Dominance Rehabilitation

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Question:
I have a very dominant 9-year-old Tennessee walker. He is very proud, and was abused and starved. I’ve had him for 3 years. I am having problems with him on the ground and in the pasture. I am the “boss” of my three others, and they all respect me, except him. He rears up at me and attempts to bite me and chase me out of the pasture. We had a great respect and got along great, but lately I can’t get near him. Would like some info on what to do to gain back what we had before.

Thank you.

Dominance Rehab

Answer:

Dear Dominance Rehab,

This sounds like a tough horse! I would recommend that you separate him from the others. It sounds to me like he is becoming protective of “his” herd. Compounded by the fact that he has reason to dislike and distrust humans, he has reverted back to more natural or wild behaviors.

If you separate him from the others, he will not have the opportunity to protect his herd and he will be more reliant on you for companionship and to take care of his needs. Of course, to really gain respect and trust, you’ll need to build a relationship through groundwork. I would definitely start with round pen work, focusing on moving him away from you. I would not let a horse like this turn toward me when I ask him to turn around; instead, emphasize moving him out of your space.

Once he becomes more respectful of your space, then you can start doing inside turns with him. As he improves in the round pen, I would start doing lead-line work focusing on some basic rules of behavior like, stand still until I tell you to move, keep your nose in front of your chest while I am around you, and do walk-trot-halt transitions and turns away from you from both sides of the horse.

With any horse, and especially with one that has shown such aggressive tendencies, always make sure you have some sort of device in your hands when you work with him that allows you to keep a safe distance from the horse. A long whip, a lariat or a cattle sorting stick all work well; I prefer to use a “training wand” (available on my website). The purpose of the stick is not to hit the horse but it is an extension of your arm to give the horse communication and direction. And it allows you to keep a safer distance from the horse and protect yourself should he become aggressive.

With a horse that has been abused and has reason to distrust humans, you have to be careful not to get emotional or angry and escalate his emotions. Horses develop trust when they have basic rules of behavior to follow and you correct and reward them consistently. Start with some very fundamental issue, like moving him away from you, and then work just on that for a while.

I always like to remind people that you can only work on one issue at a time with a horse. So set your priorities and focus on one issue. A good example is when you are working on round pen and trying to control the horse’s speed, but then he starts coming off the rail and cutting off part of the arena. In this case, decide what your priority is at that moment: is it speed or is it staying on the rail? You cannot work on both at the same time. So maybe you step back and work on the horse staying on the rail for a few moments then when the horse is following that rule, you can go back and work on speed control.

Good luck to you and make sure you are very careful around this horse and watch yourself. Hopefully once he is separated from the herd, some of his aggressive behaviors will diminish.

–Julie Goodnight, Clinician and Trainer

Issues From The Ground: Hard To Catch Horse

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Question Category: Issues from the Ground

I would love some tips on the hard to catch horse. Spring fever has sprung and he is avoiding me. He figures if I can’t catch him I won’t make him work.

Thanks,
S. F.
Texas

Answer: For your hard-to-catch horse: you need to “walk him off.” To do that, put on a pair of comfortable walking shoes and allow yourself plenty of time (you shouldn’t need more than an hour). Walk out into that pasture/pen with halter in hand (don’t try to hide it) and look your horse square in the eyes with a look on your face that says, “I am going to catch you, even if it takes me ALL day!”

Walk after your horse, straight towards his head, looking him straight in the eye. Do not chase him and do not try to corner him or any of those other games horses love to play. He will run off, tail up in the air but the mental pressure you are putting on him will start to drive him crazy. It may take a while (the worst horse I ever walked-off took 45 minutes) but eventually he will not be able to take the pressure and he will stop, turn and face you with his head down. At this point you should stop and turn your back to him for a moment, taking the pressure off of him as a reward for doing the correct thing.

Then approach him slowly and casually with your eyes down and averted and your shoulders cocked away from the horse (there must be a distinct difference in your body language from when you are pursuing him to when you are walking up to him after he has given in). Put the halter on, lead him a few steps, pet on him and let him go. You could give him a treat at this point if you want to (only AFTER you have caught him, NEVER use a treat as a bribe to catch a horse).

The next day, you’ll head out to catch your horse in the exact manner but you’ll find it will only take a few minutes, from then on he should be fine. Horses are very keen to your level of intention and determination. This process proves to your horse that you have very serious intentions to catch him and he will not challenge you anymore. Give it a try, it really works!

Good luck!
Julie Goodnight, Clinician and Trainer

FOLLOW-UP Dear Julie,

Thanks so much for your suggestions a few months ago on how to catch a horse that does not want to be caught. I tried your suggestions–walking determinedly toward the horse with the lead rope and halter. She ran. I followed–walking, not running. When I got near, she ran again, and I followed. We continued this process for about 20 minutes, when she surrendered and let me put the halter on her. The next time I tried to catch her, she tried me and ran away a short distance, but stopped when I came after her. For a few days, we went through this process. Then, one day when I opened the gate, she came to me. Now I can catch her any time!

J. L.
Texas

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