It amazes me how much people ignore their horses without thinking about what’s really going on behind the behavior. To me it’s like ignoring a baby crying and just walking away.
There’s a reason your horses did what they did and most of the time they are trying to tell you something.
Sometimes I wonder how horses have been able to “put up” with us for so long and have been so kind and gracious about most of it. I’m very thankful they are such amazing creatures, inside and out.
Here’s an example:
On one occasion when I went out to the barn and I was grooming Merlin by his stall, he looked at me funny and I knew he was asking for a mint. He touched my cheek gently, pulled it back, and turned his head slightly as if to ask a question.
So, I walked to my grooming bag and got a mint. Before I gave it to him I had the feeling that he was going to take it from me and he put his ears back.
I put my finger up and said “no, be nice” and he instantly calmed down, put his ears forward, and lowered his head and waited nicely for me to give him the treat. It all happened in an instant and was no big deal. Nothing bad happened and a possible situation was diffused quickly.
Merlin had just wanted the treat faster than I was giving it to him and he was getting pushy. He’s almost 2 years old and every once in a while he will push the boundaries to see if he can demand what he wants from me. It’s all in the socialization learning process.
Anyway, another lady at the barn saw the interaction and asked if Merlin was a biter. I said no he wasn’t, but that I also never let it get that far. I see the signs beforehand and stop it in advance.
The lady had no idea what I was talking about when I told her I look out for the signs in advance. She also told me that her horse bites her all the time. She also said that she figures he will eventually stop so she just ignores it. Boy she couldn’t be more wrong. That horse is just going to get worse.
I watched her more closely that day and a few days since and her horse is pushy, disrespectful, nips and bites, and even kicks out at her. He really doesn’t like her and she has no clue. She is ignoring all the signs and her horse will just get louder and louder by becoming more aggressive with her.
It is not a good situation.
I asked her if I could give her a few tips on how to fix the biting and she said, “No, I don’t see it as a problem. It will eventually go away”. No it won’t.
luckily Merlin has never bit me or even tried to bite me. He’s never kicked, struck, or bolted from me either. Most of that is because I notice the signs and do something beforehand so nothing escalates into any of those behaviors.
If you ignore these little behaviors, they will eventually grow into bigger and bigger behaviors and before you know it, you will have a dangerous horse. Then you will have to fix a large problem that will take more time, effort, and patience than if you had just stopped it when you saw the first sign.
It’s like a snowball rolling downhill. It will just keep accumulating until it’s so big it does major damage. We don’t want that.
Anytime your horse acts out, there is a logical emotional or physical explanation. Your horse is telling you he’s not happy with something and that there is a problem.
He is asking for your help. But the more you ignore him, the louder he will get. And eventually he will either get worse through a lack of trust and respect, become totally shut down and become inconsistent and unsafe, or just fight back and become dangerous.
I see all three of these things happen all too often. And if they had only fixed the little things in the beginning, instead of ignoring them, these things wouldn’t have happened. Plus the horse and owner would both be happier.
Next week, I’ll tell you about some more signs you should look out for but in the meantime, what “bad” habits does your horse display that you wish he or she didn’t?
Let me know in the Comments below!
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I agree that behaviors like biting should be dealt with before they become a major problem. I wish that there was more information about how to do so. I adopted a pony that was rescued from wandering alone in the desert. She was well trained for riding but very food aggressive and generally disrespectful. She would nip at me during grooming and threaten anyone who entered the paddock. She even made “false” charges toward me with ears pinned and teeth bared. I had never dealt with that behavior before and was at a total loss. Advice ranged from beat her with a whip to establish a relationship by sitting for hours in the paddock. (Dangerous, to say the least.) My riding instructor could establish boundaries with my pony but couldn’t teach me exactly how to do it. Other trainers told me what not to do but did not tell me what to do. The behavior got better over time and I thought it was OK. Then one day at feeding time she charged me for real, hitting me in the face with her teeth. I was hysterical but ultimately decided I would keep the pony and learn how to make boundaries that she would respect. I never let down my guard and always carry something to defend myself with. I taught her that she doesn’t get fed until she stands more than 6 feet away without moving. I insist that she puts her ears up and has a neutral expression before she can get her feed. It has been a difficult process but I’m seeing a real change in her attitude. I only wish there had been someone to guide me through the process before I got hurt.
I agree, these things aren’t really taught. For some reason, the basics are falling out of general training for adults with horses. And children’s lessons are more and more about riding only. Set up a call with me and you and I can discuss options to help you, no charge. 🙂