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Horse Help Center

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Aggressive behavior from pony toward small child

Dear Franklin,

I have a question concerning aggressive behavior. We purchased a pony of our children for Christmas. She was owned by very experienced owners and was taught to pull a cart and ride. Her behavior was adorable, sweet and obedient. I realize she is in a whole new world here and it will take time for her to adjust. But my question concerns my youngest child, she is five. She has charged Rachel two times since, oddly these two times have been when my husband was in the stall. She pinned her ears, and knocked at her with her head. How do I stop this behavior? Rachel is the smallest and is somewhat intimated, even though the pony is small. Also, we have been feeding the pony treats with our hands, which after reading several questions is not a good thing to do. How do I stop this behavior and how to I back off the treats. The previous owners feed her sugar cubes and pepperment candy, I purchased a larger type treat so the kids could continue.

We have only had the pony a few days, I want this to be enjoyable and safe for all of us.

Help and Thanks!

Hi Donna,

Well, first off your pony is not being bad or wrong. It is honestly responding to it surroundings and the behavior of the humans occupying it. Treats given to most animals without setting boundries around the receiving of the treat create pushy and aggressive animals. Also, horses natually 'go at' a vulnerable individual unless trained not to. It is a pecking order thing which is related to instinctional 'survival' behavior. A horse wants, needs and has to have some sort of good, appropriate leadership (handling) toa make it feel safe, otherwise it fends for itself (which looks like aggressive behavior). Some gained knowledge about horses will prove invaluable to you.

I want to strongly suggest you get a DVD or two on horse training and educate yourself. I am going to give you several principles here to attempt to follow and stick to. But viewing the techniques is highly recommended as its like trying to learn ballroom dancing from a book. I could write volumes and have already written quite a bit on what you want to learn. Please use my search feature within the help center and type in words like "gaining the respect and trust of horses.' If you spend a little on educational materials for yourself that will show you philosophies and training methods, you will thank me forever.

Do not allow your child near the pony as yet. You need to be able to set boundries with the pony first and you really need to see the process as it is so easy to use too much energy or too little. Too much and the horse/pony wants to run away from you. Too little and the animal ignores your request. Attempt to practice asking the pony to take one or two steps back. DO NOT HIT, PUSH OR TOUCH the horse to do this. Have something in your hand like an extra leadrope, a riding crop or short whip of some sort, or even a stick about 3-4 feet long. DO NOT RAISE IT TOO HIGH. Rather point it at the pony's front feet and say BACK!. If you get no response from just pointing and/a little shaking of it, tap the ground with it infront of the pony's feet. The instant it does or even tries to back a step, immediately stop activating the stick and say GOOD BOY! Then you give the animal a 15-20 second rest and listen for a sigh and watch for a licking and chewing motion of its mouth. You are learning to become a good leader by being able to ask for a simple boundry (two steps back), the horse attempts to comply, you say thank you (GOOD BOY) and reward the effort with a little break. The horse relaxes (sighs) shortly after the praise (no pressure to do anything) and processes what is happening as well as simultainously displaying compliance (mouthing, licking and chewing). This sort of process is the beginning.

Do you see why you need to view these processes to really get it fast? I cannot easily and briefly detail techniques in an email of the kind you need to see. To stop the behavior you do not want, you need to get some knowledge about your horse and view some techniques to train for behavior you want. If you get good at this at all, you can teach these simple techniques to your daughter. I have taught this to children down to four years old. With a well trained, compliant horse, a child that young can do great. Ponies sometimes come with an attitude simply because they are so small. Learn to provide consequences rather than punishment for what you do not want. The same action requested of a horse can be one or the other depending on who is communicating with the animal. If I provide consequences I allow the horse to take some responsibility for its behavior and learn what I want it to do. If I punish the animal, it is all about me and retribution for supposed wrong doings by the animal. This is abuse.

Anyway, good luck and please review what I offer in the shopping corral of my website. Get it right the first time and not with a hit and miss way of dealing with the horse. That is abusive as well. The horse needs you to be on track and not confusing it. If you confuse a horse you abuse the horse. There are many training DVD's available in the backs of all horse magazines, if you do not find something I have available that suites your liking. Thanks fro your question and a very Happy new Year to you and your family (two and four-legged).

Sincerely, Franklin

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