Ask an Expert

Encouraging Forward Motion

Does your horse ignore your cues to move forward? Learn how to encourage forward motion with a Certified Horsemanship Association instructor.


I saw your article on "Bucking at the Canter," and it is similar to the problems I have with my horses. I have two horses that I am working with -- one is a 10-year-old gelding, and the other is a gelding in his teens. Both were bought at auctions, both have scars, and both don't like me using both legs on them at once.

When I squeeze with both legs, they lay back their ears, swish their tails and slow down. They are fine with one leg at a time or verbal cues, but even with that, when I ask for a canter, they pin their ears back, swish their tails and either refuse to canter or give a tiny little buck.

The older gelding has gotten some riders off at the canter, but I haven't pushed him that far. He has occasionally picked up the canter for me on the correct lead for a couple strides and I reward him, but he is still unpredictable.

I am wondering what I can do to make these horses safe at the canter. Can you help me?


The first thing that you need to do is to determine that there are no physical problems that are causing this reaction to your aids when you are asking your horses to go forward. Horses are generally very honest, and your horse's response is either caused by problems that are happening now (confusion, pain, discomfort) or past experiences that have caused your horses to react in this way. All of these problems are human-related at some time in your horses' lives.

Whatever the problem between horse and rider, Martin Black has practical solutions that he shares in AQHA’s Horse Training Techniques With Martin Black downloadable report.

First, look at the fit of your tack. When I go to a new barn, I have to adjust at least half of the saddles. I carry open-celled pads with me, which help to alleviate the problem until a better fit can be obtained. You also need to check the bits that you are using and the skill level of the rider. Does he or she have an independent seat and therefore independent hands to help this horse overcome this difficulty? You may need to use a bitless bridle, such as a hackamore, for a while. I would also have a veterinarian or a horse chiropractor look at these horses. If they are in pain (which probably was at least the cause in the beginning), this has to be removed before any further training can be done.

Once you are certain that the horses are not uncomfortable, you need to start to reschool them. Remember that if they have experienced discomfort caused by poor training in the past, this may stay with them for a while. Horses have fantastic memories, but this can be a hindrance if they have experienced abusive or conflicting training methods. These horses are telling you in the only way they know that they are unhappy and anxious. Be certain that no one uses force. This will only make the problems worse.

I would start correct longeing techniques with them. Correct longeing is a skill that needs to be practiced. Longeing is not used to chase a horse around in a circle to tire him out, but to reinforce aids and gaits that are desired when being ridden. Find someone skilled in the correct and classical method of longeing and use a cavesson or a halter -- do not longe from the bit. Encourage forward motion from the horses. Your energy needs to be positive and encouraging, and you should work for only 15 minutes at first. If they are forward, then put them away. If your schedule permits, you can have several very short sessions.

Martin Black says he sees a lot of horses having people problems. Or maybe it’s people having ego problems. Whatever it is, gain insight to horse training with AQHA's Horse Training Techniques With Martin Black downloadable report.

Once the horses are moving forward happily and willingly on the longeline, then put a quiet, empathetic rider on them. Encourage them to go forward from the ground and from a close hug of the rider's legs and voice. You can reward forward movement lavishly with your voice. You need to overcome in the horse's mind that he is not going to be hurt, pulled in the mouth, spurred, and so on, when he is ridden. A squeeze from the legs and a soft giving hand will result in his going forward as a reflex. Be happy at first with walk and trot transitions before you attempt a canter. It takes time and patience to reschool a horse. While doing this, do not use spurs and use only a bitless bridle or a very mild bit.

You may email me at any time for more help at

Mitzi Summers

Certified Horsemanship Association clinician and master instructor