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Posts Tagged ‘horse behavior’

We know the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Some horses at some times also know this. But it is interesting to observe the other routes horses take which must be perfectly normal to them.

Right now we have our 3 horses out on 3 separate pastures. In the morning when I jingle my mares, I first go to Aria’s pasture and when I rattle the metal gate her head comes up, she does a turn on the hindquarters until she faces me and then walks a straight line to me, sometimes not so fast as I’d like, but basically a straight line. Her walk to the gate is downhill.

Then I go to Seeker’s pasture gate – of course by then, she knows “its time” so she has started walking up to the gate. Her trek to the gate is all uphill. The path she chooses is quite interesting in that she probably covers twice as much ground as she would if she came straight to the gate. It is obvious that her choices are based on ease of travel. Instead of coming directly uphill toward the gate, she weaves back and forth…….like a sensible mountain trail horse I guess.

Then there is the energizer bunny Sherlock. When Richard goes out to call him in, as soon as he whistles, Sherlock kicks into his floating, ground covering canter, but because he loves to move, he takes the scenic route. There is no doubt that he is definitely on his way to Richard but he might canter the entire perimeter of the 20 acre pasture on his way there. Very fun to watch. And even with all that traveling, he probably takes less time to get there than the girls do when I call them !

Horses. What a treat to observe.

 

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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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Hi Cherry,

I’ve noticed lately that my TWH mare seems to be rubbing her beautiful long wavy mane off.  I noticed several weeks ago that part of her mane near her withers suddenly became very short.  I figured maybe she got it caught in something and I did not really worry about it too much.  But now I’m noticing that the short part keeps getting bigger and bigger.  I suspect that she is rubbing it on something but I’m not sure what.  She is pasture kept most of the time with her buddies.  If she is not in the pasture then she is in the dry lot with her buddies with hay in hay nets.  I can’t seem to find any evidence on the fence or anything.  Her mane does not look irritated or anything, just short.  I never catch her in the act.  I’m worried that if this continues, her beautiful mane will be all straggles.  To make matters worse, I was planning to sell her in the next few weeks.  I know it can take years for a mane to grow back completely.  Is there anything I can do? 

Thanks,  Ingrid

 

Hi Ingrid,

It sounds more like your mare and one of her pasture buddies are participating in vigorous bouts of “mutual grooming” that normal social activity where two horses stand next to each other facing opposite directions and scratch each others neck, withers and back with their teeth. This results in lost mane hair right where you describe.

That’s one of the drawbacks of group turnout but the horses sure seem to enjoy it !!

As far as what you can do about it, you can separate the mare from her buddies, you can get her a textilene fly sheet with a neck extension, or you can spray a safe anti-chew product on her mane area. There are several products specifically designed for this.

 

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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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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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May 2011
Translated into Finnish:

Ymmarra hevostasi
Hevosen kasvatus ja koulutus
luonnonmukaisella tavalla

Cherry Hill

Publisher Karisto

How to Think Like a Horse by Cherry Hill - Finnish Translation

How to Think Like a Horse
The Essential Handbook for Understanding
Why Horses Do What They Do

by Cherry Hill

See English Edition

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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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