Another Look at Balkiness in Horses

I have a very sensitive, very lively young Arabian gelding who is a bundle of energy. He runs around and he plays with herd mates often and it takes very little to excite him.

Interestingly, my attempts in the past to stimulate and arouse his ample play drive have been met with balkiness and reduced movement and energy. This is something that I see unfortunately in horses that have been forced to move when they didn’t want to. But this youngster’s balkiness is something I see in Liberty “newbies” or young horses – they don’t understand our brand of play and they don’t understand our communication that we are interested in playing!

This balkiness comes from confusion. So what am I doing about it? A few things: He plays a lot in the herd, and whenever possible, I will run along with he and his playmate of the moment, adding my brand of play to the “group play.” I have a specific “play language” that I use with my horses at Liberty and I will reinforce it when the opportunities arise when my horses are playing with each other.

Further, he is currently learning in-hand Liberty lessons where we sync with each other’s movement and tempo, learning half-halts and more. This creates natural engagement and these in-hand moves naturally stimulate his energy and his play drive. As his energy comes up, and he begins to trot near me, I then add my “let’s play” communication to these moves and he is learning that this is my communication that I’m interested in playing and being more athletic. We just started this recently (we’ve had a long summer off) and he is already beginning to understand me. His tempo is coming up, his animation is increasing, not to the extent that it does when he’s playing with his herd mates, but a least now we’re going in a more playful and energized direction, AND I’m not making him move!

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