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How to improve a horse's ground manners/stubborn attitude!?

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  • How to improve a horse's ground manners/stubborn attitude!?

    I bought a 5 year old mare a month ago and she has never been in consistent work. When her old owner had time for her, she would spend a few months putting some miles on her, then throw her back in the field. When I bought her she hadn't been handled much in 4 months.
    The first month I had her stabled at a backyard barn so I didn't do much with her. But I did begin to realize she had really bad ground manners. She is fine to lead, but her bad habits come out on the cross ties. She walks around and just won't stand still! She comes into my "space" while I groom her, and I can't stand that she is moving around the whole time. She was really bad when you picked up her feet, but that problem is getting better.
    I just moved her to a barn with an indoor and am beginning to realize she's so stubborn too! She walked right on the trailer for me 3 times before I moved her. But when I wanted to move her to the indoor she wouldn't get on for anything. She's a very sweet mare, but when we tried to push her butt over to keep her body perpendicular to the trailer entrance, she tried to kick my mom and I. We finally gathered some people and got her on by making a chute using lunge lines and walking her in. When she planted her feet on the ramp, we pushed her in by pulling the leadropes around so they put pressure on her butt. The second we did that she walked right up!
    Now that she's at her new home she continues to test me. She won't walk into the wash stalls that are bright and airy, and needs extra encouragement to walk behind the mounting block. I don't know what her problem is all of a sudden. I think she does not respect me. She really likes treats, but is very mouthy when hand fed, so I don't know if bribery is the best way to make her come around. If you get a little rough and dominant with her it just makes her mad. How do I earn this mare's respect, and encourage her to behave better on the crossties? I look forward to your responses!

  • #2
    1. No more treats.
    None. Zero. Zip.

    2. No more cross ties. When you groom her, or handle her, have her on a halter and a lead. This will force you to address any time that she moves, and have her put her feet back where they were.
    It might take 25 minutes the first time to just run a brush over her whole body. But after the first time it should get better quickly.

    3. Failure to load is a leading problem, not a loading problem.
    I am going to guess from your post that when she leads, she hangs back at the end of the rope, rather than keeping her shoulder even with yours with slack in the lead.
    Were you to start trotting, I am guessing that rather than keeping pace with you freely and easily, there would be a big dragging scenario going on.
    So, whenever you lead her anywhere, she must keep her shoulder even with yours with slack in the lead.

    The other day I had to load a horse who got "stuck" at the trailer ramp. I walked the horse in circles while trainer got behind us with a broom to keep him freely and briskly keeping pace with my shoulder. We went up to trotting big circles, trainer reinforcing from behind with the broom, until the horse was freely trotting along side and keeping pace with me by virtue of paying attention to me and adjusting his pace accordingly. We went from walk circles to trot circles in about three minutes, a minute of trot circles later the horse was on the trailer.

    No matter where this horse goes from here on out, her shoulder should be even with yours with slack in the lead.
    Whenever you lead her anywhere, surprise her with increases and decreases in your pace and insist that she pay attention and adjust herself accordingly.

    4. If she is edgy about the mounting block, the ONLY PLACE you can feed her a treat is after you have gotten on, and she is patiently halting. If she scoots after you get on, bring her back to the halt, ensure that she is halting long enough for a deep breath or two, and then reach down and give her a treat. She will learn that "halt"="treat".
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    • #3
      I've been in your shoes with different horses over the years. Two things I have found particularly helpful: 1-have a place to tie her up with a single, short tie in her stall and 2-pratice a lot of "showmanship" skills on the ground.

      Tying in the stall teaches patience and is a good place to start for bad cross-tie behavior as well as a "time out" technique for bad behavior. We would tie up the impatient ones before and after riding. I had one mare in particular that had absolutely no respect for her handlers, would walk all over her handler and would look for us to fight with her, which would just make the situation worse. Tying her up made ALL the difference. The second she'd give us a hard time, be it leading, catching in T/O, clipping, etc, instead of trying to address the issue and risk getting in a fight with her and creating a bigger problem, we'd immediately tie her up for 1/2 hour or so and she would then be a different horse. I put my tie ring in the back of the stalls, away from hay or buckets. I want it to be a time out spot, not to leisurely hang out at their comfort area. But not high and tight so they are uncomfortable either.

      The "showmanship" skills are found in the western ring-in hand, with a chain shank most of the time, these horses learn to give to pressure on the lead shank (drop heads down) and respect your space. Training these skills do take a lot of patience and repetition. We'd work them at the walk and trot, learn to turn on haunches and back up, all while dropping their heads down and give to pressure. I would set up cones and have a specific pattern, like when I would trot or walk or halt or turn or back up, etc, and make it a game. I definitely would not tolerate any horse invading my space when working in hand, especially not putting their mouths on me. I'm not saying beat her, but firmly push her away and get her thinking about something else by giving her something to do.

      She's young, she is going to test you. You are better off nipping it in the bud now and showing her how you want her to behave before it becomes a bigger issue. Good luck!


      • Original Poster

        Thanks! Very good ideas, I will work on all the things you mentioned. I think some time off the x-ties, whether in her stall or standing free, will really do her some good. She needs to learn to stand.
        She also paws a lot, any ideas for that? And she hates having her mane pulled and will not let you clip her face. Ideas?!


        • #5
          Typical unhandled baby stuff. Don't worry too much about it but be aggressive on her manners. The pawing is impatience. If you have a patience pole or a good safe place to tie her, tie her and leave her as long as you can. She'll paw, toss, move, etc but eventually she'll learn it does absolutely no good.

          As far as loading, I agree, that's actually a leading problem. Babies are fun because just when you think you've got them all broke and figured out, they remind you that they still have a little bit of opinion left in them. Work on her leading skills AT ALL TIMES. She always has to be at your side, halt when you stop, back when you ask her to, trot when you ask, etc. She should also know to move away from pressure when you ask her to move away from you in a circle. When you put pressure on the halter to ask her to come forward she should jump forward immediately. If she doesn't, back her immediately. For the trailer, ask her to walk up to it, then back her up, then ask her to walk up to it a little further. If she resists, back her up. Always keep her facing the trailer and never make her get in. Ask her, but don't force her. It will take a while so if you can do a little each day, that's probably your best bet. Pat her when she's good. Be clear with your signals and she'll understand quickly. Ponying (if you have a horse available) is also a great way to get a baby used to going out on trails, working, leading, etc.

          Re: main pulling/clipping. Do a little bit every day. It's a pain but it's probably the fastest, safest, easiest way to handle that. Let her get used to the clippers in the off mode for a while. When she's ok with that, then turn them on. When she's okay with them being on, then trying to clip her a little. For the mane, I usually end up using a twitch and do just a little bit so they don't get anxious about it. Do a little bit each week (not every day - they'll figure out that the twitch means something unpleasant pretty quickly). Don't push it and be patient. Always reward for good behavior and ignore the bad behavior if you can.

          When I brought my mare out of the field at three, she knew nothing. You could halter her but that was about all. She didn't load, didn't cross tie, in fact, she couldn't figure out how to walk down a hill (we had to lead a horse in front of her to get her to go down the hill). A year later she's a pro - leads, loads, stands in the cross ties patiently, lunges nicely. Some days she reverts back to baby mode, but I can get her out of it pretty quickly by just being firm. I don't ever have to hit her, I just say 'knock it off' in a stern voice and she straightens up (it's really nice btw haha). Just be clear about what you want and work on it every day. Slow and steady wins the race!


          • #6
            I had the same problem with my mare. Bought her at 3 and she was awful. She was owned by a beginner and got away with murder there. They even had a "bad horse" signed on her stall warning people to stay away.

            She really is a sweet horse now, but she sure was mean then. I did several months of basic groundwork with her. Some of the NH trainers have good advice (except Parelli, ugh) but use what you need and remember it's not a bible and may not work for everyone. I would never listen to anything they say re: riding, but most of the other stuff is just basic horsemanship. When you start looking around at different people, most if it is really all the same.

            I liked using a rope halter. My mare can't handle chains, they made her rear, but the rope definitely helped. Then we worked on personal space- just made her stand in her own area and not try to run into me. Backing up was a good tool for me as well. When she got nasty and snapped her teeth and tried to bite, we flew backwards and she quickly learned that she doesn't like to go backwards and its easier just to be nice.
            Once we got personal space down, she was pretty good about leading. Then we taught turns on the forward and haunches while staying in her own space and not running me over. Occasionally she'd start getting nasty, and then we'd back up until she put a happy face back on.
            She also had a habit of swinging her haunches in and threatening to kick, so I taught her to face me when I asked. This got a bit tricky and led to some problems later with mounting, but I'd rather have her trying to face me than trying to kick me.

            But after all that, she's a great horse a year later. Keep reinforcing everything though! When I got more into riding and didn't have time for a weekly refresher course, she definitely tried to go back to boss mare, then we had a big power struggle to get over that.

            You might need different techniques depending on your horse, but I think the most important thing is to establish respect and personal space, and once you earn the horse's respect, it's a lot easier to fix the little things.
            Last edited by Tegan; Dec. 28, 2009, 11:14 AM. Reason: repetition


            • #7
              Totally agree with all the responses. The key with any of these techniques is consistency. Make a plan, figure out what works and what doesn't for the mare, and then stick to your guns. Don't vary your reactions to her behavior. If she steps into your space and you slap her chest with the lead to back her up one time and snap the halter another time, she's not going to learn. She might get the picture from these two similar actions, but you need to do the exact same thing every time for each misbehavior. Eventually, she'll know exactly what's coming when she makes a certain move, and the game will get old.

              It takes time, and dealing with a horse like this can be frustrating, but once you have a system going, just be firm and consistent. Don't make a big deal out of things--just reprimand firmly and move on.


              • #8
                Showmanship work is an excellent suggestion. I would strongly suggest that you try to find Richard Shrake's Showmanship tape(s) - he's the best! If you have trouble, let me know. I think I have a copy somewhere.

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