There is nothing more frustrating than when a horse balks, freezes up, and refuses to move. These horse training tips about dealing with a balking horse should make life better for both you and your equine partner.

Horses may balk over crossing an object (water, ditch, log) or they may balk for no apparent reason at all.

The way you’d want to help your horse overcome this mental and physical barrier is to break things down into small steps. By breaking the process down into steps, you are helping your horse gain confidence and an understanding of how to make this unsureness go away.

What Not To Do

When you realize the horse is hesitant to move forward, the worst thing you can do is start being heavy with your legs or a spanker to ‘make’ him go forward. That is a wreck waiting to happen. The horse is already anxious and bothered. If you come in there with increased pressure, things will not go well. You need to give him another way out — an alternate path to take.

Note: If you find that your horse is anxious or bothered often, then I’d highly recommend grabbing a copy of my Mental Soundness Checklist to see if your horse can check off all the boxes (and what to do if he can’t).

Horse Balks At An Obstacle

When your horse balks at crossing any object, you can encourage him to move forward by using your reins to keep the front feet stepping left, right, left, right. With your hands forward, wide, and low on the reins, keep the front end in motion moving both directions. Don’t think about crossing the object. Only concentrate on moving the front end left and right. When you are approaching the ‘scary’ object, as soon as you feel the horse begin to hesitate, start this process. Catch it early. Get there as it’s happening, not after it happens. 

Forward Motion

As the front feet continue moving left and right, you will notice that the balking horse will also be gradually leaking forward. As he gets closer to the object, don’t get greedy and try to move him on across. Just continue the left and right steps until the horse basically moves across the object on his own. 

The Investigator

Also provide enough slack in your reins to allow him to drop his head and inspect the object. This curiosity is actually a good sign. A horse’s whiskers and eyelashes amazingly have nerves and blood supply. A horse investigates by seeing, smelling, then touching with his whiskers. When he is balking at an object, allowing him to investigate builds his confidence.

Horse Balks At Nothing At All

The same concept would apply when there is no object to cross, but your horse still balks and refuses to move forward, or worse yet, he starts moving backwards. Again, break the front end loose. Manage your reins in an effective way to use outward right and then left pressure (zero back pressure) to help the front feet untrack and unfreeze. Remember to keep your hands forward, wide, and low. 

Horse Balks When Leading

You would do the exact same thing if he balks when you are leading him in a halter. Don’t try to forcefully pull the horse forward. You will never overpower him and he will win that battle. Going to war with your horse is always a bad idea.  Un-track his feet by walking off to the side and pulling him left and right with the lead rope. Once the feet are untracked and moving, then he can go forward.

Be The Hero

This process will not only physically un-track his feet, but will also give him something else to think about besides the barrier (mental or physical) that is causing him to balk. He is too busy thinking about staying loose as you are continually keeping his feet moving both directions. You are taking a leadership role and instilling some mental fortitude and bravery into your horse. You are being the one who provides him with a solution to his problem which will assure that he continues to look to you for guidance.

I hope you and your horse will benefit from these training tips on how to deal with a balking horse.


Carson James
Carson James

Carson James' background is in Vaquero Horsemanship, and for the majority of his career, he worked on cattle ranches where he rode horses all day, every day. His knowledge comes from real life experience using traditional Buckaroo horsemanship to train horses and fix problems. He is now taking all of this knowledge and experience and sharing it with horse owners through his blog, his Insider list, and his Buckaroo Crew. He has a unique way of breaking things down where they're easy to understand, both for the horse and the human.