10 tips to inspire the horse that is more Whoa than Go!

A reader from England describes her Welsh gelding as “way more whoa than go.” She writes, “I want to do as much as possible at liberty with him and build a bond and incentive for him to want to be with me.” That’s the good news!

The trouble is: “When I have got on him I always struggle to get him to move, I have to resort to moving his hindquarters over and then sometimes he will go forwards. I don’t try to increase my pressure or frustration as know this wont help and I don’t use a whip. I do feel that I try to make my energy come up more but he doesn’t seem to blend in with that and just stays there!”

One of the first questions we should ask is: how is your tack fitting?

She answers “I ride in a Dr Cook and bareback (only rides of 10-15 minutes).”

The little tack involved is likely not causing pain and clearly she is not overworking the little guy.

I asked her: “Is your horse easy to move forward on the ground without you on his back?“

She responds: “He does stop when leading also so I’ve tried zig zagging in straight lines changing direction and this seems to free him up.”

Her answer lets me know that her pony likely does not have a clear cue that he understands to move forward.

It’s very important to teach the forward on the ground and in the saddle.  If you continue to allow a resistant horse not to move, they will often continue to disrespect the cue and that may escalate into crow hopping or half rearing. Nip that in the bud just like another horse would nip your horse’s bottom!

#1: Get those horses moving on the ground first! No matter how kind and sweet you want to be, it’s necessary that you can get your horse to move. This is both for leadership, which is beneficial to the relationship, and safety.

#2: It’s easiest to get your horse moving from a distance behind them and slightly angled off to the sidecorinne_keif_movement out of kicking range. (see the picture to the right of Corinne driving Keifer)  If you stand at your horses shoulder or girth sometimes your energy will block your horse. Initially I just move my horse one or two steps and then reward him by walking away. Then I want my horse to freely move away from me with a rush of energy when I ask. If you aren’t sure how to go about this please watch my video on my training tips page.

#3: Teach your horse a cue that transfers from the ground to the saddle. I like to touch my horse on the hindquarters with a dressage whip from the ground. The hindquarters create the power and the push.

Even if my horse moves with energy and body language I still teach the whip cue because once I’m in the saddle this cue carries over while I’m teaching my horse to respond to my legs.

People are often very cautious to use a whip, but just because you carry a whip, does not mean that you are going to strike your horse. You have hands, but that doesn’t mean you punch people.

corinne_engage_hindquarters#4.  If you are leading or companion walking with your horse then use your whip behind you to engage your horse’s hindquarters and get him to hustle up next to you as Corinne is doing in the photo to the left with Keifer.

#5. Use your energy. If you believe in your ability to move your horse they will believe it too. Imagine your energy is increasing and push it at your horse like a wave. If you are leading and you step livelier your horse is more likely to perk up too. Note that Corinne is almost prancing in the photo at the top of this blog and Keifer responds by prancing too!  If you are riding, revving up your internal energy will also carry over to your horse.

Heather_nelson_liberty_workshop_julyPractice getting your horse moving or come see the liberty exercises in action at one of my workshops! I’ve got new dates for this year in Duncan!  See the pic on the right for more information or check out the workshops page.

#6. Watch horses in a herd environment. You will learn a ton by observing how they relate to each other. They don’t pull each other around by the heads, but drive each other. At first they ask nicely, but they escalate their signals rapidly if the other horse ignores them.

#7 Ask your horse to move as quietly as you can. Imagine that your horse will respond in the most ideal fashion and give him the benefit of the doubt. You will teach your horse to resist you if you start out guns blazing. It’s disrespectful to your horse. However, once you’ve started asking for him to move, do not back off until you get a result. Escalate your cues until the horse moves.

Do not hesitate once you’ve started asking for movement.  Your horse sees that hesitation and interprets it as lack of confidence and leadership. Give your horse a few seconds to respond and then he better get moving!

#8: Stay calm. You don’t have to go all Yosemite Sam to get your horse to move, even if you are jumping up and down waving your arms (which makes you look like Yosemite Sam).

#9: If you are riding, then give your horse a gentle hug with your legs and a push with your seat to ask for forward. The idea isn’t to squeeze so hard that you get a leg cramp.

If your horse doesn’t respond add a tap with the whip or give some quick light flutters with your leg. Kicking hard will cause your horse to tense up through the mid section and encourages a horse to balk. (Imagine if someone came over and clunked you in the sides. Kidney shots cause you to double over, not step out dancing.) Release all your cues when your horse moves on.

#10 Reward your horse when he tries! Back off for a bit or you can pet them, verbally praise him or even give your horse a treat.

Do you have trouble getting your horse moving?  Share in the comments below.  Thanks for reading!


Comments 9

  1. I am having trouble getting my horse to Spanish walk under saddle. I have trained him on the ground but we have tried to move this to under saddle and it’s just not working. I have had another person helping me by assisting with the aid (tapping him on the shoulder) while I also do this from on him and giving the verbal command. He just stands there! When I get on the ground and have someone else in the saddle he does better. I have tried doing the ground work first to get him working then mounting and trying the cues but he does not seem to either understand or want to do this. And he is definitely more whoa then go kinda horse…Help! I am stuck…

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      Congrats on getting the Spanish walk on the ground! Is he extremely good at it on the ground? My very first thought is that this could be more of a balance issue. To Spanish walk and carry a rider is a very challenging task for a horse. How balanced is he in regular work? I would make sure he is strong and balanced in ground work and ridden work. You’ve got the right idea with you schooling on the ground while another rider is in the saddle and asking for the cue from the saddle. I would do that until he’s consistent with it and enjoying it. Then switch people. Make sure he is enjoying the work and is offering it easily. Then gradually reduce the handler from the ground’s cues and transfer to the rider.

      1. Thanks Heather! I think we need to go back to more ground work and be at the point where he is more consistent. I have been able to get him to do one or two steps with a rider but that is as far as we got. He is very balanced (can counter canter like crazy and does flying changes easily) so I feel this a communication issue. I did some liberty work last night and he was having trouble going in a circle to the left, kept wanting to go right, so we will also work on that. I wish you were closer to where I live (florida!). Love your work!

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  2. Hi from England Heather 😉
    Your article is wonderful and I cannot explain the sheer joy that Morgan and I have experienced these past few weeks since you so kindly passed on to us all your wisdom, advice and knowledge!! This evening we have playing on a big open rugby field in the sunshine I was walking, jogging and running and he was walking, trotting and cantering beside me all with slack in the lead rope it was lovely I really feel we are in tune with eachother and am trying to hone my engery and intent and be in the present moment whenever we are together. I am following the steps in your article and just want to thank you wholeheartedly for being so generous with your time to help. Best wishes! 🙂

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      Awe Jeni! That’s awesome. When I read that it motivates me to help more people connect with their horses. You’ve been a pleasure to write with. Thanks for giving me material for my blog! If you are on Facebook head over to the Liberty Horse Lovers group and post some pics of Morgan! We love to have new people in the group to share with.

  3. Hi heather, that sounds fantastic I will definately get on your facebook group and you can see the little chap! 🙂 thanks a million and best wishes.

  4. I just purchased a big draft cross. Hee is docile and calm. Problem it’s I can’t get him to trot on lunge line. He rides quiet and trots, centers but really on his terms. When I free lunging he will turn his but to threaten, if I keep after him he will kick out.

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      Hello Audrey! Sorry, I just saw your message. With a horse that is kicking out at me I like to work at liberty so I can stay a safe distance away and I ask him to go (wave a big lunging whip near his hindquarters if necessary) until he’s not kicking towards me and I feel him leaving me with a big whoosh of energy. It doesn’t bother me if he walks off or trots or canters, but I must feel this big whoosh of free flowing energy as he leaves. It cannot feel sticky or slow or delayed. He cannot argue about it. He must just go! I will chase him like a hornet until he’s gone, but then I do not pursue him. As soon as he starts to flow (and flow is the key, not drag his feet) then I stop asking him to go and let him think on the topic for a few minutes. After he’s had a pause I ask him to go again. I have a video on youtube about asking horses to go that you can check out. I will ask him to repeatedly move off until he’s going off easily with no arguing about it. Then the class is done.

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