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QUESTION:

Hi, Bob:

I have an American Saddlebred who was never ridden much until last summer (he is now 11). He was doing fine on the roadwork until I started riding with my friend who has a paint. The paint has a bad habit of stopping dead in the middle of the road if she sees something she is not too sure about. Now my Saddlebred has started doing the same thing and no matter what I do, I can't get him moving forward again.

I have tried urging him on with seat and legs, moving his head from side to side, doing serpentines across the road, but nothing works. He simply sets his feet and won't move. Eventually the other rider (she's younger and fitter) dismounts and walks her horse for a few minutes, which gets them both moving.

Hope you have some advice for me.

- I.

ANSWER:

At first, you may not think of your horse as having spooked when he stands rigidly still, but that's what he's doing. You could trick your horse into moving by swinging his head to the side and circling him back and then forward again. In doing so, however, you'll be confirming to your horse that spooking was the right thing to do.... that there really was something he should have turned away from.

Before we go on, you should review the question and answer on keeping a horse from spooking. (Go ahead, I'll wait.)

Okay, by now you've figured out that your Saddlebred views the Paint mare as the lead brood mare in your little party of four. One option may be to reverse the pecking order. A few years back, I used to ride with a gal who had a little mare. Fortunately, Willy's longer legs and love of his ground-eating rack translated into the mare always bringing up the rear. If your mount doesn't spook much on his own, you may want to ask your trail partner to hold her horse back a bit until the mare is a little more confident on the trail.

Being herd animals, when one critter spooks they both will. If the lead horse doesn't spook, the other one will be less likely to spook. Ultimately, the answer will come from conditioning both animals to be calm and steady.

For what it's worth, it sounds like your friend is using the right approach in calmly leading her horse past whatever was causing the anxiety rather than driving it into the scary situation (just as I did with Willy and the wet pavement in the answer to question #9.).

Happy Riding!

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