When a horse stops working and shows his teeth at you, then what? - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 19 Old 07-21-2013, 02:54 PM Thread Starter
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When a horse stops working and shows his teeth at you, then what?

I'm leasing a horse right now and the barn where I ride is very much into Clinton Anderson training for horses so I know how they would tell me to handle this issue. But I really want to get some advice here and see how it compares.

This horse is an overall a pretty calm and willing horse but he's got a lazy streak in him. He's been used previously as a lesson horse for english and western but before he came to the barn he was a roping horse. So now I'm trying to get him back into english. He's a quarter horse around 15 years old.

The other day I was lunging him and when I tried changing direction so he was going clockwise (the direction he seems to hate) he started arching his neck like he was doing rolkur to himself. I tried to move him past it and he just stopped and stretched his neck out at me and started lifting up his gums. It wasn't like he showed full out bare teeth. I've see that before in other horses. This looked like a horse who was smelling something bad. You know that look when their lip is turning up. But he did it enough times that I definitely saw teeth.

I happened to be alone in the ring as the few other people there were on the other side of the farm. I know if I asked them what to do, they would tell me to get the Clinton Anderson stick with the string/whip thing and make him turn circles back and forth until he was exhausted. But honestly, I got a little nervous. Plus I thought if a horse is getting more and more worked up, is it really a good idea to keep them building until they burst? Or should I work on bringing him back down?

What I did was stop, I talked to him a bit saying, "It's okay, it's okay" tried to calm him down. Then I walked with him a little bit in the ring. Then I walked to the other side of the ring and tried again. This time he did lunging no problem. I didn't want to totally stop working so he'd think that a tantrum gets him out of work. But I also didn't want to keep going the way we were.

It was kind of scary. I didn't know if he was going to rush into me and hurt me. So what is the best thing to do in a situation like this? Are there any trainers I should be looking besides/instead of Clinton Anderson? Is there a popular trainer with techniques that are more common with english riders?

Last edited by Heelsdown; 07-21-2013 at 02:57 PM.
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post #2 of 19 Old 07-21-2013, 04:06 PM
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I woulda laid into him like the wrath of God, that "its ok boo boo "stuff will get you or someone else hurt or killed.
He does that again shake snot out the lead rope and charge right at him smacking the crap out of his chest with the lead line, lunge whip, baseball bat, whatevers handy. Hes testing you this time, to see what he can get away with. Next time he will escalate.
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post #3 of 19 Old 07-21-2013, 04:15 PM
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Personally I think it all depends and it is hard to determine from the description. Was the lip up actually the horse giving you "lip" and on the verge of being dangerous (prepped to lunge at you or some other nasty act) or just his way of saying, excuse the phrase, "nah nah you can't make me" type spoiled behavior. One would require the proverbial come to Jesus moment, the other more of a yeah yeah just move your feet type response, strong, firm and determined type response but not that come to Jesus reaction. Just out of curiosity...the lip was up and showing teeth ...was he shaking his head at the same time? That to me would show aggression. One of my past horses did that routinely but he did it in times of play..he was a bit of a clown at times.

Don't get me wrong, I like Anderson's methods. I've used them and they have worked very well on horses that were both settled and just needed some adjustment to their ground manners to others that were just hellions on four hooves. I tempered the response depending upon their attitudes. If they were being nasty about it they got that come to Jesus moment but if it was just a sticky hoof here or there and a start to being stubborn with no real aggression, my reaction was more of a firm and determined movement to get them to move again.

Obviously your safety comes first..always so if you have even a hint in your gut the horse is moving towards dangerous, you react just the way Joe described. I think in many cases it is more the surprise of you going after the horse that gets them thinking "maybe I better not try that again" more than the action of smacking the chest etc. They aren't expecting the reaction they get.

Last edited by tlkng1; 07-21-2013 at 04:20 PM.
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post #4 of 19 Old 07-21-2013, 05:22 PM
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I'm taking a slightly different take on this. I'm thinking something happened physically that caused him discomfort and he reacted to it. You mentioned that the clockwise direction is the one he doesn't like and that the next time you lounged him he was OK; chances are he doesn't like clockwise because his body is naturally stiffer on that side or he has an old injury that bothers him at certain times. The old injury could be anything that caused damage to a muscle/ligament/tendon, and while healed, has left it somewhat weaker and prone to camps, soreness, etc.

I think, under the circumstances, you took the right course of action in moving to another spot and continuing again. The important part of what you did was continue as it showed the horse (and just as importantly you) that you will prevail and you are the one who decides when to finish and head back to the barn.
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post #5 of 19 Old 07-21-2013, 05:55 PM
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Anderson's and the other assorted popular trainers methods work best if you actually know then yourself. Groundwork is groundwork, there's no "English" or "western" to it. If the horse knows certain cues then you need to learn them yourself in order to be able to use them.

The horse was acting bratty. Maybe he caught a whiff if something that smelled funny, maybe he was being aggressive. Without photos we can only guess. When he stops and makes faces or whatever else, you need to insist that he goes forward. If he resists, then you demand it.

It also sounds like you might be scared of this horse.

My recommendation to start would be to learn the methods and cues he knows. If he's been trained CA style then get some of his videos and books and educate yourself. Someone at your barn may have materials to loan you.

(FWIW I do CA style with my horse and we do English trail and Dressage)
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post #6 of 19 Old 07-21-2013, 10:04 PM Thread Starter
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Just out of curiosity...the lip was up and showing teeth ...was he shaking his head at the same time? That to me would show aggression.
He definitely didn't shake his head and he didn't bare his teeth like an angry horse does. It was like he was lifting his lips and I was getting glimpses of his teeth. If he was just tacked up and standing around, it would have looked like he was smelling something bad. But with lunging I just couldn't read what his expression meant.
It was obvious he didn't want to lunge. I just couldn't tell if he was angry or being bratty.
I was definitely scared for a moment there! I won't lie! But normally I'm very comfortable with this particular horse. That's why I started leasing him. But my fear did die down quickly when I took him to the other side of the ring and just tried again.
My first reaction is to do what you describe Joe and just lay into him. But I want to be sure that was the best way to handle a normally calm horse who seems like he's blowing up or "getting bigger" if that makes sense.

My trainer said that he's harder to work on his right side. She said that all horses have a side just like people are either left or right handed. She said that he works easier to his left and will sometimes resist his right. I assume this is correct information, isn't it? He doesn't seem to be in any pain. But it's certainly possible that he's sore on that side.

I should clarify, I definitely didn't coo him. It was more of a "It's alright" calm voice but I think I was telling myself that more than I was telling him! I wasn't expecting his reaction like that. But we did work at least another 15 minutes after that. Then I called it quits. I wanted to end on a high note.

If I had to guess, I think this horse is used to a person being heavy handed and hard on him. He belonged to a man before he came to the barn and the guys I know who do roping aren't exactly soft on their horses. And I think I need to ramp up my commands on him. It's certainly possible I'm being too soft with him and he's realizing that.

Last edited by Heelsdown; 07-21-2013 at 10:07 PM.
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post #7 of 19 Old 07-21-2013, 10:32 PM Thread Starter
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Also I'm definitely going to get the Clinton Anderson dvds. They were pretty expensive so I was looking on ebay. I do watch his show and I enjoy it. But I remember reading a thread a while back where a few people said his methods don't work on all horses and they didn't work well on English horses. I'm not exactly sure what they meant by that as it was an old thread but it stuck in my head.
I do like him and I think he's good for someone who is still new-ish to horses like me. (barely 3 years) He doesn't take crap from horses, that's for sure!
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post #8 of 19 Old 07-21-2013, 11:09 PM
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This looked like a horse who was smelling something bad. You know that look when their lip is turning up.

sounds like a horse that is doing the flemin gesture. (I think that's what it's caled). He is using a special scent organ in his mouth to catch the scent of a mare in heat. you still might need to get his attention off of that and back onto you, but from your description, it's more a matter of his mind wandering than him making an outright aggressive threat gesture to you.
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post #9 of 19 Old 07-21-2013, 11:23 PM
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I have to agree that without actually seeing what the horse did, we can only guess what his intentions were. Was his tail swishing? Ears pinned? Did he start pawing? Usually there other signs saying what his intentions are.

My wife's horse likes to "smile" at in opportune times. He figured out that she thought it was cute and he could stop working. He's part Arab and too smart for his own good.

Back to your horse. It just could have been that he caught a whiff of a mare in heat. It doesn't really sound like he was showing his teeth. I've never seen a horse raise their lip to show teeth as a warning. Usually, they will open their mouth as to bite. Dogs raise their lip to show teeth but I don't think horses do.
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post #10 of 19 Old 07-22-2013, 12:00 AM
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Arching neck, then the flehmen means a sharp pain, not necessarily lasting long. Flehmen can be a sign of pain, I've seen it with colicky horses.
So, I'd probably have him, especially with him having been a roping horse, checked out by a chiropractor or massage therapist, before thinking about harsher measures.
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