Halter Resistance and Angry Eating - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 20 Old 12-22-2018, 01:03 PM Thread Starter
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Halter Resistance and Angry Eating

Hey guys,

I have a problem. It’s with haltering an 11yo Arabian-Andalusian mare. I’d love to get some help/insight/suggestions.

Background: Aria lives in a pasture. When I work with her, I’m alone with her, and her buddy Old Man. By “working” with her, I mean that I catch her, groom her, and do some light groundwork.

Before I started working with her, she hadn’t been interacted with by humans for about 2 years. Her owner (who isnt around right now, and left her in my care) is pretty intimidated by her because Aria can get dramatic and aggressive. Aria developed some snapping/biting behavior when she wanted to get her way, as well as what I would call “food aggression.”

Now...my experience has been that Aria started out very defensive, insecure and lacking confidence. When I first interacted with her, everything was a battle, and I used the firm, strict, no nonsense type interaction style I learned back in English riding school as a kid.

That worked okay. But I didnt like that everything was always a struggle.

So I got a book called “Horse Talk,” which is all about communicating effectively with your horse. I spent a lot of time on boundaries, watching Aria’s reactions, and especially making sure Aria knew that I’d secured her environment, I would fight off all the evil, scary boogeymen. I stopped acting like I was in charge OF HER, and started acting like I was in charge of THE WORLD, and she was something I had to protect.

This worked GREAT. She softened right up. Everything got easier, and we started to really progress.

Then, we did a session with a trainer that screwed up both me and Aria’s confidence. After that, Aria decided she didnt want her halter put on anymore.

Ever since then, if she sees me coming with a rope and halter, she sticks her head to the ground and eats grass in a way that to me seems almost neurotic. It’s like “stress eating” or “angry eating.” As I get close, her ears go back. It’s all I can do to correct her before she snaps at me. And even though the halter goes on—and she’s fine after that—that “struggle” of getting the halter on just doesn’t feel right.

The worst part, is she knows WHEN I’m going to halter her. Its always after I work with Old Man. Back before the trainer, Aria would prance around and follow me and old man. Now, she knows the halter is coming, and she gets defensive waaaaaay in advance.

And the thing is, she doesn’t walk away from me. Or run away. She comes up to greet me when I come to the field. So it’s not like she hates “people” in general. She doesn’t even dislike the groundwork we do. (Though I admit, she is more reluctant to leave her comfort zone now.) I just cant figure out what’s up.

At first I thought she didnt like what the halter represented—handing over control. Then I thought maybe I was thinking too deeply, and she just didnt like it being put on her face...

I’d like to really work on this more specifically, but I can’t seem to figure out the right way to get over this hurtle.

Here is what I’ve tried so far:

1. Catching her with a rope first, and leading her that way before putting on halter. —This seems to annoy her even worse than the halter.

2. Making her back up, and/or do circles before halter goes on. This, also, has not helped and only make her grumpier. (And me grumpier, honestly.)

3. “Making the wrong thing hard and the right thing easy.” —I call this “annoy them until they do what you want.” And while this has worked fine with the cold-blooded horses I’ve worked with, Aria just gets more and more irritated, and hence digs further and further into her cycle of anxiety/frustration/defensiveness/stubbornness.

4. Just getting through it as fast as possible without making a big deal... this, if anything, has worked the best. But...there’s still that Flash of aggression. What I want is to get rid of even the FEELING of aggression. Not just the behavior.

5. I’ve even tried getting a different halter, smoking it in incense so it smelled different, having her eat treats in the halter—all in an effort to create a positive association. Yes, I know this is silly, woo-woo and turned out to be futile, but I’m at my wit’s end.

So, yeah. I can get on the halter. And do every day. But its always a tense moment.

Some people say that you should “never let the horse win.” But, I just dont feel that works with aria. My experience has been that any time I get to the point where its me vs her, I’ve already lost. Yeah, I can get her to do what I want, but... she does it in a brittle sort of way that doesn’t feel right. It’s a million miles away from the soft, supple, relaxed way she is when we are on the same page.

So I know this has been a novel, but that’s all the background.

Does anyone have any suggestions? I’d especially appreciate suggestions that have worked with hot-blooded, nervous, anxious and spooky horses.

THANKS!!
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post #2 of 20 Old 12-22-2018, 01:09 PM Thread Starter
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Something I wanted to add was that I felt the trainer pushed Aria too hard.

To me, it seemed that the trainer made Aria’s “anxiety cup” overflow. (To paraphrase Warwick Schiller.)

It didnt occur to me to speak up at the time.

However, it was THIS trainer, in addition to the horse’s owner, who last worked with Aria two years ago.

I dont blame the biting on the trainer, necessarily. But...I’m just saying. Whatever the owner/trainer did in the past did NOT create a calm, easy to work with horse.

Not sure why the owner thought that working with the same trainer now would somehow produce different results. :/
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post #3 of 20 Old 12-22-2018, 01:45 PM
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I'm in favor of making things as pleasant for the horse as possible. If I were in your situation, I'd bring a cookie and give it to her after I haltered her each time. Make her look forward to the experience.
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post #4 of 20 Old 12-22-2018, 02:34 PM
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Wink

Quote:
Originally Posted by ManicDaisy View Post
4. Just getting through it as fast as possible without making a big deal... this, if anything, has worked the best. But...there’s still that Flash of aggression. What I want is to get rid of even the FEELING of aggression. Not just the behaviour

!

Read this again, just going out there and doing it without making a big deal worked best...so there is your answer.

We so often overthink stuff, and get confused by this book, that advice, or another’s philosophy. Personally I don’t give a **** about Stella’s feelings when I go get her, she can ‘feel’ what she likes, as long as she doesn’t act on it.

Ok, so she is carrying some form of trauma either mental or physical, probably both, from an unknown incident in the past. Makes her very difficult to put a headstall or halter on. The only way to be is matter of fact, while respecting her trigger points....I have always put a horses nose in the halter first, then put the headpiece on....doesn’t work with her, I have to put the headpiece over her neck, slide the whole thing up to her ears, then drop her nose in, then buckle up. I am very respectful of her boundaries, but at the same time I make it is quick and slick as I can, matter of fact, here we go. Then she gets a treat.

If she lived at home with me I would do that several times every day for a week or two, halter on, treat, pat, halter off, walk away.

Back to the ‘feeling of aggression’ first of all can you her that well, are your skills that honed that you can tell aggression from impatience for instance? Some horses just do not like messing around, you just have to get on with your task, they will do theirs. Imagine when you were back at school, you may have to do math, you were expected to behave and complete the tasks, no one can make you like it.

“Never attribute to malice that which can be attributed to stupidity”
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post #5 of 20 Old 12-22-2018, 03:13 PM
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If it were me, Id probably go out there not even thinking about doing anything but putting on her halter, taking her halter off and leaving, gradually she'll stop her bad behavior.....GH's post is pretty much what I was going to say! If the one way is already working, continue it. Best of Luck!
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post #6 of 20 Old 12-22-2018, 03:50 PM
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One of the best things I learned from Julie Goodnight is that if your horse is complying with your request, you can ignore their "emotional outbursts."

It's kind of like raising teenagers -- if you ask them to take out the trash, you're going to be sorely disappointed and engaging in an endless daily battle if you expect them to do the chore with a big smile on their face and a spring in their step. Just be happy they are taking out the trash and ignore the heavy sighing, scowling and eye rolling.

Pinning ears and snaking the neck, snapping the teeth, connecting with a nip, striking, turning their butt to you and threatening to kick are absolutely unacceptable and threatening behaviors. Laying ears back, trying to get a few more bites of grass, trying to ignore you, taking a few steps away and generally looking sour are "emotional outbursts." Horses are like teenagers -- no matter the activity, they'd rather be left alone to stand around, eat grass and nap with their buddies.

Just go catch her. No muss, no fuss. Give her a treat after haltering her once in a while. Get on with things and reward good behavior, despite the emotional outbursts.
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post #7 of 20 Old 12-22-2018, 03:52 PM Thread Starter
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@Gold enhorse - I read something similar shortly after posting.

When I go out today I’ll practice putting it on matter-of-factly a bunch of times.

I think I just psyched myself out. And made her more nervous in the process.
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post #8 of 20 Old 12-22-2018, 03:57 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ManicDaisy View Post
@Gold enhorse - I read something similar shortly after posting.

When I go out today I’ll practice putting it on matter-of-factly a bunch of times.

I think I just psyched myself out. And made her more nervous in the process.
A lot of us have been there and done that......one of the key things to remember around horses is to try and act if it’s no big deal, and just do it. Always be aware, but most of the time we cause our own issues.

For years I was the sympathetic, Hugh, patty, there there type, before I realized that I was just confirming their opinion that this is singing to worry about. Now I try really hard to be on the side of “this is a reasonable request, just do it” not said or acted as a bully, but with an air of authority.
boots, Alder and ManicDaisy like this.

“Never attribute to malice that which can be attributed to stupidity”
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post #9 of 20 Old 12-22-2018, 04:40 PM
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I agree about halters g her, treat amd halter off.

The other thing is you did hat she knows she is going to work after you have worked the other horse. What I suggest you could do is to go into the field, halter her, first and either work her first or, leave the halter on and work the other horse.

Some horses are ultra sensitive. I had a total neurotic mess of a horse and another of the same breeding which was the opposite. I started to take lessons from a top dressage trainer who was very demanding. Oddly the neurotic horse was OK with this method, the stoic horse practically had a nervous breakdown.

I stopped the lessons because I didn't agree with the demands rather than the asking.
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post #10 of 20 Old 12-22-2018, 04:49 PM
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I like this thread. A lot of time we over-think it with animals. I know that when my horse is nervous there is nothing that reassures her more than me saying "yeah yeah, I saw that too, it's nothing." Not just *saying* it, but communicating it with my body language. Same with if she is a bit cranky. "Knock it off, I'm just picking up your foot." Being very matter of fact communicates that you are in charge and they can relax.

I can't stress enough what a difference it makes to be the leader -- not the therapist or the behavioral-mod manipulator, just the leader.

I think you really have the right idea about "owning the world". It is a rare animal that won't line up behind that.

Short horse lover
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