Balking refers to when a horse refuses to move forward when its rider instructs them to. If you have been riding for some time, you have experienced a few horses who balk.
It can be extremely frustrating when a horse does this, especially if the reason why they are doing it is not clear. The reality is that horses balk for various reasons, all of which require a different approach.
How to get a Stubborn Horse to Move
Horses balk for three main reasons: they are afraid of something that is up ahead of them, they do not want to walk or move away from an area of comfort, or from rider error over time. There are varied reasons for this behavior which can make correcting this behavior tricky.
If your horse is fearful of something ahead of them in the direction they are walking, give them a moment to look at what has caught their attention. Once they have had a look, please give them a light squeeze until they take a step forward and release the pressure. Squeeze again with your legs until they take another step and release. Repeat this until they continue to walk on at their regular pace.
Horses, like humans, like comfort zones. This can include their stall, the comfort of a stablemate, or a bigger herd. When your horse balks when leaving these situations’ proximity, you will need to get their attention away from this comfort zone and focus on you. The best way to do this is by turning your horse in a few small circles. As simple as this sounds, this movement is forward and gets your horse’s mind off why they are balking.
Rider error is a common reason for horses to start showing signs of balking, which later can turn into a relentless bad habit. This can result from conflicting rider cues or using consistent pressure on a horse without any relief. The best solution is to squeeze your legs lightly and tap your horse with a crop on the shortly softly. Slowly build up this intensity until they move forward.
What does it mean when a horse balks?
When a horse balks, the reason behind this behavior can vary. The most common causes of horse balking are due to receiving inconsistent rider aides over an extended period of time. This is usually by inexperienced riders and is why balking can be common in school ponies.
Balking can also be a result of nerves or a horse lacking confidence. Being afraid of something which lies ahead of them may cause a horse to spook, run or freeze. This is natural for horses who instinctively herd animals. As a horse works with a patient and understanding rider, who allows them to build on their confidence, balking should slowly stop.
A balking horse can also be a sign that the horse is in some pain or discomfort. This could be from a saddle that does not fit correctly or another tack that could be causing pain. When dealing with a balking horse, checking all their tack and how it fits should be the first step that’s taken.
How do you cure a balking horse?
There are several steps you can take to cure a balking horse. These include:
- Groundwork: this refers to exercises you do with your horse while you are on the ground, and they are in a halter with a lead rein. Groundwork can involve exercises as simple as walking in front of and alongside your horse as a way to establish respect and your role as a leader. This is important for building trust between you and a horse and can go a long way in addressing balking.
- Circling through balkiness: a common way to respond to balking is to ride through this. Continuously kicking a balking horse to move forward is seldom effective, and so many riders will try to get their horses to turn in a circle as a way to get their mind off what is making them balk. To do this effectively, make one or two circles and attempt to move forward in a straight line again.
- Reassurance and patience: when it comes to addressing any undesirable behavior from a horse, it is important to take the time and have the patience to figure out exactly what is causing it. Balking isn’t always a sign of being stubborn or disobedient. It can result from poorly fitting tack or the horse being genuinely afraid of something in their environment. Take the time to assess the situation and read the signs of why your horse may be reluctant to move forward.
What causes horses to buck?
Bucking forms part of natural behavior for horses. It can be a sign of enjoyment and playfulness. It can also be a sign of aggression or showing fear and discomfort towards something in their surroundings. Regardless of the reason, bucking forms part of a horse’s natural movement.
When riding a horse, you can expect they may buck now and then when being ridden, which should not cause any issues (for riders who can sit through this rocking motion). Bucking only becomes a problem when horses start to use it to stop being ridden or remove their rider. A horse can learn bucking if a rider uses the incorrect aids at the incorrect times.
Much like balking, bucking can be caused by several different things. Besides rider error, a horse may begin to buck due to being in pain from poorly fitted tack or fear. What is important is to take the horse’s character and general behavior into consideration. If it is completely out of character for a horse to buck, it could be that something is wrong or that they are in pain.
One cause of bucking which many riders overlook is that a horse may not want or enjoy being ridden. While horse riding has been around for centuries and horsemanship has been developed over many years, we shouldn’t be quick to assume that all horses enjoy being ridden.
Bucking could also be a sign that a horse is not enjoying being ridden by a particular rider. This can commonly be because more aggressive riding styles don’t always work for a horse’s character and personality. Part of developing horsemanship skills is understanding how particular horses respond to being ridden and adapting accordingly.
Why does my horse not want to be ridden?
There are four main reasons why a horse would not want to be ridden: fear, pain, lack of respect, or misunderstanding.
Fear: Horses are prey animals, and so, regardless of being domesticated, they will still carry that instinct to fear and get away from what they consider to be predators. When a horse is first being tamed or broken in, it is normal to experience this fear playing out as communication that the horse does not want to be ridden.
With a patient handler and rider who understands this behavior, a horse will slowly overcome this fear as they are ridden and trained on a frequent and consistent basis.
Pain: Several things can cause a horse to be in pain when being ridden. A poorly fitting saddle can pinch nerves in a horse’s back or put pressure on incorrect muscles or parts of the spine. Bridles can also cause pain for a horse if they do not fit them correctly or the bit they are wearing doesn’t fit in their mouth correctly.
Before riding any horse, it is crucial to see a vet who can assess their overall wellness. This includes looking at their overall conformation, including their back, withers, legs, and hooves. It is also important for a horse to see a dentist before being ridden as any dental issues can be worsened by the bit when being ridden.
Lack of respect: Horses will make decisions based on their best chance of survival, at least at the start of their training and tamed journey. In a herd, horses will always follow an alpha or a leader. When handling and riding horses, it is important to establish yourself as the leader and respect your horse. If you leave your horse to always dictate its own behavior, you may run into issues when riding and school your horse.
Misunderstanding: When riding any horse, it is important to use consistent cues when giving them instructions. Please avoid using your legs to squeeze them (telling them to move forward) and pulling on the reins(telling them to stop). Consistent incorrect or conflicting cues can lead to a horse feeling extremely frustrated and confused about what to do.
Over time, a horse may react, act out, or refuse to be ridden. If this continues over an extended period of time, the rider or handler will have to go back to basics and groundwork to build on the relationship with the horse and establish clear cues and expected behavior.