Share your Happily Ever After / Glow Up Story of Your Energy Conserving Horse ;)

I have a young (4-5yr) mustang mare I got in April who is lovely in so many ways. Love her general attitude and her intellect. She spent last year getting very lightly broke, going on trails with her previous owner. When I got her she was still pretty green and a bit jumpy but that quickly dissipated. We’ve spent the summer getting to know one another- doing some trails, groundwork, and under saddle work. Trying to vary it up as much as possible both in arena and out.

She’s generally what I’d call an energy conserver. To be less polite - behind the leg, sulky. Always looking to peter out and stop. Both myself and my trainer have been riding. At this point, months later, she very much knows what the ask for forward is and how to appropriately respond, and we are always demanding she goes forward from the lightest ask. When I look back at where we started to now - things have generally gotten much better - there are a lot fewer moments where she flat out says “no” (balk, kick, refusal to go forward), most rides are completely free of that. I will still have to demand forward, and often times have to warm her up in the canter, go for a bit of a yee-haw gallop. The trot she’s still figuring out how to go from her normal trot into a more energetic trot. It still mostly feels like if i ask her for more trot that the car is in neutral. But more and more often i am getting a postive response. And now I feel like I can ask for adjustments, begin to ask for bend, and actually get a response. It is all coming along, and I’m starting to see a glimmer of hope and dareisay she is starting to be a fun ride.

Yes, this young gal has been vetted every which way to Sunday- my first concern was addressing a health issue. So far the only thing that has really come up is that she may be n/P2, n/P8 (PSSM 2 variants) - I sent her hair to be tested via Equiseq, I know it is controversial, hence the “might be”. Diet adjusted accordingly.

This is less about training advice/ troubleshooting and more about comiseration and happy ending stories for this type of horse in dressage. My last few horses I’ve had were super forward, reactive, and so I’m very used to that type of ride. This new one, my goodness, is a polar opposite. I’ve definitely had to learn and adjust to riding a different way, which I can appreciate, keeping that perspective about being a well rounded rider helps. But dang I do miss having a more forward horse lol.

Please tell me it gets better and works out ok in the end - did it for you? Did your not-so-forward, lazy, quiet, horse end up working out? I understand she’ll likely always be a push-ride, realistically I do not see that changing- I just want to see if anyone out there has a fun happy ending story to share with me to keep me going, LOL!

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I have a 6yo pony who I got in the fall of his 3yo year, he’d had two rides before I bought him. I got on him the next spring at 4. He was cool with being sat on, but I literally had to slap him on the butt to get him to move. No amount of squeezing, kicking, clucking, or trying to turn fazed him. He just stood there. Later on I made sure he was comfortable with the whip and carried that instead, but still I had to tap (and sometimes smack) him before he would move off. When we progressed to trotting, I could only push about four steps out of him before he’d quit. :joy: And it required a LOT of coaxing. The idea of cantering seemed like an impossible, herculean effort that I could not possibly squeeze out of him. Often times, using more leg actually made him slow down.

Nowadays, I still carry a whip always - but he moves out nicely and has a go button. I can establish a rhythm and a speed and he will keep it, after a lot of consistent reinforcement (go means GO!) both in the saddle and on the lunge line. He’s only 6 now so still coming along, training-wise, but YES, you can totally teach them to be more independently forward. Be vigilant and consistent and make a really BIG deal.


OMG yes- when I first started with her, the whip meant something from the ground but did not translate under saddle. any amount of more leg, whip would cause her to shut down even more and just plain ignore, waiting for it to be over. The thing that got her out of that was growling at her of all things. From there we bridged to the leg and to whip tap. And she already knew voice commands on the longe and round pen, none of this was an issue there. She just didnt understand the commands from the rider up above. Glad those days are behind us at least!

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I had a very economic mode TB. Which was funny because he was also a stallion, had 60 starts and won quite a few races. I have no idea how he actually managed to win anything because he was the most laid back character you could ever get.

As he grew in strength and developed correct muscle, he was heaps better. He had a huge underneck from racing for so long, absolutely no topline to speak of and was very scrawny to start with. It just took time and patience. I could never slack off in a ride with him because it would send us 10 steps backwards. We were training 3rd, but his favourite speed was halt for scratches and carrots.

Trail rides and hill work were a godsend for him. He LOVED his hill works day and was allowed to go fast as he wanted up the hills. This was a little terrifying at first but doing a quick school afterwards, he was always really in front of my leg and I made sure to praise him plenty. Same with jumping, even though I’m a HUGE chicken. Some schooling over cross rails always made us nice and front of the leg.

I sadly lost him to colic but he taught me so much about consistency.


Long time lurker…first time poster, because this question really speaks to me! And yes, it gets better! I have a WB gelding wired very similar to what you describe–sensible, very smart, difficult to inspire. He requires you to be very consistent -and insistent- about being in front of the leg. Every ride starts with a quick refresher on how one must respond to a light forward aid, so rapid-fire transitions are our friend (I have to remind myself “no nagging allowed”). Over the years it’s gotten so, so much better–both as he learned that “forward” was non-negotiable and as my timing and aids have been refined (a work in progress to be sure, because any mixed signal to him = stop).

I will say even years in, this remains his “go to” evasion. If something is new and/or hard, he will default to backing off. Fortunately the drama is gone (the occasional sulk back and/or kick out is as big as it gets anymore) and it’s something that can be worked through calmly vs. derailing a ride. Getting out of the arena has been essential to our progress. Gallops, keeping up with other horses, jumping, etc. all has been helpful in instilling and rewarding a forward reaction. Fitness is also key, since he’s not a guy who is likely to push through feeling tired for very long. His “try” has grown exponentially over the years, even though he’ll never be a go-go-go kind of guy.

While this trait has certainly proven challenging, the upside is he’s an innately calm, reasonable character. Yes, you have to work to stoke the fire a bit, but he always has his wits about him. Plus he’s cute :wink:


I can’t really share a happily ever after story but can commiserate a little. I have a 4-year-old quarter horse that sometimes tends to be on the quiet side too.

I do think it is good that you were looking into a possible PSSM2 link. Many horses but especially mustangs are just energy conservative by nature. I think it just makes sense for the mustang to not expend energy unless it’s really needed. That being said whenever I see a horse having resistant like behaviors 9 times out of 10 there seems to be a physical reason. I know other people will disagree with me but I’m just letting you know my experience. I’m not saying it’s not always the case but it’s always good to do our due diligence.

For my horse, I already know some of the physical things we are dealing with and supporting him in. Well most of the time he does start off pretty lazy behind the leg, he’s really starting to understand that leg or whip means “get going.” I wouldn’t say that he is reactive at all to the whip that could even be improved itself but he’s smart and he’s understanding what we want.

Despite dealing with some things he is absolutely never had any kind of bulking, ear pinning tail switching or anything. I like to think that means we are going in the right direction. He also tends to get better throughout the ride it’s really only the first 5 minutes of the ride that he wants to train walk like a turtle.

We (trainer and I) are really focusing on being super clear and consistent every single ride as soon as we get on. That helps. Riding in different areas and doing different things like everyone’s mentioned also helps. I’m also finding that the recent cooler weather that fall is bringing in really helps!! My last lesson on him I didn’t need to use the whip at all and in fact the trainer had to tell me at least twice to kind of slow down the trot. Ha! That was a surprise!


I will say that like someone else said I’m used to riding a little bit more forward sensitive types so this is an adjustment as a rider! I do like to think that it does help us become better riders.
And I will say sometimes it’s nice when the wind is blowing in and well I know he will be a little bit more up I know it’s going to be fairly


I’m afraid I can’t share a happily ever after story that you’re after in terms of dressage. My mustang is a gorgeous mover and built very baroque. I dare say he has better gaits than either of my other two who are either competing in dressage currently or destined to be. He does move forward off my leg, understands the whip and is a fantastic level-headed guy but he does NOT like or have any desire to do dressage. He is the ultimate trail horse and that’s actually what I purchased him for as a full-time job. I work him in the arena periodically for tune ups and to keep the weight off because he’s an easy keeper. His career though is what he loves to do. I chose not to force him to do what he dislikes - happier horse, happier owners, that is our happily ever after.


@Lunabear1988 - yes it is an adjustment learning to effectively ride this type! The interesting thing about the PSSM2 thing is that as we’ve progressed into fall, like yours, she’s gotten much better. I would’ve thought the colder weather would’ve brought on more resistant behaviors. Its not terribly cold yet, but instead of 80’s we’re in the 50’s. Maybe it is a sweet spot for her and I’ll see more changes as the temps drop further.

The other interesting thing is that with the cold/wet weather here we’ve had to change up the turnout routine to preserve our very limited grass paddocks. So some days she’s in a smaller gravel paddock, while others she’s out on the grass. And she’s no longer out with my gelding on the bigger paddock as its too boggy. It seems like she’s got more energy to spend in our sessions now so it makes me wonder if she was using up a lot of energy all summer long being out there with him…or maybe it has something to do with grazing on grass vs having a more hay based diet? IDK

We try to mix up the routine as much as possible - going out on trails she is more forward but she’d also peter out out there too- thats what led me to the PSSM test, I thought she was about to tie up on a trail ride a few months ago. I’ve also had her heart/respiratory/temp checked at rest and after work, and we recently pulled blood to do a few tests. The basic cbc panel came back normal, still waiting on a couple others. We’ve done an extensive lameness eval (in a pre-purchase fashion) with xrays inclusive of back and neck (not because I was having issues with her at the time, but because I just wanted to know if there was anything lurking, after I had lost my young horse last year to extensive spondylosis in his thoracic vertabrae). So far everything apart from the PSSM genetic test as come back clean.

Aside from trails I do try to work her over poles, and recently introduced her to doing small x’s on the lunge, will start doing baby jumping stuff under saddle soon.

And yes to a million+ transitions. The thing that seems to fire her up the most is after a good canter warm up, we do transitions, transitions, transitions. And then I went ahead and taught her walk to canter, which really seemed to help light the fire. She’s still learning those and they aren’t real pretty yet but super useful at the moment.

She’s getting more fit, using her body in a better way, understanding asks and allowing me to access her. There is much less of a wall up now, and I can feel her trying to process in a different way rather than shut down. Its a nice change and much easier to work with these days.

@exvet- thank you for sharing your story. The more I read anecdotal stories from others, there seem to be plenty of mustangs who are more energy conservers. I guess in my mind I had pictured this wild crazy thing…nope, didn’t get that one…LOL. I told my friend I’d give her time (year+ considering her age as well) and if she ends up truly hating this job, she can go back and be a trail horse with her. So she’ll always have a place, and I’m committed to doing what is best for her, I won’t force her to spend her life doing something she absolutely hates.


I find two step leg yields very helpful for getting my horse going and thinking forward without nagging or whip. It’s pretty much what it sounds like - leg yield two steps, then go forward. The key is to simply add the outside leg to go forward and not attempt to stop the leg yield first.


My horse is worse on the ground than under saddle. Like we carry a dressage whip just to lead him around so that you aren’t dragging him. And lunging? Oh gosh it’s so tough to get him motivated.

Under saddle all he’s much easier to perk up. Which I think is for a number of reasons… I think we are absolutely still doing this some physical stuff so it’s just easier for him under saddle where we aren’t on a lunge circle. And we are in good footing. And I think he just finds it more interesting.

In a way knowing that there’s some physical things going on (that we are taking care of) is almost nice. Because at least I know the answer. And like I said above he’s not nappy or negative in his work at all very game. Just starts out very chill. Lol. He’s also one that if you can just get up in canter helps too.

Good luck. You’ve gotten a lot of good advice in your obviously a wonderful owner so I’m sure you’ll figure this out!

I didn’t have too much experience with this until more recent years and now I have two in a row. One was a brick. He didn’t care about the whip. One day I realized he loves jumping. So after a short warm up, if I took him over a low jump a few times he was a much more willing participant. Heck, just seeing a jump helped. It got really good and then we adjusted his feed and then it got great. No problems at all now.

The other evidently had lots of behavioral issues. I found, after the fact, people used spurs and whips of all types. He didn’t get along with anyone as far as I can tell. I don’t use spurs and was laughed at for even trying to ride with out them. This horse responds so very much to both verbal corrections and praises. It’s a bit embarrassing for me but you really have to make a big deal about it too. If I got two steps–praise the hell out of him! A short time later, I now have to ask him not to canter during our trot warm up!

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I, too, have always ridden hot forward horses until the last two.

The first one is a success story. I still remember the day my instructor said he now has the confidence to go forward. He is a bully to the other horses but really he lacked confidence and once I had that he blossomed.

The second one is getting there. A setback mentally where he badly pulled the muscle deep in his chest and it hurt him to lift his forelegs in the sand of the arena. However he was completely sound and would go on grass. He ended up with tine off but we had to get past him saying no or as my instructor put it his a$$$hole moments.

It did get better with having a consequence if he didn’t go forward, however. I have always had comments of how relaxed my horses are and he is also cold backed and with me not being able to ride as often he lost muscle and the ability to do transitions as well as he used to. He started lifting his head in the trot transition and I gave him more time off because I thought it was pain. I realised the next time I was riding him he was stressing a little bit about trying to do it as well as he used to but not physically up to it anymore, which made him lift his head, so I have backed off the consequence for not going forward immediately and let him chill again.

It is a learning curve for me for sure.

That and Mother Nature sure has it in for us. It doesn’t matter if you go to work him early, in the middle of the day or late or 1st, 2nd or third. But go to put you foot in his stirrup to mount and the gale force wind will start. If I had backed off riding him the first time that happened. He would never have been ridden.

Now I have bouts of working, then time off. Mother Nature makes sure it is too wet to use the arena for my time off, yet hot and dry while I am working.

To the point that I want to put up an indoor arena, although there are not that many around here because our climate usually means you can ride daily, and they are hideously expensive.

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I’m dealing with the balking, sucking back, stopping, etc. with my 5 year old WB right now. You don’t mention how exactly you’re pushing your horse past these moments, but I recently think I found the key in that I use more of a driving seat and little to no lower leg. I’m having to retrain myself, but if I try to use lower leg, she just gets more pissed off and sucked back. So when I feel her starting to stall out, I have to sit back, use my low back and upper thigh to drive forward if she doesn’t respond to just a whisper aid from my calf. Then I follow it quickly by a tap with the whip. I also use a whip with a flapper on her, and it seems to make a big difference. I know you said this isn’t a training thread, but this approach really seems to be turning things around for us, so I wanted to pass it on in case it can be helpful to someone else. She is also getting more forward-thinking as we progress and she is starting to do some lateral work. Shoulder-in gets her a little jazzed, I think because it gets her hind legs carrying and springy. Different things work for different horses. Good luck!

Haha, count me in. I also refer to my mare as one who loves to preserve energy.

What has NOT worked for us is more leg, spurs, or more whip. She could care less and in fact gets more balky and tense when you try these methods. (And yes, even the ask lightly first, then ask more, etc. doesn’t work.)

What HAS worked for us includes:

  • Lots of verbal encouragement. She responds so much better to loud, excited “good girl” noises when she does well than anything that feels like pressure. (This is kinda embarrassing because people will think you are crazy, but I have stopped caring.)

  • Using patterns that she can figure out. For example, choose one side of your ring and always ask for more on that side. Lots of praise when she gets it right. Pretty soon, she starts volunteering “more” when she gets to that side. And then you can ask her to do it for just a little bit longer, then a little bit longer, etc.

  • Use cavalletti/small jumps to get her going.

  • Better fitness. More “forward” definitely became easier as she got in better shape.

  • Changing things up. She does best when she really only gets a training ride every other day. On off days, longe, trail ride, go for long walk, etc.

  • Figure out what time of day she goes best and then work her during that time. This one I struggle with because my mare is a morning person and I prefer to get through my work day before I ride.

And actually there is one whip trick I have that does work. She is more concerned about the “threat” of the whip than its actual use. So it helps for me just to carry one and then if I want a little more, I will just swish it so it makes some noise but not actually touch her. In fact, if I forget to grab a whip, I can make a swishing noise that also sorta works.

Good luck! Love reading how others have worked through this.

I hear you, I see you, I feel you!

I lease a horse here in Switzerland, Fidertanz x Don Frederico x Castro. (I Like to joke that the F in F-lines stands for f(ph)oning it in.) He came with a lot of baggage, as his owner is terrified of riding. The first time I rode him, I was drenched in sweat and panting like I had run a marathon. I thought, " There’s no way this is going to work. I don’t want to do have to ride like this." I had to kick him like John Wayne to get any reaction. Two years and two coaches later, we can get a beautiful tracking up trot but he’s never going to be truly forward and he takes a long time to warm up.

For me, I had to first check myself and make sure that I wasn’t blocking him in any way. (Of course I was.) Then I had to get really good at getting in with the aid and getting back out again. He likes to talk me into nagging and we all know how that turns out.

For him, he had to learn to use his body. He really had no idea and that discomfort translated into an unwillingness to go forward. It took a long time for him to get organized. It took months to figure out how to transition from trot to canter, then once he was cantering, if he got on his forehand, he couldn’t rebalance. All-in-all, it was a solid year of transitions between gates and lateral work on the circle, at the walk. We still do a lot of lateral work at the walk to loosen up his body, as part of our (very long) warm-up. Cavalettis helped but I had to start them on the longe because he couldn’t handle it with me and would fall apart.

Then we had to address his anxiety, which is the real reason that he doesn’t like to got forward. Warwick Schiller had some exercises that have helped us figure out how to get reactive to the aids, without getting anxious. I don’t drill anything, except maybe transitions. Transitions are our go-to place if he starts to get heavy again.

Good luck on your journey!


i’m going to just guess that balance would be your horse’s issue more than go-ey-ness. Several of the horses i’ve brokenout have been ‘stationary rides’ for the bare beginnings. Then riding through all their wobbles, and finally getting them to learn how to walk with something big and heavy on their back. I have a great deal of empathy for their process and allow them all the time they need to get things into perspective and feel comfortable.

It is more difficult for a horse to learn balance at a walk, i get that. It’s like riding a bicycle… you don’t get a balance until you move forward.
i have had a several associate trainers who push greenback horses into gaits to insert balance. It is the normal way to break a horse. BUT! that’s not to say that a horse that goes more-or-less balanced at a trot actually feels comfortable, esp at a walk. And that could lead to uncertainty when asking to transition up. I know your issue is forwardness, but maybe it’s foundational? Maybe your mustang just isn’t quite adjusted to the wobbly thing above quite yet?

FYI…mustangs are my favorite!!


I feel like feral mustangs are so much more “street smart” than your average horse and they are much more likely to say “what’s the freakin’ point?” than a domestic-bred horse. You sometimes have to convince them that there is a point and that you are the herd leader now. That is often a different mindset of mustangs because some, especially mares, won’t do things because you TELL them to - they have to comply. Patience is key. They survived out in the wild long enough to get rounded up, survived the auctions and got to you. Making the right decisions within a herd made them survive. Totally different from domestic horses.

I’d suggest that you convince her that under saddle time is “work” time. It’s an hour/day. When you walk and you put your legs on, you should get a response in the walk. If not, take your lower leg off and bump her (no spur). If she ignores, do it again with a tap of the whip. If she ignores, add some spur. Make her understand that complying with your first request is a whole lot easier and happier than you escalating aids. Unfortunately, you may have to do something different to show that you WILL win, even if you have to pivot from walking forward to turning or taking lateral steps. I think it is more of a mental game with a mustang mare. But when they are with you…they are WITH you. And they won’t be with you until they trust you, which can take a while.

While this is advicey, it’s meant to be my experience riding a mustang mare who said “what the hell is the point” initially. She was able to be convinced that her spooky self didn’t need to be spooky anymore (very much so on trails, though) and she became SOOOO lazy as an 8 year old! I think her street smart self said “what’s the point of bending, we’re just turning in a large half-circle at the end of this ring” and “what’s the point of going sideways when I can just get there by moving straight to that point. This is stupid”. She required more mind-retraining that any other horse I’ve ridden despite any talent.

Your horse may also say “what’s the point” which is why I’m posting this post.

Good luck!!!


I have a mare who is very hot and forward, almost too much forward. One year, she just started getting balky. If I had bought her then, I would have thought she was a lazy horse. Then she tied up. I had all the insulin and muscle myopathy tests run, including a muscle biopsy on her hamstring. What it ended up being is a severe vitamin e deficiency. This can happen with boarded horses, especially where I live where there is not much in the way of pasture. I had to high dose vitamin e for a year, blood tests every other month, but she came out of it and was back to being super forward. At the time, she was on grass hay and a ration balancer and, of course, I discovered that it did not have sufficient e to not cause a problem over time.


i have four mustang mares. One is too young to ride, one is too little but she is getting used to a driving harness. (i don’t have a small enough cart for her yet).
One mare was wild until age 12 (she’s 14 now). She is quite the challenge! Shy of people, but finally willing to entertain the IDEA of being friends with me, but not there yet. And the last one is just right. O this mare… I have such high hopes for her. When i selected her from the BLM online auction, it was in hopes of having her train dressage with me. She is brave and curious and quite willing to accept me into her sphere of VIPs. My on-the-ground relationship with her is one of cooperation. She enjoys the interplay between us. She wants to work. When i enter our work area she pushes past everyone else to be first. And when we’re finished, she wants back in. I am working over the top of her now…standing above her back, leaning on her. In a week or so i’ll probably be putting a rug and saddle on her. Hoping to be aboard this winter. It would surprise me very much if she were anything other than HUNGRY to learn cues and quickly respond. Her nature is not proud (like my number one, domestic mare) but …partnership seeking. She wants the bond and she wants it bigger, better, stronger. (FYI she’s the one in my ‘bunny hop’ thread). I so love mustangs…

Of the mustangs i’ve made inroads with, mares and geldings …well, and even the ones that i’ve just scratched the surface with, the intensity of their focus and willingness to bond is phenomenal.

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