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I think it's true, or at least it has been in my experience, that when you get a new horse you go through a honeymoon period and then the horse decides to test you to see if you really are the leader. I'm wondering how everyone else's horses have tested them, and maybe what that says about the horse. My experience:
  • Pony. Boy he tested me on everything for a while. His form of testing was just to refuse to do what I had asked. Whatever it was. He didn't really care. He just wanted to refuse. I had to find the line between being firm and being cooperative, as just trying to force him to do it ended up creating more battles. Pony is a true pony IMO and also has a fairly dominant personality.
  • Teddy. Teddy didn't want to test me, I don't think, but he sort of had to. He tested me by wanting to eat grass when I was leading him. At the time, he was really emotionally traumatized and I was trying to always be nice to him, so I let him. It was a mistake! We then went through a period where he was really confused about his role and my role, and it actually really made him more unhappy. He just wanted to know that I was the leader. Fortunately he gave me a make-up test pretty soon after that, and I passed that one.
  • Moonshine. She's really been more my daughter's horse (although I kind of feel like she's maybe more mine now) and so we didn't have a lot of opportunities for testing. Her thing, I guess, is not staying on the rail in the arena.
  • Rowan. Another one who, like Teddy, just wanted me to be the leader. His test was refusing to move when being led. He did this twice I think. Then we just practiced leading for a while, confirming that I would use force if needed, and we got over that pretty quickly. Something else I remember is that he was really bad about picking up his feet, but you could tell this was because he didn't understand what he was being asked, not that he was being bad about it. I mean, he wasn't testing me with his feet, I didn't think.
I kind of feel like these were all, except for Pony, fairly mild tests. How did your horses test you when you got them?
 

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Charging straight for me like a freight train fully loaded at high speed. Turns out being too scared to move was the right "choice." Had I ran, she'd have chased and "won." She tried it a couple more times. Thankfully she had great brakes.
 

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Same as @QtrBel Instead of me standing there I charged right back, I don’t really know if this was a mistake, or a good thing? I think he was a little confused lol but that horse never tried again though!
It kinda felt like he was a bull and I really didn’t want to get run over.


my gelding tends to test me wayyy to much, he has a baby brain, and he’ll do the stupidest things, I asked him to back up, simple right? He has nailed this because I’ve worked with him on it everyday for monthsss so I don’t even have to fling my arms or the lead rope, I either turn towards him and ask him to back or I can use my body language to get him to back, anyway, I asked him to back, usually he does it without hesitation, but instead he opened his mouth, and grabbed a hold of my beanie and tried to rip it off my head rather viciously (one of those beanies with the Pom poms on top) yeah he got smacked, hard. Then because of what he did, I worked on more backing and hill work even more, because that behavior in very unnecessary, and I won’t tolerate it! Anyway, he got a whole speech, though he didn’t understand it, he knew he did bad..(I think lol!) also for some reason he’s obsessed with beanies with pom poms, I don’t know why🙄

I always give him speeches when he does something stupid, I really don’t think he understands any of it except for “you’re not getting a cookie” it ruins his day😂😂
 

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I think it's true, or at least it has been in my experience, that when you get a new horse you go through a honeymoon period and then the horse decides to test you to see if you really are the leader. I'm wondering how everyone else's horses have tested them, and maybe what that says about the horse. My experience:
  • Pony. Boy he tested me on everything for a while. His form of testing was just to refuse to do what I had asked. Whatever it was. He didn't really care. He just wanted to refuse. I had to find the line between being firm and being cooperative, as just trying to force him to do it ended up creating more battles. Pony is a true pony IMO and also has a fairly dominant personality.
  • Teddy. Teddy didn't want to test me, I don't think, but he sort of had to. He tested me by wanting to eat grass when I was leading him. At the time, he was really emotionally traumatized and I was trying to always be nice to him, so I let him. It was a mistake! We then went through a period where he was really confused about his role and my role, and it actually really made him more unhappy. He just wanted to know that I was the leader. Fortunately he gave me a make-up test pretty soon after that, and I passed that one.
  • Moonshine. She's really been more my daughter's horse (although I kind of feel like she's maybe more mine now) and so we didn't have a lot of opportunities for testing. Her thing, I guess, is not staying on the rail in the arena.
  • Rowan. Another one who, like Teddy, just wanted me to be the leader. His test was refusing to move when being led. He did this twice I think. Then we just practiced leading for a while, confirming that I would use force if needed, and we got over that pretty quickly. Something else I remember is that he was really bad about picking up his feet, but you could tell this was because he didn't understand what he was being asked, not that he was being bad about it. I mean, he wasn't testing me with his feet, I didn't think.
I kind of feel like these were all, except for Pony, fairly mild tests. How did your horses test you when you got them?
Those are not tests of leadership, those are behaviors natural to a horse. A horse is not thinking I will test this person by eating grass while being led. He is eating grass because he wants to eat. It is the responsibility of the handler to dictate that behavior.
 

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Sky- I bought her as a long yearling so she didn't really test me. I also bought her 1 week before should surgery and spent the next 2 months in a sling so she just got to be a baby lol
Cricket- I don't really know that she tested much either as I didn't ride her until she came back from the trainer however she will keep me on my toes with the occasional spook and spin lol. Everything that someone could consider for her as testing I see as her working through bad habits and old pain triggers.

Zippo- When I bought him as a coming 4 yr old he would try to walk off, walk all over me but nothing naughty. With his new mom ( 2nd one I sold him to the first put him through it -_-) he has put her through the ringer. He bit her, spooked, set back in the wash rack/tied to the trailer, was rude about saddling, rude about walking down their bridle paths etc. She has spent the last year getting a working relationship with him and thankfully she has stuck with him as he is now finally showing her his real personality that I knew so well and she adores him. I felt horrid she was experiencing things with him that I never had so I had no pointers for her other than she was being a little to lenient with him. I hear from her every other month or so and I am so thankful for her.
 

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Those are not tests of leadership, those are behaviors natural to a horse. A horse is not thinking I will test this person by eating grass while being led.
I believe that eating grass while being led is, indeed, a test of leadership. It may be a behavior natural to a horse, but horses are trained not to eat while being led somewhere. Many of them will try it anyway and see if they win. If they win, they'll continue to try. I call that a test.

I like to start colts, and although I haven't started 200 of them, like my neighbor has, I've started my share. I think over the years different horses have tested me on just about everything that horses can do naughty. Bucking, rearing, spinning, running backwards, refusing to move, biting, kicking. And then there's the sneaky ugly little tests: scraping you on trees, stepping on your feet, snatching grass. If a horse can do something naughty, at some time or other, I've had one do it.

It's been my experience that there is a honeymoon period, especially when starting a young colt, and then comes the testing . . . and when you pass, you have a nice colt.

My Aci tests every new rider who gets on him. I still can't figure out what makes some people pass and some fail. He passes some inexperienced riders and fails some competent riders. If the competent riders keep at it, he finally gives up, but usually they announce they don't like riding him first. For the most part, I just ride him myself or let the "tried and true" riders take him rather than put anyone new through the testing phase. His test is to buck and then immediately rear or rear and then immediately buck. But certain riders get immediately passed and don't have to deal with that mess at all.
 

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I'm in the boat that horses don't necessarily test handlers and riders, but they act based on the experiences and training they've had up until that point in time.

Looking back at the horses I've ridden or interacted with, the times where a horse was considered to be "testing me" was due to a few factors, either: 1) I didn't have the experience to be successful with that horse, 2) The horse had holes in it's training, or 3) The horse was in pain that wasn't discovered yet.

Examples for each scenario,
1) Minnie will try to "escape" work through "doors" that I leave open. For example, when we were introducing bend, she was allowed to run through that outside shoulder, because if we hadn't allowed her an "escape" from the newly introduced pressure, well we'd have a lot bigger of an issue to work through. So now, if she manages to "avoid" working by going through an "escape door", 99% of the time it's not her but it's me because I left a door open for her to exit stage left through. I guess you could say this is her "testing" me by avoiding working because my aids aren't exactly on point, but it's her reacting and responding to my aids at a moment in time. Once I'm doing my part as a rider, she might try to do the same thing based off of her earlier success and then be prevented by doing so with my now correct aids, but I don't think that's testing, I think that's training.

Another good example of this was a big mustang gelding at a boarding barn. For only one person would he do a 180 degree spin and bolt away while loading in the trailer. He had her number and knew that if he didn't want to, he didn't have to. All it took was handing the lead rope over to any other person (even strangers) and he'd load like a dream. He wasn't testing, he was taking advantage of.

2) Minnie, the mare I bought as a barely halter broke horse, and that's what I received. Though I bought her as catchable, as soon as I got her home I couldn't catch her for nearly a month (in a small pen!). She wasn't testing me, she was revealing what she knew and that was that she was only ever caught with bribery while living in a halter and grab strap. From day one, this is not the method I took. I would reward her with feed when she did something I liked, but I wasn't sneaky with her. That's all the prior owner ever did.

3) A half-Arabian mare I rode in saddleseat would occasionally get sticky in place while trying to pick up the canter. We took that as her testing us, and needing a firmer hand and crop to the butt to get going. Near the end of that show season, she began showing noticeable lameness in the rear end. She wasn't trying to test her riders, she was in pain. Within a year or two after, she was also diagnosed with Cushing's and joint changes in that same leg. Her body was aging but it was not noticeable by the naked eye earlier in the year.
 
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I haven't really had any testing - unless opinions count? I'm very fortunate I think that I have two very reasonable mares but both who have spirit enough. I think as long as I'm fair and reasonable, they are. And actually when push comes to shove, they generally do follow me. I mean it literally - maybe Katie is too terrified to go past the temporarily traffic lights and generator, or someone jet washing their front while an ice-cream van comes out way... maybe that makes me a not-so-great-rider but I don't consider that testing. Once on the ground she's reassured and I haven't yet come across an obstacle I can't get her past.

I got my two clipped and while Mocha stood there without a headcollar in the middle of the field for a whole hour of her own free will to allow it, Katie was like "nope" and wouldn't let me immediately catch her. It wasn't a hard no - she just led me to the yummy gate like a pointer and sighed when I put the headcollar on. Under saddle if not properly warmed up - sometimes takes half an hour - she will object with squealing and broncing if you ask her to do too much. After a solid warmup, she's like butter and enjoys her work. But sometimes that's perceived as testing by other people when I know better.

I think they do test, but its less intentional than we think. Honestly in the first 5mins of leading a horse past a grassy bank is a good ice breaker I've found for laying down the foundation of a relationship. But really, some horses are so switched off its really unpleasant. I honestly don't enjoy handling other people's horses much anymore in the little capacity I used to. A friend moved to my yard and all the horses/ponies on it are delightfully sensitive and clever, thanks to their owners.

When I volunteered a yard that also ran a breeding program they had this little pony mare who had my number. I was still a noob and trying to brush her she'd show teeth, point her back end. I didn't want to discipline as y'know, not my horse? Well owner told me to get on with and what do you know, mare soon realised I wasn't buying her display. But you never know, what if she really did mean it, right?
 

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To be fair to mine it was a game that got out of hand when she was young and with a prior owner. It escalated to her chasing and catching/ removing anything that would run. She also wasn't mine when she charged me. I wasn't warned of her habit.. She was under my care though after that point.

While I don't think that humanizing a horse testing boundaries is accurate they do test. I feel it is intentional. I also feel it's more like a flow chart diagram. X is allowed Y follows and Z behavior results.

I think we don't always catch the behavior as it escalates. Why because we don't notice, aren't thinking of future repercussion or think it's cute.
 
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I believe that eating grass while being led is, indeed, a test of leadership. It may be a behavior natural to a horse, but horses are trained not to eat while being led somewhere. Many of them will try it anyway and see if they win. If they win, they'll continue to try. I call that a test.
Horses do not have this intent in their minds. They do not see grass; say I will test owner today and eat the grass to test them. They are not that intellectual. Some people interpret it as such but that is not the case at all. It may feel like a test but that horse has no ill intent by trying to eat grass. He has either been allowed to do it so therefore will eat it or he sees his chance and takes it is an opportunity. He wasn't scheming in his pasture thinking of ways to test the boss today.

You are correct that if he gets away with it he will continue to do it. That is not him testing, he is a creature of habit and now a new habit has been established. He doesn't know if that is what you want or not, he doesn't care at the moment.

We as a culture are too self absorbed and think everything is all about us when that is not the case. Most things are not about us, the world will go on just fine without us. Fluffy eating grass isn't about us, it is about him taking an opportunity when we are not paying attention or being lazy. They are opportunists not scheming dictators.
 

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I agree with BOTH points of view: horses are not scheming dictators, constantly trying to take over, NOR are they just trying to put into place natural behaviors. It's a bit of a mix. I don't think horses are interested in dictatorship, but they DO test boundaries of leadership. it's part of the dynamics of a herd.

But, back to my first thought: . . . the 'testing', so to speak, of a new human handler happens WAY before the human thinks it does. If the horse does not know what the human is capable of, or more succinctly, the horse does not know how clearly the human can communicate, the horse starts out with this new human at the very same level of interaction as with any and all humans it already knows. The big difference is that the NEW human doesn't 'see' or 'hear' the horse correctly. So, the horse amplifies. For example, leading the horse up to the barn the regular handler might 'see' the horse's thought go off toward a tussock of grass. the handler brings the horse mentally back to him with the slightest raise of the leading hand, or a tiny shift of the rope. . . . the minutest of things that draws the horse back to where the handler wants it to be. The horse was 'testing', but the test was tiny.

When a new human is leading, one who may not have as good of leading skills, the horse, to his surprise and mental stiumlation, finds that the human did not catch that drift in it's attention. Thus, it drifts a bit more and then it plows forward into carrying out its own thought. NOW the human thinks it is being tested. But the truth is, the human already failed two or three itsy bitsy tentative tries on the horse's part, which gave the horse confidence to try harder.
 

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I think it's true, or at least it has been in my experience, that when you get a new horse you go through a honeymoon period and then the horse decides to test you to see if you really are the leader. I'm wondering how everyone else's horses have tested them, and maybe what that says about the horse. My experience:
  • Pony. Boy he tested me on everything for a while. His form of testing was just to refuse to do what I had asked. Whatever it was. He didn't really care. He just wanted to refuse. I had to find the line between being firm and being cooperative, as just trying to force him to do it ended up creating more battles. Pony is a true pony IMO and also has a fairly dominant personality.
  • Teddy. Teddy didn't want to test me, I don't think, but he sort of had to. He tested me by wanting to eat grass when I was leading him. At the time, he was really emotionally traumatized and I was trying to always be nice to him, so I let him. It was a mistake! We then went through a period where he was really confused about his role and my role, and it actually really made him more unhappy. He just wanted to know that I was the leader. Fortunately he gave me a make-up test pretty soon after that, and I passed that one.
  • Moonshine. She's really been more my daughter's horse (although I kind of feel like she's maybe more mine now) and so we didn't have a lot of opportunities for testing. Her thing, I guess, is not staying on the rail in the arena.
  • Rowan. Another one who, like Teddy, just wanted me to be the leader. His test was refusing to move when being led. He did this twice I think. Then we just practiced leading for a while, confirming that I would use force if needed, and we got over that pretty quickly. Something else I remember is that he was really bad about picking up his feet, but you could tell this was because he didn't understand what he was being asked, not that he was being bad about it. I mean, he wasn't testing me with his feet, I didn't think.
I kind of feel like these were all, except for Pony, fairly mild tests. How did your horses test you when you got them?
my horse would go slow and not go faster and when I whipped her she would kick out she also tried to leave the arena on multiple occasions and brush off in a tree.
 

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Cider would charge and strike at me . Pete would buck until you came off and then stomp you if you laid on the ground, he had been very sick as a two year old, and was crazy. literally fried his brain from fevers. Buddy would jump in the air and turn , buck going up or down hills. Angel would spook , big sideways and back jump. Feathers would turn around and bite your foot. Snuffles would buck once in a while. Usually these horses were calm quiet horses, and a lot of the time it was something done by the rider that got the attitude from the horse. All but Pete. Poor Pete was loco. He got sick from his last set of vaccines, almost died from the fevers. Cost me a fortune in Vet bills. Ended up selling him.He behaved better in an arena. I was honest when I sold him. I would not even ride him for the guy. I told him nope. This horse will buck. I cannot afford to keep him . Trainer wont deal with him anymore. Guy bought him anyway. Never rode him. Let him sit in a corral until he needed put down . Poor Pete.
 

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Cider would charge and strike at me . Pete would buck until you came off and then stomp you if you laid on the ground, he had been very sick as a two year old, and was crazy. literally fried his brain from fevers. Buddy would jump in the air and turn , buck going up or down hills. Angel would spook , big sideways and back jump. Feathers would turn around and bite your foot. Snuffles would buck once in a while. Usually these horses were calm quiet horses, and a lot of the time it was something done by the rider that got the attitude from the horse. All but Pete. Poor Pete was loco. He got sick from his last set of vaccines, almost died from the fevers. Cost me a fortune in Vet bills. Ended up selling him.He behaved better in an arena. I was honest when I sold him. I would not even ride him for the guy. I told him nope. This horse will buck. I cannot afford to keep him . Trainer wont deal with him anymore. Guy bought him anyway. Never rode him. Let him sit in a corral until he needed put down . Poor Pete.
oh no! poor pete.
 

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My mares both tried biting, and my first one kicked out and backed up to me a few times (I didn't know how to handle her then, as she was my first horse and I'd never dealt with a biter before). It took some time to convince her I was the boss, and even now she'll still test me. They also refused to pick up their feet when I first got them, that was easily solved by simply not giving up until they picked them up.
 

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oh no! poor pete.
Yes poor Pete. Broke my heart. After he fractured my skull by rearing up and hitting me in the head. Repeated rearing. Fx's by eye brow bone. Vaccines were a lot different back then . I have had a couple of other horses that I have sold because they were dangerous. One mare reared and would attack you while you were near her feeder, ears pinned and would literally hiss and come front feet flying. Got dangerous to feed. Another mare was a kicker and would kick your face, she would aim. Kicked my glasses off my face and caused my hubby to really bite his tongue to the point it almost needed stitched. The one mare probably ended up in Mexico. The second mare was put down . The first mare was sold and many years later the stories about the slaughter plants were brought to light, so I had the 2nd mare put down. In the 60's 70's and 80's the slaughter plants were not out in the public as they are today.
 

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I like this thread LOL

Let's see.....can I even remember all the ways different horses have tested me?! Horses are intelligent enough to figure out how to fool us and take advantage and nobody can convince me otherwise! There are lots of different ways we can look at it - maybe we're training them that if they do certain things they'll get out of work - but I think they're a lot smarter than people give them credit for!

PJ's MO is to start slow and see what he can get away with, whenever anybody new rides him. He'll stop walking in the center of the trail for a while and then, if he gets away with it, he'll "accidentally" rub someone's leg on a tree. If he gets away with that he'll "accidentally" rub them off under a tree branch, or just give up pretending and stop letting them steer him at all.

I don't fall for the obvious stuff like PJ pulls, but I can still get snookered by a horse. My sweet, gentle, respectful, submissive old Joe accidentally bumped into me a couple of weeks ago and kept upping the ante until I suddenly realized I had a rebel on my hands. I noticed today that he's moved up the chain in the herd - he's started bossing Ona around and he's challenging PJ for the herd boss position. I guess maybe now he's testing to see where I stand!
 

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@stevenson My, you had some bad luck with horses! I hope you had plenty of good ones , too.
Oh yes. I loved my first horse Gramps, Angel , Buddy, Snuffles. I have not found a riding horse like those 4. If they only lived a long life. Gramps my very first horse, he had cancer. Angel her her hind leg and I tried for years to rehab her and kept her until it became to painful for her. Buddy he died of old age. Snuffles had a series of problems and then fx his pasterns. I still have 8 horses a pony (mini) and sheep. I may have a trainer come ride one mare . It all depends on what my MD's say at the end of Jan.
 

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I'm not a big believer in horses "testing" us, as I think it's more a case of horses acting like horses and us needing to learn how to influence that behavior to suit our needs. As another poster said, the idea that they're "testing" us makes horses sound way too cerebral and human-like. It's not intentional. They're not thinking, they're just exhibiting certain instinctive behaviors. It's up to us to learn how to influence those behaviors.

I would say the aggressive behaviors some have described (biting, charging, kicking, striking) could be a "test" of sorts. The horse is still acting on natural instinct, but the human's response to that natural instinct is what will determine whether that "test" is passed or not.

I started riding lessons almost 35 years ago. The one horse in my life that I would say definitely "tested" me was one of the school horses, Molly. Many beginner students lived in dread of seeing Molly next to their name on the lesson board at the barn. Unlike the more compliant lesson mounts, Molly made you work for what you got. If you didn't have the skills yet, she'd go right to center of the ring and stand next to the instructor, who then had to talk you through how to make Molly go back to the rail and then how to keep her on the rail doing what you asked. There were no free rides with Molly. If your your aids were incorrect or you simply were intimidated by her, you were in for an hour of hard work and frustration. Of course, she was also the school horse that probably taught her riders the most. And once you learned her early lessons and became an effective rider, she was awesome. The more experienced kids at the barn loved her.

My first horse was a green-brok four-year-old, and I've had several horses since, included those bought as weanlings or yearlings and started by me. They've all taught me to be a good horsewoman and rider. They all act like horses. They buck, they spook, they drag me to grass (I hand graze a lot, so I can't blame them for that), they...act like horses. But I wouldn't say many of them ever "tested" me...as in consciously making a decision to do something just to see if I was the leader or not. Maybe that's because Molly...the only horse I might consider as one who "tested" her riders, taught me how to be an effective leader so many years ago?
 
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