Jealous Little Girl

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Dear Julie,
I have a two-year-old mare that’s an eager learner and wants to spend time with me. She readily approaches me and wants to be in on the action when I work with other horses. It’s been snowy and icy here so I have not had the opportunity to do the groundwork I usually do with her. So today I spent time brushing and cleaning her up and I took her for a walk. When I brought her back, I let her loose while I was grooming another horse—a gelding I am bonded to and have worked with for many years. While I was grooming him, the mare put her head on his back and placed her nose on his hoof. I continuously backed her off and returned to grooming. Then she nipped at my arm. To my surprise, I hit her and said “no.” I’m embarrassed to admit what came automatically. How do I teach her to not to interfere when I work on another horse and how to I teach her not to bite to get my attention?
Sick of Envy
Dear Sick of Envy,
First of all, give yourself a break for your reaction to your mare’s nip. You followed your instincts and acted much like a dominant horse would in the same situation. Think about what would happen in the natural herd setting if a subordinate horse bit a dominant one. The dominant horse immediately restates his or her position by biting, kicking and even running the subordinate horse away. Your reaction matches what would have happened naturally—and shows your reflexes are working! When a horse bites or nips she is challenging your dominance and he needs to be immediately and firmly corrected. You’re keeping yourself safe by teaching your horse you’re in charge and won’t put up with aggressive moves.

While we’re talking about safety, I think the scene you described may not be the safest way to teach your young horse or the safest place to groom your older horse. With one horse tied and the other loose in the same area, you’re inviting trouble. There’s no question that this is dangerous—I once saw a person get killed in a similar situation. I’m guessing that the older gelding is dominant over the mare. When he’s tied and can’t react like he usually would, the young mare may find it tempting to challenge him. Tie them both up or move the horse you’re working with to a separate area where you can’t be bothered. If you tie your mare, she’ll learn to stand patiently at the same time you are working on the other horse.

Now lets talk more about horses and jealousy. Horses are emotional animals with feelings more simplistic, but similar to humans’. Horses can certainly be jealous. Some of the behaviors you describe indicate that this horse is jealous of the attention you pay to your older horse. Horses can become very possessive over another horse and will sometimes go to great lengths to keep that horse from interacting with other horses. You may see a horse in the pasture or turnout herding another horse to keep it away from the others and he may even make threatening gestures and aggressive actions towards the others to keep them away from “his” horse. It is always helpful to understand how horses interact in the herd so you know the origins of their behavior and how you fit into the mix. You definitely don’t want your horse to treat you like another horse and you don’t want to be one of your horse’s possessions.

Even though it is pleasing to us when our horses want our attention and interaction, you must be very careful not to give the impression to this filly that she can control your actions and gain your attention any time she wants. Be very clear about not letting her invade your space and do not let her prompt you into giving her attention and learn that she can control your actions.

To start your anti-jealousy training, make sure you only give your mare attention when you choose. In other words, make sure not to give attention when she’s seeking it, but only when she’s calm and relaxed. This isn’t as easy as it sounds. Horses will try to get your negative attention if they can–by acting up then causing you to come to them to provide discipline. Even though it’s negative attention, the horse is still in control when she nips, kicks, paws, chews, etc. in an attempt to get a reaction from you. For example, if I have a horse tied and I am doing something with another horse, the first horse may paw in impatience and frustration. If I go over to her and reprimand her, she has successfully won my attention—getting me to stop what I’m doing and move into her space. She’s controlling my actions. The best thing to do is ignore her behavior; it will eventually go away.

Your filly sounds very gregarious and that is a great quality. Just don’t let that turn into her being pushy. Biting is the most dominant behavior of horses and you need to “nip it in the bud,” so to speak.

Until next time,

Julie Goodnight
www.juliegoodnight.com

Issues From The Saddle: Horse Bites When Saddled, Wrong Canter Leads

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Question Category: Issues from the Saddle

Question: I have a 9 yr. old gelding that I have had for 3 yrs, I have shown walk trot English/Western for 2 yrs. My husband and myself are still novice to the show world, my gelding was a 4H show horse since they purchased him as long 2yr. old, so I know he knows his job. I am concerned because he has just recently tried biting, he pins his ears back when putting his saddle on (the vet sees no problem with his back), and he does rub his face on me when we are done riding. How do I solve these ground manner issues? He also consistently picks up the wrong canter lead when riding clockwise. I have tried leg, body weight, crop, side pass then lead off. I know that he knows what I am asking, when he gives me the correct lead I praise him and rub him. Any suggestions?

Thank you so much,
Lori,
Clearview, WA

Answer: Dear Lori,

You’ve got a few different issues here, with complicated answers, but I think I can steer you in the right direction to find the information you need to progress with your horse.

As for the biting, pinning ears and rubbing on you, these are all signs that you have a dominance issue with your horse. Pinning the ears when you saddle him could be a sign of a poor saddle fit, so you should definitely have that checked by a professional. Biting is the most dominant behavior of horses , and if your horse is just beginning this behavior, it is a sign that you have done things to make your horse believe he is dominant over you — biting is a late-stage sign. This kind of behavior starts with allowing the horse to move into your space, to control your actions, to take away feed from you, etc. Biting is the third stage of progressive behaviors of the horse; first is lipping. If that goes uncorrected, the horse begins to nip; if nipping goes uncorrected, the horse begins to bite. There are numerous articles on biting and respect issues in the training library of my Web site that will help you work through these issues and position yourself as a true leader to your horse.

If your horse is indeed trained to pick up his leads reliably and now he is not, it could be a sign of soreness or an error in your cueing. You always have to consider a physical issue first because it could be a sign of soreness developing. If the horse does not take the right lead, it could be because of pain in the right fore or left hind; and visa-versa. Both the leading foreleg and the outside hind leg endure more stress in each canter stride because the horse suspends more weight on them. Rule out a lameness issue first.

To set your horse up for the correct lead, always cue coming into a corner — not during the turn or coming out of the turn, but just before the turn. In this position, the horse should know which direction he is going and he’ll be positioned with his hips in, the way his body needs to be to take the correct lead, so that he can push off with the outside hind leg.

The cue for the canter on the correct lead use your outside leg, back about 6 inches (to bring his hips in and his outside leg underneath him), slightly lift your inside rein (to shift his and your weight to the outside and free-up his inside shoulder to take the lead.) and push with your seat in the canter motion. You might also use the kissing sound as a voice cue, which gives your horse a hint of what you are asking. If you are weighting the inside when you cue your horse to canter or you are cueing when his hips are positioned out, he will have difficulty taking the correct lead.

The canter is the most complicated of gaits, and you need to not only understand the cue and why it works, but also the footfalls of the canter and the mechanics of leads. Check out my video, “Canter With Confidence,” with much more detail on cueing for the canter and correcting lead problems.

Good luck with your horse!
Julie

Copyright ©Julie Goodnight 2000. All Rights Reserved. No part of this website may be reproduced without owner’s express consent.

Cantering Help: Horse Bites When Saddled, Wrong Canter Leads

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Question: I have a 9 yr. old gelding that I have had for 3 yrs, I have shown walk trot English/Western for 2 yrs. My husband and myself are still novice to the show world, my gelding was a 4H show horse since they purchased him as a long 2yr. old, so I know he knows his job. I am concerned because he has just recently tried biting, he pins his ears back when putting his saddle on (the vet sees no problem with his back), and he does rub his face on me when we are done riding. How do I solve these ground manner issues? He also consistently picks up the wrong canter lead when riding clockwise. I have tried leg, body weight, crop, side pass then lead off. I know that he knows what I am asking, when he gives me the correct lead I praise him and rub him. Any suggestions?

Thank you so much,

Lori,

Clearview, WA

Answer: Dear Lori, You’ve got a few different issues here, with complicated answers but I think I can steer you in the right direction to find the information you need to progress with your horse. First, when you bought your horse as a 2 y/o, he really couldn’t possibly have known much. Even if he had been in professional training since he was started, it couldn’t possibly have been even training to make him a finished show horse. For that, you are looking at a minimum of 6 months professional training and probably more like a year.

Chances are, what training he had was from an amateur, so it was probably somewhat sporadic and not as effective as professional training would be. So you may be over-estimating what your horse knows and a little time with a professional trainer might really help. As for the biting, pinning ears and rubbing on you, these are all signs that you have a dominance issue with your horse. Pinning the ears when you saddle, could be a sign of a poor saddle fit, so you should definitely have that checked by a professional. Biting is the most dominant behavior of horses and if your young horse is just beginning this behavior, it is a sign that you have done things to make your horse believe he is dominant over you—biting is a late-stage sign. This kind of behavior starts with allowing the horse to move into your space, to control your actions, to take away feed from you, etc. Biting is the third stage of progressive behaviors of the horse; first is lipping. If that goes uncorrected, the horse begins to nip; if nipping goes uncorrected the horse begins to bite. There are numerous articles on biting and respect issues in the Training Library that will help you work through these issues and position yourself as a true leader to your horse.

When it comes to cueing the horse for the correct lead, first you always have to consider a physical issue because it could be a sign of soreness developing. If the horse does not take the right lead, it could either be the right fore or left hind; and visa-versa. To set your horse up for the lead, always cue coming into a corner—not in the turn or coming out of the turn, but just before the turn. In this position, the horse should know which direction he is going and he’ll be positioned with his hips in, the way his body needs to be to take the correct lead, so that he can push off with the outside hind leg. The cue for the canter on the correct lead is to use your outside leg, back about 6” (to bring his hips in and his outside leg underneath him), slightly lift your inside rein (to shift his and your weight to the outside in order to free-up his inside shoulder to take the lead) and push with your seat in the canter motion. You might also use the kissing sound as a voice cue which gives your horse a hint of what you are asking. If you are weighting the inside when you cue your horse canter or your are cueing when his hips are positioned out, he will have difficulty taking the correct lead.

The canter is the most complicated of gaits and you need to not only understand the cue and why it works, but also the footfalls of the canter and the mechanics of leads. Again, there is information on my Training Library on this subject and I have a video called Canter with Confidence, http://shop.juliegoodnight.com/shop/trgpr4canterwithconfidence.html with much more detail on cueing for the canter and correcting lead problems.

Good luck with your young horse!

Julie Goodnight

Copyright ©Julie Goodnight 2000. All Rights Reserved. No part of this website may be reproduced without owner’s express consent.