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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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Dear Cherry,

What a wonderful web site and resource center. Your love for equine education is graciously depicted.

I guess I am seeking reassurance about departing my daughters current lesson barn. The program was based on natural horsemanship and the structure and knowledge base and of the owner instructor/ owner had always overridden any weaknesses in the past.

I am a mother of a 12 yr old. Her riding instructor (owner of the lesson horse) became extremely upset with me when I described erratic behavior in my daughter’s horse as “kicking at her.” The instructor/owner was not initially present to observe. The horse was tied at a rail for groom and tack. My daughter was on the right side of the horse. I looked up and saw horse’s head jerking back and forth and then back hooves off of the ground in my daughter’s direction. No one was hurt; but the horse’s behavior concerned me. My daughter described it as a buck. She has ridden for 2 1/2 years. My daughter also said she thought the stationary rope on the rail she was required to use was too short.

Would I have been making an statement as a novice that would have been that inflammatory to the instructor? She kind of went off on me and kept asking me over and over again if it was a kick. I felt I was being bullied into changing my answer, but I saw what I saw and I stuck to my description only to really irritate her. Is there really that much of a difference when a child’s safety is an issue?

Sincerely,

Brenda

Hi Brenda,

Today there are so many wonderful horsemen out there providing lessons that there is no sense feeling like once you have chosen one you are married or are a disciple or bound by any strings, business, legal, personal or otherwise. I used those words not because of anything in your letter but because I have observed these things with other people in their relationships with trainers. And I am hoping my answer will help those people as well as you.

I am so thrilled that there has been a surge of horse activities in many areas which makes the choice of instructors and trainers so much better for people wanting lessons or training. Of course with the surge came good trainers and not-so-good trainers, but generally the good trainers prevail. I hope it is that way in your area – that you have good choices – because once you feel the way your letter depicts, it sounds like a rift, a loss of respect and confidence and it could be time to say good bye and go shopping for a new lesson barn.

How to Think Like A Horse by Cherry HillNow specifically to your letter. YES ! A child’s safety is uppermost in any situation involving horses. Semantics of whether a horse is bucking, kicking, cow kicking or grouching in some other way is immaterial. The fact that hooves toward child is unsafe no matter what you call it. And you as guardian of your daughter have every right to bring the matter to the attention of the instructor/owner of the horse.

Horse people can get (unjustifiably) very defensive of their horses – we call this “barn blind” – “What? MY horse kicked? No way.” – That sort of thing. Perhaps that is what you experienced. Well, take comfort in that it is very common for people to think their horses, dogs, pets can do no wrong………but that doesn’t make their perception or reaction correct or right – and it would be especially ludicrous since the owner wasn’t present when the behavior occurred – that indeed is a blind sort of defensiveness.

Of course, the best thing would have been to have an experienced unbiased eye witness, but since that didn’t happen, it becomes one person’s opinion against another’s. And since you are the novice, it is not hard to see a bit of bullying to get you to change your testimony.

Horse Handling and Grooming by Cherry HillI can’t say what the horse was doing and why and if he was tied too short or any of that, but if you feel your child’s safety is at risk and you have lost faith in the owner or the establishment, then by all means, look for a new barn. But knowing what it is like to be a 12 year old girl who loves horses and has had several years of riding, I do hope you are able to find a new place soon !

Best of luck and thanks for your note.
I hope something I said has put your mind at ease.

Cherry Hill horse trainer and author of 30 books and DVDs

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Bad Habits in Horses

©  2010 Cherry Hill © Copyright Information

Horses are some of the kindest, most generous and trainable animal partners you can find.  That’s why when a horse does something “bad”, it’s usually due to poor management or training.  In order to deal with vices and bad habits, we need to understand what causes them.  THEN we can design our horse care and training to PREVENT them.

How to Think Like a Horse by Cherry Hill

How to Think Like a Horse by Cherry Hill

A vice is an abnormal behavior that usually shows up in the barn or stable environment that results from confinement, improper management, or lack of exercise.  A vice can affect a horse’s usefulness, dependability, and health.  Examples are cribbing, weaving, and self-mutilation. (see an upcoming post on Vices)

A bad habit is an undesirable behavior that occurs during training or handling and is usually a result of poor techniques and a lack of understanding of horse behavior.  Examples are rearing, halter pulling, striking and kicking.

Bad Habits in Horses
©  2002 Cherry Hill www.horsekeeping.com

HABIT

DESCRIPTION

CAUSES

TREATMENT

Balking Refusal to go forward often followed by violent temper if rider insists. Fear, heavy hands, stubbornness, extreme fatigue. Curable.
Review forward work with in-hand & longeing.
Turn horse’s head to untrack left or right.
Strong driving aids with no conflicting restraining aids (no pull on bit).
Do not try to force horse forward by pulling – you’ll lose.
Barn Sour
Herd Bound
Balking, rearing, swinging around, screaming and then rushing back to the barn or herd. Separation from buddies or barn (food, comfort). Curable but stubborn cases require professional.
A confident, capable trainer that insists the horse leave the barn (herd) and then positively reinforces the horse’s good behavior so horse develops confidence.
The lessons GO and WHOA must both be reviewed.
Biting Nibbling with lips or grabbing with teeth especially young horses. Greed (treats), playfulness (curiosity) or resentment (irritated or sore). Investigate things with mouth. Often from hand-feeding treats. Curable. Handle lips, muzzle, & nostrils regularly in a business-like way; when horse nips, tug on nose chain, then resume as if nothing happened.
Can also use thumb tack on sleeve; hold wire brush toward lips; use muzzle.
Bolting When Turned Loose Wheels away suddenly before halter is fully removed. Poor handling, anxious to exercise or join other horses. Curable but dangerous as horse often kicks as he wheels away.
Use treats on ground before you remove halter; use rope around the neck.
Bucking Arching the back, lowering the head, kicking with hind or leaping. High spirits, get rid of rider or tack, sensitive or sore back, reaction to legs or spurs. Monitor feed and exercise; proper progressive training; check tack fit.
Can’t Catch Avoids humans with halter and lead. Fear, resentment, disrespect, bad habit. Curable. Take time to properly train, use walk-down method in small area first, progress to larger. Remove other horses from pasture; treats on ground, never punish horse once caught.
Can’t Handle Feet Swaying, leaning, rearing, jerking foot away, kicking, striking. Insufficient or improper training. Horse hasn’t learned to cooperate, balance on 3 legs, take pressure and movement of farrier work. Curable but persistent cases require professional.
Thorough, systematic conditioning and restraint lessons: pick up foot, hold in both flexed & extended positions for several minutes while cleaning, grooming, rubbing leg, coronary band, bulbs etc.
Halter Pulling Rearing or setting back when tied, often until something breaks or horse falls and/or hangs by halter. Rushed, poor halter training, using weak equipment or unsafe facilities so horse gets free by breaking something.
Often horse was tied by bridle reins and broke free.
Can be curable but very dangerous and incurable in some chronic cases which require professional.
Might use stiff bristled broom on the rump or wither rope on advice of professional.
Head Shy Moves head away during grooming, bridling, clipping, vet work. Initially rough handling or insufficient conditioning, painful ears or mouth problems. Curable. First eliminate medical reasons such as ear, tongue, lip or dental problems.
Start from square one with handling; after horse allows touching, then teach him to put head down.
Jigging Short, stilted walk/jog with hollow back and high head. Poor training attempt at collection, horse not trained to aids, too strong bridle aids, sore back. Curable. Check tack fit, use aids properly including use of pressure/release (half halt) to bring horse to walk or use strong driving aids to push horse into active trot.
Kicking Lashing back at a person with one or both hind legs, also “cow kicking” which is lashing out to the side. Initially reflex to touching legs, then fear (defense) of rough handling or to get rid of a threat or unwanted nuisance. Might be curable but serious cases are very dangerous and require professional to use remedial restraint methods.
Unlikely to ever completely cure.
Rearing Standing on hind legs when led or ridden, sometimes falling over backwards. Fear, rough handling, doesn’t think he must go forward or is afraid to go forward into contact with bit; associated with balking; a response to collected work. Can be curable but is a very dangerous habit that might be impossible to cure even by professional.
Check to be sure no mouth or back problems.
Review going forward in-hand with a whip and review longeing.
Running Away;
Bolting
Galloping out of control. Fear, panic, (flight response), lack of training to the aids, overfeeding, under exercise, pain from poor fitting tack. Might be curable but very dangerous as when horse panics, can run into traffic, over cliff, through fence, etc.; remedy is to pull (with pressure and release) the horse into a large circle, gradually decreasing the size.
Shying Spooking at real or imagined sights, sounds, smells, or occurrences. Fear (of object or of trainer’s reaction to horse’s behavior), poor vision, head being forcibly held so horse can’t see, playful habit. Generally curable.
Put horse on aids and guide and control his movement with driving and restraining aids
Striking Taking a swipe at a person with a front leg. Reaction to clipping, first use of chain or twitch, restraint of head, dental work. Curable but very dangerous especially if coupled with rearing as person’s head could be struck.
Review head handling (mouth, nostrils, ears); head down lesson; and thorough body handling and sacking out.
Stumbling Losing balance or catching the toe on the ground and missing a beat or falling. Weakness, lack of coordination, lack of condition, young, lazy, long toe/low heel, delayed breakover of hooves, horse ridden on forehand, poor footing. Curable.
Have hoof balance assessed, check breakover, ride horse with more weight on the hindquarters (collect), conditioning horse properly.
Tail Wringing Switching and/or rotating tail in an irritated or angry fashion. Sore back from poor fitting tack, poorly balanced rider, injury, rushed training. May not be curable once established.
Proper saddle fit, rider lessons, massage and other medical therapy, proper warm-up & progressive, achievable training demands.

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