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Stallion behavior around leg pressure

Dear Franklin,

I came across your site and was fascinated with the articles, testemonials, etc. I found much useful information, but not any problems that I am having of my own, and wondered if you could possibly help or have any advice for me.

I have had horses my whole life, and have been training (mainly saddlebreds & arabians) for the past 12 years. I would say over the years, I have broke out over 100 horses, and finished 75+. I love what I do, and I turn out good horses, but by no means do I know it all, and am always open for opinions/suggestions. I have broke out many mares & geldings, and probably a handful of stallions.

In 2002, I had an accident (horse related) and broke my back. Fortunately, of all the bones to break, I was extremely fortunate to be put in a brace and only laid up for a couple of months. It took a good year before I would "start" another horse. As I have gotten older (and hopefully wiser) Plus, learning it hurts more the older we get, I have been much more selective about the horses I take in for training.

Which finally leads me to my dilema.... I have a 3 year old Saddlebred Stallion (This is my own personal horse) I purchased him at 18 months, which the last 6 months, he had basically been put out to pasture for 6 months, so was quite the handful when I first brought him home. Time, and patience, he came around & was a respectable boy. I broke him to Drive, and have spent numerous hours of ground work, lunging, line driving, Showing, etc. with him. I work closely with an Equine Reproduction specialist, and had him evaluated as a breeding stallion, and even though he was only 2 (last year) we felt it alright to breed him. BEFORE I bred him, I got on him about 6 times in Feb last year as a 2 year old, and he was wonderful.

Then, we covered 14 mares over the spring/summer (all of which took) he was perfectly managable, and I showed him HEAVY the whole time for the whole season with no issues also. (I only showed him in Hand) Got a late start this past fall, so finally in December, I could get on a good steady routine with him, I started him again. The first 30 days were almost to good to be true. No problems whatsoever. Walk/trot/canter, accepts the bit, and sets up beautiful in the bridle. (The driving paid off!!) Then, out of no where, one day he decides he doen't want my leg on him. Dead stops, puffs up (Doesn't rear, but pulls his Huge neck up high) then fires out a huge buck (Yes, he can buck High with his head up) Shocked me at first, dismounted (on my own) threw him on the lunge line for a bit to work it off, remounted, he tried several times, but we got through it, though he wasn't happy about my leg asking him to move forward. This progressively got worse, and he was getting extremely irritated any time I applied leg pressure (Though nothing had changed from the first 30 days) I am 5'7 and I admit I have a strong lower leg, but again, it was nothing I didn't ask for initially. A couple times, he nailed his ears back & wanted to reach around to bite me (First aggressive behavior he showed) and I respect that, as I know he could kill me if I made him mad enough, so in return, I am intimidated by how far I can push him.

I know alot of people in the industry, and made the calls for help, and if need be to send him out. Another trainer/friend of mine offered to come out & give it a whirl. We put him in blinders (1/2 blinds) and he was a different horse. No problems again. 30 days later, after good rides, we take the blinders off, and instantly when a leg is on him, he gets irritated and puffs & blows out a buck. Soooo...we had 3 people on the gound while I was on him, any time he hesitated, a ground person would crack a whip behind him, and he would continue moving forward, and I try to over exaggerate my leg just to "desensitize" him. Works for a couple weeks (Whip in my hand as well) then back to square one again, completely irritated, puffing up, not moving forward, and getting more pissy about anyone on the ground with a whip.

So, actually, tomorrow morning, I have yet another trainer coming out to give it a try.

This is what I am thinking, but not sure if it's the right thing to do. I feel like when he stops & puffs up, he needs a Heavy big kick with the heel followed up with a crack in the rear from the whip. I haven't had the courage to do that, because I am not really sure what his response will be, and because, I admit it, I am afraid of coming off, and getting hurt again. I just don't know if he'll blow harder, or if he'll go forward.

I have tried desensitizing him around his flank area, but nothing fazes him, and I am not sure how to duplicate the leg sqeeze, as that's the only thing that seems to be setting him off.

I do apologize for the length of this, but I wanted to be thorough in my explanation, and would so greatly appreciate it if you could find the time to give me any suggestions/criticism you may have.

I thank you very much for your time,


Holly Armstrong

Hi Holly,

I might suggest the you get good at asking the stallion for hind quarter leg yields and tight bends around an inside leg. He will find it hard to buck while bending. In fact it is hard for a horse to do anything but that manuver when he is doing it. I find I can get many horses used to a lot of leg pressure (if need be) doing that manuver. I can also kick a horse's butt around if need be to get him more used to leg pressure without putting myself at much risk. I might also suggest doing more lateral work in general to help him adjust to the legs. For horses who are leg sensitive I had have a lot of good success by not trying to move exactly forward for a little while, but rather bending the horse a lot and quite a bit of turns on the huanches and forehand. I find lots of serpentine movement is helpful as well. As you can see most of what I am suggesting has the horse moving in some sort of arch, circle or yielding of the hind and front ends. Most horses have a hard time bucking unless they are moving straight ahead.

I also think this is immaturity showing up. Over time, if you can be consistent with his training, this behavior will deminish. If he is well socialized with other horses, I would take him out on the trail now. Arena schooling is important, but a change of scene might be just the thing to get his mind off of not wanting to move off the leg. Giving him a job like trailing cattle for a few months would be invaluable to him if that were possible. Figuring out a way to make the training more interesting might me worth looking into. Longeing him on a line, with you on him, might be helpful. Do you do sufficient ground play before you ride him? This would be important. Sounds like he hits his tolerance for it and then resists heavily. So, I would change the action more often. Change what you are doing more often and only do the same thing for a very short period of time. Make certain he gets lots of easy things to do as well, so he gets rewarded for being a good boy a lot. Try rewarding him with short rests after only a few steps forward. Don't look for a lot before you reward him. Look for just a few steps at a time and then rest of say 15-20 seconds with a good boy. Wait until he licks and chews and sighs before you ask him to walk him off of your legs again. give him time to process a successful experience (you make request, he comples and gets a break from all pressure as a reward).

Let me know you thoughts on all this. I am interested.

Sincerely, Franklin

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