getting his feet unstuck doesn’t necessarily help.

For instance, two days ago he decided he did not want to return to his pasture from the ring. He stopped dead. He would turn away from the gate and do a circle, but walking directly to the gate was a non-starter. He is not afraid of the gate. He has hay in the pasture and buddies. There is no earthly “normal horse” reason that he might not want to go back to the pasture except that there are other horses there, and he’s kind of low on the totem pole. He was not afraid, no nose pursing, no lip tightness. Just…flat out said nope.

And while I appreciate that my horses are able to make some choices for themselves, snoozing in the sunshine while I’ve got them on the end of the lead rope “just because they want to” is not acceptable. That took me tapping him on the butt with the dressage whip while in longe position to get him out of the arena. Once I finally got him close to the gate he was fine, and walked the rest of the way to the barn without issue, and then stopped again as we walked through the barn (the way to the pasture) in front of his stall. So again, we had to tap tap tap to get out into the pasture, where he was absolutely fine.

So that’s why the following time, I tried the more aggressive maneuver. Because I can’t be prancing around tapping him on the butt every time he decides he doesn’t feel like doing something.

I am rewarding him highly for going forward, and he seems to be getting it a bit. Hopefully that will continue. He at least now seems a bit interested in interacting, so hopefully I’m worrying prematurely that this will never end.


I had one like this. I carried a lunge whip (long driving whip could also work) for a long time. Anything that required me to turn my body away from the forward position wasn’t going to work; to him, that meant stop. His answer to anything confusing, scary, or unpleasant is and always will be… stop and freeze. The lunge whip allowed me to thump him on the butt any time he started to lose momentum without changing my position (carried in left hand, tail pointing to the rear so a quick flick hits the hindend). He needed that drive from behind, which couldn’t be done with a crop or rope end unless I got myself out of position.

With that in mind, you might keep an awareness of what you are doing with your body when the stopping happens. Are you sending accidental signals? Mind wandering? Perhaps some specialized cue he was trained as a halter horse?

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Ooh - good idea with the driving whip. I have one of those. The dressage whip just isn’t long enough.

He did the same thing with my trainer, and with many trainers before me (and I’m really not a trainer, just a home for the wayward and broken).

I knew this horse for awhile before he came to me. He used to drag people everywhere on the end of a chain shank. Somewhere in there, things changed. I suspect they are two sides of the same “he doesn’t lead properly” coin. When I say he feels like a yearling, this is what I mean.

Could he have some cue from the halter days? I suppose, but I can’t imagine what it would be.

The good news is that I’m willing to work on his groundwork as long as need be. I don’t think he had that opportunity before - I think everyone was kind of anxious to get him under tack. But I really see no point in that until he goes where he’s supposed to, when he’s supposed to, very reliably.


I wonder if he was over corrected for dragging people and now he’s confused and thinks he’s doing the right thing by balking? Whatever the case, I bet he’ll sort it out. Sounds like he got lucky and ended up in the right place with you.


Erm, he must be my dude’s brother :roll_eyes::joy: He’s 99% behaved now, but when he’s not it’s a toss up between being pushy or balky. He quietly taught my 4 year old kid how to lead a horse, but then he dragged the vet students around terribly (chart says VERY PUSHY now) whe he went in for a dental :woman_shrugging:

One thing I’ve noted in mine is that he is very smart - BUT the wheels turn slowly and he needs more time to process and respond than some. And he will take a mile if you give him an inch. :joy: