You may have been told at some point to “move your horse’s feet.” Whether intended as a punishment, a calming aid, or a way to get respect, this instruction is not necessarily good or bad advice. It depends on how it is done and the intention behind it.
The biggest key to whether movement will be calming or potentially more upsetting to the horse is whether the movement improves or reduces the horse’s balance.
In today’s video, I will explain why balance is so important, and how it can cause the horse to ignore threats or even physical pain.
This will explain more than just why “move their feet” became popular advice, but also how lameness can sometimes seem to disappear in times of stress, or why your horse may become increasingly anxious even as you try to calm him.
Click play to watch the video and then leave a comment below!
When my mare gets spooky wether in hand or riding I like to walk circles. It seems to take her mind off of the object just enough and helps her accept the object. I used to lunge and I felt that only raised her energy more and she never relaxed.
Thank you Callie, for all good advice and all good explanations. I really appreciate when you explain reactions and clues to understanding hirse behavior.
Wonder what to do here- I have been using the Clinton Anderson idea of knowing their feet when my horse does the following. We have a small outdoor riding arena and just off the end of it is the area where my horse has shelter and food. Sometimes when I am riding he just won’t make the turn at the end of the arena and instead forces his way into the area where his food and shelter are. I’ve gone through everything about the saddle, is he in any pain? Did he eat? Yada yada yada. I’ve come to the conclusion that he is simply being a brat. What I have been doing is when he goes into that area against what I have asked I just start turning him in circles there as Clinton Anderson would say making the wrong thing difficult, then I would walk him back out into the arena and let him walk and relax a bit. After watching your video and wondering if I am taking the horse off balance by having him make circles in the small area. What else can I do to keep him from going in here. He will pull against the bed and do it, just not making the turn to stay out of there. Your thoughts would be appreciated!
Hi Laura, my first question or thought would be have you noticed any progress using the message you are currently using? Also, best to email me at [email protected], sometimes follow up comments are hard to follow here!
My mare gets anxious, when in saddle, she trys to take off, so turning on the haunches and making her move on quickly, then stopping her and repeating a couple times, really has a calming effect on her.
Thanks for clarifying this popular concept!
This video was very timely for me. Two days ago when working my gelding on the lunge line, he did beautifully. He transitioned into trot, then canter and back to trot and then into walk easily and willingly. Yesterday he went from walk to trot with a little prodding but would not go into canter. Your explanation of “moving feet” made me realize that he could have been stressed or sore or felt off balance. I’m going to watch very closely today to see if I notice any of those things. I don’t ever want to be aggressive with getting him to move. It would be nice to see if I can figure out the reason for the difference. Thank you so much for your Friday emails. I am so amazed and thankful for your energy, caring and follow through to help all of us.
Hi Sharon, Glad this was a helpful video for you! Nice observation the other day working with your horse as well, will be interesting to see what else you notice as you start working more in this way.
I do not believe spinning a horse round for punishment works. Instead I make the horse back up 3-4 steps and then move forward. Straight side stepping has also worked for me. Any move that is familiar to the horse will calm him down.
Hi Cally, what is your opinion about the relaxation philosophy of the TRT method of yielding the hind quarters?
Hi Stehpanie, I have not studied the TRT method yet, but everything I have heard from other riders and professionals has been very positive!
LOVE THIS WISDOM in every way. Every single word rings true, and I will use in my teaching as well as my own riding and work with horses! Thanks for a great video Callie.
Thanks Paige! Glad you enjoyed this!
For 17 years I have been failing at relaxing my arab mare when riding her. I have another arab mare that I show dressage and got comments back this year from the judges about lacking balance and rhythm. I have been working on this concept of balance by moving my horse in front of my leg, and this I believe is building hind end muscles , making her lighter in her front end. Improving balance has in turn improved my dressage scores and incredible as it sounds my 17 year old mare is much more relaxed than she has ever been. I am amazed that I have ridden for all these years and didn’t have a clue about this important concept!
Can you explain ‘moving your horse in front of your leg’? Please
This is an expression that means the horse is responsive to leg pressure and goes forward when asked quickly and willingly.
A seldom discussed but incredibly important topic simply explained.
Thank you Kalli!
Toward the end of Rem’s stall rest he was too keyed up to stand while I tried to put him in the crossties. The first day he tried this I reacted (rather than thought) and tried to get him to stand, which only made him more agitated. The next time I decided to let him walk as long as he needed, and as long as I got to say where we walked. We stayed in the barn and wandered up and down the aisle, then did figure 8s around the posts, all without drama or any pulling, testing every so often to see if he was ready to stand tied for a few minutes. It took a while but he eventually he relaxed. Only then did I take him outside for hand grazing. The only time I “make” him move his feet is if he tries to push his hindquarters into me in order to convince me to move out of his space. Then, I just insist he move which can be done by simply pointing, but it isn’t ever moving feet just for the sake of “moving feet”.
I find that when a horse is “spooky”…for example, cows are running toward you (horse is NOT familiar with cows) while you happen to be riding next to their pasture and along a road. Good luck getting your horse to walk…or even to listen to your cues. Disengaging the hind quarters has always worked for me…assuming the horse has been trained to do this maneuver, first, from the ground, then under saddle…and in a controlled environment before you take him trail riding. Or, using a one rein stop (which disengages the horse’s hind quarters), or, using a pulley rein to get control of his feet (stopping them so you can dismount) before you have a “runaway” works well, too. As a rider, in my opinion, you need to know exactly what to do to regain control in emergency situations. When the horse’s mind goes into “flight” mode the rider must do whatever they must do to #1. keep yourself safe, #2. keep their horse safe! The person always comes first…if you’re in the hospital, or worse, dead, you cannot ride or train horses. I just thought everyone should be reminded of a couple of emergency tactics you can do to regain control if your horse is in “panic/flight” mode.
Getting an anxious or fearful horse to listen to you and/or slow down and walk isn’t always an easy task. ALL HORSES SPOOK! Preparation is the key and Knowledge helps keep you safe.
My horse walks circles because I have worked with her a lot and intentionally raised her energy by introducing spooky objects so she knows how to handle herself when she is afraid so that when there is an object she is unsure of we get through it because she has been exposed to spooky things time and time again. She is not completely finished but it has helped me tremendously.
My 12 y.o. QH gelding (I acquired him last Fall) would always get wide eyed and stiff upon hearing the hose nozzle in the shower stall while he was in the tack up ties. We coaxed him into the shower stall with patience and reward. My Trainer felt he needed to be redirected by backing him quickly. He eventually did enter the shower but is usually reluctant. I back him when he is, but I am doing so in a slower, consistent manner. He is getting used to the water and enjoying it in these 90° temp’s, so I have hope his fears will continue to diminish. Any additional ideas?
Hi Kathy, with fears I always recommend slow and steady – the goal is to build their confidence rather than just get compliance with whatever the task is. Here is an article that may be helpful: https://www.crktrainingblog.com/horse-training/methods-of-desensitization/
When my horse is anxious , but not panicked, she just needs to succeed at something to feel better. It helped to find a movement or two that we can do well and my horse enjoys. For her, it’s stopping and yielding, or backing. Do it often, but not repeatedly, under good conditions and relaxed. Then when you’re in a stressful situation, you can ask for this, get an almost automatic response and then congratulate with praise. The relaxation from that keeps you out of trouble.
Very helpful – thank you. It’s making me go back over situations where I’ve tried the ‘moving the feet’ technique and sometimes it’s helped and sometimes it hasn’t. I will bear this video in mind in the future!
Thanks Callie for another informative video. I was not previously aware of the connection between balance and calmness. However, your explanation makes perfect sense.
Glad this was helpful!
“The biggest key to whether movement will be calming or potentially more upsetting to the horse is whether the movement improves or reduces the horse’s balance.”
You hit the nail on the head, Callie. A place of balance is a place of comfort which can go a long way to put a horse at ease.
Thanks Betty Ann! Glad this resonated with you as well!
Great information. Good explanation of when to use each of the tools we have in our toolbox. I have an older mare with arthritis so spinning in small circles is not something I would use. Your info on rhythm, relaxation, repetitive movement helps my horse to calm down and to connect to me in a more positive relationship and I hope she looks to me because she knows I am her comfort because of this. Thank you for sharing this with your readers.
Thanks for your comment Kit!
I have an OTTB who used to want to bolt through pasture gates. Lots of calm walking repetition through gates has worked to settle him from that habit.
My school horse was freaking out in her stall at a show for some unknown to me reason. I took her out an spend a lot of time walking her calmly and thenmust brushing her. It seems since then we have a better relationahip. It’s like she knows I have her back
Nice job Susan!
I’ve just been riding a few years now. A couple of the lesson horses are cranky and nippy when I tack up no matter how slow I tighten their cinch/girth. I have 2 instructors, so one of them says to smack my mare when she does this, the other instructor says to immediately move her legs by turning her in a tight circle. Any advice? Is their an alternative, less domineering way to handle crankiness? I’d like to start my interaction off on a more relational manner with my lesson horses if possible.
Hi Susan, unfortunately the solution may not be as easy as doing something different in how you are handling the behavior. The first question is always why the horse is girthy in the first place and if the discomfort is not resolved, the behavior will continue. In this situation where you are riding at a lesson barn I understand there is only so much you can do. I would recommend first keeping pressure steady on the girth as the horse gets nippy or cranky, then releasing when they are still. At the same time also giving a food reward for being still can be effective. This would be a good topic for another video – thanks for bringing it up!
Lots of good insights here Callie, thanks for sharing. Over the years, I’ve found that finding balance is situational and individual, e.g., what works for one horse may not work for another. For example, for one of my horses, stopping and standing and waiting for him to take a deep breath helps him regain emotional balance which then allows us to proceed in physical balance. For another, walking in figure eights or doing square corners at a walk (both with shoulders leading and then hindquarters leading) seems to help him regain focus. Of course, I have to be calm and balanced too! On one horse who tends to get sticky when initially asking for trot from walk, I’ll just keep posting even if his trot is tiny (with no kicking) while he figures out he can move forward and then he unsticks himself and is fine. For me, it’s a lifelong process of experimenting to see what works best.
So true Shari! Every horse is such an individual.
Callie, in response to a video I sent you of groundwork with my 27-year-old Arabian gelding (as part of CRK Balanced Riding course), you referred me to one of your training journals. In it, you were working with Carley and building focus. You guided her through small, quiet circles with your fingers lightly on the noseband, then encouraged her to back with her neck stretched, rather than folded. You alternated these two exercised repeatedly. I was concerned that this work might bore my horse, but I tried it. Well, hooray. It’s become a tool I regularly turn to if Shamal’s pace is too fast or his head too high or he’s otherwise more energetic than is required. Moreover, he now recognizes the work as soon as we start it and he self-calms. I was truly impressed that you identified that this exercise might help us. I like it, too, because it’s not only calming, it hones balance and movement and focus skills–for both of us. I am so grateful for all we learn from you.
Callie, as part of the CRK Balanced Riding course, you offered feedback on a video I submitted. In it, I was doing groundwork with my 27-year-old Arabian gelding. You referred me to a training journal clip where you work on building focus with Carley. With fingers lightly on the noseband, you led her in quiet, small circles; you alternated that with asking her to back with her neck extended, rather than folded. I wondered if the repetition might frustrate Shamal, but I tried it. Halleluja. I now turn to this exercise if I”m leading him and his pace is too fast, his head too high, or his level of energy is more than required. He recognizes the work and self-calms as soon as we start. I like that the practice not only calms, it builds balance, movement, and focus skills for both of us. I’m impressed that you saw we needed this work–he was quiet in the video, if not fully focused. I am so grateful for all we learn from you.
Nice work Susan! That exercise is a good example of the points I was making here in this video!
Aha! I am going to try that building focus with a TB I have started riding. Thanks for sharing how Callie helped you and your horse as you have both given me a tool to tty help Robert build focus on the ground with me.
This video is very helpful, thank you. I’ve always been drawn towards using TTEAM exercises which emphasize calm, balanced movement when my horse/s get nervous or too strong ( we use a lot of TTEAM work at home). I find it keeps me calm, too! I don’t feel as confident with some of the natural horsemanship type training, as I’m not a fast moving/ athletic person by nature. But I have found one horsemanship trainer here in NZ who teaches in a way I can relate to, and also the course you did with Patrick King was like a breakthrough with my reactive gelding. Thank you, I’m always learning from your videos. 🙂
Glad you enjoyed the In Hand Course with Patrick – we have been hearing about so many positive changes for horses after this course!
While riding, there were lots of activities ongoing surrounding the riding arena. My horse was anxious and I was keeping a tight rein on him…..the only place he could go was “up”! YIKES! My advisor encouraged me to keep him busy doing large circles or diagonals across the arena, evening walking over ground poles….to keep his mind busy on things I would calmly ask him to do. In this instance, it was great advise and we had a good ride…..after we asked everyone outside the arena to stop dumping metal next to the arena, etc…..LOL. Thanks Callie, you are good!
Thanks for sharing your story Lisa!
Love this Blog information. I have a sensitive mare and was under the understanding moving her feet or disengaging hind quarters when she was being shod would improve her behavior. Well after trial and error I found her nervousness and tension was related to being unbalanced. A year with clicker training and the patient farrier willing to work through the horses insecurities and balance issues… has improved the horses behavior ,and attitude. The horse participating with in hand work has much improved her balance, confidence, and my confidence with handling her in her unbalanced situations. With my mare I can disengage her hind quarters, but she has responded to other training measures like the in hand by P. King… Slow, slow , slow. Her emotional state and confidence has been a real sign of this method working for this horse. Again thanks for clarifying this information!
Hi Callie, thanks for another great video. I have had horses for over 50 years and constantly seek better ways to do things with my horse. There have been times in the past where moving their feet seemed to solve a problem and other times it made them worse. I had a real Aha moment when you said “The biggest key to whether movement will be calming or potentially more upsetting to the horse is whether the movement improves or reduces the horse’s balance.” That makes so much sense. I can’t wait to apply this new knowledge.
I was very interested in the point you made Callie regarding the horse perceiving the need to move their feet in order to keep balanced and upright .
My mare had a nasty travelling accident and although she is very biddable and still loads quite easily she makes lots of movement and gets stressed during the journey
It puts me off asking her to travel to be honest but I do ask her to from time to time just to be sure I could load and travel her in an emergency situation
Any suggestions appreciated
Hi Tracy, did you watch our video here on the blog about trailer loading?
Trailer loading can be quite stressful, especially if horses have had a previous accident in the trailer. The more we can practice without even taking them for a drive makes it easier to load them if there is an emergency situation.
-Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager
Thank you for replying
I have seen that video but it’s not loading that is the issue
She is very biddable and loads when asked it’s the actual travelling that is the problem
I have a similar problem Tracy. My horse will load, but traveling he is very anxious. So much I cannot tie him in the trailer (per the advice of my trainer). He paces the entire time we travel. This is fine, but I will need him to someday stand tied so I can have my other horse in the trailer with him. My guess is it is separation anxiety so I am hoping finding tools that address separation anxiety will help him, but I’m not certain.
This is great information! Any pointers on recognizing balanced/unbalanced horses would be helpful.
Hi Kim! We actually have developed a course that is taught by Wendy Murdoch all about recognizing movement patterns in horses, click here to read more ABC’s to On the Aids!
-Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager
This was interesting Callie! So what do you think about the TRT method?
I have a 2 year old that does not want to move when riding him.. no problem saddling up and sitting on him. I have to have another rider pony him with a lead rope to make him go with a rider.
That is a great way to branch the cues from groundwork to riding and get him accustomed to a rider. How long have you been riding him? It is a very new experience for horses to learn how to balance themselves with a rider on so just be patient with him!
-Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager
I use Jonathan Field’s ‘flow exercise’ to get ‘with ‘ my horse. He licks and chews, drops his head and really relaxes when I do it on both sides. yield hind, walk forward, walk back, yield front. repeat both sides. Important to continue each segment until horse relaxes…no resistance, then shift. It has made a big difference for us, also, easy to keep his balance! Hey, maybe that’s why it works so well! Thank you Callie, for helping clarify this for me!
Very valuable information, it is not at all sites that we find this, congratulations I was searching for something
like that and found it here.
Thank you! Glad you enjoyed the video Lunding!
-Julia, CRK Training Community Manager
Another good exercise I have used when I anticipate ahead of my horse on a trail ride (or any time I’m riding) is the “clock” skill I learned at a John Lyons clinic many years ago. He demonstrated how to teach it so you can ask your horse to step on a specified number on a clock dial (imagine your horse is standing on a large clock facing 12:00) you ride forward and ask his right front foot to step on an (imaginary) #1 by lifting and holding with light pressure the right rein (and, surprisingly, it could be either rein…and your horse will search for the answer and when he steps with his right front on what would be #1 on a clock you immediately release the rein pressure. Repeat several times until when you pick up that rein and hold it…the horse responds by stepping forward and to the right with his right front foot. It really doesn’t take very many repetitions until the horse gets it. You must use “your thought” as an aid as well. Stick to one side and ask for stepping on #2, and 3. Thinking which # you want will telegraph to the horse and in very little time you’ll have this accomplished. #3 is a side step (horse must stop to do this) and #4, 5 ,6 are “backing up” movements. In one session (half an hour or so), you should be able to do at least half of these if not all 6 numbers on the right side. Then teach the left front when the right side is good. Allow the horse to just ride forward “long and low” in between practicing a number on the clock dial for relaxing breaks. Now you have a skill to “go to” when your horse is preparing (or you think he is) for a spook. Get him thinking BACK TO YOU with the “Clock skill”. It really worked for me many times when I was approaching something new, that moved, made noise, or just something I thought would be intimidating to my horse. It’s a fun and useful exercise. Hope you’ll give it a try! Remember to use your “thinking of the #” as a strong aid…John Lyons says: no leg aids for this…but strong thinking may cause a subtle (subliminal?) pulse in your calf???
My horse was reluctant to go past a farm when we were out hacking as she could hear noises but couldn’t see what was going on. I used a few short serpentines to get her moving and thinking about what she was doing and we then walked past the yard without an issue.
I really enjoyed reading about the importance of balance in a horse’s movement and how it can affect the horse’s emotional state. I agree that the intention behind “moving the horse’s feet” is crucial. One thing that can be helpful in improving a horse’s balance and overall well-being is using a horse calming supplement. These supplements can help relax the horse and promote a more balanced state of mind, which can lead to a more relaxed and calm horse overall. Thanks for the insight!