Understanding Bossy Horse Behavior?
So I'm a newer rider (and certainly not a trainer except in the fact that every time you're in contact with a horse, you train it) walk, trot, learning to canter, around horses consistently for about three years if that gives anyone an idea. I'm also 16 years old. I apologize if the problem we're having is obvious and I just can't see it, and hopefully I don't sound like too much of an idiot. :-)
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.
The best and most experienced horse herd leader calm the rest of the herd down. We had one. "Tyke" was 15yo when I bought him. He had been a backyard horse, and a TB lead pony and ran almost every herd he was part of. Never in the 13 years I owned him, until he died, did I ever see him back down to another horse. When I bought him my herd leader was fractious. Tyke calmed everyone down. Still, he put a few horses through the gate and I got a few Vet bills.
Right now I have a herd of three. It's an unusual dynamic. My 15yo mare is 3/3, but the 7yo geldings depend on her. They never really beat her up, #1 grooms #2 and #3 (mare), #2 grooms #1 and #3(mare). I hardly have to treat cuts with the 3 of them, and they are turned out 2/3 of the time.
I think bully horses are really cowards, just like people, so you probably did the right thing in the T-storm. See if you can gain his trust, and take things very slowly so as not to frighten him, and see if that works.
Sounds to me like he really doesn't totally respect you. I would start off by doing ground work with him, if you have a round pen there are a lot of exercises you can do to teach the horse to respect you and look at you as the leader. I follow Clinton Anderson's methods, do a search on Youtube and you can find some vids that would probably help you better than me trying to explain things LOL Good luck and keep us posted!
It's proabably going to be hard to do a lot with a horse that isn't yours and is at a facility for therauputic riding. Aren't there trainers or barn managers who will help you with any horse that isn't behaving?
I mean, you can try things that people suggest, but will the owners allow/accept that?
you may have to get very firm with him a couple of times for him to start seeing you with a new light of respect. But that sometimes doesn't look so nice to other people, so I wonder if you really could ?
As for doing join up, if you've never worked in a round pen before, then get someone to help you and start with a pretty push button horse.
If you can do this I would.
I had a horse exactely like this. She was with a owner for many years that if she did the littlest thing wrong she would pretty much get beat, well then she was sold to another lady who knew very little about horses and would not discipline her at all. She went to the point where she wouldn't let people saddle her or do much with her. So she was sold back to the original owner and that owner knew she would never ride her so she gave her to me. I went out the the inexperinced person's farm a few times and I could saddle her and ride her because she knew I wouldn't take any crap. I punnished her for being pushy, walking to fast on the ground, but not beating her. Just reminding her that no you can't do that.
One thing that MAJORLY helped was teaching her to move her shoulders. Have the horse stand still. Rub them down with a dressage whip (no tassle at the end would be best). Then start lightly tapping on the middle of their neck and taking your hand and pushing it towards their face with the rhythm of the whip. The moment they move their neck away from you stop and praise them. Ask for a little bit farther each time, if they move their shoulders away thats fine. Once they get used to move their neck away then while you are taping their neck and asking it to move away take a very demanding step towards them and tap a little bit harder until they move their feet over. I would only go with one step at first. Eventually ask for 2 steps. Just hold the lead loosely. You don't use it at all. Make sure your step towards them is demanding, strong, and showing you are the boss.
They need to know you mean business. Teaching them this really helps and has changed my horse. I learned this method from a video I got for free from Stacy Westfall. If you purchase a weaver leather product you can get this video free. I even have a few extra. :)
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.
99% of horses don't want to be leaders as it's a big job. But, he wants/needs a leader and if you're not going to step up to the plate, then he'll do it. Have you ever wondered why soldiers walk the way they do? It creates an image of authority and this is what you need to do. Stretch up tall, shoulders back and think "I'm in charge", over and over. Do this when you approach this horse's stall. Skip the petting and soothing, he's not a toddler, and develope a no-nonsense attitude. A horse can read you in an instant and knows if you're in charge or a pushover.
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