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Aggressive thoroughbred mare


I am writing to ask for a little bit of guidance with my new thoroughbred. I bought her a month ago, she is 10 years old, an ex-racehorse and the 2 previous owners that I know of have used her as a broodmare for the past 4 years, so she has not been handled in that time. She had been neglected, she is extremely thin, her hooves had been in terrible shape, she had a cut that was very infected an oozing on her back and she has a very bad case of rain scald. This is not the first horse that I have bought that was in this situation, but all my other horses were never this moody or difficult. When I first brought her home she was fairly quiet, but as the weeks go on she is getting very aggressive. I have to be near her to treat the rain scald and cut...

I cannot brush her, rug her or touch her anywhere unless she is eating and even then her ears go flat and she turns to bite. I have counteracted this aggression by growling at her which seems to work when she is eating but does not work when I am in the paddock with her trying to get her used to me, I do not approach her, she approaches me, sniffs me, then tries to nip me. My growl just makes her more aggressive and her ears go flat, head snakes up, and she sides round to kick me, which I then move away from, then she relaxes and walks over to me again and the process is repeated, so I have stayed out of the paddock. Now even when I stand across the fence from her, just standing there to talk to her because she has come up to see me, she snakes her head to bite me, ears flat... I am just wanting to ask if my growling at her, is making the situation worse, because she is continuing to challenge me and becomes more aggro and if it is, what should I do to reprimand her instead? As I want to build a trusting relationship, but not let her get away with this sort of behaviour either!

Would greatly appreciate your help! Look forward to hearing from you.


Hi Samantha,

You have reinforced the mare's behavior and actually contributed to her responding to you as she does. Definitive, wisdom-based leadership, with strong resolve is required.

Your growling isn't cutting it actually. Your response to her aggressive posturing has to be decisive and absolute (but never abusive and always appropriate). Try using a flag (a piece of plastic bag affixed to the end of a dressage whip) and firmly send her into circles when she gives you that look. If no round is there pen to use for circles, then simply send her up and down the paddock fence line (keep only as close to her as is required for you to safely ask her to move). Do not push her so much she gets too scared and wants to jump out of the paddock. Just enough to put her to movement back and forth along the fence line.

This is where your abilities to 'read' a horse come into play. What is too much pressure and what is too little, is the thing. What is just right to get the exact movement without panic (creating too much fear by the use of too much energy) is the key. Never let her approach you with her ears back. Send her away with the flag.

When she complies with a request, and quickly, after even any effort at compliance (this could mean her simply moving away from you a little or putting her ears forward), you immediately stop asking for anything and go completely neutral (peaceful and ignore the horse). Stay like this for 15-20 seconds and then ask for a bit more movement. The asking for movement has to be quite specific, appropriate and with the right amount of pressure (resolve). Then, immediate reward (peace) for even the slightest effort at compliance. An obvious change in attitude by the horse is great effort and should be immediately rewarded. The reward need only last a few seconds or moments, to up to a minute of peace (look away and ignore the horse). Then you ask for more movement and do it very skillfully and appropriately.

This method of training is called advance and retreat. It works like a charm when done correctly. It requires skill, patience, wisdom of horses, the ability to read a horse's energy and attitude and confidence. The horse can teach you what is too much and what is too little by its responses to your requests. Listen to the horse and always be the great leader, every moment you are with the horse. If you are not being a leader, the horse will fend for itself, as you are seeing. The horse is not bad. It is simply doing this because you cannot...and it needs to either lead the dance itself or have a good leader with it, to have feelings that it will survive. Good leadership is what will build trust. Not discipline, punishment, being the boss, feeding the horse or anything else. Lead the dance of all movement followed immediately by positive reinforcement (reward) of a bit of peace. Good Luck.

Sincerely, Franklin

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