How to "befriend" a horse? - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 14 Old 07-07-2010, 10:06 AM Thread Starter
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How to "befriend" a horse?


There's a new mare at the shelter.
She was not abused, she's in fairly ok'ish condition.
She belonged to an old man who could not longer take good care of her and her mother and kept them both in a very small stable. He kept (over)feeding both but not much else really. He refused to sell them fearing they will end up beaten and abused by the iron thieves (will explain later on what those are) and gladly surrendered them to the shelter as soon as he found out about it.

I have a secret crush on her She's a chunky, rude, spoiled animal. She threatens everyone to bite & kick although it's only warnings, a lot of angry faces and a lot of hind turning. However, warning or no warning, everyone is fairly cautious around her, including me.
So far all I've done was giving her treats and petting her now and then from across the fence. Luckily she's quite a glutton and cannot resist carrots :)
But I fear I might create a worse habit actually. She comes, takes the treat and then makes the ugly "ok you may gtfo now" face. Maybe I should first pat her and THEN give then treat, after?
I'd really like to get closer to her. As in, I'd like to groom her or lead her around or give her a good scratch.
But I am not sure what the best first steps would be?
Weirdly enough apparently she goes well under saddle and is docile. Unlike her awful ground manners.

She's not vicious, really. She had her feet done recently, was saddled, groomed. But she makes a lot of faces and warnings and generally would rather you just drop the darn carrot and leave her alone. And there's something about her "whozzat? whazzat? whaddayawant? got treats? no? f** off then" attitude that I actually like hahah :)

I noticed that unless they endanger the safety of animals or of themselves, volunteers are pretty much given free hand in doing whatever they find appropriate and helpful. I just don't dare pestering the "staff" too much with such questions. It's just 2 guys taking care of 30 horses, grooming, training, feeding, mucking out etc all day long

There's the rude girl. Please note her feet had been done since the picture.
I don't know why nobody else seems to like her :(

Last edited by iridehorses; 07-07-2010 at 02:06 PM.
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post #2 of 14 Old 07-07-2010, 10:57 AM
Green Broke
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Shes very cute! We had one like that at the barn, seems he had only been caught up ever to really work. A few months of the girls catching him, putting him in the cross ties and giving him a good brushing and loving then putting him back out no work and he's a changed boy! (he is also ridden about 5x a week)
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post #3 of 14 Old 07-07-2010, 11:09 AM
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Some horses just have an attitude like that and will always be grouchy, but you love them anyway. ^_^

She does sound pretty spoiled though so I would advise not to hand feed her any more and to chase her off if she ever threatens you (basically, you have to prove that you're "bigger" and meaner than she is). If she isn't trying anything foul but still has a grumpy face on, just treat her with the same love and care that you would any other horse. Make it a regular routine sort of thing and she may eventually come around.

I knew a girl with a mare who acted somewhat similar. She would pin her ears towards just about anyone (treats or no treats)... except the girl who owned and rode her regularly. It was really cute actually seeing this mare light up and be a darling for "her" girl.

I agree that the mare is quite a beauty too... even more so once she slims down and muscles up.
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post #4 of 14 Old 07-07-2010, 11:50 AM
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I agree, it may be a lot to do with personality things. Not all horses like to socialize.

I wouldn't give her any treats if she behaves like that. Giving a treat for something done right is fine, but in this case it sounds like you are praising her for her nasty behavior. You can take her to the arena or round pen and work with her on ground - keep her feet moving, ask her to bend, to lower the head, etc.
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post #5 of 14 Old 07-07-2010, 11:51 AM
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The thing is how we see "friends" and how horses see "friends" are a little different.

In the horse's world either YOU lead, or THEY lead, there's no "lets lead together"... a horse who comes into your space with her "YOU go" face is one who is being VERY rude. The response from you should be "NO, YOU go" and make her.

I teach my students to start off small - then use as much as needed to make that horse move "back and away". Make a pattern doing this, start by looking at her and then looking where she SHOULD be... then make your core stronger... then swing a rope or snap a whip... swing it harder and harder until she moves. You shouldn't NEED to hit her with anything as long as you put enough "intent" behind your movements. (this is best demonstrated rather than described with words... a lot comes from "feel" and learning what the horse does before it actually does things)

"Ironically" (to many people anyhow) you showing how strong and smart you are will gain her trust and respect faster and with more certainty than bribing her with food. This is just how she was programmed to be. Horses don't trust and respect the person who feeds them (not necessarily anyhow... sometimes they do trust that person, but usually for other reasons)... they trust and respect the person who earns it and "demands" it (Demands it... I don't mean you force them to listen to you by using physical force, but in the way you don't take rude behavior from them)

A good horseman to take a look at for demonstrating handling a "rank" horse would be Klaus Ferdinand Hempfling... he has many clips on YouTube, a lot of his Borderline Demonstrations deal with very aggressive stallions and it might be easier to understand what I'm explaining if you take a look at him.
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post #6 of 14 Old 07-07-2010, 01:32 PM Thread Starter
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Thank you!
Next time I go - Sunday - I'l resist the temptation to offer her treats.
I was thinking to bravely enter her round pen with a brush and eventually some dressage whip - just in case her grumpy faces are not all she has -

However my plans are a bit shattered: she is also in heat and makes a big fuss about it. She was taken to her stall and apparently is grumpier than ever.
Considering that her stall neighbor is a mare blind in 1 eye, very spooky on the blind side, I'd rather not squeeze between them and try to play Miss Bossy in there.

I'll wait until she is back in her pen and then Ill apply the tips.
Thank you for the links! very useful
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post #7 of 14 Old 07-07-2010, 02:27 PM
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Originally Posted by inaclick View Post
Thank you!
Next time I go - Sunday - I'l resist the temptation to offer her treats.
I was thinking to bravely enter her round pen with a brush and eventually some dressage whip - just in case her grumpy faces are not all she has -
Please be careful if you don't have much experience handling problem horses. Horses are FAST, faster than you (unless you read them and prepared to what's coming) and can bite you or kick you badly (and whip won't help).
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post #8 of 14 Old 07-07-2010, 02:44 PM Thread Starter
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Yes :) I would not enter the pen alone for sure.
I was planning to stick around one of the 2 trainer-groom-nurse-vet-cook guys and copycat their bodylanguage + learn from observing them directly first :)
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post #9 of 14 Old 07-07-2010, 02:45 PM
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There was a horse very similar at our barn. His name was Prins, and he would also look to you for treats, but the minute he sees you don't have any, he would put his ears down and try to bite you. The only difference is that he would purposefully want to bite you or hurt you, really dangerous horse...he only ever likes his owner.

I would suggest that for your safety you be very careful, because horses can be unpredictable and may lunge at you and seriously cause damage. If she could be safely tied up or held by someone while you groom her, I think that would be okay, but all I'm saying is be careful.

Good luck and let us know how it goes.

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post #10 of 14 Old 07-07-2010, 03:01 PM
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I agree with TLU. Horses aren't looking for friends, they are looking for leaders. The horse you are interested in is actually very insecure, this insecurity brings out defensive behaviors. It is more than likely not that she is "mean" or ever mistreated in a physical way, but far more likely that she is doing the insecure "I will get you before you get me" behavior.

Definately stop feeding treats. As it is now, she is not thinking "Oh, you are my friend, you give me carrots" She is thinking "I make threatening gestures, you leave your feed and I take it". Picture two horses in the pasture with one bucket of grain, the dominant horse uses threatening language and the submissive horse surrenders the food. You are rewarding the bad behavior.

The mare you describe does not want to be leader, but she is also not going to trust someone else to take that role easily. The best thing for you to do is not wanting her to come to you. You "wanting" is a neediness and a weakness in the horses mind. The true lead horse is very secure in themself and does not need to go looking for trouble, they mind their own business until trouble gets curious enough to find them. A horse that goes looking for trouble is seen as a bully, and although they will get the other horses to move out of their way, they do not earn true respect.

If I am working with a horse like this in the stall, I will go in the doorway if the horse is not too severe, and simply ignore them. Sometimes this takes a few seconds, some horses can take hours or more, but the horse will get curious and they will approach you. You are sharing space, they need to know who is the leader. When she does approach, push her away, defend your space, the more unpredictable the horse, the bigger and stronger your space needs to be. At this point, you are dealing with the fact that horses are like children in this stage, the more you push them away, the stronger they want to come back to you. By being fair in your language, and pushing them away strongly and consistently, you are proving leadership abilities that would offer the horse stability and protection, and she will really want to be with you since you can offer her that. Keep your standards high, don't let her approach you until she has her head dropped, is licking and chewing, hopefully the eyes will start rolling and she will start shaking her head and neck. Your first contact will be a simple nose to hand, but again, be specific, she will still be testing you and if you get weak and want to be her friend, she will lose faith in you again. The second she starts to push too hard on your bubble is the second you move her away again and start all over. Remember, she does not understand your goals of grooming and taking her for a good walk and a scratch. Work with what she is giving you right now.

It is very common for horses like this to be wonderful undersaddle. Insecure horses, like insecure people, have little ability to say no when presented with a pressured situation. They tend to do what is asked and do it promptly if that is what it takes to get the person to go away. Once this type of horse is haltered and under your control, they rarely put up any kind of pressure for a fight. Basically, once they are caught, they are caught, which is why the place where they learn to say "no" is before the halter is even on.
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