Hi, I am a first time horse owner with an Arab and Thoroughbred. I've been feeding & occasionally grooming (+ barefoot farrier) while I get my work duties under control. I've noticed they are getting quite hard to manage when picking feet up - even the Thoroughbred who is ex-show jumper. I know it's because I'm not doing any groundwork...but have also heard that being their feeder doesn't help.
Is there any truth to the rumor (?) that feeding is submissive & makes it harder to work with horses?
Any tips to overcome this during feed time?
Also, what are the most effective & least time consuming techniques to keep my status as the "alpha"?
Lastly, what is the best source of info to learn about horse psychology/understand horse behaviour?
Just for laughs, I'll share this experience...so the whole time I've been greeting my horses + cows by touching noses, sometimes for an extended period. Also, I show them everything I'm going to use (during grooming) by holding under the nose. I noticed that the more I did this, the more uncomfortable they became. Then I saw a video about how stallions challenge to exert picking order dominance - they touch noses! So this whole time I've been saying to them:
" I'm challenging you "
"the brush/lotion I'm about to use is going to attack"
...no wonder they've been getting harder + harder! Think I need some advice. Help!? (Thanks!)
Hold up here. (warning - typical long rambling post by me and I may need to be told I have no idea what I'm talking about. In which case, I will humbly accept it)
They're telling you that you, as the person bringing the feed to your horse, is making it submissive and thus... harder to work with?
Am I getting that right?
Because that sounds like a huge pile or horse poop to me. You WANT your horse submissive at the trough so they don't get the big idea to challenge you and you get HURT when feeding them. I warn mine off with a whip if they won't behave, and they don't get to come back to the feed I put out until they drop those heads and come in politely. That's asserting my lead mare position... driving them off, esp at dinner time, and not allowing them back until I see good manners, no faces pulled, etc.
I've seen the result of one person (Daughter's ex bf) getting kicked by our older gelding when he had shoes on the back feet because they wouldn't drive him off when he was being a butt at feed time. The Old Man opened him up to the bone. (Lots of stupid human tricks happened that day - I wasn't home when it happened)
You WANT a horse recognizing and respecting you as the lead mare or stallion in their life. That's not submission - that's respect and it must be earned with fair, firm, 100% immediate and consistent treatment, even if it means disciplining and/or expecting good manners (Submission?) at feed time.
You WANT them to submit to you handling their feet... that's another way to show you're the lead mare/head stallion... you are making them move their feet by picking them up and holding them or by lifting their fores to give them a good forward stretch.
I've never heard that having a horse behave submissive to their feeder as being a negative thing, ever. I can guarantee the breeders I know, and who own show horses or performance horses, don't tolerate shenanigans at dinner time and they're the ones doing the feeding, not a groom or a ranch hand.
If you want to become that horse's lead mare, you're going to have to earn it. And that doesn't mean teaching them forced helplessness or never being relaxed and sociable with your horse. It means grooming them, showing them affection, rewarding them for trying, being prepared to quell any shenanigans that are a direct challenge to you, and learn to speak their language... spend time just sitting and watching a group of horses in a turn out together.
Pay attention to a greeting vs. a challenge, to how a lead mare, if challenged, will react and how quickly... and how fast she will be over it and moving along like nothing ever happened. Horses are creatures with a complex language, extremely good discernment abilities - they can hear your heart beat, smell a change in your scent, recognize fear, worry, distrust... they can read your body language and know you before you know you. They have facial recognition, and an understanding of human emotions... coupled with a very long memory (They're a bit like elephants - studies suggest they never forget herdmates or people... including which people were good to them and which ones were not).
I started this path not speaking Horse myself. I have two outdoor bar stools under the lean to to our shop, and right outside my tackroom door. I can see all our horses at almost any given time, in two different pastures from there. I've had many a day just listening to music and watching. I've spent a lot of days just hanging out with them in the pasture and watching them and how they behave with one another.
I still don't know as much as I should, but I'm still learning. A day spent in Conversational Equine language class is always a good day. They're absolutely fascinating... herd politics, trough squabbles after the feed is out and I'm back to my chair, are very insightful. Nipping games, pasture races... they have their own rules to the games they play and boundaries to the chosen areas of play. I've seen a huge mare body slam an obnoxious filly and pin her to the ground until she got still and 'submissive', and once she let her up, it was like it never happened... except Oops learned to not pester Jackie Brown... or anyone else. It looked horrifically violent to me, but no one was hurt... and it never happened again.
My best advice for getting started anyway, is spend a LOT of time in observation. Don't apply human logic or morals to how they behave, and remember they evolved as food animals for predators... once you apply their instinct and intuition to survival, safety in numbers, and understand their fight or flight reactions, a lot will fall into place.
You talked about touching the end of the nose and how stallions use it to challenge... Context is everything... Mares will also do it to challenge another mare or a gelding or a stallion. It's not gender linked, in my small experience. It's often an inquiry... are we good? No? Then... *mare war cry squeal*. I also let all mine sniff anything I have in my hand that they're curious about - curry comb, saddle, saddle pad, blanket... beef jerky... doesn't matter. They express an interest to sniff or tap it with their nose, I let them. They seem to appreciate it and consider it good manners from the human to give them that opportunity to 'read' the scent on the object in hand. Oh! This isn't a scary thing! This smells like Gina... or Oops... or Trigger. Huh. Okay.. so it just goes on my back? Awesome... but... why?
I have a gelding that has a greeting ritual. If I don't patiently wait on him to come to me and ever so lightly, ever so inquiring tap my fingers to ask: Are we Good? while my fingers, palm down, arm extended, very relaxed... and then stroke him down the length of his face - he is very out of sorts. There are time the ritual must be observed or he's a nervous wreck. He's a VERY submissive horse, but very hot, very reactive. He has to be reassured that We're Good... I'm not going to tap his nose and then physically challenge him... It's all about context... it's all about the individual horse... which is why long hours of quiet observation is your best path to learning to speak their language and to understanding what A Thing means to them. It's not so simple as saying: A stallion challenges this way *by touching the nose*. Yes... and there's a whole lot of other things that can mean to horses in general and to horses individually. They're very fluid creatures and you have to adapt accordingly, depending on the conversation and the body language they offer you. If you don't understand the subtle nuances in a conversation with horse... you're gonna have a bad time.
To me, that's what makes them so darn amazing... I know lifelong horsemen and horsewomen that will humbly tell you they don't know much... and they'll follow up by saying if someone ever tells you they've learned all there is to learn about horses, they're a horrible horseman. You should be learning something new every time you're in their presence or on their backs.
I'm sorry this is so rambly... and I wish you the best of luck on your Learning to Speak Horse experience!
For your entertainment... or bemusement... I give you The Greeting Ritual. It's made all the difference in how far he's willing to trust me.