3 Easy Ways to Teach Your Disrespectful Horse to Behave
A friend of mine recently bought herself a tall 3 year old paint colt, the first time she's worked with that young of a horse. He hadn't had any ground work done with him prior to her purchasing him, and so he's had a few problems that have caused her to be afraid of him. Not knowing what to do, she gave me a call and asked me to come show her how to break him of these three main habits- invading personal space (running you over, sticking his nose in your face, etc.), biting, and kicking.
When teaching a horse not to bite, I prefer to go out into the field right at first. Because younger horses have shorter attention spans, it's not a good idea to make him work for more than thirty minutes a day right at first, or else he may get frustrated and dislike working with you. When I approach a nippy horse, I first touch his shoulder at a midpoint of his body, so that I don't startle him right of the bat. I use the tone of my voice and my body language to tell him what I'm expecting of him.
A good thing to know about horses is their language. They are incapable of learning new languages, so it's important for us to learn theirs. Horses use high pitched sounds to express anything from fear to excitement to an ecstatic greeting. Regardless of what they're saying, a high pitch means move forward. This is why horses react pretty universally to the "kissing" noise- they move.
On the other end of the spectrum, low tones mean calm, peace, relaxing. The lower sounds generally mean to slow down, which is why when you say "woah" in a low, slow way, a horse will slow and stop sooner than if you were to say it high. Sudden loud noises express unhappiness, being irritated, so when you say "NO", say it sharply and loudly. Begin scratching or petting the horse's shoulder, and as soon as he turns his head toward you, say "NO", push his head away, and stop stroking him.
As soon as he puts his head forward and away from you, praise him softly and start petting him again. Repeat this over and over, and move around where you're stroking or scratching him until he's used to being touched all over and keeping his head away at the same time. Don't forget the ticklish spots like his flanks, girth, and belly. He won't learn it all in one day, so be patient, but keep at it and he'll learn to keep his face away from you unless you approach it.
With horses that kick, the most effective way of teaching him not to kick, while longeing or joining up is by using this technique. Using a longe line or a long lead rope, take your horse into the round pen. Keep his face turned towards you, and ask him to move out. In your other hand, keep a longe whip, but keep it lowered until he tries to turn his butt towards you and does the threat dance (you know what I'm talking about, you've seen it before!).
The second he turns his butt to you, say "NO", snap the whip, and make him change direction. As you keep doing this, he will learn that being aggressive is much harder work than just behaving, and eventually, you'll have a horse who knows to keep his butt to himself!
If your horse is kicking while you've got him tied up, try this- every time he tries to kick, move to his side, slide your hand down his hindquarters and pick up his back foot. Hold it until he stops fighting it, then put it down and praise him. Because he can't kick while standing on one back leg without falling over, he'll once again learn that misbehaving is a lot more work than being good. Be very careful though that you don't get kicked!
Lastly, we'll address disrespecting space. Horses don't naturally understand personal space, because they don't have any. Personal space is a pretty uniquely human idea. To explain this to your horse, go into the pasture with him. Horses that disrespect space are generally pretty pushy even if you haven't caught them, so as soon as he gets in your face or gets too close to you (like if you feel threatened he could run you over) put your hand out and say "NO".
Put your hand over the bridge of his nose and push back gently while saying "Back up". When he moves back, even just one step, reward him with positive attention. If his problem is putting his butt in your face, you need to use the first technique I've talked about here. If he's the type to try to lead you when it should be vice versa, here's a trick that works with both dogs and horses. Every time he starts pulling ahead of where you want him to be, stop immediately and make him back up three steps. Stand for a moment, and then walk forward again. It may take a while, but once he gets the hang of it, things run a lot smoother around the barn!
Next week I'll be writing about ways to bond with different pets in healthy ways. If you have any questions you'd like me to answer, just shoot me an email!