Serious Groundwork Issue - WWYD (x-posted on Horse Care)
I also posted this on the Horse Care page - let me know if that's not okay and I'll take one down
My Thoroughbred, Dante, is a very chill dude, 95% of the time. I mean, sure, sometimes he feels good and is a little high-spirited under-saddle, but on the ground he's an angel. One of those relaxed, low-head, trundle along beside you types.
His former owner had told us that he was naughty to lead - would spin and rear or buck and then take off. I started riding him in Virginia at the barn I was a working student at, and he never displayed that behavior with any of us, although we did keep it in the back of our minds that he COULD, potentially. Then I bought him and brought him home to Maine, where he is kept at a very low-key private barn with two other boarders, a handful of retirees, and the barn owner's two youngsters.
Recently (about two weeks ago) he, out of nowhere, pulled the spin-buck-run tactic with my BO's hubbie, kicking him right above the knee. The man wasn't hurt, thank god, but Dante ended up slipping in some mud and falling. He was off for about a week - only slightly, but enough for me to give him a little time off. He didn't pull the stunt again with BO herself bringing him in again. The next time her hubbie brought him in, same thing. Again, no one was hurt, but hubbie sustained another kick. BO thought the incident happened because her husband was putting too much trust into my usually calm horse, and letting him walk on a loose lead. Since then, she's been leading him in (with a chain) and all has been well.
Today, however, BO's hubbie was bringing in horses when I arrived to ride. I went out with him and grabbed Dante while he grabbed Dante's paddock buddy. I had him on a short lead, with the chain, and was very aware of his movements - and the second we were out of the gate, he jumped forward, spun, bucked and nailed me with both hooves right on the hip. Then he took off running. I was, of course, very worried that he would run to the farm next door and get caught up in some machinery, so we ran to get him. We caught him and he walked in very nicely, if somewhat sheepishly. I checked his legs, got on, and rode. I ended up cutting it short because he felt very slightly off up front - checked again, no heat or swelling, put on some liniment, and left a note that I'd be out first thing in the AM to check him again. Vet will be out in 5 days and will have a look also.
Now, my question here is - what would you do to solve this problem? It seems to be escalating into a nasty habit - regardless of whether it's linked to Dante believing he can get the upper hand over BO's hubbie or not, I neither want him nor any person to get hurt! I have a great relationship with both BO and her husband, they're wonderful with the horses, and I don't want my horse to be a risk every day. We have a few ideas for ways to fix the situation (including lots of groundwork - perhaps my old showmanship days will come in handy...) but I'd love to have input from the fine folks of COTH! Any ideas? (And sorry for the novel!)
First thought going through my head, and maybe I am totally wrong: the one constant is that hubby is a male (of course) and anyone else handling him is female. Is it possible that he has been badly abused by a male in this type of situation? How is your horse around other males, and in other situations?
Might not just be the male. Could be something about the hubby that elicits the fear response - a smell, something.
It could be, and I've actually rolled that idea around in my head a bit too. Our farrier is male, and he's fine with him, although he was a little funny with our vet - those are really the only other guys he comes into contact with.
How experienced is hubby?
I guess I'm thinking along the similar lines as your BO here- that maybe hubby isn't experienced enough to recognize those subtle signs of impending foolishness, and your horse knows it.
If that is the case, he may be enjoying this new/refound 'power' and looking to exploit it at any opportunity. You may have lost focus for just a fraction of a second at the gate- looking behind to see where the hubby was with the other horse, fiddling with the latch for a moment- and he took advantage.
Your safety has to be of paramount importance, obviously, and I'm no professional, so please seek out the advice of one before you do anything. I'm sure you are on that path. There are also many folks here with much more experience than I. That said- I'd wear a helmet for everything with this horse from now on. Leading, tacking, everything. I'd arrange things with the BO so that she can go with you to bring him in, and i'd put a lead on each side of the halter. Take him in and just groom, something different than your normal routine, turn back out, rinse and repeat.
I'd work up from there to leading in solo, but on a lunge. Wear gloves. Repeat performances would be greeted with being sent directly to work, wherever you are standing. I might also consider clicker training or something similar to re-establish polite gate procedures, as well as going back to basics on ground behavior. If you get to a point where you feel he is reliable with you, introduce others to the equation and training routine- BO's hubby, etc- to reaffirm that he must behave for everyone.
I work with a lot of horses and have many sent to me are or a can be rank at times-or have no handling at all! I also have a lot and train a lot of youngster-from babies right on up (from light horses to full drafts) and I handle my stallions to breed, so in essence I speak from years of experience.
I have yet to have one nail me-and yes I have had them rear straight up, bolt, buck, kick out the whole shooting match. We rarely use a chain, and only use a chain on the stallions when they are breeding (I have two 17 hand WB stallions).
I would wonder where you and the BO's husband are standing when walking his boy. When I have a misfit, I walk them so I am right at their shoulder. If I stop, they stop. If they don't stop, they get turned around and backed up. Stand, count to three and try again. To me this sounds like an excitement/energy thing on his part. It may help to as another poster said, to get some work done at the gate but also to get yourself ready. Also, we use the walk 5 steps, sometimes it's even less, whoa, count to three, repeat and go forward. Focus the horse on the handler, not letting him focus on going to the barn-which probably means food!
You can feel the energy through your lead as he builds, "listen" for it and make the correction when he "thinks" he is going to be a misfit, before he actually moves a muscle in that direction. In other words catch him at a 1 instead of a 10. You are catching him at a 10. Redirect. I have backed horses a few hundred feet before to get my point across, they learn really fast how to move forward approriately.
Using more force is not always the answer, b/c if that force does not work then you have no options. Firm but fair and be thinking ahead of your horse. More than happy to help.
Teach the horse to halt when you turn towards him. If he does not, he gets backed up. Practice in a safe place, in an arena, leading the horse along the wall or fence. He's closest to the fence, you're to the inside of the arena. At his shoulder, or alongside his neck. Never behind the shoulder or with the horse trailing along behind you, where you cannot see him.
Turn towards him, raising your hand in front of his face as you do. Do it with authority and make it clear to him he is to halt. Expect him to halt ASAP. If he does not, back him up. Face him as you back him up. Turn around, next to his neck/shoulder, and try again. When he gets the idea you want an immediate halt, praise him.
Another point to consider; be sure he respects your space. If he does not, the halt-and-back-up should help with that, too. Be firm and consistent. Good luck!
I'm going to approach the problem from a different angle:
Every behavior an animal offers is caused by a trigger, either internal or external. I don't believe in 'bad' horses. I believe in horses who have really bad associations, who don't know better, whose handler doesn't 'listen' to their smaller protests, or who don't have good coping skills.
I'd want to watch him carefully and find out what is making him suddenly act up, when he is "good 95% of the time". Horses show tension, resistance, fear, discomfort, or something else building before blowing up. The hard part is watching him carefully enough (while still leading him safely & getting stuff done). Part of this equation may be that the hubby isn't picking up on signs the horse is resisting/scared/whatever.
My solutions: not let someone inexperienced handle the horse right now.
Handle the horse more, budgeting time to watch him carefully. See if he'll do it when you're leading. See what's around him (sounds, location, other horse, etc). Is he feeling especially excited or feeling more discomfort in those days? Then address the root of the problem once you figure it out. If he absolutely won't do it for you, I agree with the other poster who suggested that it might be men that he's having issues with.
To be perfectly honest, it sounds like a horse being a horse and nothing more; people have gotten a bit sloppy and complacent. This is very common ordinary behavior. I'd dispense with analyzing his psyche. He spins around and kicks, hitting the man above the knees, and you on the hip. He did this with you, you're a woman, right? So I don't think it's about being handled by a man. He wants to get back to the barn, wants to play/fight with the other horse.
Much of this comes out of a general failure to lead the horses correctly, and oddly, the more experienced people tend to be the worst in this department. Stable workers who handle a lot of horses and have a schedule to keep are often guilty of taking short cuts. An older gal I know wound up horribly injured, turning horses out on ice in slipon shoes with slippery soles.
Turning out or bringing in, each horse needs one handler, each horse needs leather lead shanks, preferably with chain ends, well fitted halters, and each horse needs to be kept at a distance from the other. People should be wearing securely fitted heeled shoes, not slip ons, not slippery soled shoes.
The horse has to be led on a short lead, no more than 18 inches of lead between the right hand and the halter, the rest coiled and placed inside the left hand (not wrapped around it), and quite often the length of lead from right hand to halter is rather less than 18", never more.
The correct leading is with the handler close at the shoulder, not in front of the horse pulling it along, not way out to the side at a distance, close, but urging it up to keep up with the handler rather than pulling it along. This alone gives the animal more of a focus on the handler as well as positioning the handler correctly with a length of lead that allows him to control the horse and bend his neck and turn him round the handler, thus stay in a safe position should something happen.
The problem is basically, that who ever is leading the horse is not staying at his shoulder. When a horse wheels around, you have to stay at his shoulder, not by you moving so much as by you making the horse stay around your shoulder.
Keep his head and neck bent around to you, pushing his shoulder away (inso far as not running into you) and keep him moving AROUND you, not allowing him to get ahead of you and you back in position where you can get kicked. Technically, anywhere back of the shoulder you can get kicked.
You're most likely letting him get his head and neck straight out in front of him, which gives him the ability to get you out of position. Keep his neck bent round you.
A lot of it is just a matter of being quick on your feet, balanced and forceful about keeping the horse's focus on you when he acts up. But it is also a matter of keeping the lead shank at the right length, and not letting it slip through your fingers so the horse gets out ahead of you with his haunches even with you. That means using a chain shank, putting it over the nose correctly (under the chin won't work, over the nose and up to the halter ring at the cheek does not work). But it also means having a non slippery lead shank (leather, not nylon) and tacky gloves that fit the hands well (tight) and don't slip.
It also means being able to position the hind quarters AWAY from you, and that means carrying a whip and being effective at using it.
Practice and work the horse first in the ring. Teach him to turn on the forehand. Then, at the gate and all around the area where he's led back to the barn, with the other horse first well behind him, then well in front of him, and only after a lot of success, anywhere near his sides.
Don't allow the horse to simply follow an accustomed path. Vary the path slightly each day, have him work independently of the other horse's movements, and always keep his attention on you.
Keep him moving, and keep his hind quarters pivoting around you while you stay at his shoulder, almost like longeing him around in a tiny circle, but don't let circling him let you get complacent about where you are in relation to his hind quarters - it's not so much a real circle as a pivot around his forehand, the forehand makes a tiny circle, the hind quarters make a much bigger circle round the forehand.
Give him something to focus on and make it imperative that he focus on you, with immediate correction if he doesn't respond immediately. Use your whip and use your shank, firmly and immediately. Don't treat him like 'your baby'; 'your baby' is going to kill someone if you don't fix this.
The horse did that with her in the presence of a man very close by. I'm in agreement with MayS - I think there is a trigger, given the OP's description of the behavior. Sometimes that trigger can be weird. My horse, when I first got him, could care less about an uncoiled hose anywhere - except on a wash rack. The association of uncoiled hose + wash rack elicited the response. Once I understood that, we could deal with it. Given the past history of abuse, if I had taken a whip or chain to my horse at that point, I would have come out the loser.
Not that the behavior is acceptable, of course, but there can be more than one road to Rome.
1. Double-barreling people is not "a horse just being a horse." It is disrespectful, dangerous, and out of control.
2. Who cares if it was a man or a woman handling the horse? Unless gender re-assignment is an option here...totally irrelevant
3. Ask as softly as possible- do as much as necessary.
Please make sure the horse is only handled by experienced handlers. This is obviously a repeated and escalating behavior.
To prevent the horse from ripping away after removing the halter- you can double halter with rope halters and when you drop the first one and he rips off...rip him a new one before he gets wheeled around. If you don't like lip chains- rope halters are sometimes as effective. We had a mare that came to us from a lesson barn that did this when turned out. With some work- it was eliminated with experienced handler turnout...with novices, like magic, it re-appeared. For liability reasons, she was turned out by instructors/owners only.
Wrong, and could be 'dead wrong' both slc2 on the statement 'The problem is basically, that who ever is leading the horse is not staying at his shoulder' and classicsporthorses also mentioning being at the shoulder.
The human has to be at the horse's head, not shoulder. If human is at the shoulder, one third the length of the horse's body is already way out ahead of the human.
I've been leading 'hot' horses safely since I was quite young, with those critters outfitted for my safety with a chain wrapped around the nose of the halter (never under the chin), and I was instructed always to be alert to every nuance of the horse's expression, eyes, ears, never be on auto pilot. That type of vigilance definitely is needed with this animal. Good luck.
The horse definitely needs some remedial manners on staying out of the human's space, including being yanked to a halt if he tries to charge ahead, and made to back up out of the human's space anytime he tries to get in it.
Edited to add, Movin Artfully said it best 'Ask as softly as possible- do as much as necessary.' Most important of all is the human must be paying attention, no la la land mind wandering, no multi-tasking, focus only on that horse as he has already shown how dangerous he can be if humans are not paying attention. He presumably has been signalling his intentions, as horses generally do, but the signals are being overlooked by the humans involved.
Last edited by sdlbredfan; Nov. 15, 2009 at 05:49 PM.
Reason: fix typo and add more
RIP Sasha, best dog ever, pictured shortly before she died, Death either by euthanasia or natural causes is only the end of the animal inhabiting its body; I believe the spirit lives on.
I responded in horse care but I wanted to emphasize something Classic Sporthorses said and commend her on a terrific post. But do reread this line below from her post:
"You can feel the energy through your lead as he builds, "listen" for it and make the correction when he "thinks" he is going to be a misfit, before he actually moves a muscle in that direction. In other words catch him at a 1 instead of a 10. You are catching him at a 10. Redirect."
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