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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 ***** 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.
 

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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.
 

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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 **** 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.
 

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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.
 

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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.
 

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LOL yes.
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.
 

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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.
Aye, and I think education is what's sadly lacking. I was lucky at the barn I essentially grew up at, in that there were trainers and friendly boarders with a solid foundation of horse psychology who were more than happy to take a clueless 14-year old (or anybody) under their wing. Now, I find not only are there not many opportunities or really knowledgeable people about, but in most instances, people don't know what they don't know, and there seems to be a dominant line of thought painting horses as naughty children, or large dogs, and if you shout at them enough and put on the standing martingale when need be, they will do what you tell them. Or people who assume behaviour is more fixed or inherent to a particular horse than it actually is. I remember I had my horse ground tied in front of her stall while fidgety horse lady was working with her mare, and she commented to me, "Wow, your horse has such a calm nature." I said, "She's just been trained within an inch of her life." Who would have thought?
 

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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.
 

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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.
 

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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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Aye, the way I see it, I don't want to be spending that much time "correcting" or "chastizing" (British or American spelling... I can't make up my mind) a horse. The only way to achieve that is to have consistent boundaries and maintain that 100% of the time. The horse knows exactly where those boundaries are and most of them are really happy with that. My horse, generally speaking, doesn't do anything that needs correction. That's what I want. An insecure horse who feels he needs to be dominant because you're not, or you're inconsistently dominant, is the horse who is likely to develop "behaviour problems."

To do that, you need to be tuned to your horse's body language, so you know what he's going to do before he does it. I think in one of his books, Mark Rashid has some line about that. I'd rather be redirecting a behaviour BEFORE it happens, than punishing the horse after it happened.
 

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...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...
Both the Arabian mare I sold and the one I kept are what I call "Please and Thank You" horses. They are mostly willing and sympathetic, but it is critical to leave them with their pride. The mare I kept is the lead mare. Even when she was sold (before meeting me) and put into a pasture with much larger and dominant geldings, she wouldn't give in. She lost 150 lbs (900 down to 750) but was still willing to fight them - and a 1500 lb gelding can deliver far more punishment than I can!

So she was returned, and ended up with me. Handling her probably requires more judgment than I have. She is very friendly with someone she knows & likes, and very stand-offish with strangers. It is OK to insist she does something (provided she understands what you are asking), but it needs to come with a Please & Thank You. There is some element of respect and sympathy that needs to be conveyed, even while insisting she obey.

A part of it is learning to read her, so I can push her a bit beyond her comfort zone, but not so far that she feels bullied. If I ever think, "Dammit! You're GOING to do this!"...we're finished. Now we're fighting, and she would as soon die as give in.

For example, suppose I need to get her past a terrifying trash bag. If I take the approach of making the wrong thing difficult, I might try to work her hard until we get past the object. But even if we get past it that way, I will have established in her mind the idea that the trash bag means "Fight!"

Instead, I need to calm her past the scary thing. Have her back up (or disengage, followed by a backup). Calm. Take a few steps forward. Calm. Do a "Head down". Wait until she has accepted the idea that she can be 15 feet from the trash bag. Then 5 feet forward, stop and calm. In small steps, ease her up to the scary thing. Then stand there and calm her while as close as we can get. THEN we can go on by, and she'll accept that it isn't scary, and that I'm not a bully. And the next time we encounter something scary, she is more willing to trust my judgment.

My Appy gelding is closer to a "Dammit" horse. He is terrified of physical punishment, but he accepts hard work as a rebuke. If you are too polite with him, he'll decide you are weak and not to be trusted. When pushed too far, he doesn't rebel so much as he just becomes afraid and mindless. However, if you actually get angry, it is all over. He may obey you out of fear, but he won't give you an honest effort and he may try to dump you - if he thinks he can.

I've met true "Dammit" horses. They need to be told, "My way or the Highway". The ones I've met were lesson horses or ranch horses. Perhaps experience had taught them that humans are incapable of having a relationship. Perhaps their temperament was that way. I don't know. But all they cared about was, "Will you make me? Or not?"

I've seen the same continuum with dogs and people. Some people need to be inspired. Most accept punishment if it is deserved and proportionate. And some just want to know, "Can you make me?"
 

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To add: One of the benefits of being consistent is that when you are, the horse rarely tries you. He becomes confident in you and then he's pleasant to be around. It's only when the human is ineffective that the horse is always trying things. Though even the best horses are occasionally going to push somewhere as it's just the nature of the beast. I learned this lesson one time in a very poignant way.

I was at a Buck Brannaman clinic in Steamboat Springs, CO and he was on a horse by the name of Rebel (I think). At that time Rebel was in the two-rein and obviously better trained and educated than most horses will ever be in their entire lifetime. In general, the way that Buck does everything is very slow and smooth (which I really took a lesson from). However, at some point during the clinic Buck asked this horse to do something and instead of responding with respect he shot Buck a dirty look.

In response, Buck took the end of his romal and whacked the horse so quick and hard that it sounded like a gunshot. One time. From where I was sitting in the bleachers it literally felt like a shock wave. Then he petted/calmed the horse down and said "he'll be good for another 6 months now".

That was quite a moment of truth and literally shattered a lot of preconceived notions I had. I'll never forget it.
 

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It really does depend on the horse, and I think that's what makes good horsemen - the ability to quickly recognize and differentiate these types of horses, and work with them in a way that...well, works. You can read as many books and watch as many DVDs as you want, and nothing but experience will ever give you the ability to work with all different kinds of horses.

The stricter I had become, the greater was his resistance.
This is so, so true, and I've experienced it so, so many times. I have a personality that wants to be in charge, wants to be dominant, and I get really picky with what I accept. I always shoot for perfection, and take my animals' 'failures' as my own. And I don't like failure :lol:

It took me a long time to figure out what you said above - that the stricter, meaner, and more uptight and particular I get about things, the more resistant and ill-behaved the horse is going to become. It took me a long time to find that balance between desperate pushover and tyrannical bully. I have it nailed down pretty well with the horses I have now, but I have no doubt my perception will be shifted and I'll be searching for that balance if I am ever faced with a truly difficult horse.

My three 'personal' horses now, I feel, are horses that I don't need to worry about. The two pintos are easy and naturally submissive. They don't try very hard or very often to test, something I guess comes because I have been consistent and effective with them. If they do, they're easy to read and correct. I rarely work with the youngster if my trainer's not there, so again, I don't need to worry about having trouble misreading something or messing something up with her.

With all of them, I find that most of their problems are my problems. I always need to discipline myself before looking at the horse in a bad light (something I still work on). Most of the time, if they're in a fit about something, it's because I'm tense and ****ed off. And if they're in a fit because of something besides me being tense or ****ed off, I can always resolve it just by being confident and easy-going. It's been a long time since I've needed to punish them for something.

It's always easier to just avoid bad behaviour from the start than worry about the appropriate way to correct it.
 

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I think horses tend to ask 2 questions of us.
"Why should I do that?" & "How can I do that?"
It's our job to clearly answer the first question before the horse will ask the second. A well trained respectful horse will become a 'how' horse,IMO.
 

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I think the real question is, what is the horse actually doing?

We can't perfectly know what's going on in their minds, we can only guess. Sometimes it's hard: especially with aggression, which is sometimes an expression of fear; sometimes of frustration; or, certainly, the will to be in full control.

I don't like the concept of "chastise" because it involves a sense of punishment, which gets into a sense of right and wrong behavior. I don't think horses ever behave "wrong." There's some reason behind everything they do.

When I'm confronted with a problem, I make a tentative guess of the WHY. If it's something I can't help, like with a horse barging through a gate, then I try to associate something unpleasant with this behavior. I don't think of it as "punishment" but as a connected instant. If the horse has been acting out of fear, then my "associative response" could make things worse. But I live and learn, I hope.

I had several years with a very aggressive pony. He's walk up to you cute as could be, then turn and start kicking at you as hard as he could. Why why and why??? He also bit (he bit someone's head once) and I had to practically tie up all his legs to pick his feet. He was an extraordinarily intelligent Morgan-type, and I THINK all this was just his own way of dealing with a life of extremes: from being a spoiled pet, to hard work, then turned out to fend for himself for a long time, then thrown into a trail-riding outfit. He never figured out a routine, nothing was consistent. There was probably something satisfying in being able to get a predicted behavior from humans. . .

Anyway, that's my take on it: horses should never be chastised.
 

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Altho we may think we are giving horses clear signals, there's a good chance they aren't, not to the horse. Rather than chastise the animal I will ask the rider why they think it's not working and I will encourage the rider to experiment and see how the horse reacts.
 

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I think the real question is, what is the horse actually doing?

We can't perfectly know what's going on in their minds, we can only guess. Sometimes it's hard: especially with aggression, which is sometimes an expression of fear; sometimes of frustration; or, certainly, the will to be in full control.

I don't like the concept of "chastise" because it involves a sense of punishment, which gets into a sense of right and wrong behavior. I don't think horses ever behave "wrong." There's some reason behind everything they do.

When I'm confronted with a problem, I make a tentative guess of the WHY. If it's something I can't help, like with a horse barging through a gate, then I try to associate something unpleasant with this behavior. I don't think of it as "punishment" but as a connected instant. If the horse has been acting out of fear, then my "associative response" could make things worse. But I live and learn, I hope.

I had several years with a very aggressive pony. He's walk up to you cute as could be, then turn and start kicking at you as hard as he could. Why why and why??? He also bit (he bit someone's head once) and I had to practically tie up all his legs to pick his feet. He was an extraordinarily intelligent Morgan-type, and I THINK all this was just his own way of dealing with a life of extremes: from being a spoiled pet, to hard work, then turned out to fend for himself for a long time, then thrown into a trail-riding outfit. He never figured out a routine, nothing was consistent. There was probably something satisfying in being able to get a predicted behavior from humans. . .

Anyway, that's my take on it: horses should never be chastised.
Disagree somewhat. They aren't machines that will run 100% providing you do everything right. They are animals, and you have to make room for errors in judgement, bad days and lack of concentration at points.

They have character, and some are easier than others. School ponies, for instance, that I know, are easy going sort of horses that don't try at every turn to dominate a rider/owner/petter.
My own, being bred for sport, is more spirited, and would never make a suitable candidate for a school/beginner/children's horse. I have worked and worked with her, and through mutual agreement we have respect for each other, but any weak moment we have (and lets face it, we're human so it happens) she jumps on and stomps on it to get the 'upper' hand.

So sure, there may be a reason for the behaviour, but chastising and disciplining a horse is nothing I wouldn't do to my own child (which I would point out I don't have, nor would I use a whip :lol:). I'm not humanising a horse's behaviour, but they're living breathing creatures that have cranky days too, cranky or not, however, if that foot is lifted in a menacing way, horse better watch out.
 

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I agree with both of you. :)

I also think it takes years of experience, knowledge, and feel to tell the difference between a horse who is misbehaving because it's in pain, scared, confused, has poor or inconsistent training, etc and one who is just being a douche and testing its handler, or simply could not be bothered doing what the handler asks. Unfortunately, it seems as if quite a lot of people assume the latter when the problem is caused by any number of the former.

At the same time, I'm not convinced horses have the same concepts of "bad" and "good" that we do. A "testing" horse has his own survival and well-being in mind, and his survival depends on having a clear hierarchy in his herd. If the human isn't going to be alpha in a way the horse understands, the horse will take on that role. The horse may have spent quite a while testing the oblivious human in small, subtle ways that the human didn't see, and then one day, the horse shoves the human through the stall door, or tries throwing a kick, and the person says, "What happened? He's never done that before" when it may in fact have been slowly building up for months.

My boyfriend's two nieces, ages 8 and 11, take riding lessons and of course, they love talking about the ponies in their lessons. It always saddens me a little bit, because much of their chat is about how the pony did x (which can be pretty much anything) and the instructor's interpretation was "the pony is being naughty. Kick him harder." My personal feeling is that this is the wrong paradigm of equine behaviour to be teaching children (or anyone): the naughtiness-punishment method of dealing with any behaviour you don't like. And there is no need for it. When I taught children to ride, I would say stuff like, "If you sit up really tall and hold the reins like you're holding an egg, you'll help him trot," rather than asking the kid to smack the horse for not trotting when the reason the horse isn't trotting is imbalance in the rider. Why not teach kids from the get-go to be the quietly benevolent alpha?
 
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