Aggressive gelding; abuse or dominance? - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 52 Old 06-14-2012, 10:02 PM Thread Starter
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Question Aggressive gelding; abuse or dominance?

Reading a thread about lunging, I thought I would get some opinions on an experience I had last summer at a camp where I was a riding instructor.

We had 4 horses leased from a big, shady farm whose business was leasing horses. No idea of their background, temperament, training, or herd dynamic, and these horses are supposed to be therapy horses for some people with extreme disabilities!

So, very quickly notice that one large gelding, presumably a WB, I am thinking large TB cross or STB cross, named Elvis, is the big baddie. Always bullying everyone, chasing everyone away from his hay, and generally being a jerk. Only turnout is our .5 acre riding ring (I didn't set this up...), so very limited room, and cheap PVC fencing (the kind that looks like posts and boards painted white, and shatters into a zillion pieces if a horse runs through it).

I decide one off day to do some free lunging to try to get some respect. Start driving him away, hootin and hollerin, being very attentive to my body position. I was quite pleased with how well my intentional positioning for turns/rollbacks/stops/etc was going, until I noticed him getting lazy. Not submissive join up signs like chewing, lowering head, etc, just slowing down, cutting corners, and starting to show signs of irritation. So I grab my lunge whip and get him moving again. This goes well for two or three rounds until he has decided he has had enough and starts squaring up to me. I try to send him off and he gets irritated. Eventually he starts striking out and charging. I stand firm and drop my whip, and he stops striking. He watches my every move, staying head on square with me. I finally get him into his stall, and call the farm explaining what happened.

Between then and the next Wednesday, he became nippy, biting campers, counselors, and other staff. We checked for unsoundness and found nothing. Good feet, legs, back and teeth. Owner shows up with new geriatric horse replacement ("Ol White Lightnin!"... 21 yrs old and 100lb underweight). Owner explains "You don't lunge these horses! You let them do what they want!", then after talking to me like a toddler playing Pretty Pony Dress Up (to which I kept my mouth shut), upon entering Elvis' stall with a rump presented to him, gives him an incredibly hard lick with a rope, and the horse acts like a puppy who lost his mother from that point until he loaded up and left.

If you read that, kudos. What do you think was going on here, and do you think I handled it properly?

I have said what I have said. I have not said what I have not said.

Last edited by RunSlideStop; 06-14-2012 at 10:04 PM.
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post #2 of 52 Old 06-15-2012, 02:42 AM
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This is a really interesting situation. You basically did what I would have done- lounging him to get his respect. Although from what you said, he was bossing only the other horses around, and did nothing to you or the other people, and only started misbehaving with people after you did this. If he was behaving with people, I would have left him alone, whether he bossed the other horses around or not. Did you do this because he misbehaved with people? How is he when ridden/ worked with/ around people?
I do have a theory, lol... You might want to go and have a look at how that farm treats their horses. I'm sensing something very peculiar here... If what I think is the problem is right, he's probably a naturally dominant horse used to people backing down when he acts aggressive, therefore he doesn't get lounged and is 'allowed to act how he wants', and when they want something from him, they just use violence (hence, acting like a puppy dog when the guy hit him in the stall with the rope) to force him into doing it. His violent behavior can also be a defense against their violence- a dominant horse will react like that as a defense mechanism. I'm wondering if they use harsh tack on him for giving rides, etc.- how was he when he was ridden? My guess, from what you've said, is they're probably people who don't know how to work with horses and use pain/ violence to get what they want from them...
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post #3 of 52 Old 06-15-2012, 02:53 AM
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Maybe you lunged them in a way the owner did not find helpful.

One time, when I first began to lunge on my own, I had this sweet mare charge me down. From then on she gave me problems, trying to bite me, kicking out, etc. The owner was pissed, and made me lunge her again and gave me tips on what to do. After that, we got along fine but she still didn't really like me all that much.

A similar situation with a grey mare. This volunteer was asked to lunge her. The next day, I was leading her and the freaking mare reared on me, I was so confused so I stood there and eventually she got bored and came down then we continued walking. I asked the girl what she did, and she said when she lunged her, the mare charged after her and then pinned her ears and tried to kick so she got scared and kind of gave in.

So then I go to lunge her, she tries to run me over. I whacked that mare so hard on her rump every time she came close. After awhile she stops trying to charge me, and I become "nice" again.. and she was a very nice horse from then on until she got handled by another person who let her get away with something.

Maybe that horse was used to getting its way (like with the grey mare) and it needed a good fixing from the owner. Maybe you let something slip or didn't correct (like in the first example) and it got exponentially worse.

It's hard to tell, but that's what I know from experience.

You let them slip once, or settle for something less than perfect.. that's what you'll get :/ Which is why training a horse is quite the task.. it's hard to realize when they begin to slip into the "half-ass-try" mode or you let them get away with something.
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post #4 of 52 Old 06-15-2012, 03:03 AM
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Making a horse move, run around you (basically lunging) is a very, very dominant behaviour by horse standarts. If a horse hasn't accepted the lunger as a leader yet and feels cornered/challenged/dominated, then aggressive behavior is almost bond to happen (of course, the extent of it depends on the horses' character and background). I agree completely with soenjer here.

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post #5 of 52 Old 06-15-2012, 08:08 AM
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When I have worked at any guest ranch I have not felt the need to correct herd dynamics. If the horse was doing his job well and safely than I don't mess with them. Herd dynamics are not going change post round penning. I would be more inclined to think you found a training "gap" than abuse. Some horses don't like to be free lunged or round penned and are aggressive when in that situation. That might be why this horse is at this horse outfitters. I think you tried to do what you would have done with your own horse but forgot that this is not your horse. So it has different skills. When you work for a camp you are not there to train the horses but to train the campers. That can be a fine line is easily crossed.
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post #6 of 52 Old 06-15-2012, 03:45 PM Thread Starter
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Oops, I will clarify: The gelding was a terror from day one, to everyone. We assumed it was nerves/new herd dynamic/pain/whatever, but as he got to be dangerous rather than simply rude, I decided to put my foot down.

So, he was being rude, pushy, and generally a big snotty brat to people and horses alike. He was being ridden ever day at a slow walk in 1.5 hour intervals, and on breaks taken to the longer trail by one of us for a cool down, and usually retired for the day after that. He began trying to buck us off and crow hop shortly before I lunged him.

I think he felt threatened, and his way to cope was to charge. Not sure how old he was; owners said 18 or so, but he acted like a freshly cut younger stud. Moved like a jumper. Who knows what his past was.

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post #7 of 52 Old 06-15-2012, 04:14 PM
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WHile I have never been in a situation of leasing out horses to anyone, let alone a camp. If someone took it upon themselves to lunge/train one of my horses without consulting me, I'd be in a snit too. Not saying you lunged them wrong or did anything that would cause the bad behavior. What you described wouldn't have caused it. The problem is you put yourself in a post-hoc position where the owner can blame you because the horse wasn't like that before. (doesn't matter if it was or wasn't) It was aggressive behavior, and the response should have been to immediately call the owners to come get the horse and replace it, not try to work it out of him. Love the initiative you showed and would love to have someone like you working around my barn, but the potential for disater in this situation was too great a risk...
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post #8 of 52 Old 06-15-2012, 04:26 PM
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No, you didn't do the right thing.

You let him decide when to quit and rewarded him by putting him away.
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post #9 of 52 Old 06-15-2012, 05:26 PM Thread Starter
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Spurstop: What would you do in that situation? Very curious in the case that it happens again.

To those saying I shouldn't be training horses that aren't mine; you are right. I think that is irrelevant to my question, though. I wanted to know behaviorally and training wise what was going on and if I did the right thing in that scenario. Nevermind whose horse it was or what my role as staff was.

Thanks for reading this, everyone.

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post #10 of 52 Old 06-15-2012, 05:32 PM
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I know the question is for spurstop, but... I believe the correct thing to do would have been to keep the horse going until he did what you wanted- until he gave in and lounged for you, or at the very, very least quit acting aggressively. When he did what you wanted, he would then get the reward of his stall. By chasing him into his stall when he showed aggression, you showed him that if he acts like that, he gets to go into his stall and rest- Hence, the worsened behavior afterwards.
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