Aggressive horses can be scary and are definitely dangerous. In my early natural horsemanship training, I was taught about using phases and matching intensity. Although these methods worked, they sometimes required me to to do things I was not entirely comfortable with.
I’ve handled a lot of dangerous horses in my time, and although each horse requires a unique approach, there are several similarities in aggressive behaviour.
Generally horses become a problem for one of two reasons: fear or disrespect. It’s important to identify the reason for the aggression before tackling the situation.
Mares (especially well established brood mares) tend to be aggressive when their dominance is challenged.
Geldings tend to be aggressive out of fear.
Stallions are so very unique they can swing both ways, however special care has to be taken when dealing with a well established breeding stallion. I wouldn’t advise any novice to attempt to “fix” an aggressive, well established breeding stallion without help from a professional. It can be done, I’ve done it myself, but your feel and timing has to be perfect.
Young stock can also swing both ways.
So identifying wether you are dealing with fear or disrespect can help you formulate a plan.
With any aggressive horse, you want to have a stick at hand. You need to keep your self out of striking and kicking range. Fearful horses will need loads of rubbing and kindness, particularly at the wither, where as a disrespectful horse will need to move its feet a lot.
Its important in both situations that the horse is always moved around you, and you move your feet as little as possible.
Remember that the fearful horse is looking for a leader, and the disrespectful horse is challenging your leadership, so you are working towards the same goal, becoming a leader.
There are a lot of exercises that can be done to achieve your goal of convincing your horse you are a leader, and this post would get very long if I listed them all, but I will briefly list a few.
The basic idea is that they move their feet, you don’t. Forwards, backwards, circles, turns on the circles and hind end disengagement. Always keeping a safe distance between yourself and your horse.
Now really, this is where this entire post is leading to. “Phase 4″, “matching intensity”, “smacking”, or “hitting”.
Inevitably you are going to have to push a piece of your horse away from you. A mare who likes to try to run by and throw out a double barrel kick for example. In my early horsemanship, I would have smacked her bum, hard. It works. But, BUT I always felt it was a little contradictory to the term “natural horsemanship”. I didn’t like it, and most owners didn’t like it.
What happens when you get a horse that doesn’t care about being smacked? Then what? This is how I learned a better way!
There is another way. I always carry with me my “bag of tricks”. It has a flag, party balloons, streamers, bells and cans on a string.
Attaching any one of these items to my stick works better then any smack. You have to work carefully to only use it at the right moments, timing is everything, but it maintains the safe distance. It moves the horses front end or hind end as needed, and the horse never has to be touched.
Now of course, as some of you may be thinking, you’ve created a horse that spooks at flags! But that’s not entirely true. I have found, as the horse begins to accept your leadership, they begin to see your “object” as a part of you.
This means 2 things. Firstly, if the horse needs more work on their aggression, eventually you will need to pick something else from your bag of tricks.
Secondly, you are going to want to de-spook with your chosen item after your session is over.
I will address how to de-spook in my next post.
I hope this gives everyone something to think about, and looking forward to our next adventure!