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How to Make a Stubborn or Lazy Horse Go Forward

Jennifer specializes in articles about horse training, care, and purchasing.


Are You Sure the Horse Is Lazy?

If a horse won't go forward, then it might just be lazy. But you should check for other reasons first. If it's not your horse, then ask the owner or guide if the animal is always like that and, if not, if they can see what you're doing that's promoting the behavior.

Also, a "lazy" horse can sometimes have something wrong with it. Back pain, ill-fitting tack, an overly-harsh bit, all of these things can make a horse reluctant to go forward.

This was brought home to me a few weeks ago when I arrived at the barn I help out at. The owner told me G, a notoriously stubborn Quarter Horse, had "gone for" one of the grooms when she went to saddle him. On the assumption he was in one of his moods, she asked me to get on him and kick his butt.

I got on him and found the animal was lame on all four legs! Seriously. He was completely unable to go forward, which an inexperienced rider could easily mistake for laziness.

A week later we had a diagnosis. The poor horse had Lyme disease. No wonder he didn't want a saddle on his sore, aching back. In fact, at one point, he didn't want his nose petted. (He's completely fine now after a course of industrial-strength antibiotics).

You Could Be Causing the Issue With the Horse

Again, if it's not your horse, ask if the horse is always like this. If not, then yes, it's probably you. This could mean that the animal is prone to "testing" strange riders to see if they really mean it.

Or it could be that you aren't using the aids effectively for some reason. For example, I have a bad tendency to let my legs drift too far back when riding in a western saddle, which sometimes means they aren't effective and, especially if the horse is prone to laziness, the horse has the perfect excuse to ignore me.

Other things that can cause a horse to be lazy are heavy hands or being too heavy for the animal. Most reputable stables will not mount you on a horse you are too big for, but not all stables are reputable.

A lot of the time, horses will be lazier or more stubborn with riders they don't know or suspect of not knowing what they are doing.


What Do You Do If Your Horse Is Lazy?

Assuming that you've checked your leg position and hand position, and assuming that the horse isn't refusing to go forward for some good reason?

The first temptation is to add an "artificial aid"—which is a fancy term for whips and spurs. Spurs should never be worn by riders who do not have the experience and muscular control to keep a quiet and steady lower leg. If your leg is bouncing around, then the horse will be confused at best and injured at worst.

A crop or quirt, however, is reasonable. I've personally used both a dressage whip and an over-under (an extended length quirt) on stubborn horses at different times. There's nothing wrong with a crop, as long as it is used correctly.

Here's how:

  • First of all, give the horse a chance to respond to the normal, light aids—just a squeeze. If that doesn't work right away, then dig both heels into their sides.
  • Make sure to always use both legs, or some horses will take that as an excuse to go sideways instead of forward. Move your hands forward slightly to be sure you are giving with the reins.
  • If the horse ignores the heels, then tap it once with the crop or quirt. A quirt (a length of braided rope) is normally used on the shoulder.
  • A crop should always be used behind the inside leg (either leg works if on the trail) unless the guide or instructor specifically tells you to use it on the shoulder (some horses will buck if hit behind the leg).
  • Hit once, then squeeze again. Do not beat a horse. It's counterproductive. One hit, then a reminder of "Yes, I want you to go forward."
  • If a horse is just testing you then hitting the horse once may be enough for the entire ride. For that matter, some horses will stop being lazy just because you are carrying a crop. They aren't stupid.

Avoid taking your entire leg off the horse to kick them. While this can be effective, it places you in an insecure position if the horse shoots forward or bucks, and it's kinder to use a crop once than kick repeatedly.

Yes, I know barrel racers do this all the time, but everyone's equitation gets worse when gaming, including mine.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

© 2013 jenniferrpovey


Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on June 13, 2015:

I admittedly don't know much about horses, but I am enjoying learning about them on your hubs.