How best to chastise a horse - that is the question
Recently a Forum member was having problems with her newly acquired horse which had been showing signs of latent aggression. I thought about how to give some comment to her and then I realised that without knowing her or being able to watch the horse’s behaviour towards her, there was no way by which I could positively advise her.
Aggression is one trait in a horse’s psychology which I personally will not tolerate. Once a horse realises how strong it is compared with a mere human then control passes from the rider/handler to the horse. If the horse knows it can generate fear in a human then it will use the new found weapon to get its own way. Luckily most horses are content to be subservient to humans but a stallion, a late cut gelding or an alpha mare can sometimes decide to try its luck. The question for the handler is then what to do.
A very relative issue is that we humans are not all alike. Some of us have little fear of domesticated animals whilst others have a latent fear which arises in times of stress. It is rare that I stand back from a horse but from time to time even my brain tells me to be cautious.
The last time I struck back at a horse was some years ago when a gelding tried to bite my wife’s shoulder. I was standing by her at the time and the horse made a lunge over the stable door. Immediately I waived my hands and shouted at the animal which much to my surprise then lunged at me instead. I flew at it and it did move back but not very far, but then it came back at me. I realised then that I would have to be very careful whenever I was within reach of this horse. It would have bitten me if it had had the opportunity. Yet it did not even know me. The owner rarely appeared at the yard and when she heard that it had tried to bite me over the stable door, she was very concerned lest I had frightened the animal. She competed on the horse which apparently had some ability in cross country jumping partly, I suspect, because it was fearless. The fact was that undoubtedly the animal was a danger to every human on the yard. There was no place for it on a DIY livery yard.
Thankfully the horse was moved away soon after my confrontation with it and I subsequently learned that it had been put down. Chastising such a horse I would classify as Defcon 1 - the last phase in a confrontation. Horses which strike, kick or aggressively bite are not suitable for boarding on public yards.
My own horse at the time was a mature heavyweight cob who had been worked in a trekking centre. He had met with all sorts of humans and had developed his own way of dealing with them. His favourite method of discarding a cumbersome rider was to go down on his knees and roll over - with the rider still sitting in the saddle. It was left for the rider to jump off quickly. He never tried it on with me but in the end he discovered my weakness when he whirled and bolted down a steep tarmacced lane. At the time I was mounted on a flat topped dressage saddle with minimal knee rolls. I was bounced forwards off the saddle onto his neck which he flipped and thereby had me off his back for the first time in over five years. At first I thought it had been to do with his nappiness or the pretended fright of a lamb hiding under the field hedge but I still wonder if the move was predetermined. This horse had a mouth of iron, his chest was broad and he was as strong as an ox. He could easily carry my 200lbs up the steepest of hillsides He had a short stubby neck and he could resist a pull by the rider on either rein. He was stubborn but somehow his individualistic nature made him lovable - not that he was an affectionate animal. In his case it was me whom he was at war with, not the human race.
He knew exactly what he wanted from humans and he tried to make sure he always got it. I never really understood him until right at the very end of our relationship when I watched him carry the woman who had known him all of his life, out of the yard into a hail storm. She sat slovenly hunched over his back, riding one handed, whilst smoking a cigarette Yet at the time this horse was soon to be entered into his first dressage test. When asked to do so, he could be ridden on the bit in a rounded outline but he was not comfortable in the posture. Normally I rode him in contact but on a loose rein. One handed he’d do a brisk extended trot, head and neck pitched up, even when ridden on loose reins. For his mum - he’d do anything she asked without argument. He’d take her sheep herding on a mountainside. He taught her three year old son how to sit. On a trek he was the leader of the herd.
But sometimes he didn’t want to leave the yard. Or if he was out, at an appropriate junction, he’d whirl round to the left and lurch into a fast canter in the direction of home. The only counter for the rider was a savage pull through on the reins in the direction of the whirl and a sharp tap of the whip on the rump as he came through 360 degrees. On such rides, the rider learned to hold the reins short with the crop in the hand. What I had not recognised was that we were at war. Joe had not at that time yet learned to dislodge me from his back. And that was exactly where he wanted me - on my back on the ground, looking up at him looking down.
Yet at other times Joe could be angel. He was simply superb even in heavy traffic. He was gentle with children He was bold and fearless fun to take on pleasure rides It was only when I thought to teach him to ride classically that the problems escalated. Joe could form a rounded outline, but he did not need to bend his neck and spine to carry my weight. He sought control of his head. I now realise that sometime before the inevitable fall in which Joe tore a check ligament and I went to A&E, we had reached Defcon 2. He could not be allowed any leeway in the matter of bad behaviour.
However the fact was that I was using the crop too much. The stricter I had become, the greater was his resistance, When months later during one of his first rides after recovering from his lameness that he dumped me again I realised that the relationship between him and me was breaking down. I couldn’t trust him any more to want to carry me safely. I‘d made a serious mistake in not leaving him with his pride. To be fair to him, he never ever struck out, reared or bit passing humans, the vet, the farrier or visitors onto the yard. The war of dominance was between him and me and to a lesser extent my wife who also rode him at times. Sadly it was his mum who one year later put him down. I could never have ordered his demise.
My present mare is a different creature altogether. She is ultra sensitive. A loud voice saying ‘Oi’ in a strident tone is enough to cause her to lift her head and prick her ears. I never carry a whip with her. The gentlest of application of the whip, say Defcon 3, would send her shooting forwards and she would be like a cat on a hot tin roof for the rest of the session. Even if I started to carry it as routine, I’d inevitably break the bond between us. Yes if she barges me, then I will shove her in return. If she nuzzles me hard, then it is for me to push her nose back. With her, it is beholden on me to ask, and invariably she will obey. When she is in alert mood and fearful then I must calm her with hand, fingers and voice. With her the maximum level of chastisement can only be Defcon 4 - namely a sharp loud voiced command to desist. To move up the scales of punishment, would be to lose her voluntary cooperation with me for ever.
So with these examples in mind, how can one advise how to chastise a horse. So much depends upon the character of both horse and human and their relationship together. The commentator has to meet with both horse and rider which is not practical by intenet.
The days of one standard set of responses by humans to characteristic horse behaviour went out with the cavalry and the arrival of the tank. What is more, horses these days are more finely bred. Not all horses are flight animals, some will stand their ground. We have stopped corporal punishment of school boys, maybe it is time it was banned with horses. There are other ways to dominate a horse.
Honestly, I think its all perspective of the person's training, the horse and the levels you have to use.
You can't chastise one horse exactly the same as another, nor know the circumstances completely over the internet, with or without videos.
Whenever working with a new horse whether it be my own or another I will establish groundwork, and in that assess the horse looking at me, and what happens when I look back.
I have only met two that I would never touch again, one of whom was shot, and the other who is soon to be gelded. In both cases a serious lack of experience was involved.
I disagree that horses that are somewhat dominant should not be kept on a livery yard. My horse, my business- I don't want other people touching and petting my horses, bringing all sorts of things on their hands, feeding them and spoiling them. So in that respect, keep your fingers too yourself and you won't lose them.
Another point is lack of education on an owners behalf. So many times I see 'My new horse is a nightmare!'..bought the horse with perfect manners and it goes down hill.
Work with a trainer, someone who can help you and the horse.
Or people who cant see the wood for the trees, and let their horses get away with murder.
I like my three step rule which is effective both on the ground in saddle. Ask, reaffirm, do it or die.
Of course, this works well with horses that have no fear, or horses that know too well what they should be doing. Uneducated horses sometimes react badly through confusion or lack of proper training, and this also needs to be addressed.
I tell everyone 'Horses are bigger and faster, you have to be smarter' There are ways and means, if you don't resolve it, things could end up dangerous and in the long run this is where horse's get their bad names from.
Then you get the fearful horse. I have never had to deal with one, so I won't comment on how to best chastise them.
Or the word chastise. Makes it sound like a naughty school child, when in fact, this is a big beast coming at you with teeth and hooves flailing.
Either way, I would always say make it steps, make sure the horse understands what you are asking, and increase the pressure with every step, but enough that you aren't stood there for half an hour.
They soon learn asking the first time is better than having to have it repeated.
Good posts, guys. It seems to me that lots of issues arise from the human having a clear idea of what they want but being unable to communicate this to the horse, and then chastising the horse when it doesn't do it. Lots of frustration for both parties here. Before chastising a horse, we have to be more than sure the horse knows what it is being corrected for and knows what the correct behaviour is. If the horse doesn't do it, you have to query yourself, asking, "Did I ask for this in a way the horse understands? Was my timing right? Or is he in fact just blowing me off?"
For example, my canter transitions have been really sticky for years and I attribute 95% percent of this to my dismal canter cue and piss poor position going into the transition. At the same time, I have to be sure my horse will canter whenever I don't totally cock up the cue. The good news is that my horse is just getting more forgiving and will canter even when I did not deserve that transition. :-)
Another example that springs to mind is the livery in my barn who shouts, "Stand! Stand! Stand! Stand!" ad infinitum whenever she works with her fidgety horse, but does nothing else to correct the fidgety behaviour, much less show the horse what she actually wants it to do. I'm pretty sure that horse has no clue what the word "stand" means, or why she's being shouted at.
Precisely silver, your horse must understand what you're asking.
But then it takes education on both horse and human parts to achieve this. And then further education on the part of the human to understand when the horse has misunderstood what has been asked, and when its blatantly shouted NO.
Then again horses that are 'aggressive' need a firmer hand imo, and should be handled by only those with experience and a dominant enough persona that the horse doesn't try and gainthe upper hand at any time. Thats when accidents happen.
I think the NH edict of "make the right thing easy and the wrong thing hard" really must come into play here. If you set your horse up for success, he will soon understand what you want and you won't even have to chastise. :-) If I grab my inside rein and throw myself off her inside shoulder in the canter transition, I'm setting her up to fail. I shouldn't (and don't) chastise her for not cantering. Similarly, if your horse's "reward" for standing still is getting its legs hosed off with freezing water, at night, in the middle of the winter, and when it moves, you leave it alone and just shout at it, you're setting it up to fidget and not stand.
I remember Duffy not backing up under saddle one day, despite my trainer getting the small whip out as we'd trainer her with infront of her legs, tapping her legs then gave her a good smart across the legs. And she stood there challenging my trainer.
I got off, and gave it a go. So instead of walking backwards, she went up a bit, then took off- just a show if I'M BIGGER. I let go because I fell face first in the sand and injured my shoulder..
Lets just say my trainer made the wrong thing hard and ever since she rolls back b-e-a-utifully.
Barry, what works with all horses is to change their focus. ie. move their feet, even if one has to swing a whip side to side toward the nose (aggressive horse) which it won't want to bump in to. The timid horse will respond to a waving hand again aimed at the nose. In both cases you are making the horse move and are driving it away, something horse to to each other all the time. The one doing the driving is the one in control. Even following at a safe distance and continueing to drive the horse will begin to convince it that you are higher on the order. No need to chase it, just follow it in a way to keep the energy level low.
I tend to think that these things become an issue because people don't notice them until they've gone on so long and advance so far that they make themselves painfully (no pun intended) obvious to even the average unaware human. It's a testament to the good nature of the horse that most people survive the experience of riding, considering how unaware they are of things that should be big red flags.
I think that the biggest reason people run into problems is because they're not aware of how aware they really should be, that 'consistency' means 100% of the time, and that getting respect from a horse is about the strength and resolve of a person's presence and will moreso than just 'moving his feet' or hitting him with a stick or whatever else. I don't mean to say that those techniques are wrong, but I would say that the manner in which the average person applies them is lacking in substance. Which, of course the horse knows and responds accordingly.
Ian, your last paragraph rings true with my own situation, but I think it depends on the horse too.
My own mare is VERY dominant, and sometimes it is a battle of wills to see if she can get the upper hand. We do everything with her, my trainer and I, and its under 'control' now.
One thing I don't get is people who are against using physical force and pressure against a horse. Do you think another horse in the field holds one hoof up as a warning, then prods him as the next step? Nuuuh, ears back, head swing, snap, double barrel.
Unless you're mentally destroying a horse, which I've seen happen, a whack with a leadrope isn't going to be felt all that much. Perhaps this is just me, but it does make me wonder.
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