Carolyn Resnick Horsemanship: Liberty Horse Training

The Foundation for All Equestrian Pursuits Through the Horse-Human Connection.

Leading a Horse Properly is Important for Performance

It is surprising to me to see well trained dressage horses leading from place to place as badly as they do. Leading is such a valuable tool for the connection and relaxation you have with a horse when you ride, especially a dressage horse.  A horse can be well trained, but if the willingness and acceptance are not there the performance suffers and so does the horse.

When I had my training center in Sanoma California I found out how important it is to a horse’s performance under saddle to train a horse how to lead in hand properly.  My students had noticed that when I had the horse truly trained to leading from the ground in all circumstances, it greatly improved the horse’s performance in competition.

I got so interested in the act of leading a horse as a valuable tool that I got people to form social groups to walk together in nature in order to help improve their connection and relationship with their horse.  This activity was an enjoyable activity for both the horse and the owner.

Walking in nature with friends creates a social activity that horses miss out on from being in captivity. The Waterhole Rituals give an added social interaction to a horse that brings them well being. You might like to take my online program on the Waterhole Rituals and enjoy having fun learning about the true nature of your own horse and how to train your horse through relationship building and communication. We will be starting another online class in the Waterhole Rituals in spring of 2013 – April 21st, 2013. If you have taken the class before I recommend that you take the class again to benefit further in your connection and understanding of horses and your training of them.

Leading with the Horse by your Side or Behind you?

Leading a horse should look like a dance when the horse is matching your movements, as if you are sharing the same mind set and wanting to reach the same destination at the same time, enjoying each others company in the process. From this practice you will become more understanding of the unity and harmony you can share with your horse.

There are different approaches about where we should put a horse when we are leading him. Some of us lead a horse by having the horse walk behind us and others ask a horse to walk next to them.

I want to offer some suggestions to people that are sitting on the fence in which to choose. Since I train at Liberty before using tack and work with the magnetic connection that horses are born with, I start out with Companion Walking where the horse matches my movements at my side at Liberty, in the same way a foal would shadow its mother.  This way training a horse to lead with tack is easy and the horse does not need to go through being repeatedly pulled sharply around as a way to teach a horse to lead.

In the beginning it is not a hard and fast rule that I keep a horse at my side when I am not in a controlled environment. I try for the side but if it serves the connection better I will also let the horse walk behind me. In the beginning it can be a little of both going to new places where a horse is a bit distracted in the new environment. Let’s say if I have a horse that is reluctant to go forward, I will get a longer rope and ask him to join me and then when he doesn’t I pretend that he is coming along with me by walking forward leaving his side and walking in the direction that I want my horse to go.  I do this while keeping a soft connection on my line and feeding out the rope longer and longer so that I can keep moving forward, as I encourage my horse with clucking and kissing sounds. The body language I use is to show relaxation and intention. I do not look back and most times my horses will come along with me.

If the horse is balking and unresponsive I will then turn and face him and start taking more contact slowly until I have taken enough contact that I can stretch out his head so it would cause him to pull back slightly.  If the horse then chooses to pull more, and he will, I go with him and keep the same amount of pressure on the line, like a bungee cord would. I cluck and kiss to encourage a response and if no positive response is given I then release my pull very slowly. This release will cause a positive reaction from your horse. It takes a “feel”. You can pick up this “feel” easily through trial and error.  I will go up to my horse and stay with him a while to help the horse relax and enjoy being with me.  Then I walk back to were I would be about ten feet away from my horse and can again put pressure on the line. It is what I call a floating hold. If my horse pulls harder and starts to back up, I give enough to keep the same pressure on the rope. When the horse pulls more I do not want the horse to feel more pressure but I also do not want him to get out of the pull either. After a short time I release to a slack line very slowly and then join my horse’s side and wait with him until he feels a connection with me, is relaxed and has lost his resistance.  My horse at some point will choose to come along with me, when this happens I will encourage him to trot to a destination where I have a treat. I will then repeat the process by taking him back a few feet past the spot where he balked, where is was relaxed and willing, and repeat the process until it is smooth and there is no resistance.

Trial and Error

The most important aspect working with your horse is to make up your own approach through trial and error working between pausing, asking and releasing. Make sure that your horse is well trained in Companion Walking at Liberty and with tack in a controlled environment before trying to take your horse to some place new where he might balk.  Finding out the formula that brings out the willingness in your horse is much more fun than getting aggressive and fighting your horse’s resistance.

I think a lot of times people revert to getting tough because they think it is the only way to fix the immediate problem that they are having with their horse.  If a person trusted using my method as a way of approaching a horse, trying to work it out with a horse by using care-taking horsemanship, I think that they would choose the softer way.

Another approach in working with a balking horse is to stand in front of the horse about ten feet away looking directly at him on a slack reign.  When he looks away from you, take the slack out of the rope and have him turn his head so he his standing and looking straight at you, then put slack back in the rope. Keep doing this until he walks up to you. When he does pat him to connect with him and offer him a treat if you like. This will work in most cases, but it will take as long as it will take. It is important not to have expectations.

Here is a virtual training situation for you to solve:

Let’s say you acquired a horse that was determined to balk, not leading away from the barn or any place you wanted to go. He likes to balk because it is deeply in his bones to do so, even if it makes no sense. You cannot drive him forward from behind, you cannot plead with him and no known training method is working.  How would you solve this problem?

My virtual horse I will call Browny the balking mule – even though he is a horse. He is big like a draft horse and he likes to use his strength against you by refusing to go forward. He also loves to show off by standing his ground or walking off and taking you with him. What would you do to correct this problem?  How would you get him to give up his balking behavior in a gentle way?

Your assignment:

Come up with a way that you could teach him not to pull, using a very creative way and not using any other known methods including mine. I will give you my creative solution in the next blog. Have fun with this. I believe the imagination is a valuable tool that is so beneficial in helping us become better at anything especially increasing our person power in leadership that horses are looking for. Any answer you come up with is the right answer. Enjoy!!

I will pick the solution I like best and this person will win a seat in the extended circle class starting in the spring. I would like a story that is amusing, funny or down right authentic and creative.

Have a great weekend, watch out for new horse and human sighting and may the horse be with you and not balk along the trail.



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68 Responses to “Free Lesson on Leading a Balking Horse”

  1. 29
    Anne Lervik says:

    Hi Carolyn,

    So here is my suggestion of how to deal with the problem of Browny’s balking and bolting.

    Firstly, I would assess the things that might hinder me from succeeding in fixing this problem, and I start with myself. Knowing me, I have to eliminate the things in me that can stand in the way, which are: 1 me becoming impatient, 2 me getting disappointed if something goes wrong (I know we’ve talked about this, and I have become much better in seeing mistakes as opportunities rather than setbacks, but it’s still in working progress, so I take precausions so as to make things as smooth as possible) and 3, me not being able to be in the moment (I do still space out easily).

    If I was to fix this horse, I would have to use what makes ME feel good and happy inside no matter what comes of the training. The solution for me is to listen to music. Music can help me with my attitude, with my posture and what energy to bring to the training. I realized the power of it when I got my first companion walk that felt connected, cause I had put on a groovy song that I loved, and the thought in my head was that it really didn’t matter if the horse didn’t follow – I’d just go dancing off on my own then, very well. Only then did I feel the horse really following my lead.

    It is a cliché to use the term “becoming the music”, but you know – clichés became clichés because they work. Depending on the music I choose, I can bring out different parts of myself. Listening to the soundtrack of, say, “the Lord Of the Rings”-movies – I’m off on an adventure, energy and spirits high. If I want to be elegant, powerful but delicate – I’d put on “Shine on You Crazy Diamond” from Pink Floyd. Need a little extra groovy energy to convince Browny I’m off to the most wicked party ever? Put on some Creedence (old-fashioned for a 21-y.o. maybe, but my dad taught me to like old rock and I put it to good use. There’s a reason why this is the best music for roadtrips)

    I feel like music fills all the “holes” that lead to dark thoughts such as “you might fail” or “why are you doing this”. I believe it makes me a far more attractive person to be around. Maybe somebody created a Browny because they had some “holes” filled with negative thoughts like “you can’t do this” or “there’s no other way, at least not one you can figure out” or “this is scary”. It seems appropriate to me to make sure I do not unconsciously share the same “holes”.

    So, what I would do is after spending some weeks just hanging around and reading with Browny without paying much attention, but keeping him polite, I would start out the training by putting on some good music and go have a dance workout in the pasture for a little while, getting the endorphins flying through my body to make me happy like a crazy person. Then I would calm down with some relaxing music to try and connect to myself and have it reach out to him as well (this is working on the staying in the moment-part). Then, still a little high on endorphins, I would start working with Browny, convincing him that I really am going to the coolest place ever.

    Leaving the pasture, I would even cheat a little, getting somebody to bring a horsy friend along. OR, I would put up a temporary fence up in the forest (you know the plastic poles with electric wire that it takes like ten minutes to put up), where I would put a few of the ponies to graze. Then I’d put on some Irish music or maybe a track from “The Lord of the Rings” or some swing dance music on my mp3-player (= we’re going somewhere FUN, and it’s gonna be an adventure, come come come). So when Browny would leave the pasture and go with me, not long after we would find some of the other horses right up there in the forest, just ’round the corner. I’d let him graze with them and share territory with them all. Then I’d change where I’d put up the temporary fence. After still some time I’d start making sure Browny couldn’t see where I was taking the other ponies, so every time we went out on a walk, it really WAS an adventure, a quest to find other ponies! I’d change the fence maybe every week, but after a while I would check one place where the ponies weren’t anymore, and then find them in the second place we looked, and maybe some weeks later, we’d go to two places before finding them in the third place. I’d also put up the fences a little longer from the barn.

    I don’t know if this method is something that hasn’t been described anywhere before. But the missing link, the key ingredient for ME is the music, so maybe the method itself is secondary. Building up so much shared positive energy through music and dancing, and also cheating by using the power of the pack (well, herd) I just can’t think that Browny wouldn’t be convinced to follow after a while.

    And the music would do you good during all the fencing as well :P

    Well, this is my suggestion. Thank you for the challenge :) Now I really have to go – I have a music class to get to ;)

    Lots of hugs,
    Anne Lervik
    WRIC spring 2012

  2. 28
    Anne Lervik says:

    Hi Carolyn,

    This was such a great blogpost. I love the lessons on leading, because this has for me felt like the missing link. I remember the spring 2012 WRIC when you told me of your trick to turn around at the first sign of my horse getting excited about something when being led – and I was mindblown (as you said I would be) when my horse showed such a great response in literally ten minutes. The feeling was so rewarding, because I was fixing a problem without any form of coercion or stress. It was so peaceful and I loved it. This I think was actually one of the most important days of the online course for me, because I felt relaxed, calm, assertive, firm, kind and safe all at the same time, and I felt like I was really getting it. I also remember we talked of the story behind how you invented the method, but we kind of forgot talking about it the next call, as there is always so much to ask about :) I hope I one day will get to hear it somehow, as you said it was one of your favourite stories to tell.

    Good idea with the assignment! I will sit down and have a long think and try to make up a creative solution, because this particular scenario is actually one I have been thinking a lot about before. One of my closest friends has a horse quite similar to the one you describe, and he will at certain points just turn around and take off, using his big body to get his way. It’s quite heartbraking, because he has previously been labelled “unfixable”, but his a good horse and she loves him very much but is actually considering giving him up because of it. So you could say I have a good motivation for finding a good creative solution :)

    Thank you for a really really helpful blog,

    Anne Lervik
    WRIC 2012

    • 28.1

      Dear Anne,
      Thank you for your response. I am happy to hear back from you. It might help you friend to do a coaching call in regards to her horse.


  3. 27

    I would cheat! I would have someone else lead Brownie’s best buddy “Blackie” and have Brownie follow him! I like to use my quiet older horses whenever possible. But I would do lots of TTouch body work to loosen up his body and teach him to give to pressure. Once I got him to follow Blackie to the point he understood how leading worked, I would lead him by himself toward something he liked–food or Blackie or whatever. I have handled several horses that didn’t know how to lead at first. Food works well. My mini mule, Merlin I think didn’t know how to lead when I bought him at an auction but we had made an instant connection and he understood that I was taking him to a nice place and that he was going to be mine forever. He didn’t come with a halter and I only had a horse sized one when I had to get him out of the auction house into my trailer but I did have carrots and they worked great. He had a hard time walking because his hooves were so over grown. That was 12 years ago. Merlin is great now! I have used a clicker too, just to get things started then I phase it out. Other times I use TTEAM stuff–a wand and a lead, even a second person.

    • 27.1

      Dear Jan,
      This sounds like a great plan and it might work because I know of your work with horses. Thanks for offering your idea to others. It is surly a softer, kinder than trying to school him when he is in resistance. Your plan is well thought out. Thank you for sharing,


  4. 26
    JoyNichols says:

    I have a situation similar to Brownie here in real life. A friend was given 2 mares that don’t lead well—–they drag him he told me. I was handed their lead ropes 8/ !!!!! Well——first they balked and one stiff-necked me and firmly pointed her nose in the opposite direction. Soooo I jiggled the lead rope and lightly tugged it. Still the dun mares nose pointed west and I wanted to go east. I jiggled and tugged. I jiggled and tugged again. And she came along with me. Her stablemate did likewise. What a surprise for my friend when he turned around and saw us walking toward him with smiles a mile wide. I think I will call this method the 3 Jiggle tugs ! I will try it on Brownie next!!!! Since it worked so well on the Draggin Ladies!!!!! Tee hee hee

  5. 25
    MaryGaye LeBoeuf says:

    Well, when I went to meet Browny the Balky Mule, I had not been told about the balk. I had been told he was a beautiful, wonderful, willing, sweet thing that would do anything when asked. When I arrived he was saddled and waiting in the round pen. When I got on, he wouldn’t move. I have to admit, I had not been specifically told that “willing to do anything” included being willing to move. The sellers anxiously offered me spurs. I declined. However, I wanted him for a trial horse and his refusal to move seemed briefly to disqualify him for the job. But doubt was fleeting, and when I considered Browny’s charisma, beauty, general amiableness and undeniable loveableness, I decided to believe that his refusal to move was my fault and not a character flaw on Browny’s part. We bought him on the spot and brought him to his forever home the next day. Once home, I discovered that not only would Browny not move when we were riding, Browny’s feet would become Gorilla Glued to the ground when we tried to lead him anywhere. Bringing him in from the 30 acre pasture was an hour-long ordeal. Moving him even a few feet was a battle of immense proportions. Then, we would head out for a trial ride and, no surprise, he would not go, period. No gas pedal whatsoever. The instances of Browny’s refusal to move continued to appear and I had a 1100 lb puzzle on my hands. I was determined to solve it.

    Pondering my opinions, force was out of the question. I bought Browny for many reasons, one of them was his great affection for humans and I was not going to violate his affectionate nature with force and violence. So what is the opposite of force and violence? Gentleness and peace. Thus, I decided that my first weapon was to use his love of human affection against him. I quit asking Browny to move, and asked him just to stand there and allow me to scratch him and win him over to my side, mind and body. In addition to gaining his love, I also wanted to gain his trust and overcome resistance. At first, he had some “no spots” and would flick his tail or stomp his feet to say “don’t go there”. On the other hand, he also had some hot spots that, when scratched, sent him into fits of ecstasy, waving his head, twisting his lips and generally contorting his whole body. I would always look for sweaty spots, or scars (he had many of them, as resistant horses often do) that were sure to be itchy. Over time, not only did Browny allow me to scratch and rub him every and any where on his body, he would often show me where to scratch. He would touch his nose to the places he itched, and I would scratch there. Over time he began to move his body around to position me to scratch where it itched, even extending his hind legs to get me to scratch the inside of his gaskin or raising his tail to be scratched in his most sensitive spots. This was huge, because it meant he was moving in response to my actions or in order to get a response from me. Movement! That’s what I was looking for. I discovered that I could get him to come to me or move away from me in exchange for my scratching him in the right place. So I would stand just far enough away and call him to me, and he would come to be scratched. Then, while scratching I would push him one way or the other and ask him to move so I could reach a new itchy spot. He was very compliant. Movement and reduced resistance, just what I wanted!

    While scratching, I pondered the other things that caused Browny to move. The main answer was food. And when food was involved, he would move swiftly (well, swiftly for Browny anyway). I also discovered that Browny enjoyed learning tricks that would result in treats and he would quickly move toward an object, be it a frisbee, barrel, board, rock or other object that he though would “dispense” a treat if he manipulated it just right. We even came up with a game where we would leave the barn and we would walk out in the pasture together to a wooden block and when asked, he would tap the block with his front foot and receive a treat. What Fun! No trouble getting movement from him there, he was always very excited about walking with me to the block!

    Finally, one day, we took our show on the trial. I placed objects that “dispensed” treats by the gate and along the trial where he could see them. He would unfailingly and very willingly move with me from one treat dispenser to another. Over time I moved the treat dispensers farther and farther apart, and it became a great game to find them. Browny became very impressed with my fine ability to find hidden treats along the trails. He viewed me as very useful in this endeavor. Sometimes I would be riding, sometimes leading him from the ground. Then, as we moved farther away from the barn, we would discover favorite grazing places, to which Browny would gladly, gasp, trot toward in happy anticipation of grazing on the delicious grasses. At those places I would also scratch Browny in all his itchy spots, giving him additional incentive for going places with me. In his mind, there became absolutely no reason whatsoever for him to deny my request to move.

    Now, when I go to the pasture to get Browny, there is no battle to get him to come with me. When I call, or if he just notices me, his head pops up and he hurries toward me, sometimes at a trot or canter, to make sure he gets to me before some other horse usurps his position. When he reaches me, he asks “where are we going to go today?” “Are we going to the barn for a snack” How about looking for treat dispensers on the trail? Can we play a game? Are we going to go to my favorite places to graze? Or we going to just stay in the yard and have scratching time? Whatever you want to do mom, is great with me and I’m ready to go.” I love you Browny!

    • 25.1
      MaryGaye LeBoeuf says:

      I apologize for my mispelling of “trail” as “trial” and any confusion it might have caused! MG

    • 25.2

      Dear MaryGaye,
      Thank you for your story. Cowboy which you referring to as Bownie is doing well from your relationship, for I have seen you in person and you have an amazing connection. I enjoyed working with you when I was in Oklahoman City at Ruella’s. I know the whole story on your horse and it is so inspiring.
      Thank you for sharing your story,

      • 25.2.1
        MaryGaye LeBoeuf says:

        Thank you Carolyn. Cowboy’s and my time with you in OKC was so much fun and we learned so much! But remember the problem with me always trying to keep up when Cowboy decided to walk on without me? You kept telling me to “walk away.” Well, I’m still working on remembering to do that and doing much better. But, as you’ve described in the blog, this problem also translates to leading with tack. Thus, sometimes when I have Cowboy on a lead line he calmly, but decisively, decides he’s leaving and I end up on the end of the lead rope trying to derail a bolting rhino. His head and neck which are so soft for carrot consumption, turn to unbending steel and he moves away with no notice of the puny human on the end of the rope. So, I am going to print out this blog and study the techniques you described to prevent the horse from pulling. Then I’ll try out my newly acquired skills on Cowboy to get him to stop dragging me along like a mere extension on the lead rope. I am also anxiously awaiting your solution to the problem of Brownie in tomorrow’s blog!

        Hugs MaryGaye

  6. 25.1

    Dear Tamara,

    I can see that you’re very successful with horses and are happy with how you approach them. You work within the harmony that exists around you and would be very good with most horses.


  7. 25.1.1
    MaryGaye LeBoeuf says:

    Oh how fun! Something new to learn from Ruella! She has demonstrated cloverleaf, and now I just need to work on it. I never thought of it for helping on the trails, but I can see how it would be perfect! I will ask Ruella about head up and head down. Seems that she has mentioned it in the past and I need a refresher. Thank you for your help! I loved this Blog so much and I have just posted my solution to Browny the Balky Mule. Hope you enjoy it! Love and Hugs MaryGaye.

  8. 25.1.1
    stina says:

    Dear Carolyn, yes it is such a good one, wish you all the best with your upcoming clinic and i wish i could be there. Much Sunshine – Stina

  9. 25.1

    Dear Kristin,

    Very creative. Thank you for your story.


  10. 25.1.1
    Laurinda Reinhart says:

    Thank you! I’m sooo happy that you understood where I was going with this MaryGaye. I did think that some of ya’ll might think I was a little silly, but this is what I know. lol. I don’t know who gets more out of it, me or the horse. I love the term ‘rhinos of resistance’!!

  11. 25.1.1
    Laurinda Reinhart says:

    Thank you Carolyn! You and Brownie would be more than welcome anytime! ((hugs!))

  12. 25.1

    Dear Deb,
    I enjoyed your story you are very resourceful and have an ability to stay present to the moment and willing to accept Brownie’s attitude and work with it. I like that you can see the Virtual horses have a mind of their own just like their real counterpart.


  13. 25.1.1
    Celia says:

    Dear Carolyn,

    Thank you for your response, it was good to get some feedback on my idea and it warms my heart that you liked my approach :)

    Wish you all the best and a lovely advent-time,