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Bad behavior: Genetics vs. training

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  • Bad behavior: Genetics vs. training

    Example: You have a horse that is apparently from bloodlines famous for bad behavior. You have heard through the grapevine that the stallion was hotter than a pistol and the mare was more of the same.

    Your horse has some bad behaviors (i.e. cribbing/weaving/pushing/jigging around while being saddled/nipping/ear pinning/bucking etc etc). How much are you willing to forgive as "it's in the blood", and where do you draw the line?

    And is "forgiving" something because it is in the blood just an excuse? Are there bad behaviors that simply cannot be trained out of a horse?
    "My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we'll change the world." ~ Jack Layton

  • #2
    I believe temperament to be highly heritable. If daddy is hot, mamma is hot, baby is PROBABLY gonna be hot. People breed to/for certain bloodlines for a reason.

    specific example: neighbor wanted a Sheltie, read about a litter of puppies and asked me to go along to see them. Puppies were 4 weeks old. When we got there, the mother bolted across the house and hid behind a sofa. She basically abandoned these puppies to strangers. I explained to neighbor that if she took one of them, that dog would also probably be shy. She took a puppy anyway and sure enough she has a dog that is shy enough she will bite if you put social pressure on her.

    Contrast that to the two litters I have had. Puppies are 3 days old, owner of stud dog comes to house for husbandry procedure and mom greets him at the door, then leads him in to the puppies and is totally comfortable with him handling them. Kept a daughter and when she had HER puppies it was the same deal. "here are my babies, aren't they cute?"

    my vote is that there are basic traits that you won't fix.

    Comment


    • #3
      This is one of my favorite subjects. I've pondered this and witnessed much over the years as a breeder. The old "nature vs. nurture" thing. I do believe that nature dominates, BUT nurture has a tremendous influence on how a horse turns out.

      Sure, "hotness" can be heritable, but one learns to channel that physiological trait. But "hot" unto itself is not "bad behavior". Many people breed for that, so they consider it a "good" trait.

      True BAD behavior as it relates to human interaction, in my experience, is not heritable but is learned.

      In a herd environment the pecking order dictates appropriate behavior. And clearly, the dominant horse can have all the "bad behavior" it wants...

      OTOH, I do believe that "quirks" (the way of "being" or doing things, and personality traits) are absolutely heritable.

      True bad behavior to me is a horse that shows aggression and/or is what I call "willfully disobedient" to humans. And IME that comes from not having been taught appropriate behavior with humans at a young age...or from a human who has let the horse later in life succeed in rising up a notch or two on their human pecking order. Horses never stop trying to get up the pecking order if there is no leader to tell him otherwise. We see that when new horses are introduced into a herd...the dynamics change. Lucky for humans we are the one constant in their lives, and it is our job in their daily handling to pay attention to those little things horses so subtly do that CAN eventually put them "above" you in their pecking order dominated brain.

      Their quirks and tendencies that are heritable cannot be trained out, IME, but bad behavior can, unless there is a physiological reason that it can't (say pain, for instance).

      BTW, bad behavior, to me, does not include weaving or cribbing (or any other vice that may be borne out of from frustration/stressors/stall confinement).

      People tend to get phyched out on the "bloodlines" and often make excuses the minute they see behavior they don't like, are not successful in manners training, then throw up their hands because an ancestor had a bad rep (probably due to uneducated handling/training).

      I just work with the horse and forget the bloodline stuff. I see their "tendencies" and nip those that are undesirable around humans in the bud.

      Most people would rather ride than realize the relationship on the ground is harder to teach and maintain with some horses. Like riding, it's an ongoing effort but truly does make one a better horseman and good for the horse too.
      www.littlebullrun@aol.com See Little Bull Run's stallions at:
      "Argosy" - YouTube and "Boleem" - YouTube
      Boleem @ 1993 National Dressage Symposium - YouTube

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by hitchinmygetalong View Post
        Example: You have a horse that is apparently from bloodlines famous for bad behavior. You have heard through the grapevine that the stallion was hotter than a pistol and the mare was more of the same.

        Your horse has some bad behaviors (i.e. cribbing/weaving/pushing/jigging around while being saddled/nipping/ear pinning/bucking etc etc). How much are you willing to forgive as "it's in the blood", and where do you draw the line?

        And is "forgiving" something because it is in the blood just an excuse? Are there bad behaviors that simply cannot be trained out of a horse?
        For sure there can be in born tendencies to be more reactive, less reactive, faster, slower, higher flight response, less flight response. There's a dog geneticist who has done some great analysis of the traits of various working dog groups (can't recall his name)...

        There's also what the foal learned from its mother and what it learns from people...

        I think if you are trying to make a flightly horse into a plodder or a slow horse into a race winner, you have an uphill battle. But there's no reason not to correct pushiness for example. Some horses might take a lot of repetitions to learn not to, others will get it on day one, I think. Something like cribbing - I don't know that you can train that away. You just have to work around it.

        My Morgan mare is pleasant as can be with people, very well mannered. But she still forgets sometimes that when we are riding she is not the herd boss, and she is not allowed to bite my other mare whenever she feels like it! Honestly, today she was such a handful with the sniping that we renamed her Shark. Riding 15 feet apart, she still threw in a couple of attempts to duck and swerve, ears pinned, trying to put the other mare in her proper omega place. Royal PIA. But she's better in general than she was a year or two ago. She's very good with strange horses. She was really great two days ago on the same ride with the same other horse. Sometimes she backslides I guess. Or I backslide.

        Anyway, as an example of a "personality trait" not something she learned from her training. Something I think I'll always just need to be very on top of.

        Comment


        • #5
          Very interesting topic.
          Human research indicates that both factors are at work: temperament traits that you can inherit, and experience/learning that modifies those traits.

          What you get out of crossing a dead calm horse to a flighty hot one is anyone's guess. I think being raised by a flighty, hot dam would influence even the calmest foal by the calmest stud to be a bit more reactive.

          We all know trainers who can take reactive animals and make them act calm. Maybe not every horse, but many can be influenced in this way.

          However, I always wonder how much of the inborn trait to reactivity gets internalized by some of this bomb proofing training and perhaps formed into anxiety driven physical illness like ulcers, stress related behaviors like chewing, pawing and stall walking etc.

          I don't know the answer though.
          "The Threat of Internet Ignorance: ... we are witnessing the rise of an age of equestrian disinformation, one where a trusting public can graze on nonsense packaged to look like fact."-LRG-AF

          Comment


          • #6
            Please may I suggest possibility #3? Much bad behavior is reactive to pain. I've seen the kindest of horses turn into freaks by pain cases that the owner had no clue. I've seen the meanest of horses turn into lesson horses for beginners when pain was resolved and then trust rebuilt....

            they tell me cribbing is nearly always related to ulcers, but the 3 cribbers we've had here the last few years all scoped clean and didn't respond to any of the vitamin "cures". Perhaps they'd had ulcers once and now are simply hooked on the endorphin rush and the bad habit, I don't know....

            AMC
            AnnMarie Cross, Pres, Crosswinds Equine Rescue, cwer.org
            Sidell IL (near Champ./UofI/Danville IL/IN state border)

            Comment


            • #7
              Yes, I mentioned that in my reply. Just like humans, being asked able to do things when one is in pain can created a lot of anger and/or "acting out". You betcha. In a horses case, u/s work discomfort can lead to distrust on the ground as well.
              www.littlebullrun@aol.com See Little Bull Run's stallions at:
              "Argosy" - YouTube and "Boleem" - YouTube
              Boleem @ 1993 National Dressage Symposium - YouTube

              Comment


              • #8
                I agree that pain can be an issue, but I think mishandling and lack of discipline is MUCH more prevalent. Unknowledgeable horse owners either a) don't see/understand the subtle signals being sent their way, or if they do, don't know how to effectively correct or b) are so busy trying to be Dobbin's best friend that they cannot imagine how Dobbin could be trying to run the show.

                Even if I didn't have the background I do, just reading this BB for 9 years would tell me the above is true.
                Laurie

                Comment


                • #9
                  I like the genetics game. I am coming more from racing breeding than anything else but I can tell you this:

                  We have a broodmare who we have had since birth. She showed a tremendous amount of talent training but was batsh*t crazy. Couldn't tolerate ANYTHING hitting her in the face (problem on the track) and would run sideways, bolt, whatever. Nearly took out a field of horses behind the gate with some dust kickup in her first and only qualifying event. But..she also had no end to her. Our trainer trained her five trips one day in an attempt to get her tired enough to not be crazy to no avail. So she was sound, had a real set of lungs, an insane amount of talent, and was insane (mind you, only on the track, she is and always was easy to deal with otherwise).

                  And so, we bred her. You can't find that kind of talent everywhere. Her first foal, a daughter, could not tolerate anything being thrown in her face for the first 2 years on the track but she was managed a little differently. She went straight to the lead every race her 3yo year and she was fine. And by fine I mean set a world record that still stands. In between her 3 and 4 year old year, our trainer did a fantastic job of teaching her to sit behind another horse. She's now 6, still racing very successfully and has learned to sit in a hole and tolerate dirt in her face, but she is still very "hot" and quirky in a lot of ways.

                  The mare in question has had 5 foals since, from 4 different sires. One, a full sister to the first foal, had no real issues at all and was very mannerly on the track. The next, a 3/4- brother colt who is now three, went batsh*t crazy if you so much as attempted to bridle him during his breaking process. if you touched above his eyes, he would go straight in the air. As I said he is now three, has been patiently handled and worked through the above issue, shows a ton of talent and is really pretty well mannered at this point (gelding at 2 did not hurt). Next filly, different sire, very intelligent, and sensitive, FREAK talented was killed in a freak stall accident as a 2yo that might have ended differently if she wasn't a little batty as well. She now has a yearling colt, full brother to the first and second foals, who isn't broke yet but just came in to the track and while a little "nervous" seems ok. Her weanling colt is just living the colt life, so hard to say what he will be like.

                  Long story short, I think it is safe to say that in some regard the "head" issue has to be hereditary. BUT, in the case of the dam, where it wasn't able to be worked through, the knowledge that it might be an issue with her foals has been a blessing bc they so far have been able to be managed successfully.
                  Last edited by Big_Tag; Sep. 28, 2009, 09:44 PM.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Agree with Sid's entire first post pretty much and LauriePs too.

                    As Laurie said, mishandling and lack of discipline is a major issue and only made worse when the owner is attributing it to and allowing it because of the "hot lines." Also...inconsistent handling and training is a major no-no for more up or smart horses. Allowing something once in a while and disciplining it the rest of the time makes the average horse confused and the hot personality frustrated.

                    And as Sid said...hot parents will likely produce hot offspring. But hot does not, nor should it ever, be a reason to allow bad behavior or manners. I've always preferred the hot and opinionated horses, I've never allowed bad behavior or manners. That may mean with some of the hard cases I get the wanted behavior but the horse has a pissy expression about it, LOL. But they can look as annoyed as they like as long as they behave.

                    I think too many people molly-coddle their hotter than average horses and either create monsters (which means then I get them *sigh*) or they get the Black Stallion complex and end up with horses that they think only understand/love/respect them or that only they can ride/handle/whatever this particular horse. It's silly and juvenile...and only perpetuates the outside worlds' opinion that the horse world is heavily populated with socially and emotionally fekakta weirdo women.

                    It's never in the horses' best interest to allow certain behaviors due to thinking it's too hot or too sensitive...it usually creates horses that not only have gaping holes in their education but makes the horses go from hot to nervous which then can cause anxiety issues and eventually health problems such as ulcers or behavioral problems like weaving. Horses are genetically made to find, accept and rely on firm leadership. Pussyfoot around or become a pantywaist about it and the horse is stressed about taking over the role the human gave up for a pipedream fantasy.
                    You jump in the saddle,
                    Hold onto the bridle!
                    Jump in the line!
                    ...Belefonte

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by MistyBlue View Post
                      ...and only perpetuates the outside worlds' opinion that the horse world is heavily populated with socially and emotionally fekakta weirdo women.
                      you win 10 points for making me spit on my keyboard

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Hitch, this is something I've been laughing a bit about all week. A TB horse just arrived in my yard, for a brief stint. His owner is a plucky kid, who looks very pretty on a horse, but isn't very effective as a rider. I gave her a lesson the other day. Halfway through the lesson, the horse started snorting, and trying to buck. I told her not to "react" to him, but just to keep riding her ride. If he tried to canter, she should keep rising. We were working at that stage on getting him to lower his poll and to relax over his back, so she was to ride lightly, to get him to lift his back, and with soft hands. No grabbing his mouth in anticipation of the buck.

                        Two circles later, he relaxed and did as required. She was astonished because "he ALWAYS misbehaves in lessons".

                        Well, sure, and you ALWAYS grab his mouth, try to sit him down to avoid the buck, and tense up. It's a circle, sweetheart, and you have to change what YOU do, to change his reaction.

                        I have a yard full of "hot" horses, from known "hot" lines. To a horse, they're a pleasure to ride, compete, handle and generally be around, because we simply don't allow them to be hot. They're ridden with a supportive leg, consistent contact and their training is consistent and disciplined. They know their boundaries and how far they can push them.

                        My TB's sire killed a groom on the track, and when I tell people (if asked) who he is by, I get raised eyebrows and a "but he's so CAAAAAAAAAAAALM".

                        My husband's new WB used to flip over backwards in the warm-up arena at shows, and do 180 drop and spins. He's never done one with us.

                        It has nothing to do with the fact that we're great trainers. We just take each horse as an individual, deal with any pain issues, and quietly get on with the job of riding. There is nothing worse for a horse than somebody who bleats on about how "bad" it is, because it is "by so-and-so" or "just a hot horse". You get well-mannered horses and bad-mannered horses (with the odd exception of truly psychotic horses, but I believe those to be very rare), and making excuses based on breeding is a lazy way out : your horse misbehaves because you allow it to, simple as that.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by sid View Post
                          This is one of my favorite subjects. I've pondered this and witnessed much over the years as a breeder. The old "nature vs. nurture" thing. I do believe that nature dominates, BUT nurture has a tremendous influence on how a horse turns out.

                          Sure, "hotness" can be heritable, but one learns to channel that physiological trait. But "hot" unto itself is not "bad behavior". Many people breed for that, so they consider it a "good" trait.

                          True BAD behavior as it relates to human interaction, in my experience, is not heritable but is learned.

                          In a herd environment the pecking order dictates appropriate behavior. And clearly, the dominant horse can have all the "bad behavior" it wants...

                          OTOH, I do believe that "quirks" (the way of "being" or doing things, and personality traits) are absolutely heritable.

                          True bad behavior to me is a horse that shows aggression and/or is what I call "willfully disobedient" to humans. And IME that comes from not having been taught appropriate behavior with humans at a young age...or from a human who has let the horse later in life succeed in rising up a notch or two on their human pecking order. Horses never stop trying to get up the pecking order if there is no leader to tell him otherwise. We see that when new horses are introduced into a herd...the dynamics change. Lucky for humans we are the one constant in their lives, and it is our job in their daily handling to pay attention to those little things horses so subtly do that CAN eventually put them "above" you in their pecking order dominated brain.

                          Their quirks and tendencies that are heritable cannot be trained out, IME, but bad behavior can, unless there is a physiological reason that it can't (say pain, for instance).

                          BTW, bad behavior, to me, does not include weaving or cribbing (or any other vice that may be borne out of from frustration/stressors/stall confinement).

                          People tend to get phyched out on the "bloodlines" and often make excuses the minute they see behavior they don't like, are not successful in manners training, then throw up their hands because an ancestor had a bad rep (probably due to uneducated handling/training).

                          I just work with the horse and forget the bloodline stuff. I see their "tendencies" and nip those that are undesirable around humans in the bud.

                          Most people would rather ride than realize the relationship on the ground is harder to teach and maintain with some horses. Like riding, it's an ongoing effort but truly does make one a better horseman and good for the horse too.

                          good post and can i add that feed - is and can be related to the horse that has bahiour problem
                          often people will feed a horse xyz and supplements without reading the back of the packet and not understanding what each food stuff does or is and the type of horse they have or health issues relating to the horse -- ie lamintus for exsample
                          or they arnt doing the work warranted for the feed intake so the horse is like a time bomb waiting to go off

                          theres alot of people that come on here with a claiming a horse is a git and nutty
                          when you actually look at the feed they give it and the work they do or dont do
                          or its stalled 24/7 i think i would go mad if i were a horse

                          a lot of issues with a horse can be not only from the handling but from ill fitted tack and feed and how you ride your horses
                          alot of issues are resolved just purely looking at what wrong and finding the cuase


                          and i say agian -- tack-- people will change the bit change the tack
                          when a-- they have mostly brought a saddle over the internet and think it fits
                          whereby one should really get a mastercraft saddler in to fit the saddle to the horse and then to you

                          cheap and nasty tack cheap and nasty leather will create problems to a horse same to with not understanding what the different types of tack is and bits are
                          and dirty tack also comes under this sernerio - as it can rub and be uncomfy for the horsee
                          same to with rug that dont fit can cause wither sores when the saddle put on then the horse might be naughty



                          those tha do have a medical issue in regards to there behaviour then fair enough as sometimes we cant see whats going on and normal joe bloggs hasnt got that kind of money to really investigate the problem and if the problem was found to xyz then it depends on the diganosies as to the outcome of the situation


                          but no horse is born bad - its bad people management that make them bad

                          the biggest problem of all horses behaviour is you----- not as in you personally op
                          you in general
                          people will get defensive and balme the horse when ridden that hes xyz
                          when in truth its how they ride the horse making him bad


                          the biggest problem with the above is because people arnt honest with themselves
                          and sometimes buy horses that are to much for them with either knowledge or the horse is to sharp
                          the other senerio in that is when other people buy the siad horses or go look for a horse
                          ie they take another person as in mostly on here is there trianer then the trainer isnt buying the horse for the client but for themsleves in othr words they havent match the horse to the caprbilities of the rider
                          over horse can also mean size of the hrose to most people same to can be siad for under horsing
                          as agian often they forget the weight factors of a horse or pony which again can play a part n behavioural issues

                          bad hands makes a horse naughty, harsh legs makes a horse naughty, ill fitting tack and bits makes a horse naughty, feeding the worng feeds makes a horse naughty
                          not doing enough work and having him stuck out in a field for weeks on end makes ahorse naughty-- if in work ...

                          feeding a horse that is retired or companion the worng types of feedstuffs makes a hrose naughty
                          not attending to the horses needs on a daily baisis makes a horse naughty----- in a senerio of when one only goes as and when and leaves them to there own devices the horse

                          mostly its humans that make horses misbehavior and then what do they do reward that bad behaviour with treats and sweets and make it ten times worse

                          and lastly - its envriomental when ahorse is new or moved they dont give it time to settle
                          not realsing everything is new - from tack to disipline to stabling to feed and rountine
                          from mussles and strains due to new dispiline being taught

                          a race horse for exsample -- which has been raced would be tuaght to run for it to dressage ore eventing showjumpng then each displine is slightly different from feed to work
                          for sample the tack ie racing saddle is lighter than an english so lays difffrent on a horses back same to is western saddle in comparison -same to with the bridle and bit
                          and a rider in all sernerios is different again in weight
                          the dispiline for exsample dressage would be using different mussles than that of a racing

                          so one has to evalue the circumstances of why the horse has a behaviour issue
                          find the cause sort the problem
                          Last edited by goeslikestink; Sep. 29, 2009, 06:05 AM.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by MistyBlue View Post
                            But hot does not, nor should it ever, be a reason to allow bad behavior or manners.
                            This is it.

                            My youngster is from laidback bloodlines. Think house pansy. But when he had his manly bits he got to be a handfull, and kinda dangerous in the stall to OTHER people. I put up with non of it. Im over 40 and a mom. No slack there.

                            An d when they were cut off he got laidback again.
                            “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” Peter Drucker

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Goeslike,
                              HERE HEAR! Feed choice can be such a variable, especially combined with confinement and lack of adequate work...
                              AMC
                              cwer.org
                              AnnMarie Cross, Pres, Crosswinds Equine Rescue, cwer.org
                              Sidell IL (near Champ./UofI/Danville IL/IN state border)

                              Comment


                              • #16
                                I agree that environment can influence behavior. However, I also don't think you will change the basic temperament.

                                You won't make a western pleasure horse into a top race horse. You won't make a top race horse not LIKE to run.

                                If you start out with a good basic temperament, then mishandle the horse (fit whatever puzzle pieces here you wish), then turn that horse back over to a competent handler the horse will recover probably.

                                if you have a rank temperament to begin with there is nothing to work with.

                                Hot does not always equal rank.

                                Comment


                                • #17
                                  Since when does hot = bad anyway? Unless you can't ride, or the horse is in pain...

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                                  • #18
                                    I think there are some things that are genetic that you just can't get around. I had a young appendix gelding come in, never been treated badly, had decent manners. Had him for over a year and he just would only get so far in his training because every day he started out like a nutcase and by the time you had anything going, it was too late to continue at his age. He just never progressed in a positive way, the fitter he got the more he would just check out, try to run away or take any advantage. He dumped his owner over and over and would also hurt you on the ground. Giving him a shot was taking your life in your hands.

                                    I also knew of a stallion who sired babies that primarily showed bad behavior under saddle -- nasty buckers, rearers, etc. and would just become pigs and just not work past a certain point. Not all of them, but a large enough percentage to gain the reputation. He was also a rearer and bucker.

                                    So, for me, the breeding and keeping records is not just about a pretty face, it is also about producing horses that are nice to handle and willing to work. I think those traits have a great deal to do with genetics. You can train and teach all you want, but if the character isn't bred in, you can't insert it.

                                    JMHO
                                    PennyG

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                                    • #19
                                      Your horse has some bad behaviors (i.e. cribbing/weaving/pushing/jigging around while being saddled/nipping/ear pinning/bucking etc etc). How much are you willing to forgive as "it's in the blood", and where do you draw the line?

                                      And is "forgiving" something because it is in the blood just an excuse? Are there bad behaviors that simply cannot be trained out of a horse?


                                      Cribbing-weaving: not going to fixed unless you can offer full turnout and tweak their diet, etc

                                      pushing- that is training, not blood.

                                      jigging- that is training

                                      Too many horses are locked up tight, fed up high, over supplemented, then asked to be perfect from the second they step out of the stall, OR allowed to commit all manner of crap in the name of but he's a son of Nicolass the Monster and they are all Monsters.

                                      There is a balance somewhere, for 95-99% of horses. Then there's that devilish 1%

                                      My friend was telling of a cutting bred stud he got as a baby. Gorgeous. And that sumbuck would BUCK and squawl and snap and flap. Bad horse. Ride good two weeks, then take a shine to taking you out. His momma? Same way. Got pissy about loping off one morning on a little work, broke in half, peeing all over herself and slashing the air with her tail. Bucked him off then changed her mind, got back up under him for some more. Understand he's the closest thing we've got to a cowboy around here. He don't come off one, got it? Sold half that stud colt to a big place in Texas. He warned the buyers, who wrote him off as some dumb sob from Alabama. three weeks or so later, he checks in. Boy he's a nice colt, he'll flat eat up a cow, but he threw one Mexican out of the round pen, another, he ate up in the stall. Matlock Rose came down, applied a little pressure the horse was still bad. Just good til he wanted to be bad. Finally, finally, agreed to get right, never pulled that again. Went on to be a winning little cutter. His get? The same way. You had to earn it.

                                      So I don't discount that 1%. But BOY do I see it inflated when folks don't know it's their ignorance and ego in the way. How can they?

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                                      • #20
                                        Great posts, sid and BigTag. I have only bred five horses, but your assessments pretty much line up with what I've seen in them.

                                        Bad behavior -- aggression, poor ground manners, whatever -- can be trained out. But the WAY you train will depend on what the horse has already experienced PLUS the temperamental characteristics he inherited from both dam and sire. And you cannot change the basic temperament. You can only change the way you, as an owner or breeder, deal with it.

                                        So, it's nature AND nurture, hitch. Bloodlines may be the reason a horse is laidback and easygoing, or hot and reactive ... or somewhere in between. But it's not an excuse for problems, especially if you're asking a horse to do something he is, by nature, unsuited for.

                                        Understanding how to work with the individual horse (nurture) and matching what you ask of him to what he is (nature) will always bring out the best.

                                        Not much of an answer, huh?
                                        __________________________
                                        "... if you think i'm MAD, today, of all days,
                                        the best day in ten years,
                                        you are SORELY MISTAKEN, MY LITTLE ANCHOVY."

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