Issues From The Ground: Pins Ears And Bites While Leading

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Question Category: Issues from the Ground

Question: Dear Julie,

I purchased your Lead Line Leadership DVD and have a question. I have a 9 year-old Arabian gelding who I received from a friend about 6 months ago. Cloud was never worked with much and is only green-broke. I have been doing a lot of ground work with him and he has come a long way.
Your DVD has really helped me a lot with leading Cloud and he is responding nicely. However, when I follow your instructions about having your horse do transitions and I start to pick up speed and lean forward a little to get Cloud to trot along with me he puts his ears back and gets in back of my right shoulder and tries to bite me on the shoulder!
Do you think he could be confused or scared about the change of speed? When he tries to bite me I stop and pull back on the rope to correct him as you do on your DVD when a horse gets ahead of your hands. I am trying to run as slow as I can now until he can get used to running along with me and I will slowly pick up speed later. Is this normal horse behavior?

Thank you!
Susan in Reno, NV

Answer: Susan, Yes, the behavior you describe is fairly normal for a colt that is learning his manners and what is expected of him. Although your gelding is old enough to know better, since he has not had much training or handling, he is still exploring his boundaries. In many ways, older horses are a little harder to teach because they haven’t had any rules to follow up until now and are not as impressionable as a young horse. But horses of any age can learn this stuff—you’ll just have to get more proactive.

The behavior you describe is a dominant behavior classified as herding behavior http://juliegoodnight.com/questionsNew.php?id=30 . When you are taking off into a trot he is pretending he is herding you away from him. While it may be a playful behavior, it is definitely a dominant one and it needs to be nipped in the bud right away.

First, I would take a long hard look at all your interactions with him because there are other things going on that are leading him to believe he is dominant or at least has the chance to become dominant. Make sure you are not condoning small infractions, like letting him move into your space at times, put his lips on you, take away food from you (from his perspective—not yours) or control your actions in any way.

Secondly, you need to do more ground work with him—increase the intensity so that he does not have time to think about doing something like that. I’d probably do more circling work with him and rather than stop him and back him up when he acts that way, I’d put him instantly on the circle at a hard trot and work his socks off. Then go back and try the transition again—you want him to associate his bad behavior with very hard and unpleasant work, so it isn’t so much fun anymore.

Finally, you need to be more assertive about reinforcing the rules that I talk about in the video. Always correct the infraction. In this case, when he moves behind you, he is not in the place where you told him to be (which is beside you and behind you). Watch him more closely and correct him sooner for moving his shoulder toward you. Remember, you have to control his whole body—the nose, shoulder, feet and hips. Use a rigid stick/flag and keep the end pointed toward him so that you can poke his shoulder, neck or nose anytime it moves toward you. I’d even increase the distance between you and him so that he has to stay a foot or two farther to your side. Correct the slightest infraction when he is not in the designated place where you told him to be; don’t wait until he has moved all the way behind you.

As is usually the case, I think you have some under-lying leadership issues that need to be addressed with more fundamental work. Go back to the beginning and work a lot with walk-halt-walk transitions and standing still. Also do lots of circling work with changes of direction. Then go back to walk-trot-walk transitions. You’ll get there!

Good luck!
Julie

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