Stop Balky Behavior

The Trail Rider trainer gives tips to help stop dangerous, balky behavior.

I’m 13 years old and own a 7-year-old Quarter Horse gelding named Louie. My grandmother bought him for me last April. Louie is now in a pasture with five cows. When I first started riding him, I could ride anywhere. Now, when I want to ride in the field, he stands still, then backs up, tosses his head, and tries to turn around. How can I correct this behavior?

Amy Denman
Reedsburg, Wisconsin

A: Amy, you’re smart to realize that Louie is displaying negative and dangerous behavior, and to ask for help. Even though I’ll offer my advice, you must also get help from a qualified trainer or certified riding instructor in your area for hands-on training. Also, ask him or her to make sure your tack fits and that Louie isn’t suffering any physical discomfort.

Here’s what’s happening: Your gelding has decided that he doesn’t want to work for you. To avoid working, he’s using balky behavior to test and intimidate you. If you allow him to get away with this negative behavior, you’re actually training him to continue it.

To stop your gelding’s balky behavior, take him from the field and his cow buddies, and work him four times a week in a round pen or arena. Or at least find level ground with good footing. And be sure to wear a good riding helmet both in the saddle and on the ground.

In-Hand Work
Start with ground work to teach Louie that you’re his leader. Be firm, but gentle. First, perform in-hand work. You’ll need a nylon or leather halter and a six-foot lead rope.

Step 1. Ask him to go forward. Take your gelding to your work area. Stand opposite his left shoulder, facing forward. Cue him to go forward by taking a step forward while applying pressure on the lead and giving a few clucks. When he responds to your go-forward cues, praise him and pat him.

Step 2. Ask him to stop. After you’ve gone forward a few steps, ask your gelding to stop on your cue. Stop, and apply backward pressure on the lead rope while saying “whoa.” As soon as he stops, praise and pat him.

Step 3. Ask him to back. From

the stop, ask your gelding to back by applying backward pressure on the lead rope while clucking to him. As soon as he backs a few steps, stop him, then praise and pat him.

Step 4. Ask for lateral flexion. Next, ask your gelding for lateral flexion to the right and to the left. To do this, from a stand still, bring his nose in toward each inside shoulder by applying lead-rope pressure. This exercise will flex his neck muscles and lead to more control under saddle.

Longeing Work
When your gelding complies with your cues in-hand over several days to a week of work, it’s time to longe him. You’ll need the same halter, plus a 20-foot longe line and a longe whip. While longeing him, wear a helmet, and stay out of his kick zone.

At first, your gelding may buck, kick out, or take off in a full gallop in protest. But once he realizes you won’t give up your training program, the protesting should stop. He’ll see that you’re self-confident and will gradually become a willing student. Stay focused on your gelding, and keep him focused on you. Longe him in both directions in each training session.

Step 1. Longe him to the left. Holding the longe line in your left hand (on a circle to the left, this is your lead hand) and the whip in your right hand (your off hand), send your gelding out on a circle to the left. Cluck once to ask for the walk. If he resists in any way, crack the longe whip behind his heels to let him know that you’re in charge. Keep him at a walk with lead-rope pressure.

Step 2. Keep him on the circle. If your gelding tries to turn toward you, drop the longe whip, and slide your off (right) hand up the longe line about three feet. Then twirl the end of the longe line toward his inside (left) eye. Keep a safe distance away, and be sure you don’t actually hit his eye.

Step 3. Longe him to the right. When your gelding longes to the left without protesting, ask him to stop. With your off hand, apply pressure on the longe line, position yourself slightly in front of his inside (left) shoulder, and say “whoa.” As soon as he stops, bring him in to face you, then turn him so he’s facing right. Then hold the longe line in your right hand and the whip in your left hand, and send him out at a walk on a circle to the right.

Step 4. Ask for the trot. Once your gelding is moving forward well on cue in both directions, ask him to trot. To cue the trot, cluck six to eight times. If he balks, crack the longe whip behind his heels. If he speeds up, slow him by applying longe-line pressure. After a few circles, ask him to walk. Then stop him, and praise him.

Step 5. Ask for the lope. Next, ask for the slow lope on cue. From the trot, give a kiss cue, and crack the whip behind his heels. If he balks or speeds into a fast lope or gallop, use the methods I’ve described earlier to keep him in the correct gait. Your goal is to get him into a slow lope using a combination of lead-rope pressure, body language, and whip-crack cues.

Step 6. Practice gait changes. Give your gelding a couple of weeks to learn your cues for walk, trot, lope, and stop. Then ask for a variety of gait changes. Ask him to complete at least one full circle in each gait before you ask him for a different gait.

When Louie is responsive to your cues from the ground, saddle him, take him to your work area, and ask him to circle to the left and right in all gaits. If you still have problems, your trainer/riding instructor can help you.

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