I have been reading through many of the threads here in Horse Training on the forum and every question I see, or most anyways, when it comes to a horse being "bad" has one answer. I thought I would sum it up in a little rant of sorts. Short answer for the question of why a horse is being "bad" is because you let it. now here is my long answer on what you need to do to correct it and by "it" I mean anything that you KNOW is disrespectful and less than satisfying behavior from your equine buddy.
Why you correct a horse.
Way back a million years ago when I was a little girl and first wanted a horse I remember how in my mind they were this almost mythical, amazing creature. Almost like a unicorn minus the horn. I imagined riding it bareback and bridlelesss across a meadow of flowers. I imagined it nuzzling me ever so gently with its soft nose as I lovingly gave it carrots and most of all I looked at it like a big best friend. Someone who was as much into me as I was into it. Just like a giant puppy dog almost, a being who needed me, loved me…was faithful & loyal and respected me just because we were best friends. Because I loved it so much it would do anything in the world for me in my mind, oh how I wanted to just have a horse to climb on and grab some mane and fly off into the sunset, me and it bound by unconditional love.
Then I got my first horse and that’s where the fairytale met reality and those “fantasies” went flying out the door.
A horse will NOT do things for you because you love it. It will never say in it’s mind “This lady loves me so the right thing to do is be good.” I can hear some of you now…”well you don’t know my Flicka…she loves me and listens to me.” Nope I don’t know your Flicka but I bet if I met you all, and watched you work together, I could spot a million signs of disrespect that is weakening and destroying your relationship with your horse. Just cause you can share some space with your horse without getting killed DOES NOT equal a productive and respectful relationship with your horse. Often the “Flicka” owner loves the horse tremendously from the ground BUT doesn’t ride the horse for more than a hour or two a month sometimes a year. Often this horse is a pasture or barn ornament who gets lots and lots of "love" and absolutely no work. And I am here to tell you work is exactly what a horse needs. It needs a job. It needs a rider. It needs to be constant positive reinforcement of its training and it needs to be developed to reach it’s full potential and remain a well balanced and “desired” mount. It’s your business if you want to leave your horse as a pasture/barn ornament but you should be prepared to keep it for the rest of it’s life because you , more often than not, are teaching it to be a very unbalanced & misbehaved animal. They need work & with work comes discipline.
Before I even tackle this subject let me tell you I am against animal abuse. Abuse would be using extreme brute physical or mental force for no given reason except to release your frustration on the horse. We have all heard about or witnessed horses being abused by their owners. Horses hit in the head with 2x4’s, old water hoses, ect or subjected to mental abuse by being tied up sometimes for days being deprived of food and water in order to gain some sort of “dominance” over the animal. That is abuse in my book. Using a whip the right way at the right time on a horses rear end is not abuse to me. As a beginning horseman or horsewoman you may gasp at this thought of laying it to your horses butt BUT after you work with and handle them daily you will realize that horses are extremely physical animals who relay their own wishes through force themselves. They can and WILL use extreme force to convey their disapproval of another horses or humans actions and unfortunately physical force is often needed to correct problem behavior….you fight fire with fire. They understand & accept this.
When should you correct a horse?
Instantly upon it doing something that is out of line with being a well mannered & well balanced animal. You have about 3 seconds to give correction or it will be absolutely wasted and have nothing but an ill effect on the animal. You do NOT have time to run to the barn, grab a lunge line and a whip, return and run the horse into the ground with circles. If circling your horse is your desired correction do it within 3 seconds using your lead line until the horse snaps back into a state of focusing on you and understanding it did something wrong. Then let it have a moment to digest the information. Instantaneous response is what you need for correction to have any benefit to the horse. Abuse happens when you wait till you get back to the barn, unsaddle the horse and whip it with your lead line cause it acted like a fool during the ride. This does NOTHING to train the horse…and deteriorates your established trust with the animal. Proper correction should be focused and the force in accordance with the offense that has been committed. You need to have a strict set of rules in your head as to what you will allow and not allow with your horse that lines up with the type of animal you want to work with and the enforce the rules properly and at the right time to teach it what is acceptable and what is NOT acceptable. Developing proper correction is IMPERATIVE to training your own animal.
How to correct your horse.
Tools everyone should have to properly correct their horses:
1.) Rope halter with the knots properly adjusted
2.) A small crop or such that can be easily carried within hand.
3.) A longer whip such a lunge whip.
Those three tools will be invaluable in correcting your horse. I do NOT care for smacking a horse with your hand. This can cause the horse to develop fear towards your hand. This is not what we want. BUT in the case a horse is going to bite you ect and that’s all you have then use it.
I use a rope halter on all my horses. Some people hate them. I love them. A flat nylon halter does nothing to correct a horse that is acting out during be lead or handled on the ground. A rope halters knots provide a small amount of discomfort on the horses nose in the case that you need to tell the horse you are displeased with it’s actions. So why would you need to correct a horse while on the lead. The horse is not paying attention to you and the rope halter allows you to regain that attention immediately. Signs it is not paying attention is that you are being drug, you are having to “drag” it, or it is being “bratty”. Bratty behavior would be anything from being dominate, pawing at the ground because it wants to move, biting at you or head butting can all be quickly and successfully corrected with a few good tugs at the halter. Consistent correction WILL eliminate ALL bad behavior in a horse. It is up to you to deliver it correctly.
It is a good idea to carry a small crop in your hand when handling a horse that is known to have “infractions” to the status quo of being well behaved or one that you are working with on ground manners. A horse that likes to reach around and nip you can be smacked on the end of the nose when it does so. I have also smacked a couple in the nose when in the saddle and they reach back to nip my leg. Biting of any level should be corrected IMMEDIATELY. Biting is a serious vice and it makes a horse very undesirable. Consistent correction of this will eliminate it and keep your horse a pleasure to work with….left uncorrected a biting horse will start to become dangerous. Being bitten is far worse than being smacked on the nose. Done right you should only have to do this a few times in most cases. There HAS to be a negative reaction to their negative behavior to tell them it is not ok. When we just assume they will stop because they will somehow love us enough to behave the behavior will continue and escalate UNTIL someone checks them and corrects it.
The long whip is to correct issues like being charged, horses crowding you during feeding or any other situation where you need to send them out away from you. I am not against laying the whip to a horse that charges me in the round pen or the pasture. A horse that charges is a dangerous animal and can kill you. When using the whip on the horse it does sting but it is supposed to sting. That sting is far less vicious than being ran down and trampled or struck in the head by a horses hoof. Ideally no horse would ever act out in this manner but even a well mannered horse can lose it’s bearings at times when it comes to situations such a feeding. That long whip gives you the power to keep yourself safe and assert yourself as boss. Hopefully your horse will never make you use it. But whatever corrective measure you are using you must follow this rule. The horse misbehaves, you correct, it is over. Extended punishment of whipping an animal is abuse. The correction is mimicking what happens in a herd. The horse commits the offense then the lead horse hands out the correction, life returns to normal as soon as the offensive horse gives in and obeys. Its very simple.
All of these tools can be misused of course. You wouldn’t want to chase them around beating them senselessly with any of them. But used correctly they will work miracles. Do not feel bad or as if you have some how failed to love them enough when you correct them. Correcting them shows far more love for them than letting them turn into animals no one wants to deal with and can be extremely dangerous. It is human failure to correct bad behavior correctly that destroys horses and gets people hurt by them. Correcting them at the right time with the right force ensures you do love your animal enough to think about your responsibility to keep it manageable and safe for other humans as well as yourself.
***I apologize for the length of this post...I just KNOW though this is exactly what the problem is in most situations I read on here. The horse is not being corrected properly.