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Horrible habits from a bored horse

I am about to begin work with an ex racehorse that was then used in rodeos as a roper. From the history I've been able to gather his roping experience wasn't a good one. They constantly tried to domineer him. He has been kept in a stall practically 24/7 and only riden sparingly. He seems to be well broke just high spirited but has horrible ground manners. The people that feed won't open his stall for anything since he charges and won't respond to anything (ropes waved at his face, rake handle held up though he's not been hit with any of them). He won't back down to any of it. He seems to have a fairly dominant personallity. The more you try to outright dominate him the more he retaliates. He also constantly tries to bite. He's had the chance to bite me over and over and, though acts like it, hasn't actually bitten me. I know he's got anger issues due to being kept in a stall so much.

He's extremely intelligent. He's always active in the stall and seeks attention actively. I will ingnore his threats but when acts as though he's going to bite I make a sharp sound and put my finger up towards him. He then pulls his head up and stops for a minute or two to get praise and attention but then tries again. As I said if he really wanted to hurt me he could have taken a chunk on multiple occasions. If I walk to the other end of the barn after he's been trying to bite he then chews at everything on his stall door and makes lots of noise and paws a little to try to get my attention again. I've been told he kicks but haven't has that experience yet.

I'd like to know some things to try with him to get him better at ground manners. He seeks attention so much I suspect he does most of his negative behavior out of despiration for attention and mental stimulation. He's also enourmous, about 17 hands so I need to make sure I'm safe. I've been around horses for about 15 years and are mostly self taught. I'm trying to work with him enough to either make sure he's going to respond well for me and possibly purchase him. If I can't for any reason I at least want to find him a good home where he's constantly stimulated and worked with regularly. I just feel for him and do truly believe since he's so willing and eager for my attentions that with regular exercise and being turned out he will become a well rounded horse. I know how to work with riding behavior but I've not had very much experience with working on bad ground behavior, any tips would be appreciated. I'm seriously considering hiring a trainer to teach me to train him but I don't want to spend too much money on someone else's horse yet. I'm working with the owner now on a lease agreement so any work I do will not be undermined. The facility he's located has outdoor arena, indoor arena, and round pen.

Thanks, Samantha

Hi Samantha,

You don't say how old this horse is. But it sounds like he is no youngster. The older he is the more habituated to his behavior he is and old habits die hard for horses and humans alike. I think you would begin changing his life by giving tune-out time and getting him off of the stalled routine he is currently having. I would also begin nearly daily at liberty training. This way you can keep yourself safe and still work with him to develop a bond of trust through appropriately directed movement. Most any horse can be rehabilitated with enough time, skill by the trainer, patience and consistency. It may take months and months though. Also, there are no guarantees. Ask first for small things he can do and give immediate reward of a little break and a Good Boy. This one-step-at-a-time approach will not over stimulate the horse (too much input at once) and begin to settle him into listening to your requests and trying to comply. Keeping things simple and easy at first (two steps forward and two steps back and Whoa) will get him into the habit of listening, trying to comply and receiving the all important reward. I would bet this animal has never really been rewarded for any effort in its life. This is an important aspect of training and most horses do not receive it (especially off the track and rodeo).

I would do a whole lot on the ground and get him soft and responsive to ground requests first before attempting to advance to anything else. Never taking the horse too close to its fear threshold is a good idea (do not over input). Never going to a more advanced move before the previous one is mastered is important. This is accomplished again, by asking for small, simple things first and rewarding any attempts at compliance. Recognizing when a horse is trying to comply with a request is very important. Most folks do not recognize this important aspect of training. The best, easiest and most effective reward is immediate rest and a break from all pressure of a request. It is during these rests and short breaks that a horse actually thinks about what just happened and learns. Also, this is mainly when you see the licking and chewing display. The big reward for the animal is putting the horse away for the day. Putting him away on a very positive note will insure he will be glad to see you the next day.

This horse is fearful and may be 'proud cut' as well. Thus the aggressive/defensive behavior is easily understood. Again, at liberty arena and/or round pen activity would benefit this horse and you greatly. Keep it simple, easy and fun. BE CAREFUL....Good Luck...

Sincerely, Franklin

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