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Dear Julie,
My Rocky Mountain/Arabian horse cross is five months old—I’ve had him for two months. He is calm and usually well behaved. However, he’s starting a new and scary behavior. He turns his rump to me when he’s in the paddock or when I enter his stall as he eats. Today he kicked at the man who owns the barn where I board. Please help—how do I stop him from doing this? I don’t want a horse that kicks.
Kicked Out

Dear Kicked Out,
Yep, it sounds like you have a problem. What your horse is saying to you and anyone else that enters his stall is, “This is my space and you are not welcome here.” Turning his rear-end toward you is a threat to kick. It sounds like a threat he is perfectly willing to make good on.

This behavior is an indication that your horse does not respect you as his leader. In the horse herd (you and your horse are a herd of two) you are either leader or follower. Horses establish dominance in the herd by controlling the space and the resources of the other herd members. When you walk into a stall (the horse’s personal space) and he is eating (food is a primary resource to the herd) it’s normal for the horse to defend his space and food. Therefore, clearly your horse feels like he is in the dominant (leader) position over you.

Every time your horse is successful in pushing you away, it’s confirmation to him that he is in charge and you are a subordinate herd mate. The kind of relationship you need to have with your horse is that you are the herd leader and he is the follower (subordinate to you). To develop this kind of relationship, you will need to do lots of quality ground work during which you control your horse’s space and actions. When doing ground work, it’s important to ask your horse to turn towards you. With a rope halter and long lead line in hand, you’ll have the tools to correct his movements if he angles his hindquarters close to you. Leading your young horse, in general, will help him realize you’re in charge and he is to follow. As you work, make sure he doesn’t enter your space. For more tips and step-by-step directions, consider checking out a ground work DVD or attending a horse handling clinic. You can find my groundwork DVDs at www.juliegoodnight.com.

In the meantime, enter the horse’s stall with a lariat or long rope (or use your horse’s halter with a lead rope attached). Once the horse turns his rump to you, just start throwing the rope toward his rear-end and reel it back in (do not approach the horse at all). Toss the rope continuously at his rear end—not viciously but persistently—until he turns around to face you. The instant he turns to face you, turn away and walk out of the stall. Wait a couple minutes then start over. By throwing the rope at him, you’ll irritate him until he does the correct thing (turns and faces you). If you don’t feel comfortable with the process, ask an experienced horse person or trainer to help you.

Remember, it’s quite likely, even expected that the horse will kick at you (he has already proven that he’s willing to do that). So it’s your job to stay well out of the horse’s kick range. Sometimes this can be hard to do in a stall. That’s why I like to use a 12′ training lead for ground work. The reason you are using a rope is so that you can stay well out of the horse’s kick zone. Unless you are totally confident in your ability to stay clear, have someone more experienced help you with this. This little trick will teach your horse that it’s polite and expected of him to turn and face you when you enter his stall.

Good luck and be careful not to get kicked!

Until next time,

Julie Goodnight
www.juliegoodnight.com

Dominated Horse

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Dear Julie,
I have a 13-year-old Paint Horse mare who is very dominant. She came to my barn as a two year old and I already had an18-year-old gelding and a 4-year-old mare. In just a few days, she was the Alpha.
Her ground manners with me are quite nice, but the problem seems to be related to her strong response to outside stimuli, whether it is a horse or something else. This is particularly a problem when I am trail riding—as her attention is quickly diverted. Generally, I will begin to do leg yields or ask for something that I know I can get, but occasionally she catches me off guard.
Additionally, if she doesn’t want to do something, she just stops. I ask once, tell once, and then use a crop or spurs. Her response is bucking and head tossing, but then she moves on. Everyone knows to clear out when she stops, as the scenario unfolds about the same each time. Her teeth have been checked and she doesn’t appear to be saddle sore. Could you share your thoughts with me?
Thank you so much for your time.
Dominated No More
Dear Dominated,
If you’re certain you have ruled out any physical issues in your mare, then you have to look to training.
As for getting and keeping your horse’s attention, here’s what I suggest. Even though you say her ground manners are good, I would work her on the ground first, in the easiest location, then in any environment where you have trouble keeping her attention. I would work very doggedly on two issues: 1) don’t move your feet unless I tell you to, and 2) keep your nose in front of your chest at any time you’re in my presence.
Controlling the feet and the nose are very critical for keeping your horse’s focus and obedience, especially from the saddle. But you must have complete control of the nose, shoulder, hip and feet from the ground first.
Most people think they can control the feet and the nose but when you get to it, the horse is in total control of when and where he moves his nose and feet. There are numerous articles about this type of lead line work in the Training Library on my website so I’ll let you read about it there. I also have a video called Lead Line Leadership that shows a series of exercises you can do from the ground with any horse to gain respect, focus and obedience from your horse.
Secondly, I would begin to reinforce the “nose” rule when I am riding. Any horse I ride, I don’t care the age or training, is expected to keep his nose in front of his chest while I am riding. I do not let them be “looky-lous” or vary the track on which they are moving. A simple correction with the opposite rein (if he is looking right, use the left rein) is all it takes. In about thirty seconds to a minute, I can teach the horse this rule. The problem most people have in correcting is the technique and the timing; in fact, those two words cover any and all horse and rider problems. To correct the nose properly, you have to use perfect technique and perfect timing.
Technique: you must bump lightly UP on ONE rein. Ninety-eight percent of riders will pull back instead of bump or flick up on the rein. Seventy-five percent of riders pull rather than bump, and with both reins. You want to bump lightly and smoothly (not jerking) with your thumb pointed up and out, so that your wrist twists open. Bump exactly in this manner (not pulling back) until the horse brings his nose to your hand.
Timing: you must release sooner rather than later. You must release when the horse first makes an effort and then ask again for just a tiny bit more and release. The horse is focused on the release and if it doesn’t come immediately, he will stiffen and resist. Apply the correction 100% of the time; this takes a lot of concentration but once your horse learns the rule (keep your nose in front of your chest) he will comply. But first he must know you will correct him, gently but relentlessly, before he will comply (this is true of all things with horses, they must know you’re committed before they are obedient).
Before you loose control of your horse, you lose his nose position. Enforcing the nose rule, is keeping your horse’s focus on the task at hand and what you have asked her to do. This requires concentration and persistence on your part too. I would either put my horse to work or disengage his hindquarters every time her attention wanders (which is obvious by his ears and nose position). Put him to work by just asking him to do something (stop, go, turn, backup, circle, trot a circle, walk-trot-walk transitions, etc.). When she is compliant, let her relax and as soon as her attention wanders, put her back to work. All you have to do is create an association between her actions (losing focus on you) and having to work harder.
There are many articles on my website about disengagement and why and how you do it. I would start with making small turns R-L-R-L in a random pattern. Every time I change the direction of my horse’s nose and shoulder, I am gaining more control and keeping her neck relaxed and moving side to side. I am also bending her whole body, moving her feet and disengaging the hindquarters. As she relaxes and focuses on me, I let her go straight; horses get tired of circling and turning quickly, so she will look for what gets her the release. Again, timing and technique determine the success.
Technique: Make random turns in both directions using your whole body to turn, starting with your eyes, making sure both hands point in the direction you want your horse to turn, not pulling back on the reins, but to the side and up with the inside hand. (see articles on equitation and rein aids in my Training Library). Your hands would be applying the leading rein (inside) and the neck rein (outside). Never turn a horse quickly or ask him to do something in anger. Your leg aids must reinforce the rein aids and control the horse’s barrel too (the reins control the nose but the rein and legs control the shoulder and the body of the horse).
Timing: Always cue the horse slowly to turn so that he might possibly have time to move his head before the pull comes on his mouth. When your horse’s attention wanders, do not rush to the correction, but slowly and methodically ask the horse to do something. Ask him to perform his paces in a perfunctory manner, not in a punishing manner.
When the horse balks on you, you simply need to move his feet. But do not try to kick or spur him into action, that will almost always lead your horse to explode because his feet are stuck in one place and you have lost control. Pulling his nose to the side and disengaging his hindquarters will un-stick his feet, then you can move right into changes of direction and controlling the horse’s nose. If need be, turn him in the direction he wants to go to get his feet unstuck but immediately turn his nose the other way. If this horse is obedient to your legs at other times but suddenly “pulls up” (suddenly bulks and refuses to move forward) on you, kicking her or spurring her more will not necessarily help and may cause a burst of movement from your horse. Bending and disengaging will un-stick the feet with less drama. So when she plants her feet, rather than get in a big fight over asking her to move her feet, ask her something different: flex, bend, disengage, leg yield, etc. Ask, release. Ask, release. Ask something else.
That’s what I would do with a horse whose attention is wandering and leading her to be non-responsive and disobedient. Good luck and be careful!
Julie Goodnight