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Cherry,

My question is about a riding-school horse: in the scenario below, what if anything should I have done differently?

At this school, students ride a different horse every time. Over weeks or months, a student might ride the same horse again. This was the first and only time so far I was assigned to this horse.

When I first entered her pipe-stall, she acted friendly and let me remove her blanket. But when I re-entered the stall with halter and lead rope, she nipped at the air in my direction. She did this every time I slowly moved the halter toward her nose and she became more aggressive.

My job was to catch her, lead her to cross-ties, and tack her up in time for a riding lesson 30 minutes later.

I reasoned that I should not reward her nipping by backing off or going away (to get help!). Instead I growled (yelling or shouting are expressly forbidden in this barn) and let her know she couldn’t get rid of me, by keeping my fingertips on her shoulder, at arm’s length, and following her as she rotated around her stall, away from me. After some 20 nips, she gave up and let me put the halter on her.  After that everything was fine.

What should I have done differently?  Caroline

Hi Caroline,

If the purpose of the lessons at this schools is to test a students ability to deal with various horses, then I would say in general, you did an acceptable job. But if testing was the aim, then you would have received an evaluation and critique from an instructor who was watching. It sounds as though you did not.

If the purpose of the school is to teach students how to interact with various types of horses, then I would say the school failed. With a horse like this, it should have taken one of the instructors just a few minutes to demonstrate the best way to approach, catch and halter this particular horse in her pipe stall. Then you could have done the same. An instructor would have been able to advise you whether the horse was playing a game with you or was truly aggressive, something I can not ascertain from an email.

I am positively impressed with your savvy to not reward her with backing off from her attempts at nipping.

What should you have done differently? Perhaps after catching the horse and haltering her, you could have turned her loose, left her pen and then asked an instructor to watch as you approached, caught and haltered the horse once again.

A lesson begins the moment you begin approaching a horse. A riding school should instruct from that point on, not just when you are in the saddle.

Thanks for the good question.

 

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“. . . a fascinating read and a timeless reference..”   Northwest Rider, June 2011

Cherry Hill’s groundbreaking bestseller, How to Think Like a Horse, showed readers how horses think, learn, respond to stimuli, and interpret human behavior. In this must-read follow-up, What Every Horse Should Know, Hill explains how horses learn and how we can help them develop the confidence and skills they need to live safely in the world of humans. Mastering these lessons is critical for horses and their handlers so that the partnership can reach its full potential.

What Every Horse Should Know addresses all stages of a horse’s life from foalhood to old age. Cherry Hill gives readers the lessons in each chapter that are vital for domesticated horses, whether used for trail riding, dressage, jumping, rodeo, or ranch work. Chapters cover how to handle a horse without fear, how to teach respect and patience, and how the horse can master the “work” he needs to do. Readers can start at the beginning and work their way through the book, or dip in and out as needed when troubleshooting. There are tests for assessing the level of a horse’s knowledge, suggestions on developing individual training programs, and comprehensive training program checklists that detail what each horse should know according to his age

Cherry Hill’s thoughtful and informed words will intrigue anyone seeking to enrich and strengthen the horse-human relationship. What Every Horse Should Know is a fascinating read and a timeless reference.

 

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What Every Horse Should Know by Cherry Hill

“Essential information for any horse owner.”  

Horsemen’s Yankee Pedlar, April 2011

“This book, a follow-up to the successful How to Think Like a Horse, is packed with information that every domestic horse needs to know in order to live a fulfulling life around humans. Regardless of discipline or age, there are certain lessons that we should all teach our horses in order to create a respectful relationship with them and eleiminate fear of people or their surroundings. Hill divides her book into threee sections: “No Fear”, “Leadership and Partnership”, and in-hand under-saddle exercises called “The Work”.

“Hill’s book reminds us that horses aren’t naturally adapted to live in our world, so if we want them to live happily alongside us, it’s our job to teach them how to act appropriately and enjoy domestic lie. Throughout the book there is essential information to better help us understand how our horse perceives our actions, and how we can make him more comfortable with things that he naturally has an aversion to. All of the advice is extremely practical and helps the reader to get inside the horse’s mind, in order to help him become well-adjusted to both humans and every day equipment. Well organized and full of photos and drawings, there is a lot to be learned from Hill’s newest book.”

“BOTTOM LINE: Essential information for any horse owner.”

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Hey Cherry, I have a filly, not sure about her age but we think she is almost a year old, around 10 mnths. Anyways, she has never been properly handled, so she is scared of humans. However, she will come up and sniff me, but if i move even just a finger she jumps back and takes off to the other side of the corral. I have tried just sitting on a stool in the corral with some treats, and when she would come to me i would offer her the treat but she justs runs away again. But, we had gotten another filly at the same time we got her and this other one, Willow, is much more outgoing at will let you scratch her head, so we put the two together hoping that she (autumn) would follow willow’s example, and she has started to not get scared as easily, but we still cant get close to her. I dont know what to do, i ve never had such a shy foal before! PLease help!  Miki

Hi Miki,

If you wait for a fearful foal to approach you, it might never happen. And in the meantime, it reinforces the foal’s fear through repetition. What you need to do is show the foal there is nothing to fear, that a human’s touch can be soothing and pleasurable. Until the foal knows this, it has no reason to approach.

So I like to get such a foal in a safe small enclosure such as a box stall. Then with the help of a capable friend, gradually corner the foal so that one of you can touch the foal and rub it. You want to touch and rub in a place that the foal inherently likes to be touched such as up on the top of the hindquarters, just in front of the tail head, on the neck or withers…….but NOT anywhere on the head, belly or legs to start with. Most foals LOVE to be scratched over the tail head, so that is a great place to start. Once the foal begins to calm down and enjoy the rubbing, gradually back away and “release” the foal. Then approach again. Once you’ve done this a few times, the foal will see there is nothing to fear from you approaching, that something good comes from it.

Repeat this type of approaching and touching several times of day, daily until the foal starts looking to you, turns toward you or starts coming to you.

Although I prefer to handle each foal alone, you could start this whole procedure with the other foal along with her in the stall if you think the other foal would add calmness and not calamity to the situation.

Restriction and the touch of humans are some of the first things every horse should know.

 

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Hello Cherry,

I had an experience last night that I do not want repeated.  I went into the pasture to feed my 3 horses their evening hay  ration and all was well until all of a sudden my 10 yr old QH/Arab mare whom I have owned for 5 years now flew at my 5 yr old daughter striking with her with her front foot on the forehead. The mare had her hay in front of her with no competition around. It came out of the blue with no warning signs.  My daughter was about 4 feet from me waiting patiently for me to finish my task.  My mare acted as if my daughter was one of the herd and she had to put her in her place.  This mare is very aggressive toward other horses (who were on the other side of the fence at the time) during feeding time but she has never shown this behavior towards humans before.  Any suggestions?  Needless to say I am questioning the wisdom of having an unpredictable horse such as this around given that I have 2 children ages 7 and 5 that I would like to experience the wonderful world of horse ownership.  Any suggestions?  My daughter was fortunate not to be hurt just very frightened.

Lee

Hi Lee,

This seems to be, as you suggest, a pecking order move and could also be caused by hormones in the mare’s cycle. So although we try to understand How to Think Like a Horse, it is essential we teach them boundaries of behavior around humans.

There are certain lessons that that every horse should know. If you are capable of conducting ground lessons such as I outline in the articles here on this blog, on my website and in my books, that would be good. I’m talking about respect and personal space lessons.

First in an enclosed area. Then in an enclosed area with feed. Then in a pasture group. Then with feed. It is a progression outlined many times before since these types of things seem to come up often as questions. I’ve hyperlinked some articles within this answer and you can go to my Horse Information Roundup to find a complete list of online articles and related Q&As.

Definitely keep you children safe and only add them to the situation if you feel confident you have established respect and personal space with this mare beforehand.

Best of luck with it.

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My friend has a 5 year old filly.  When he puts her out in the pasture she will stay by the back door unless another horse or even one of the llamas is out.  When he tries to walk her out in the pasture she goes in circles and tires him out by pushing on him to get him to go back to the barn. Daryl

Hi Daryl,

Horses are herd animals so seek comfort and security in numbers. This filly lacks confidence so just for safety sake, she would benefit from a companion animal (llama or another horse) when out on pasture.

To build her confidence, your friend could hold her training and riding sessions out in the pasture, building a strong bond with her out there. It sounds like she needs a thorough ground training review if she whirls or pushes when he tries to lead her. There are many articles on this blog (use the search tool in the right hand column) and my website horsekeeping.com related to behavior and ground training.

 

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Cherry,

My 20 year old niece has 5 horses one being a 4 year old paint. He has become very territorial of his field so much so that he will charge anyone that walks through the field. He has even charged up to the fence if someone is standing near by. How can we work with him to change this behavior?

Cynthia

Hi Cynthia,

The horse (I assume it is a gelding, if not, write me back and I’ll modify my answer) should be brought in from pasture to a separate training area, away from other horses and in a place that is safe to work. A 40-50 foot diameter round pen or 40 x 40 square pen works well for this.

The horse needs to learn basic in-hand and free exercises and the lessons must be repeated until the horse is obedient and submissive to humans. When a horse is dominant over other horses, that’s OK, that’s horse natural behavior. But when a horse acts dominant over humans, it is dangerous and the horse needs to be shown a different, safer way to act around humans.

Distilling things down in a smaller enclosure will help make the positive associations, then you will have a better chance of reminding the horse when you return him to the pasture group.

Some of the lessons he will need to learn are in this In Hand Checklist – a review of things he already knows will be helpful too.

Teaching him to Respect Your Personal Space is essential.

More on Personal Space here.

Here are some more pertinent articles

Grouchy Horse

Pasture Aggression.

I have hundreds of articles on horse care and training on my website. Be sure to search there for your topic of interest.

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Hi Cherry,

I am a very young person and i have a greenbroke arabian i green broke him myself but i cant get the bit in and he  always jerks back and i cant put it on the way i am supposed to cause i am shorter and his head goes up a long ways what do i do to keep his head down so i can bridle him. Maci

Hi Maci,

Did you read this post Head Handling?

Here is another article from my website: Difficult to Bridle.

Once you have read those articles and taught your horse not to fear you touching his head, ears and mouth and you have taught him to open his mouth – all without the bridle being anywhere around………then when you bring out the bridle, it will be easy.

You might also want to read this book.

I suggest using this bridling method – you ask your horse to lower his head, put your right arm between his ears with your right hand holding the headstall. Your left hand presents the bit to the horse’s mouth. This photo shows the first bridling for this horse which went well because he had done all his homework !

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Hi Cherry,

just wondered if you have any ideas how to stop out yearling miniature horse filly to stop bucking and kicking out at us. We own 6 other miniatures and have never had this problem . We have her for 6 months now, and still she does it. We cant stand behind her to brush her tail, nor adjust her rug leg straps etc. She is out on grass with the others and as soon as we go to bring her in, she spins and lashes out with her rear legs. She also hates to be tied and gets very thick and starts pawing the ground etc.
Sara

Hi Sara,

Young fillies of that age are beginning to experience their estrous cycle for the first time. Because of that, some are more explosive, irritable and protective, especially of their hindquarters and activities related to their rear end, such as you say brushing her tail and adjusting her leg straps.

There are many articles related to your questions on my Horse Information Roundup. I will mention a few, but you should go there and search your questions.

Reference article: How to Tell if a Mare is in Heat

A horse like that needs a super thorough handling and sacking out program to show her that touching and activities behind her are nothing to fear. This is a good time to nip this tendency in the bud – otherwise the horse could carry the bad habits for life.

Reference Articles:

Sacking Out

Teaching the Young Horse to Tie

Tying Problems

I recommend you read my latest book, What Every Horse Should Know:

Respect Patience Partnership

No Fear of People or Things

No Fear of Restriction or Restraint.

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When my dear hubby Richard built my scriptorium (the cottage where I write) he put in lots and lots of bookshelves…..that was, well, I don’t want to say HOW many years ago but a long time !!

The shelves are now overflowing and its time to downsize my collection.

Most of the books are new or like new. Many have never been opened. Some are current titles and others are vintage and out of print. I’ll be adding a handful every week or so, so keep an eye on Used Horse Books.

Likewise, Richard is also going through his video and DVD collection.

We hope you find something you need or have been looking for.

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