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Teaching an unflappable weanling to back out of your space

Hi! Looking for a bit of tips/advice. I have an 8 month old weanling colt I’ve recently bought who is already fairly well mannered except for not really grasping the concept of “personal space” or not crashing into people. When being led and stopped he will not stop until his shoulder runs into you, or he will just push through you. This is not an entirely new experience for me but what IS new is that this colt seems to have no fear/shyness of anything. Plastic bags, velcro, weird noises, flying ropes, spray. Nothing phases this dude. My horses in the past have always been pretty flighty/easily spooked, and a quick wave of the hand and maybe a sharp voice was always more than enough to back them up if they’re pushing into my space, and they picked up on the cue to back up very quickly. Thus, I find myself a bit perplexed by this unflappable nature of this colt lol.

We have been practicing leading, stopping, backing up, yielding hindquarters, etc. He does not react to shaking the lead, stepping into him, gentle pokes, waving flags. He will move back/over only when I get to putting fairy moderate-heavy pressure on him by hand. I would like to encourage him to be a bit more responsive so that I can more easily direct him over/backwards without having to touch him, both while leading and when entering his stall.

During our leading sessions he does get better about stopping at an appropriate distance after a few times of doing the whole stop, back up, stand here routine, usually. But so far it doesn’t really seem to be “sticking”, and it is sometimes a challenge to get him to back up away from the stall door so that you can open it & enter with ease.

I am an experienced lifetime horse owner, but this is my first weanling that I’m raising on my own, and the first time I’ve had a horse that was so stoic about seemingly everything. So I’m both looking for some tips and also reassurance. I am worried about hitting the right balance of being patient as his lil baby brain learns, and not tolerating being bowled over. He’s not at all being aggressive about it, just seems oblivious. We have access to a large arena but there is not really a round pen situation where we currently are. He is a BIG fan of food, but has no concept of taking treats/anything from peoples hands yet, and I’m wary of offering treats and teaching that as while he’s not shown much tendency to being nippy I’d rather not encourage it for now.

I suspect at least part of the issue is I’m not getting him 100% focused on me, successfully, as the barn we are at is busy, there are kids doing summer camp right now, lots of distractions and insanity going on all over the place, so there are a lot of things for him to be distracted by and he’s often more interested in whatever else is going on than listening to me.

So I guess my question is, for anyone who’s dealt with similar things, how long did it take you to see significant progress at this age? What techniques do you find most effective? How do you keep them focused when there are lots of distractions going on?

I have some anxiety that I’m not doing the right things, I don’t want to push/expect too much out of him, but I also am wary of letting him “get away” with too much of this and establishing that it’s okay. I always make him back up out of my space when he comes in too close, and I keep our training sessions short and always end on a good note, but I’m just afraid it’s not really sinking in and am not sure if I need to try a different method or just remain patient/consistent and keep at it. Greatly appreciate any advice/tips/stories/reassurance!

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He was likely babied and allowed to walk through people. Consider that in a herd, another horse is going to nip him in the chest or bop him with a hoof. I would replicate that experience. Something as simple as a short bat (meaning riding crop with a big popper) to declare YOUR SPACE will get him temporarily goggle eyed but that’s the point…he needs to recognize YOU have a perimeter fence.


I like using positive reinforcement at that age to motivate them to engage with training. You don’t need to use treats; scritches often work just as well. The cue I use to back off is a stick, tapping the chest. Eventually you can downgrade this to just pointing at the chest. It doesn’t involve fear or discomfort, so your guy’s lack of fear won’t matter. I find that trying to teach using physical pressure (like pushing the horse out of your space or using your body to block them, not referring to true pressure and release training) teaches them to treat your body as a physical barrier, not to actually follow direction.


Just remember right now his attention span is about 3 seconds


There is nothing like a weanling to show you the gaps in your knowledge.

The first weanling I bought quickly showed me that I knew almost nothing!

I found my elbows to be very useful. If that did not work if I “blew up” making my voice really harsh and shaking my finger in his face got his attention, until the next time. Repetition and always reacting whenever said weanling colt decided he could ignore me.

But what worked the best was gelding him. He turned from a bossy bad little boy to a really nice cooperative gelding. You see he did learn from what I was doing, it was that the testosterone that turned him into a hopeful monster. No testosterone and he became a sweet little horse. He DID learn from our battles and it showed once the testosterone poisoning ended.

Oh, the book that helped me the most with him was “Schooling for Young Riders” by John Richard Young, his tale of taking on a ruined long yearling stud colt and all his battles with that horse who had zero respect for human beings.


A young fellow had this colt he had already put 30 days on him under saddle.
This one was a bumbler, he kept, as you say, just barging into things and humans, no idea of personal space, a labrador full contact spirit in a horse suit. :stuck_out_tongue:

I had been watching him ride the colt from the sidelines and he came and asked me about this.
I asked if he wanted me to show him one way to teach body awareness and “handiness” that could help with that kind of horse and he agreed.
Horse had a grass rope hackamore on him and was fairly light to it, so it was easy to ask him to move his feet with a very gentle bumping of it, getting him engaged, then to either side, back, all on a loose rein, eventually just picking up a bit of slack he responded.
I had been taught how to teach horses that we are having a conversation with them myself decades ago, as we were starting feral horses under saddle.
They were not taught by reacting to what we did, but to think about what makes sense and cooperate along with what we are doing now.

Colt was well bred and talented and so nice to work with, the problem had been the handler not understanding yet how to ask this smart colt, that was not so reactive to things that would scare others into moving and so had become a lazy bones, bumbling oaf.
Colt seemed to like it, almost was a show-off with his new “smart stepping” abilities, as the fellow called it. :rofl:

OP, maybe try a bit of this, don’t work against the colt when he stops or is not backing or reacting to what you do as much as make the situation easy for him to cooperate with by making it interesting, where he has to pay attention, not bungle along bumping or plant feet.

Then, there is the occasional real bumbler, we had one of those that came to us at 12 and still had not learned to watch where he was going, even other horses didn’t like that and sighted every time he walked into them.
At least he had the grace to stop and apologize when he forgot himself and walked over you. :roll_eyes:

Hopefully your colt won’t end up like that one.


I don’t know how you are asking him to lead. Instead of using physical think about verbal aides. Except for backing. There should always be two aides for backing.

So a single click of the tongue for walk forward. Halt for halt. The word back and a thumb touching not pushing on the chest for back. You only want one horse to back in the float when you say back. Later you use the word back and a gentle pull of the tail for backing off the float and the word back and a side to side pointer finger for when you are in front. Eventually this can all be done with no halter or whip.

I use praise. Praise when the right decision. Uh uh when the incorrect decision. Praise is stroking and not patting and the words Good girl or boy.

As others have said an elbow or something at the right time. Turn yourself into an electric fence that cannot be touched.

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You have to have high energy and really mean it. Ask with intention, use a short bat to tap the chest.

Clicker training is super helpful for the smart ones.


This is relatively straightforward to address. You need a consistent progression of pressure. Point (could be a cue from lead rope), cluck, tap with whip is one common progression. Do it every time and soon enough the horse will move from the “point”. Be sure to release all the “pressure” once horse gives even the slightest try in the right direction.


Another horse wouldn’t give him the courtesy you are, they’re going to lay into him good, or they’ll take the loss and move away themselves.

I’d be carrying a whip while handling him at all times. A dressage whip or crop would work just fine. When you ask him to stop, back him up, every time. Start with a soft cue to move backward by tapping his chest with the whip/crop. If he doesn’t respond, increase your energy and intensity. As soon as he even makes one move in the direction you wanted, reward. For him, I wouldn’t do treats, but maybe a scratch and a step back. As he becomes more familiar with what you’re asking, you can ask for more than just one foot moving back.

He is slowly dominating you by pushing you around. This behavior will escalate into others like striking, biting, kicking etc. Set the expectation now, be consistent with it and remember, one good whack is far better than a thousand taps.


Since this is a weanling, young and smaller it shouldn’t be hard to teach him. He should learn quickly. Don’t go kung fu on the baby. It is great that he is fearless, you don’t want to take that away from him.
I’ve worked with many not handled and not well-handled youngsters. Consistency is very important. I do not find there needs to be drama unless they are trying to come after me aggressively. Quiet, firm and very consistent. They don’t know they are doing anything wrong. They just haven’t learned and need clear and consistent cues.
What I do as I am asking with pressure on the shank for them to back is put my thumb in their chest using as much pressure as it takes to get them to back. Release the pressure as soon as they respond. Not poking or shanking, steady pressure. I will turn them when I am leading them if they are not paying attention. Not sharp hard turns and not a ton.
Since you know he is going to keep going when you stop, make sure you are preempting the stop with a whoaaah and know he isn’t going to, so be ready with pressure on the shank and your thumb in his chest. I generally don’t use my elbow because it is hard to use the elbow without more of your body touching them and that doesn’t help with teaching them not to be in your space. Don’t make a big deal out of it and it won’t be. Eventually it will take less and less pressure to get him to stop and back and he will learn that he is not allowed to crowd you.
And if you cannot get this sorted out without getting after him, I would hire someone with baby experience to help you.

A rope halter might give you a little more " bite" when he wants to plow into you and you are attempting to teach him to respect your space.

Lots of groundwork involving leading , stopping and listening to you. Keep things short so he can focus on you.