Anger and the matter of the carrot or the stick - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 230 Old 11-30-2009, 05:26 AM Thread Starter
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Anger and the matter of the carrot or the stick

Anger and the matter of the carrot or the stick
I have just read through a thread posted on HF which has become fairly polarised about how to chastise a young filly which had shown some bad manners. The thread has attracted a lot of written comment from members of the Forum and slowly a pattern of opinion has emerged. On the one side are those who follow the principle that in modern horse management one should be careful about the use of forcible handling, whilst on the other side there are those owners who believe that firm positive chastisement has its place in enforcing obedience. Some owners say that horses should be shown how to obey; others say that any horse should not be allowed to get away with any misdemeanour. Perhaps both sides will agree that teaching a young horse the boundaries of what is acceptable behaviour towards humans is a tricky exercise - one to be undertaken with care and persistence with a view to the longer term and with consideration as to the nature of the individual horse. It is merely a question of how the objective is to be progressed. As trainers of horses at the very beginning of the process we have to make a choice about which methods we intend to employ.

Over the years I must confess to having carried a crop in my boot which I have used to reinforce instructions given to what was a very stubborn 12 yo horse. But I have never ever beaten to punish a horse with a crop or a whip. I may have reacted instinctively, even in anger, when a horse had barged me out of the way, trodden on my foot or put me at risk but my retribution usually went no further than shouting “OI!” sharply at the offending animal. Invariably it’s enough. Horses mostly hate loud noises and they can readily sense antagonism in a human. One sharp tap with a crop might be appropriate if a mature horse needs to be brought back into compliance but beating a horse with the idea of inflicting pain as punishment is never appropriate when dealing with a dumb animal. The horse can‘t speak, at best it can only defend itself. Mostly all the animal does is to take the punishment in silence and remember the person who inflicted the accompanying pain. Will the horse associate the punishment with the act of disobedience? Well we are told by those experts who are said to know, that it depends upon how quickly the punishment follows the act of disobedience. There is a second or two for the human to respond in at the most. What is noticeable is that we humans are very apt to say that the horse has no ability to reason for consequences but when we are chastising the animal we expect the horse to associate the pain of chastisement with the cause for the punishment. Surely humans can’t have it both ways.

Now we all know people who rant first and then think afterwards. I suspect we also know horse owners who are quick to punish their disobedient horse with a slap. Such owners may regularly act out of anger which has no place in horse management or in horse riding. Rage is completely destructive in relationships be they between humans or between humans and animals. Acts carried out in anger can easily become acts of cruelty. On the other hand, one can readily understand how a clumsy or wilful action of a animal weighing half a ton can bring about injury to a human especially a slightly built young woman. However as owners or riders we should always adopt defensive procedures when in the close proximity of horses. Whenever a particular horse is prone to aggression towards humans then undeniably steps must be taken to isolate that animal from regular contact with people. Luckily horses by nature aggressive towards humans are not common but all horses regardless of temperament are heavy, powerful creatures and they become unpredictable when excited or fearful. One should not punish them for panicking when in fact what they need is re-assurance.

It is widely promoted that a horse is born with fear uppermost in its mind but fear mostly comes from a bad experience. I personally would rather say that the horse is instilled with suspicion of anything new, unknown or out of place. To be cautious in this life in my mind is a virtue and not a vice. Nature has given the horse the common sense to be wary of its major predators on this world - humans. So the human when beating a horse does no more than to reinforce the horse’s inbred fears. By chastising the horse the owner may assuage for themselves their own anger but he/she does nothing to reinforce his/her relationship with the animal which he/she will need to trust implicitly later when mounted on its back. To be able to ride any horse well, the rider must be in receipt of willing acceptance and compliance from the horse. The rider might obtain compliance through fear but willingness is more elusive.

In Britain most horses are backed at 4 and until then they are left to grow. Between weaning and coming into work there is a period when we aim to get the youngster halter broke. In later life we shall always need to catch the animal, to shoe it and box it. The horse must learn stable manners. For sure we don’t want young stock to fear humans So the unschooled youngster calls for some very careful handling and preferably only by experienced horse people. Teaching a youngster to be halter broke is more than just training it to follow at the shoulder - it involves showing the youngster that there is nothing to fear in doing what its master has asked it to do. That is a fundamental requirement for the further training of the adult horse. The horse must trust its trainer.

I spend a lot of time getting my intelligent and sensitive mare to trust me. Nowadays one slapping by me, for any misdemeanour by her, would put me back months in her ongoing training. Furthermore nobody on our yard is allowed to handle her unless I have given them instructions as to the acceptable way of doing so. If she should misbehave then it would have been my fault for creating the wrong environment. She expects me and other humans to respect her and in return I expect her to trust me and other humans. It is called a partnership between species. After many years of being with horses I firmly believe I have a better relationship with my horse by persuading her to comply with my request than by compelling her under threat. On those rare occasions when I do develop anger then I come away from my horse because whatever I might do in anger might well prove to be counter productive with long lasting consequences.

In the XXIst century horses are largely kept by humans for pleasure. I personally hope my horse gets some pleasure from being with me, otherwise what is the point?

Barry G

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post #2 of 230 Old 11-30-2009, 10:54 AM
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barry g; that is a totally excellent post, and i agree with it wholeheartedly. in point of fact; as people will know from this forum, i advocate a kinder way, but there are 2 instances that come to mind that i think are relevant here; both involve handling on the ground; one is with a horse i had who was hardly broken. it sometimes took over an hour just to mount her! she would blow up, run forward ( lunge into canter, not just walk off) step sidewards, rear, you name it, she did it. i spent monthes working on tapping and stroking her all round, swinging the stirrups, etc. basically rebreaking her to saddle, and we went from 2 people holding her while i mounted, to me doing it alone. however, one day she was having none of it and she went through every trick in her book, to stop me mounting, and i really had reached the point where i could cheerfully have laid into her with a whip! i was overheated and so was she!!! did i grab that whip??? NO!!! ( and yes i did ride with one, as an aide, not a punishment) no, i did not, i walked away from her, and took ten minutes to gather my thoughts, and calm down. i then went into her, calm and determined that i was mounting and she would let me, and low and behold, she too was calm, no longer the snorting monster of a few minutes before, she knew she had took me tomy limits!! she stood rock still, i mounted, and we went for a lovely ride.. this to me is a good example of how a horse can pick up on our mood, and why it is so important to back off, and approach things from a calm and kind approach. ..when i worked for the n.h. i often rode horse that were calm for me, and jiggy and excitable for others- they pick up on our moods, therefore we are responsible for how the mood escalates... the other story this has reminded me of, is the mare i have now; in the summer after we have been out, i always wash her off in any sweaty areas, its part of her routine. so one day we came back from a quick trip around the village, and she wasnt sweaty at all, so she just had a brush over. when leading her into her box she planted her feet firmly, and refused to budge. the girl with me was instant raised eyebrows, and show her who's boss, while i just wondered aloud why she didnt want to go in. the reason was obvious to me, it was the only thing that was different; she expected her wash, and was letting me know that i had "forgotten" something. so stating my theory out loud, the girl with me sniggered and looked incredulous. i simply turned my mare around, tied her back up, gave her a quick wash, she looked smug and happy- things were as they should be!- the human got the message, and i then walked her into her box no problems whatsoever, and me, i got the satisfaction of being right to my friend! this is just a light hearted example of why i always look to the horse, to tell me whats wrong, from their point of view. it does not mean they walk all over me; they respect me, i never get my foot stepped on, barged etc. just a word will suffice- they are far more intelligent than most humans give credit for. and i for one want my relationship with horses to be one of partnership, in equal parts- one in which we respect each other, exactly as you say in your post.

Last edited by lillie; 11-30-2009 at 10:56 AM.
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post #3 of 230 Old 11-30-2009, 11:01 AM
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I smack mine on shoulder with my hand with the firm "stop it" when it gets to the dangerous point (like she's trying to walk thru me to chase my other mare away from the food). Doesn't hurt them, but they do understand they did something wrong. Personally I don't see anything wrong with it. It's not an offense or abuse, but a reminder. My horses live much better life then me, so I'd expect them at least to respect me.
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post #4 of 230 Old 11-30-2009, 11:23 AM
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Another excellent post, Barry!

I'm all for being as gentle as possible and for my horse being my partner. I don't ride with a whip, Scout doesn't need it as an aid, and if he needed it as a discipline tool under saddle I wouldn't be up there anyway. I use an NH cue stick for formal groundwork as an extension of my arm. If any horse I work with is being an idiot, I will not heitate to allow him to hit the stick (or my hand) if he invades my space. I love my boy, and he surely isn't afraid of me (I routinely sit in his stall and "visit" with him while he's laying on the stall floor, napping), but he outweighs me nearly ten times over. There is a line I draw with him that he is not permitted to cross. I remind him of it through body language, but if he continues to push he'll get a "bite." Our partnership is 51% me, 49% him. I'm the brains, he's the brawn. Some things are not up for discussion.

All horses are different, and react differently to different stimuli. Would I take a weanling wearing a halter for the first time and bash him for crowding me? No, I would nudge him back over, make it harder for him to invade. Now, my fella knows better than to crowd under any circumstances, so if he does for any reason aside from fear, he gets a "telling off." Same goes for confirmed abuse cases. If they don't know what the right answer is, it's carrot time. Teach the right answer. If the horse is trying to up his position on the totem pole, or ignoring my "nice" face and effectively telling me to buzz off, I see no problem with getting his attention with a single spank, with hand or with stick. A boss mare won't clobber a colt for barging, but the same mare will let the 12 year old gelding have it from both barrels for the same offense.

Excellent topic! I look forward to reading more replies!

A stubborn horse walks behind you, an impatient one in front of you, but a noble companion walks beside you ~ Unknown
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post #5 of 230 Old 11-30-2009, 01:28 PM
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My thoughts are along the lines of Scoutrider.

Just last night everyone was getting a good grooming before dinner. My older one didn't think I was moving fast enough and was getting antsy. At one point he swung his head in my direction, not far enough to actually bite me but his intention was clear, he got a good smack on the neck and told "enough". He pouted for awhile, life sucks when your a horse....LOL

There are "no vote" items when it comes to horse's, crowding, biting and kicking to name a few. Your darn tooting they'll get a "bite" for any of those things. It doesn't come in the form of a beating, but I see no problem with a smack, be-it with your hand or horseman's stick.

I spend a lot of time getting my intelligent and sensitive mare to trust me. Nowadays one slapping by me, for any misdemeanour by her, would put me back months in her ongoing training.
I highly doubt it........
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post #6 of 230 Old 11-30-2009, 01:38 PM
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I go along generally with G and K and Scoutrider. There are certain things that get a smack, but most horses will stop with a firm no. My no is no actually a word, it is more a loud sound similar to if you said the word "ant" very forcefully. All my horses understand it. In most cases saying the word easy forcefully is enough to remind them of what they should do.

I will say that my step-father rides a stallion, when he does things like squeal and stomp at mares he gets a quick slap on the neck. He pouts, but it gets the point across and keeps everyone safe.
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post #7 of 230 Old 11-30-2009, 01:55 PM
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It is no wonder to me that people get caught off guard by their horses from time to time.
Horses are Much faster at things than us and react to whatever that thing is that they are reacting to.

When you are laying on the ground looking up you start to feel foolish that you were bested by this beast and it is only natural for a human to get angry and want to get back at the thing that made you look so bad.

I was one of those people for many years.

The thing is, as time went on I started to see that horses ALWAYS give a "TELL" and they act out what they are feeling at that moment in time.
If a person misses that moment then the horse is ahead of them.

Setting boundaries is all about being ahead of the horse because if you are not ahead of him then he is going to be ahead of you.

"Feel" has EVERYTHING to do with looking at a horse and knowing what is about to happen.
And "Feel" has everything to do with being ahead of that horses idea that they are getting and sort of changing their mind to a better idea.

If the idea already happened,then the handler is just too late and any amount of smacking is not going to do a darn thing accept get all parties upset.

The boundary is very important and will not be established without some good leadership.
A lot of folks don't realize how much direction a horse needs to feel comfortable and if they don't get it (the horse),then they just start to make it up on their own.
A horse is so much more comfortable when they know where they are suppose to be and will relax when they are sure that they are in the right place.

These ideas are not something that I just cooked up with a couple of hippy friends and the ideas can be found in the books of
Tom and Bill Dorrance,Ray Hunt,Buck Brannaman,Mark Rashid,Curt Pate,or a dozen other writers.

The other thing that I have seen in my life is the parallel between how people go about solving problems with their horse and also with the people in their lives.

It seems to carry over.
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post #8 of 230 Old 11-30-2009, 02:40 PM Thread Starter
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It is the human's thinking brain which is left behind - the sub concious part of the brain maybe just as quick but if the horse moved first then we shall always be left behind.
Age makes our reactions slower but we think more.

"It seems to carry over" - very often I suspect because a relationship with a certain kind of horse is a substitute for a relationship with people.
Horses are more constant.

One has one's up and downs but in the process one creates memories.
The horse has a long memory but indeed so does a human.
Life is but a continuation of memories.


Tom Dorrance, True Unity, I have read - the others I do not know. Titles please.
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post #9 of 230 Old 11-30-2009, 02:54 PM
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Mark Rashid has 3 or 4 books in print. They are all wonderful reads.

The three I can remember:

A good horse is never a bad colour
A horse never lies
Considering the horse
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post #10 of 230 Old 11-30-2009, 03:05 PM
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Just do a search on the names and the titles of the books will come up.
These guys are very well known here and most of the titles are available at
I think Mark Rashid is up to 7 books now.
I attended one of his clinics just a few weeks ago and problem horse after problem horse was dealt with in a soft and quiet manner,But he was VERY effective and helped every horse and rider.
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