I have a 4 year old mare that I’ve had for about a year since she was green broke. When I first got her my trainer who does Parelli natural horsemanship, noticed that she was crabby and mean most of the time. Over the next couple of months she got worse, bullying the kids and bullying the other horses.
I was ready to get rid of her but then I decided to just focus on her training for about a year and see if I could get her to improve. She started doing much better within just a few weeks, and she is doing excellent under the saddle. Last week we left for vacation for a week and my friend and her 9 year old daughter were taking care of the horses for me. They are familiar with all of our horses and come and ride regularly. My friend said that my mare was getting really mean, putting her ears back and actually bit her daughter one day. I was not totally surprised, because she does get crabby when she is not handled regularly. Since I’ve been back though she seems to be really bad. Every time I approach her at liberty from the side or rear, she pins her ears back and clearly tries to get away from me. If I approach her from in front, she is fine and puts her head down. I’m always careful not to get kicked, but I’m not sure how to handle or correct this latest ear pinning thing. In the past whenever she has presented her butt to me in a rude manner, I would smack it. But now its not that she is presenting her butt, its more that she is trying to get away. I don’t want to smack her butt because then she’ll get away and be rewarded, I’m afraid if I pet her when she is pinning her ears, then I’m telling her that its ok to pin her ears at me. What do I do?
The first thing that came to mind as I read about your mare was PMS – Pouty Mare Syndrome – not an official phrase but one I use to describe certain mares that are extra grouchy.
I might be off base here but here’s how it sounds. When you first got the mare, about a year ago, it was summer time, she was green broke and grouchy – it was a season when she was cycling, that is coming in and going out of heat and her training was not complete – she was still testing the limits of her behavior.
Then you had her a while, saw she was hard to deal with and trust, almost gave up on her, but then decided to focus on her training – and did that over the fall and winter…and she improved…a time when she would be in anestrus or not cycling. Mares in the winter are often like geldings.
Then at the early part of this breeding season, she was pretty good for you since you had established some rules, but when you were on vacation, it didn’t take long for her to slip back into her old bossy ways and now you feel you have to start from square one again.
Which is what you probably should do. First, I’d have your vet rule out a granulosa tumor which might cause her to be extra crabby. (See list of reference articles below).
When it comes time to work on altering her behavior and improving her manners, like all training, you need to be consistent, thorough, and always be training with this mare. I’d spend a lot of time desensitizing her to touch and approaching from the rear by making this her main lesson for a number of days. You can do it yourself with the mare on a long line or have an assistant hold her. You need to desensitize her hindquarters, her tail area, lift her tail, all those hot spots that mares have. Some mares just do not like being approached from the rear or being touched there ever, no matter if they are in heat or not. The more thorough you are with all of this, the safer she will be when she is at liberty in her pen and you go to catch her.
As far as smacking her on the butt if she is rude when you approach, if she is in a suitable pen to free longe her, well that might be the perfect thing to do and send her out and around and have her face you.
If she is not in a suitable training pen when she turns her butt to you and pins her ears, you will have to make it a point to take her to a pen so you can work on reviewing the “face me” lesson so you can safely approach her. This must be a formal lesson, it is one of the basics. Your trainer most likely taught the mare “face me” in a specific Parelli manner, so it would be best if you ask him what methods he used and recommends.
Here are a couple of related articles that you might find interesting and helpful.