Help Bring Out My Inner Boss Mare - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 10 Old 05-18-2010, 04:31 PM Thread Starter
Join Date: Apr 2010
Location: Redondo Beach, CA
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Help Bring Out My Inner Boss Mare


I could really use some tips on how to be a "Boss Mare."

I was just moved up to an intermediate/advanced horse at my lesson barn. My instructor refers to him as an alpha horse, and says he is always testing to try and out rank ( so to speak) his handler. He is also high energy and has to be lunged before he is ridden.

I have been reading about the subject, and I have read about the different ground exercises you can do assert your leadership (Parelli/Clinton Anderson techniques) , but unfortunately because he isn't my horse I don't have the opportunity to practice those techniques.

I would love to hear your advice and experiences with handling your alpha horses as well as tips on becoming a boss mare

Thanks in advance!
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post #2 of 10 Old 05-18-2010, 06:06 PM
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One of my horses (Scotch) can be a very aggressive/assertive horse. He is, and always has been, the top-gelding wherever he is turned out. For the first couple of years that I owned him, I struggled to be able to effectively control him. I was intimidated by his size and attitude. I started doing more groundwork with him (Parelli works very well for him), and he began to accept me as his leader.

Teaching him to back up on cue helped a ton. Whenever he is showing the slightest bit of aggression, I can wiggle my finger and he will back up. I let him stand there and think about it for awhile, then invite him to come back. It takes some patience to teach a horse to do that (lots of repetitions), but it can make a dangerous horse so much safer to be around.

You HAVE to be assertive with horses. You can't be equals--one always controls the other to some extent. Don't be the one being pushed around! Don't know if that helps you, but that seemed to get my priorities straight. 8):
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post #3 of 10 Old 05-18-2010, 07:08 PM Thread Starter
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Thanks CharliGirl. Good advice. Maybe my instructor will let me practice some of the methods on him. I should ask her. It would be good for me and the horse.

Let me shed a little more light on his behavior as it sounds similar to what you may have experienced with Scotch, being that he is also alpha.

I took him out of the stall, and he was very willing despite being in the middle of breakfast.

He tried to out walk me on the ground. When he tried that, I stopped an had him back up a few steps, however as we continued walking I still felt as if he wasn't respecting me or my space. He was antsy and paying to much attention to everything else around him.

I put him in the cross ties and groomed him. He was behaving OK, but he still moved around a lot more than any of the other horses I have worked with, still jiggy. Kept his head high and wouldn't let me brush his face.

I was waiting for my instructor to to open the tack locker, and he started really prancing around. This is where I screwed up, I think.

I was thinking he was bored of waiting in the cross ties, so I took him out out of them and went to walk him around the barn. Well, the moment I got him out of the ties, he was very disrespectful. There might as well have been no lead rope in my hand.

He walked right out after I unhooked him, pulled over to every bin in sight, looking for a meal, he started crowding into me, and acting really weird. That's when I started to get scared, and I am sure he sensed that too.

Just when I was about to ask if some one could help me with this horse, my instructor walked in and helped me out. She said I shouldn't have taken him out of the cross-ties if he was acting like that.

After that I saddled him up and we lunged him together. He was considerably better behaved after his lunge session.

I'm just afraid that this horse won't respect me when some one isn't there to help. I'm sure he can sense the insecurity as well.
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post #4 of 10 Old 05-18-2010, 08:02 PM
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The horse that you are describing doesn't sound like an alpha horse, it sounds like an insecure horse with lack of leadership and little respect of space. The two types commonly get confused, even though they are completely different.

Leadership is something that will help you in all aspects of life. In training, management positions, and teaching lessons, I commonly refer to my experience with horses. Shedding a little light on why this horse is acting like it is will help to give you some confidence to take control of the situation.

First of all, I can not stress enough that it is not just the methods you use, but the meaning behind the methods, once you master what is behind that method, the method itself is merely time consuming. We all know that horses sense our energy, they know our anxieties and when we are afraid, they know just as well when you throw off an energy that says "I'm not putting up with any of your stuff, so get over yourself." Pushing a horse with your energy is surprisingly easy once you get the hang of it.

A "lead horse" has leader qualities. This horse is able to focus completely, remain calm even in questionable situations, and knows its job well enough to teach others. My alpha horses are my most trustworthy lesson horses with the most beginner of students. One woman was working with my alpha mare one night and I asked who was in charge, the woman replied "oh, she is definately in charge here, but don't worry, she's showing me what to do and she's being very sweet about it, she knows I don't know what I'm doing". Think of the qualities of a good leader; they guide without doing it for you, they advise without giving you the answer, they keep you grounded when you start to lose your mind, and they give you courage when you don't think you have the strength to move forward. These are the same qualities in a good lead horse. This is what makes me think that you are not dealing with a good alpha at all, you are dealing with an insecure horse with something commonly referred to as "bully syndrome".

The insecure horse is just like an insecure person. It is often overlooked that an insecure horse is reacting out of weaknesses in its body that most people can't even see. The body, as the horses only vessel of defense, is very important in the response time and the strength available to react in a situation. Many horses can handle when this is weakened, some can not. The weaker the body, the higher the standards are going to be for the potential leader of the horse, be that leader equine or human. Even if the horses body is in good shape, insecurity can be caused by poor socialization, poor leadership throughout the horses life (we learn to be good leaders from good leaders), or even anxiety imposed by certain people.

The way that horses deal with insecure horses is very different from how a person would think. When an insecure horse is turned out with a good herd, that horse is cast out of the herd until their behavior is appropriate. The herd is not overly violent, but they will prevent the insecure horses from penetrating into their herd because that insecure horse would be more of a weak spot in a good herd rather than contributing to the strength that the herd already has. The true lead horse remains completely composed and the insecure horse will either remain on their own, or begin to change their ways.

You have approached this horse already thinking that he is a force to be reckoned with..... 1 point for him. Next time you approach him, look at him as if he were a person. Would you look at a hyper, unattentive, unadaptable, poor listening person as a leader? Definately not. You are dealing with someone who is so insecure in their own skin that they are going to lash out at everything to make themselves seem scarier than they are as a method of defense.

If you want to be the Boss Mare, then be the better leader, stay calm, keep your attention on the horse, listen to every move he makes, and never move out of his way. Remember, the one that is in charge is the one who is controlling where the feet move. Always protect your personal space with as much force as he requires to respect that space. For every one step he takes into your space, he has to take multiple steps back, as he has to earn the right to be close to you. Remember that the lead horse is not going to lower his or her standards for anyone, they will not make exceptions on what level of respect is acceptable. You need to be everything that you want him to be. You have to be all of those things strong enough that he can't help but feel anything but safe in your presence. Once he feels safe, he can let his defenses down.

When you approach him, look at yourself as the strong one, look at him as the insecure bully that is testing their boundaries just because they are looking so desperately for that line that they have always been able to cross. Remember that a true leader never has to go out looking for followers, others will want to follow because of what that leader has to offer. When you are with him, pump youself up, just remind yourself how lucky that horse is to have you as his leader, that is if he is respectful enough that you will allow him in your herd.

Good luck.
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post #5 of 10 Old 05-18-2010, 08:08 PM
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Flitterbug........*applause*. Great post.
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post #6 of 10 Old 05-18-2010, 09:20 PM
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Flitterbug, that was a very good and helpful post. It made me think differently about a horse I am working with for somebody, and I think your definition for the insecure horse just about defines him.
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post #7 of 10 Old 05-18-2010, 09:29 PM Thread Starter
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FlitterBug, thank you for writing such an insightful and detailed reply. I will try my best to exude authority and be leader worthy. Very interesting perspective. It should be easier to take an authoritative role, now that I understand he is insecure.

Most of the horses I have worked with have been so easy to handle, and I think I have a hard time gaging what is disrespectful and what is dangerous behavior.
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post #8 of 10 Old 05-18-2010, 09:42 PM
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Happy to help. My main business is extreme physical and behavioral imbalances. Once you get run over enough, it will be very clear to you that the slightest bit of disrespect is dangerous behavior. Another thing to remember, when I work with a horse like what you describe, my main goal is not to dominate and control, that is only a temporary goal for my own safety. My main goal is to turn that horse into something that owns its own skills to the point that it can become a leader to other people and horses. Basically, it is to make that horse into the schooling horses that you are used to. Every horse has a full deck of cards, it all has to do with what cards we allow them to play.
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post #9 of 10 Old 05-19-2010, 04:02 AM
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That was great, Flitterbug :)

I'm not an experienced horsewoman, and last summer I was quite nervous around horses, moving out of their way, and so on. Partly it was because of the atmosphere at the stables where I rode; I didn't feel confident taking on the authority needed.

I've found such a huge change in me this summer, now I'm riding somewhere else, amongst friends. I can just walk in knowing I'm the boss, and it makes everything so much easier!

The way it's always been explained to me - which is pretty much the same as Flitterbug's wonderful post - is that horses need a strong leader. It makes them feel safe if they know the leader can eat anything that attacks them, and eat the horse itself too if necessary. The leader has to behave as Flitterbug said to prove they're capable of defending the herd against any problems. But if the leader is unsure, uncertain, doesn't give off the right vibe, it makes the other horses scared and nervous. They need a strong leader to feel safe and secure, and so one of them will try and take over as leader so they can feel safe.

The adult horses I now work with all have excellent manners, but there are some yearlings who are still learning. I find not looking at them but just acting as if they will do what I want helps, and it's important to act quickly when they misbehave. I'm very big on getting them to stay out of my space, even when I'm carrying their dinner - when leading, I hold out an elbow so if they try to rush me they bump themselves, and halt them and make them back up if they're getting too pushy, and if I'm entering their stall first I give them a look - which makes all the adult horses back up politely - and if they don't respond to that I look past them and march in, pushing them back and out of my way, further than I would if they were behaving. Once a horse knows to stay out of your space, it's so much easier to lead them and pretty much interact with them in any way.

I find something that helps me get into the right headspace to boss the horses around is to take a moment and take deep breaths through my nose, feeling how my body rises up as I inhale. I roll my shoulders and let myself feel how broad and assertive my body can be, keep my chin raised confidently, and say 'things are going to go how I want them, there is no other option'. It may be a little silly, but it reminds me of how I need to be the strong one who can protect the horses, and eat them if they misbehave.

If you believe everything you read, better not read.
Japanese Proverb
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post #10 of 10 Old 05-19-2010, 04:08 AM
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Flitterbug, you made an interesting point about how the lead horses are often the easiest to work with. Thinking about the horses at my stables, I can see that a little in them. The two horses I interact most with are the lead mare and lead gelding, and they are very respectful, very trustworthy. They can be strong-willed and test you to see what they can get away with, but once they've been told once they're obedient, willing and a pleasure to be around. I never feel unsafe around those horses, or that they'll spook or behave unpredictably, even when they're in a bad mood.

If you believe everything you read, better not read.
Japanese Proverb
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