Getting your horse to go forward – more impulsion…won’t listen to the rider’s leg – or rider’s legs “not strong enough”.

UPDATE: 2011 Full Circle Moment

The original article on how to get the world’s laziest horse to go forward was written so long ago it had slipped to the back of my mind, however I write this I am sitting on the beach in BEAUTIFUL Rosarita Beach, Mexico. Yesterday was a ‘full circle moment’ for me. I actually wrote most of this article years and years ago and was up on our old website forever…but riding yesterday and realizing that most people think that the only way forward is with two good strong legs, made me re-write this again.

What made me remember it was these horses here on Rosarita Beach. Nick and I went for a ride, and talk about QUIET – BOMBPROOF – LAZY horses!   Check out our photos here.  This place is SO BEAUTIFUL!

But…with the horses…no matter how hard I kicked (and I can kick hard – my old polocrosse days!) the horses won’t trot. They’ll barely crawl along at a walk.  No matter what you do….kick as hard as you want and they just DONT GO!  I laughed at myself for even trying, then I did exactly what appears below, and they went forward just beautifully…the man nearly had a heart attack, he thought the horse had taken off on me, and came charging up the beach to “save my life”. He said he’d NEVER seen the horse trot EVER!!!   So, below is my original article, but had to put in that update…living proof some horses just don’t go to the leg…doesn’t mean you can’t get them going though!

My original article…

There are very few horse sports where power, or impulsion, is not a very big part of success and winning.  And, in the pleasure horse, it just a pain in the neck having to kick-kick-kick all the way home.  We hear all the time “not enough impulsion”, or “get him more forward”, or “more leg, more leg”

Often it’s just a matter of the rider having confidence to follow the rules and  give the judge’s what they want, “light contact”, in other words losen the rein and  “take the handbrake off”.  Often the riders are pulling and kicking at the same time, and the lazy horse will listen to the hand more….and stop!

But, sometimes it really is just a lazy, or untrained horse that just wont go!

My horse bucks going into canter….

One of the emails I get all the time is from people asking me for help because the horse BUCKS  - but ONLY going into canter.  Often the horse is just fine every other time, but it can be really dangerous and scary.  They can even buck people off as they go to canter.   That’s because, for whatever reason (bearing in mind studies in Australia on cadavers have shown that up to 25% have broken or damaged ribs),  they’re not happy with the rider’s leg.

So, although using the leg works for some horses, it doesn’t work for EVERY horse.

Spurs -  is there a legal change to come?

The legal situation, in my lifetime, has changed so much.   When I went to school, corporal punishment, hitting your kids was just part of the norm, now the laws have changed and it’s illegal.   It is my own personal belief that the same changes that have led to hunting being banned in England, rodeos banned by councils in my area, will lead to a change, not so much in horse riding rules, but in the actual law of the land regarding spurs.

But, no matter what your moral or legal beliefs,spurs just don’t work with some  horses.…  Some buck to the spur, some pigroot, some kick out, and some dig their toenails in the dirt and just WONT GO ANYWHERE (update 2011: like the Rosarito horses)

And remember the rules: able to move forward from the slightest indication of the rider, the aids must be invisible, without apparent effort….in other words: more leg = less marks.

When the whip just doesn’t work…

You would think either using a whip, or threatening with a whip, should work to make a horse go forward.   Well, I’ve ridden horses where it didn’t!  Sometimes the horse shies at the whip, I’ve seen head shaking to the whip, and even more common kicking out…or perhaps worse NOTHING AT ALL!

Although, thank goodness it’s rare, I’ve actually seen horses lay down on the ground and point blank REFUSE to take another step.

So, although this technique works for some horses…it doesn’t work for EVERY horse.

What if you have no legs?

Everyone says that strong legs are important…well A LOT of my riders have no legs at all…here’s an example!   And, with NO LEGS they get horses going forward to Olympic level!!!  Mmm…make you think?  Here’s more examples – scroll down on the page on this link

What about driving?  They have no legs!

If legs were the ONLY way, then what about long-reining, in hand work, and especially DRIVING CARRIAGES?  How do they get their horses forward?  And, the do dressage tests, they sure go cross country (in fact they scare me to death).  And there’s no seat & leg there!  Mmmm…make you think?

The “Miss Piggy” Technique

When I was a little girl my Uncle bet me that I couldn’t get Miss Piggy to go through the front gate.   Now Miss Piggy was as old as the hills and had not been through that front gate for years and years!

So, the next morning I went down, saddled her up, and I tried EVERYTHING!    I kicked, I got a stick, I yelled, I got off and pulled, pushed, shoved.   I tried EVERYTHING.  Absolutely nothing worked, and I’m sure I was there for hours! The bet was $10, and you might have well bet me in today’s money $10,000 – it was a LOT of money to a little kid!

Then, I finally  “lost it”…I cried and cried, and I remember taking the reins in my left hand, and with my left hand STILL AND RESTING ON THE WITHER, I remember getting the other end of the reins and hitting her over the shoulder left-right-left-right-left crying at the top of my lungs…..”I hate you Miss Piggy”.  (a bit like years later I saw barrel racers do).

Well…Miss Piggy shot through that gate at a million miles per hour!   (Um….I hate to admit that she went through on her own with me on my butt on the ground….but hey she went through – and I got my $10!)

And, this was the ONLY thing that worked.   No-one had got that horse to go through the front gate in YEARS with any other method.  Not my Uncle with his big strong legs, nor my cousins with their real gung-ho attitude…only “rein flicking” left and right (but with a hand still to hold the bit still) worked.

The Advanced (European)  “Miss Piggy”

Years later when I finally got to train in Europe, I was astounded.

Here I thought that the riders would all be in their posh clothes with their flash techniques and their brilliant style….and to my surprise…Day One….and here’s me in the stands watching rider after rider doing a very elegant and sophisticated version of “Miss Piggy” that I’d learned on the farm back home!

Here’s how they did it:

  1. They had the horse stand.  Fully stand.   Resting at least for 1 minute to get the hang of it.   They patted the horse, breathed and let the horse relax. (otherwise if you don’t repeat the halt, you’ll lose your halt eventually, as the horse won’t stand still at all).
  2. Then, they put the reins in the LEFT hand, and FIRMLY PUT THE LEFT HAND ON THE WITHER.    The most important thing to remember about all of this is that it is NOT a one-handed technique, as that interferes with the bit.  It must be done with a STILL left hand.
  3. Then, with the RIGHT hand, they flicked the buckle and the excess rein “left and right” over the horse’s shoulders.  Not hard, just lots of times - left and right over the horse’s shoulders.
  4. It wasn’t to create pain….what they were doing was COUNTING.   They just stood there, in halt, flicking the rein left and right, counting the number of “flip flops” it took for the horse to step forward.   And…they were very careful NOT to use the LEG/WHIP/SPUR (because it wasn’t working in the first place).    And, very careful to do it TWO HANDED, and not to move that left hand so as not to move the bit.
  5. As soon as the horse moved forward in any way (even one step)….they loosened the reins, patted the horse, and LEFT THEM ALONE…just sat there.  No seat & leg to keep them forward.  Just sat there (and if it got too wild out of control, they’d circle, rather than pull the reins to stop).
  6. They let the horse travel on for a while.  If the horse stopped on their own they would LET IT STOP!   Or, eventually if the horse didn’t stop, they would bring it softly and nicely back to halt. Then, again, they let the horse FULLY STAND AGAIN for 1-2 mins.   Then, again, reins in the left hand, then flip flops with the right hand, and COUNTED HOW MANY FLIP FLOPS until the horse moved on.
  7. Every single time the number got less and less.   The  horse started to anticipate the flip flops, and it got easier and easier every time.
  8. They also did NOT use it to maintain the pace.  They would rather that the horse fall back to halt so that they could do it all again.   That way they’re teaching what that signal means.
  9. After the horse got the hang of it and was happy to walk around on their own (still without leg, whip or spur – because that wasn’t working anyway), then it’s “how many flip flops to trot”, and then ultimately from trotting “how many gentle flip flops to canter”….but no leg!
  10. Eventually when you PRETEND you’re ABOUT to flip flop, and the horse will go forward!  Then, eventually you just move your hand forward and the horse goes forward.   And to maintain it…AFTER you’ve taught them reins means go, if you just shake your outside hand (invisibly) at each corner they’ll normally keep going.  If not…back to halt and repeat.

And the good news……SO LONG AS YOU DON’T USE THE LEG….I haven’t had a horse kick, buck or pigroot to this technique, but please still DO IT SOFTLY, and be careful.

I promise you, “Miss Piggy” has worked for some pretty famous horses that every single top level trainer has tried to make go forward….and their techniques just didn’t work!   It’s the ONLY technique that I have used with THOUSANDS of horses around the world and it’s worked on EVERY SINGLE ONE.

Adding in the leg later (if you must!)

If you really are so addicted to the leg that you can’t stand riding without it (bearing in mind many of my riders have no legs at all and ride at Olympic level!)..then here’s how to add in the leg:

  • THE AID:  Again, it’s from halt.  With the area just below your knee NOT YOUR HEEL OR SPUR, nudge so softly with both legs together that the horse can barely feel it.  So soft that you KNOW the horse won’t go forward.  That’s the Aid.  I often say “crack an egg in between your calf”.  I’ll put my hand just underneath the knee to make sure they’re doing it like a light little quick flick…LIGHTER THAN YOU THINK!
  • THE PUNISHMENT:  Now you know you’ve set the horse up, done it so light you know your horse won’t go forward, so BE KIND….the punishment is the “flip flop” above, but please read it carefully as it is NOT ONE HANDED.  It is two handed.
  • Then come back to halt and repeat.  I have NEVER had even the world’s laziest horse not go from that slightest nudge.  It takes approximately 20 repetitions for the WORLD’S WORST HORSE (and I bet your horse isn’t that bad).  SO BE KIND!!!!!  The idea is you’re re-schooling the horse to be light to the leg.

It worked at 1st, but now it doesn’t work any more

Mmm…diets don’t work anymore when you cheat.  Re’read the above, and I bet you’re missing one of the steps.

What Champions Do…

Something very interesting was said to me not long ago…

I asked one of the world’s most famous barrel racers that I work with why she doesn’t use her legs…AT ALL….And, she said this:   “when you kick a horse they stiffen their sides, which shortens their stride”.    Just a little bit, but if you think about it, they “toughen” up around the ribs to prepare for your kick.   It might just be one or two inches difference in their stride, hardly noticeable, but over a championship course, that could be a whole stride, and the difference between a National Championship and NOTHING!

And for dressage the difference would show up in the extension, and of course in jumping, there is the old saying “one stride less is one stride more”!

Be careful…. A WARNING!!!

You might be able to handle this sudden forward that you’re going to get, but some of the kids won’t…so be VERY VERY CAREFUL who you share this with.  Perhaps the reason why their coach has never told them is they actually don’t want them forward.  They want them kicking where they know the horse probably won’t go to the maximum if they’re a lazy horse, better ‘safe than sorry’

Again, be careful.   All our techniques and interactions with our animals should be humane, professional, caring, and above all designed to get lighter and lighter.   Start very carefully please!….and let me know how you go!

And, remember, when the horse goes forward LET IT GO!!!!   It’s not fair to say go go go go and then change your mind!   If the horse goes to fast, or is too scary, then just turn in a lovely soft circle to bring the speed back under control.

Email me your success stories info@colleenkelly.net

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Join the conversation! 7 Comments

  1. Excellent advice Thank you

    Reply
  2. Well Im willing to try it. My horse, since the arena was refooted (its now level with lovely footing), has refused to move in it. He will turn into the center, or stop at the corners and ….root. When I ask him to move forward all he does is drop his head down, or tuck his head in like a dressage horse. He is a western horse however. I have tried leg, crop, spurs and nothing works. Its at the point that I no longer enjoy him, and when I cannot trail ride (which he prefers) I cannot ride at all. I hope your technique will fix the situation between us.

    Reply
  3. I am so excited to read this. I had sorted out that legs-on was not the right answer. Even “keep his feet moving” was not the answer. I believed that the less movement on his face was important (Hence the anchor the reins on his withers. I have been determined to not make it a fight and the less pushing I do the better he is. We HAVE gotten better tho I have continued to use my leg with mixed results, but I can just tell that this will be the final piece in the puzzle. It makes complete sence to me based on his behavior. Yahoo!!

    Reply
  4. That realy make sense

    Reply
  5. Boy cannot wait to try this with my TB Joe!!! Unlike my first horse, who LOVED to go forward at the slightest thought of forward, Joe would rather back up, kick out, hump his back, etc etc. I have actually backed him out of the barn because he wouldn’t go forward!

    Reply
  6. I have just read your article on no legs going forward, I am going to try this out at the weekend. I have a stunning mare 19 years was in her time a european top show jumper and due to an injury retired at 13 years and had 4 foals then retired into a field. I am lucky to have her to genlty hack out , she will go with another horse but I need her to go alone on our little busy lanes. I am not the most confident person but I would like her to go forward alone. When we first go out she is very hesitant and needs a lead from another horse.She will go infront but is very alert and does not really relax. Thank you i will try this method.

    Reply
  7. Im interested in this as I feel spurs should be banned from all, FEI equestrian sports.

    Firstly we want a forward going horse. This is the aim, this is often a given in modern sport horses with the extremely large percentage of so called “hot blood” in them. But second to this is correct feeding.

    A horse will only go forward if it has enough energy to do so oats take care of that. Try race horse mix if you have a problem.

    If a horse absolutely wont go forward it could be genetic, that is they are called “phlegmatic”. These horses exist. They flatten their ears and say no not one step will I take. These horses are not suitable as riding horses no matter how you apply spurs and feed they simply are non starters.

    All horses except phlegmatic horses have a fight or flight response. Its in their genes. Do I fight or do I run. Horses run thats what they are built for, they are flighty animals. We harness that flight response to enable us to be carried forward by the horse. Phlegmatic horses are born without it, don’t force the issue they are not programmed to run, in the wild such horses would be eaten by a mountain lion, but we in our artificial breeding programmes will often unknowingly introduce the phlegmatic gene.

    No ammount of feeding will improve the phlegmatic gene in fact it will make it worse. This kind of horse should not be ridden.

    The ordinarily flighty horse will require fine tuning by way of feed stuff. Yes. too much and yu’re going to be bucked off too lttle and he/she’s going to get tired quickly. Its a matter of fine tuning.

    In none of the above senarios are spurs needed. None.

    The same must be said for the whip though using the whip as a directional tool (no contact) from the ground is often usefull in training young horses to move forwad and away from the aids. This is a whole different story and only for use in the hands of a very experienced trainer.

    Reply

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