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How to cultivate a happy horse with a willing attitude?

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  • How to cultivate a happy horse with a willing attitude?

    With apologies in advance for the long post, I continue to struggle with finding my stride with a new horse and would love some big-picture wisdom from this group.

    I bought my first horse, a 10-year-old Holsteiner x ISH gelding, six months ago after many years of part-leases. In his ten years of life he's been passed around a bit -- I am owner number 5 or 6. He has evented up to BE100 and has clearly had decent training put into him. He had a five-stage PPE before I bought him (clean), has had teeth done, feet are in good shape, back done twice, saddles fitted twice by a master saddler, no signs of ulcers or pain or any other issue.

    I know six months is still relatively early in building a horse-human partnership, and we have made progress in that time. However, I've not had so many road bumps getting to know a horse before. Here is a laundry list of the challenges to date:
    • He is not always good to lead or handle. He can be pushy and disrespectful of his handler at times, which has included periods of refusing to walk forward or occasionally kicking out or dragging someone off a bit. I have been more firm about this and it has improved, but I am still not confident that I can lead him safely and/or easily 100% of the time.
    • He is a pasture bully, and after having a field-mate in a lather, ripping his rug to shreds, and chasing him through a fence, is now turned out alone. He is nasty to horses in neighboring stalls (lunging at them and baring teeth).
    • He can be resistant or rude during groundwork training. He sometimes dislikes being asked to move his feet, and can throw little protest fits that include nipping at me, pawing the ground, etc.
    • He has been consistently fussy at the mounting block, including refusing to walk up to it and refusing to stand still. There was a break from this for a while, but it has resumed lately.
    • He does not have a great work ethic for ridden work. He is sluggish, and very good at ignoring the aids. I am working on sharpening him up and being mindful of not nagging, but his default is "I'd rather not." When he isn't in the mood or decides he's done for the day, he can be a bit stroppy. However, he CAN put in good work when you catch him on a good day.
    • Mentally, he is very unfocused. A trainer I had out said he is "off in la-la land" most of the time, and not paying attention to handler/rider. I think he is both distracted a lot and used to tuning out instructions.
    • He can be nappy or sharp on hacks. We need more practice but I do not feel 100% confident hacking him out.
    • He is very physically sensitive, and will protest (e.g. fussing, kicking out) at things like clipping, sheath cleaning, wound care. (Farrier and dentist, he is great.)
    • As far as I know, he does not load well.
    • Started off nippy and mouthy, though this is generally gone now. Cannot really be fed treats as he is rude about those (so that somewhat eliminates opportunities for treat-based training).
    • There have been some other shenanigans, including jumping out of his field and injuring himself, and aggressively chasing the barn dog out of his field.
    As I read what I've just written, it sounds pretty clear that this is a horse for whom proper manners have not been properly taught or consistently enforced. I can see why that is -- he is up for a fight if he is corrected or asked to do something he doesn't want to do. A prior owner told me that he "likes to be asked nicely, and will get stroppy when he is 'told'." In my mind, asking nicely is fine, but horsey ultimately cannot be in charge of decision-making.

    I am happy to work on manners and set boundaries, but at a deeper level I lose sleep over what seems like a horse with a generally bad attitude. Don't get me wrong, he can be super sweet: he is very affectionate, curious, playful, and fun. But there just seems to be so much "no" in this horse, and I wish I knew how to cultivate a horse who is happy, agreeable, and has a generally cooperative attitude rather than being difficult, fussy, and rude on a fairly consistent basis.

    Any thoughts?

  • #2
    My initial impression is that something is still painful in his body and that is souring his outlook to the world.

    Have you considered getting him X-rayed to check for kissing spine? The sacro-isiac joint might to another one to check out. Either of these hurting most of the time can make the horse's attitude SOUR, and any painful muscle spasms can cause behavior problems.


    • #3
      There is no such thing as a bad horse. There are many horses that are made bad by people.

      There is nothing about what you are writing in re: his behavior that cannot be corrected. But it's going to take time and a willingness to move beyond "I want my horse to like me" and into "My horse must respect me."

      I sense a lot of tentativeness in your post. I'm just a stranger on the internet and these are just words on a page, but regardless I get the feeling that this horse intimidates you, that you haven't been willing to "go to the mat" with him, so to speak, to teach him what he needs to know to feel better about life and be safer and more pleasant to handle. Make no mistake, it doesn't feel GOOD to him to be this way. It feels downright rotten. But it's the best he's got at the moment. Your job is to show him there is another way, and do EVERYTHING it takes to get him there. But if there is hesitation, or if he intimidates you, or if you are unsure as to what your response needs to be, he will know that before even you know it and you won't get a thing done.

      In 6 months I can get a horse with solid ground manners, w/t/c, started in lateral work, exposed to all sorts of objects and scenarios, following cows, dragging things and generally being a decent working citizen. 6 months is PLENTY of time to have have a lot of these things sorted. The fact that you do not tells me you do not know how. No shame in that - we all have to learn somehow - but it does mean you need to call in some reinforcements. Things like "move your feet willingly when I ask, where I ask, and how quickly I ask" are BASIC lessons. The fact that he does not know even that lesson is likely 100% related to why you are having issues under saddle as well.

      If you do not feel confident fixing these things, go search out someone who can. An instructor who starts young horses would be perfect, as that is exactly what this guy needs to be treated as.

      ETA: this is all, of course, only relevant if the horse is not in pain. Sounds like you've done your due diligence regarding the vet check and tack fitting. Several owners in a short period of time, IME, usually means one of two things: they couldn't/wouldn't handle the horse in the way he needed to be handled, or they chalked him up to being a lost cause and sold him on when there was actually some underlying physical thing that no one could figure out.
      Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not. Remember that what you have now was once among the many things that you only hoped for.


      • #4
        [Assuming he is healthy]

        Is he in consistent, daily work? The kind that makes him breath a little hard and get a little sweaty? If he is or even if he is not, then I would go back to ground work ("the horse you lead is the horse you ride" --John Lyons). There are many ground work DVDs (I like to watch someone show me how to do something). Gaining Control and Respect on the Ground is the one I use. Can't say it's a favorite since I've never used another one. There are 8 lessons on the first DVD --about 4 hours broken into 1/2 hour lessons. What has always worked for me is watching the DVD for 1/2 hour, then going out and doing the lesson with the horse for 1/2 hour to 45 min ---and if necessary, twice a day, once in the AM, once in the PM. Done on a daily basis, I have yet to have a horse who did not improve his ground manners in a week --and in two, could have made his own DVD. Don't take short-cuts --if the DVD says to use a rope halter, use one. If it says to use a 17 foot rope, use one --a dressage whip? use it --not a crop.

        I don't have around pen or an indoor arena --all the ground work can be done outside and no round pen needed. But as I said, there are many DVDs out there. Find one you like, try it for two solid weeks, then see where you are. Remember, if you sent this horse to a professional trainer, you WOULD expect him/her to do daily work with this horse. Still, at the end of the day, the horse must work for YOU --and honestly, that's the joy of horse ownership --teaching horse something new!


        • #5
          I’d highly highly highly recommend looking into getting Andrew McLean’s books on Equitation Science and using learning theory in horses. The description of your horse’s behavior makes me think he is confused and frustrated by his handling in life and has started to exhibit signs of learned helplessness (giving up and ignoring) as well as redirected aggression (acting out towards pasture mates). Horses don’t understand trust and respect the way humans think they do. They can only respond to the cues we give them and respond the way they’ve been taught. Since he’s had so many owners, I’m guessing he hasn’t had a lot of consistent teaching.

          Seriously Dr McLean’s work has changed the way I think about and deal with horses. I have become a much more conscientious horse woman because of his work. I could literally talk about this for hours so PM me if you’re interested.


          • #6
            First, I wanted to suggest ground work lessons with a reputable trainer, if available as I believe they would be able to help you much more in person than the advice I could give you here. Correcting behavior during ground work requires the right timing, which is difficult to explain here. You could also be doing subtle things on the ground (such as shifting back or stepping back when he moves into your space) that a trainer could help you become aware of. Plus, if he does retaliate by kicking and biting, that might need a more serious hand.

            The very first thing I would focus on would be earning his respect on the ground. A previous trainer of mine was the go to guy for fixing horses with behavioral issues. It's actually quite surprising how their attitude changed under saddle once he addressed the behaviors on the ground. They became much more attentive.

            He is not always good to lead or handle. He can be pushy and disrespectful of his handler at times, which has included periods of refusing to walk forward or occasionally kicking out or dragging someone off a bit. I have been more firm about this and it has improved, but I am still not confident that I can lead him safely and/or easily 100% of the time.
            He can be resistant or rude during groundwork training. He sometimes dislikes being asked to move his feet, and can throw little protest fits that include nipping at me, pawing the ground, etc.
            Sounds like you've yet to earn his respect and he sounds like he may be a more dominant horse, who wants to be the boss of you! . I'd keep up with the ground work you have been doing and would possibly amp it up a bit. Is there any particular program you are following for that? What do you normally do when he protests?

            I really prefer working those type of horses in a rope halter, specifically the ones with the 4 knots on the nose so that they are better balanced. I find that they are quicker to apply pressure and quicker to release it too, so the horse learns what is correct and incorrect faster. It also gives you some more control and could be helpful for when he decides to refuse walking forward or drags on during handling. At this point in his training, I'd also bring a whip with me, so that it is there if needed. What is your response to the kicking out?

            He does not have a great work ethic for ridden work. He is sluggish, and very good at ignoring the aids. I am working on sharpening him up and being mindful of not nagging, but his default is "I'd rather not." When he isn't in the mood or decides he's done for the day, he can be a bit stroppy. However, he CAN put in good work when you catch him on a good day.
            I'd work on this after you gain his respect a bit more. I think this could be a combination of him shrugging you off (lack of respect) and him being bored. To attempt and build a better work ethic, here is what I would do:

            1) Make things fun again by changing things up. Not every day needs to be a schooling day (at least not in his mind). Trick him into thinking he is having a play day, but use the time to reinforce favorable behaviors. For example, make one day a obstacle course day, the next a trail ....

            2) Work with him in shorter sessions. While we do need to ride a certain amount of time to condition, it is shorter sessions (ending at the right time) that builds a more positive work ethic. If he starts out really good, then end the ride there, even if it is in the first 5 minutes. If you have a goal set for yourself and him, then split that goal up into increments. Never ask for too much in one ride. For example, your long term goal is to get a ride where he is content to work - in a happy mood. Your short term goal would start at the smallest thing he will give you; maybe that is just relaxing for a few strides, going forward when you ask or even just putting his ears up. For instance, him going forward might start with one stride, then you end the ride. The next time you'll ask for him to do it twice and so on. You slowly increase the length of time the behavior is exhibited.

            3) Find what he likes as reinforcement. For now, I'd stay away from the treats with the biting habit, but find what lifts his mood. Some horses love getting praised and it absolutely makes a difference in how eager they are to pick things up. Others don't care as much for it.

            All of this is just different ways to make him think going for a ride or doing X and Y is his idea. Then, they do start to become a bit more eager to do things rather than feeling like they need to go to 'work'.


            • #7
              I do not give treats.

              I find that many horses really, really like me scratching their neck under the mane, all the way up to the hair roots. I can do this from the ground and it is really easy to do in the saddle. The horses tend to lick, stretch out their necks, and they give me every indication of feeling GOOD when I do this.

              If the horse reacts badly to this there might be a problem somewhere in his neck.


              • #8


                • #9
                  Personality. You can do a great deal of work with a horse, but it will not change the innate personality of the horse. I would expect that with firm and consistent work, he will lead better and be less pushy. I would expect more energy under saddle. I would not expect a complete change in personality.

                  My paint mare is boss mare. You always have to be on guard with her around other horses because she may decide to drag you over to say hi and then decide to kick or squeal. If she's in season, I handle her just like i would a stallion- with a hand held whip and a chain under her chin. Not because she is vicious but because for everyone's safety, i cannot be losing control. She loves to lead the trail rides, and really hates being behind anyone. You can make her do it, but then she gets mopey. Like head down, ears sideways, mopey. She is never afraid to give you her opinion.

                  Much of this is personality - she's very headstrong and expects strange horses to immediately accept her as boss mare. For a long time she was oblivious to the risks of getting kicked, and would just try to push the other horses out of her way. She is not timid at all and tends towards over confidence - it gets her in trouble because she thinks she's invincible. You have to take charge or she will.

                  My other mare is the opposite. Bottom of the herd. Never pins her ears at anyone. She loves people - other horses always boss her around so people are so much better company. Leave her loose and she will completely ignore other horses and mind her own business- the grass is better. She loves people and loves food. Not super athletic, but she tries for you. Will do anything you ask with complete trust and no argument. Never gets frazzled or bothered by much.

                  Then my gelding who is a nervous nellie... What is that in your hands? That is scary. Everything is scary. Worry. Worry. Worry. And i doubt training will improve this quality much.

                  Completely different personalities on all 3 of them. While training will improve certain qualities, that underlying personality is not going to change.

                  ​​​​With a dominant horse, you must find a balance between moving their feet, and doing reward based work with treats. You can use treats, but they are never free handouts. The horse must back up by voice command, do a side pass or a trick before any rewards. The moving the feet and gaining respect must be a priority before any sort of reward based work.


                  • #10
                    Some things are just part of their personalities, I would guess that going after the dog in the pasture is just him.

                    However I think that most horses can learn to be reasonable members of society, they may be naturally on the lazy side, just like some people can, but can work safely.

                    It really sounds like his brain has been fried and he is burnt out, or pain but could be a combo of all of the above. He has learned to tune out people and has probably been pushed and pushed without release. He really needs to go back to square one and learn how to lead and respect personal space.

                    Not all horses are cuddly and affectionate but if they can trust that you can be fair they can have a good work relationship and it sounds that you need a trainer to help you and him go back to basics and build back up to a working partnership.

                    I wouldn't give any treats at this time or any time soon, but you can give reward by giving them a break and backing off when they have done what you asked, and by giving rubs or grooming/scratches after doing a good job once he is safe to be around. Many horses like a rub along their neck or near the withers especially if you get the itchy spot.


                    • #11
                      I'd rule out ulcers before anything else.


                      • #12
                        Warwick Schiller videos. You can subscribe or find some for free.

                        He is an excellent go to for demonstrating how to train horses to respect the handler in a way that is easy to understand and will get the desired result if done correctly .

                        There could be pain issues involved but it sounds to me like he acts like this because hes been allowed to get away with it for far too long.

                        If you have a round pen and feel comfortable lunging him then use this opportunity to establish dominance

                        If you are not comfortable or confident then dont unless you have someone competent with you to guide you.

                        Carry a whip, but you should only use it as it is meant to be used. The whip is not for punishment. It is used to reinforce the leg aid. So only use it when and where would use it when mounted.

                        (There will be disagree ment here from some posters but that is okay. )

                        The minutia of the process is too much to go into here, but it is a process that takes time.

                        The key to changing his attitude is fairness, consistency and most of all, patience.

                        Whatever system you choose be consistent and dont expect too much too soon. Hes had it all his own way for a long time so hes not going to change overnight.

                        It is a great thing to have a horse for a friend but it s not an equal partnership. You are the alpha boss mare and he better remember it.

                        I would not let my guard down with this horse. I dont mean you have to be hypervigilant. I would just be mindful that he already disrespects his handlers and has no boundaries.

                        He could really hurt you or anyone who has to work with him so dont put yourself in a vulnerable position until he proves himself trustworthy.

                        He may actually learn to enjoy being around you even if it entails work. But even if he does not he can still be a good riding partner.

                        He may also turn out to be aloof and there's not much you can do about that.

                        You may also want to consider working with a colt starter who is willing to train you and your horse together.

                        It has been said many times on this board that western trainers are much better than English trainers when it comes to instilling manners. I sorta of agree as long as the trainer uses humane methods and is willing to have you watch the lessons and encourages you to be a part of the process.

                        Good luck. Hope this helps.
                        Certified Guacophobe


                        • #13
                          Sorry you are going through this. I haven't read all the replies but I have seen some good suggestions.

                          First, I assume you bought this horse because you thought it would be a good fit for you. The question is: what IS a good fit for you? Is he a good fit now? It sounds like you are not confident working with him on he ground, hacking him... well, is this FUN? Is it what you wanted? If the answer is no, part of what you need to ask yourself is how long are you willing to wait to see if he turns into the horse you NEED? How much money will you spend (trainers, vets, etc.)?

                          Totally different suggestion: I have watched a horse that seemed otherwise fine turn into a nappy unhappy horse over the past couple years and after $$$$$ trying to solve the issue, it appears it was a nutritional imbalance. In just 3 weeks of changing his nutrition he has turned over a whole new leaf.

                          You never know what kind of obsessive compulsive crazy person you are until another person imitates your behaviour at a three-day. --Gry2Yng


                          • #14
                            I'd agree that different horses have different personalities, and I suspect that him chasing the dog and being (too) dominant with other horses to be turned out with them may be just the way he is.

                            But in everything else, everything that has to do with how he relates to you and either does or doesn't respond to you, that should be changed via training. The hard thing will be, though, that to change his default behavior, you will have to be consciously training him in every single interaction you have. He can't be allowed to get away with anything.

                            This does not mean that you'll be constantly punishing him or anything like that, but you'll have to be really clear about what you want him to do (rather than focusing just on what you don't want), make that the easy thing to do. Then praise, lots of praise.

                            It would be helpful for you to have some groundwork lessons with a trainer that really specializes in groundwork. Because if the horse is trained properly, you'll need to be trained in how the horse was trained and needs to be treated in order to stay trained.
                            "The formula 'Two and two make five' is not without its attractions." --Dostoevsky


                            • #15
                              This horse is training you. You need to step up.

                              There is nothing you can do about him when unsupervised. Dogs should not be there off leash. If the dog lives there he should be trained not to go into the horses paddocks or where they are ridden. If the dog is not trained to do that, the horse will do the training for you and thet may mean a vet bill.

                              It sounds like he is getting overfed for what he did to the other horse and how he is treating you, but for safety of the other horses keep him separate.

                              Never hand feed. If you want to give him a treat put it in his feed bin.

                              If you having real trouble with him cut out grain. Hay only, you can add back grain slowly later when you are in control.

                              Mentally work the horse before feeding if you can. Make him work for his feed.

                              As others have said get lessons on ground work. He is never allowed to nip or kick. He should move the moment he is asked. You say you can sharpen him up. So sharpen him up and the moment he does something 1 out of 100 praise. You will find he will work his heart out for a good boy and you won't need food treats.

                              Leading to the mounting block is basic leading.

                              Mine are not taught to follow their feet. I click, they walk forward. I say halt they halt. A thumb resting passively on their chest and the word back and they walk back. Always 2 signals for back.

                              Be very careful going through gates. Gates open wider to close. Horses can be disemboweled. My method is walk to gate. Say halt. Open gate. Click horse walks through. I say halt. I close the gate. Step to the shoulder, click and horse walks forward. They must continue walking until I say halt. If I do not say it when they walk through then they keep walking, which means they come to end of the lead rope and turn to face me. Walking to a mounting block they must walk until I say halt at the mounting block.

                              Timing is important. Set boundaries and keep them. Uh uh if not what you want. Praise when he does right.

                              You will find he will appreciate the consistency in training and will become a solid citizen that you actually enjoy being around.
                              It is better to ride 5 minutes a day than it is to ride 35 minutes on a Sunday.


                              • #16
                                You have lots of great advise already, re training the things that can be trained. So i won't touch on that.

                                Did you ride this horse before you purchased it? Because a lot of what you describe to me is a horse that needs to constantly be reminded to tow the line. This is not a forgiving, generous or yes ma'am horse - and i hate to so that, he won't ever be. That doesn't mean there's anything wrong with him, or that he's bad - it just sounds like not a good match for you. He is the perfect horse for someone who is bold and loves micromanaging every step.

                                Let me give you an example - i purchased a gelding unseen from the other side of the country, long, decorated show record, beautifully trained. Exactly what i wanted. I hated riding him. I rode him for two years. He was the kind of horse you had to always be "on" with. If your mind wandered for a second, he would be screwing around on you. If you gave him an inch, he would take a mile. If he thought for a second, that today, he might be able to get away with something he never gets away with, he would try it.

                                I retired him after he got laminitis, he's sound now, retired, still a cheeky ahole lol. Still tries it on, every day.

                                I purchased a very green mare. Whilst she was no where near as educated as the gelding she was GENEROUS. KIND. She wouldn't take a mile, we have an understanding that i will be kind and fair to her, and she will be kind and fair to me. They are complete opposites personality wise, and i love riding the mare A THOUSAND times more than the gelding, even though i won a tonne of bows and rugs on the gelding, i hated riding him.

                                Do not take two years to decide this isn't the horse for you. Life is too short. He is someone else's dream horse.


                                • #17
                                  There are many good suggestions in this thread, some training related, some for physical issues such as pain, ill-fitting tack, ulcers, etc. A lot of this takes time because you need to work through steps in a training program. Some chalk it up to personality. Some talk about rules and teaching respect for you. Some, that he isn't a good match so send him on his way.

                                  If he is 10 and has had half a dozen owner/trainers that's a year or so with each one. He has probably has had so much inconsistent training that he can't figure out which end is up.

                                  My 25 y.o. gelding and I have spent 19 wonderful years together with more to go. I get comments regularly that he is the way he is because we have been together for so long. It's not the time together, it is what I've been doing during that time. It's pretty much telling him he's a good boy. Horses don't have an understanding of "no that's wrong" or "that's not what I want you to do," or "do this not that." Some behaviors need a quick correction, like keeping your elbow sticking out so he hits it when he tries to bite. If he is in a rope halter and pulls back, he feels the pressure of the knots before you can react. It's sort of a self-correction because you aren't the source. Trying to establish rules or manners and enforcing them won't get much desirable behavior.

                                  Horses have an attention span of about 3 seconds. That means if you don't release the pressure within 3 seconds they don't make an association. I watch too many people working with confused, upset horses, head high in the air and eyes popping out of their heads going around and around in circles. If you pepper them with an unending stream of cues they can't figure out what the question is, let alone what answer to try. They are confused. Their natural state is to be at peace.

                                  One way to think about it is for you to be a horse and stand quietly facing me. I walk over and put my left hand on your right shoulder and push it back several inches. What do I want you to do? You are the horse. Try something. Maybe your guess is correct, maybe it is wrong. If I do it again, what do you do? Same thing, something different? What if I keep pushing on your shoulder and don't give you time to try something after each push? What if you take a step to the right and I say "good boy," and pause for a few moments. The next push on your shoulder, if I get that same step I'll say "good boy" again. Repetitions and consistency over several days enable the horse to connect the cue with an action, plus the positive feedback. A big problem is that someone might have trained him to take a step forward when somebody pushed on his right shoulder.

                                  You don't know what his training history is, but I would assume he was often overwhelmed. If he has problems walking on a lead rope, focus on that. Forward 6 steps, halt, and stand. Forward 3 steps, stop, step back 3 steps. Mix it up. End on a good note. Love on him. If he does something you don't like, don't go after him with negative reinforcement. Ask for something he knows, like stand quietly, stoke his neck and tell him he is a good boy. I watched a teenager, new to the barn, with a young mustang mare She was trying to get her to stand quietly on the crossties. Move your butt this way no that way step back not forward. I suggested that she ignore what she doesn't want and reward what she does want, which is standing quietly. The following weekend the mare stood quietly for grooming. They worked consistently for a couple of months. I could see how much softer their relationship was on the ground and riding. A couple of days ago that mare stood quietly in the arena facing away from the entrance while the owner went back to pick up her forgotten gloves.

                                  My "perfect horse" is boarded outside. He gets grain in a stall, preferably stall one, before he is turned out. He's a sloppy eater scattering grain all over and nibbling every spilled nugget. He knows to stand outside the stall while I sweep off the mats. "Uh Uh Uh" is the reminder to wait until I lead him in and then get his grain. I didn't intentionally train him to do that. It happened because I was consistent with my cues.

                                  Humans are generally the source of most undesirable behavior. One thing that I've noticed lately with "natural horsemanship" trainers is that they automatically stroke or scratch withers for positive feedback. Unfortunately the students trainers don't pick up on that and you can see the problem when they are on their own.

                                  I'd give your guy a chance. Start with simple things that get a positive reaction and build from there. Try to untangle what he is doing and find the good stuff. It sounds like you are doing some ambitious groundwork and riding in a single outing. What about cutting back to short sessions some days, 10 or 15 minutes perhaps, and stop in a good spot. You've pointed out some desirable behaviors mixed in with the undesirable so you know he can do it. Set him up to succeed each day so he can react to you positively and go from there.

                                  Good wishes and best of luck!
                                  "With hardly any other living being can a human connect as closely over so many years as a rider can with her horse." Isabell Werth, Four Legs Move My Soul. 2019


                                  • #18
                                    Learn how to clicker train and start clicker training him. The advantage to it is that it'll give you a whole new perspective on what the motivations for his behaviors might be, while at the same time it'll change the current dynamic.

                                    The reason that clicker training works for so many is that it gives them a horse who wants to do what they want him to do (because he wants the treats), which removes the entire "he doesn't want to do it/he's just being uncooperative/he's a jerk" dynamic and puts any blame squarely where it belongs (on the trainer's ability to effecively communicate with their horse).

                                    And suprisingly, it also addresses any mouthy behaviors at the same time.

                                    My WB was the mouthiest colt I've ever been around--until he started taking treats at 4 months and I was able to use the treats to explain to him that the only way to get them was to keep his mouth away from me, and the treats. He's 16 now, and most of his initial training was clicker training, and while it did take me longer because I was learning how to clicker train at the same time I was training him, the results are such that I'll never do it any other way ever again


                                    • #19
                                      Thanks to everyone for their thoughts and suggestions -- I really appreciate it. We have had some additional issues crop up in the last 24 hours and I'm curious your insights on these in the context of the original post:

                                      Since last Tuesday we have been on COVID-19 lockdown in the UK, so the yard is closed to all but essential staff. So he's been hanging out and eating grass for four days. They moved horses into a different field configuration and are planning to switch them to 24-hour turnout starting tomorrow. This morning, horse jumped out of his (new) field and into another horse's field (clearing a 5' floating gate from a trot ...). The staff thought they'd see how he got on with the mare in that field, but after a few minutes he was apparently fixing to jump out of there as well. When one of the barn managers went to put him back in his field, he was apparently striking out at her when she was leading him. They now have him back in his old field -- we are hoping he will not try to jump out of that one, as he hurt himself doing so about six weeks ago so we hope he is too wary to try that again.

                                      In addition, apparently yesterday he a) went through an electric fence into another field, and b) one of the staff was changing his rug in his field and he put his head down and knocked her to the ground, walked off, and came back to try to push her again / was sort of charging at her a bit. So now the girls on the yard are a bit intimidated by him, as this is now the second little episode he's had with being bad for them to handle.

                                      I am happy to double down on training to improve manners with the help of a good trainer who specializes in groundwork, but these are not good behaviors and really make me wonder what is going on with this horse that he acts out this way. Is it possible to turn a horse that acts like this into a good citizen with everyone who handles him? What to do about the jumping in and out of fields? At this rate I am really fearful of being kicked out of my barn, which I really like.

                                      I am aware that this horse needs more clear, consistent training in manners and boundaries. I suspect the lack of a good foundation in this area, coupled with a string of owners who, like myself, didn't have the skills to deal with it, is why he's passed through so many hands. I feel badly thinking about kicking him down the road again, but I am unsure whether these types of things are fixable or not.

                                      I would really appreciate any thoughts.


                                      • #20
                                        Interesting updates; I was going to say a lot sounds like his personality, and I think that's true...but it also sounds like he's kind of a dick and often gets his way by being a it has reinforced that part of his personality. I was going to ask about turnout - now he will have 24 hour turnout; what was he getting before?

                                        I don't think you'll be able to change his personality, but you can have higher expectations for better behavior. But it will take consistency from everyone that interacts with him and that's tough to find. I would definitely say he sounds like a horse that needs a firm hand - on the ground and in the saddle. Do you have a trainer working with him as well as with you? I agree with the idea that maybe he needs to be in harder work...which will be difficult until this pandemic situation changes...but I would think about how to implement that.

                                        Of course this assumes he is not reacting in pain; it might not hurt to consider scoping for ulcers or proactively treating and see if anything changes.