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How to Make a Stubborn Horse Move

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Horses don't always know they're bigger than you, but some stubborn ones dig in their heels and refuse to move. His sheer size makes it impossible for you to force your horse forward. Instead, understand the reason for his stubbornness and deal with his noncompliance immediately before it becomes a bad habit.

What is Balking?

Balking, or refusing to move forward, is a normal behavior for horses. They stop instinctively when they sense danger or when they're unsure of a situation, such as when they're scared by loud noises outside a show ring. It also could be that the horse has spotted the barn, where he expects a nice, tasty meal to be waiting and he wants to go in no direction but back home.

Deal With It Immediately

When your horse stubbornly refuses to move in the direction you want, don't let him get away with it. If you do, he might begin to believe he is the boss, and that can lead to future battles of wills between you. Take immediate action to change his behavior. For example, if you're riding him, lean slightly forward and squeeze with your legs all the way from your thighs to your heels to encourage him to move forward. Keep the reins slack so you don't give mixed signals to your horse. If necessary, get off the horse and lead him from the ground instead of letting him balk successfully.

Backward is the New Forward

One of the easiest ways to change the mind of your stubborn horse is to distract him from the reason he's balking. Giving him the command to back up, or pull backward on the reins or lead rope so his nose sinks toward his chest. This gets him moving, even though it's not in the right direction. Most horses don't like backing up as much as they do moving forward, so they don't want to do it for long. This can help your horse decide he's ready to move forward, if the only alternative is going backward. You also can turn your horse's head to the side to walk him in a tight circle. This lets him see the space all the way around him, distracts him from the source of the balking and gets his legs moving rather than stubbornly standing still. Release his head so he'll go straight when he's facing the right direction.

Keep It Safe

When a horse is anxious or scared, he can be dangerous. One second he can be standing still, stubbornly refusing the move, and the next second he can be charging, rearing or biting. Always stand beside a balking horse rather than in front of him, which makes you an easy target for nervous biting or an obstacle to knock over if he takes off. Keeping your weight balanced on both feet helps you get out of the way quickly if the horse decides to jump sideways or rear up instead of move forward.