I volunteer at this therapeutic riding barn, and one of my jobs is leading for the lessons. There's this horse (let's call him Tex) who I don't get along with at all, riding or on the ground. He was a backyard pet before he came to this barn and spent most of his time bossing other horses around and being allowed to get away with murder by his owners. He is now quite a pushy, relentless horse. He has been here two or three years now, and this is second year volunteering.
I have always never liked him, and he has a track record of reacting instead of thinking and always trying to be in control. I'm firm with him with bad behavior that I can clearly see and understand (trying to rub his head on me, tossing his head, pawing, constantly moving). About half the time, he respects my space and stands still. The problem is, I don't really understand a lot of his behavior. For example, last night I was leading Tex and the lesson was over (I had no problem with him during the lesson), and we had to wait behind another horse before exiting the gate. He kept trying to walk forward, and I, thinking he was just being his usual pushy self, backed him up to his original spot several times, using lead rope pressure, pushing his chest, verbally saying, "Back," and making eye contact. The first few times, it was okay. But all of the sudden, he tosses his head back and rolls his eyes as if I had just tried to hit him. I have never struck him for any reason, nor have the previous owners or any other volunteers/staff, to my knowledge. To top it off, as he was already acting weird, the stirrup (which was supposed to be hooked around the saddle horn) fell down and banged him in the side, which started a whole other thing. Was it the eye contact that initially freaked Tex out or something else? Was it just him being generally disrespectful at first? Those are the cues I always use. And that's just one example.
So because I don't understand all of his behavior, I don't trust him, and clearly the feeling is mutual because he feels the need to dominate me instead of accept me as leader. Once he gets down to work, he behaves, but I just need him to cut the crap the rest of the time . He is not only disrespectful to me, but to anyone who he thinks he can take advantage of, and will try to pull crap even on people he knows won't take it for a second. In his new herd, he is pretty low in the pecking order, so I wonder if that has something to do with this?
I have thought about trying groundwork like join-up with him (it would be my first time trying, too). Would it be better to try it on a horse I trust first and then try him so my confidence wouldn't be shaken if he doesn't respond?
I want to be able to get along and trust him but I can't until I know I have complete control and will be able to handle him in any situation. I feel like I need to deal with this immediately and figure out what I'm doing wrong before me or someone else gets hurt.
It's also weird though...last week I was tacking him up for his lesson, and it was storming. There was this giant clap of thunder (the whole barn shook) and I thought for sure he was going to spook or rear, but when I quickly started talking and praising to calm him and the horses down, he relaxed and seemed kind of almost relieved at my touch when I stroked him. Maybe it was my imagination, and a minute later the horses started whinnying to eachother (maybe the reminder of their presence helped?) I don't know...as usual I have no idea why he acted the way he did haha
Thanks for your feedback, and if you need more info on our strained relationship (if you can have a strained relationship with a horse ), I will answer any questions. Also, please don't be mean in your comments - I know this is a problem and I am reaching out to those more experienced than me to fix it.