Dealing with Balking – common solutions

Z’s most irritating resistance is to balk. This isn’t a balk due to fear. This isn’t a balk due to lack of self confidence and concern for what is in front of her (i.e. water, bridge, tarp, etc…). This is a balk that can be chalked up to resistance: I don’t want to do it and you can’t make me!

Anyone who has dealt with a horse who likes to balk knows ultimate frustration! If a horse could feel smugness (and maybe they do) I can imagine the balking horse to have a very smug and self-satisfied smile on his muzzle.

There’s nothing like trying to lead a balking horse in front of a barn full of people in order for you to feel maximum humiliation. I personally think the only other humiliating event that comes close in it’s impact to embarrass you is to have a screaming toddler in the store while others around you sadly shake their heads over your lack of parenting skills.

Hm, well maybe being thrown off during a dressage test could also let you feel this level of humiliation….

A balking horse is holding all the cards. The really smart ones know that if they continue to just stand there – DOING NOTHING – they have won! And horses are very good at standing around… 😀

If your horse only occasionally balks and this isn’t habitual, it’s easy to correct. Instead of tugging forward on the leadrope or the reins, which starts a pulling match,  step to one side of the horse. Often the horse will sidestep too and then you can lead the horse forward.

If this doesn’t work, step to the other side and often by the second step the horse moves forward. Another option would be to turn the horse (this unlocks the frozen feet) and then go forward. You could also try having the horse back a step, come forward a step, back a step etc… before walking forward (again you are looking to unlock the feet).

All the above is done with a loose leadrope or loose reins. Do not pull on the head as nothing will make your horse resistant faster then this! Re-education is now in order.

If the horse still doesn’t move, step to the side and do a tap the whip on the ground, parallel to the hindquarters. If the first tap doesn’t get movement, make a second tap on the hindquarters. If a third tap is required (and there is no pain or ignorance issue to account for the behavior) you may have a real balker on your hands.

Three methods I find useful when dealing with a habitual balker:

Klaus Hempflings method as outlined in his book Dancing with Horses. He divides leading positions for the handler into three zones and with a confirmed balker you will probably have to work from Zone 3 (behind the horse which gives ultimate authority to the Person, and requires the least responsibility by the horse).

The second method is Linda Tellington-Jones TTEAM work (see her Ultimate Behavior and Training book for info). Using various leading positions, and a whip (called a wand in LTJ) the horse is gently guided and encouraged in his movements, often combined with obstacles.

The third method is Clicker Training. You teach the horse to follow a target. Eventually that target can be your whip handle or even the flat of your hand in front of the horse. The only problem with clicker training is that, inevitably your horse will know when you don’t have treats so I suggest carrying a horse cookie in your pocket for those emergencies!

All of these are very humane methods that will get results. They are also easy methods to implement with little tools – a halter, leadrope and whip (+ clicker and treats for the third method). They are all rather hard to screw up so make them ideal for horse people of all levels. Although Hempfling’s method of leading a horse sometimes has subtleties that people are apt to miss.

Most of the time, if balking on the ground is worked through it transfers to saddle work. Again, I am not writing about horses not wanting to move forward due to fear or pain but because they simply don’t want to move forward!

From the saddle, use one rein and open your arm wide, away from the horse. Bend the nose slightly at first and then more and see if the horse will step sideways. If the horse steps sideways, release the rein immediately and ask the horse to go forward. If no movement, try the other rein (by itself). Try asking for a step backward.

If asking for the go forward, use ONE leg (not two) and do a gentle but emphatic thump on one side. During all these, you as rider, is being very careful not to hold back with your hands, clamp with your legs, or have a heavy seat.

Sometimes though, you will have a horse (yes, we are back to Z) who though, try as you might, you never truly rid yourself of 100 percent of balking. I’ve been mulling this over and I think this is where controlling the feet is going to give me the answers I want.

This entry was posted in Clicker Training, Klaus Hempfling KFH, Linda Tellington-Jones TTEAM, Training, Z. Bookmark the permalink.

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