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Bad horse behavior; biting and kicking
My horse bites all the time! I try to show him that I love him. I caress him and kiss him. But he always tries to bite. Sometimes I cannot even saddle him properly because when he spots me from his stall, he turns his hind towards me and threatens to kick.
He is not this way everyday, but he treats everyone like that. I care for him very much and when I ride him I try to be gentle, because he also reacts to pressure. He is with me for 2 years now, and I have never hit him. He is 14 years old and I know, before me, he was not treated nicely.
How can I win his trust? When competing we work wonderfully as a team, how can I achieve the same cooperation on the ground?
A reader in Greece
Horses bit and kick because the are afraid. It looks like aggression. But the truth of it is that, it is a display of FEAR. it could be fear of pain from an ill-fitting saddle, neglected teeth or fear of some sort of abuse. Actually all different types of fear are basically the same fear not surviving. I hope you can understand what I mean. There are only two things a horse feels really one is fear and one is trust it is safe. Somewhere in this horse's background, breeding or early training, something was not appropriate and it has made the horse afraid. If you go to battle with a fearful person they may respond by blowing themselves and you up. If this person fears it will not survive unless it controls you and keeps you away, it will do anything to keep you away, starting with threatening you. The question is what steps can someone take to help this individual feel it does not have to strike out to survive. We do this through sincerely attempted leadership and guidance at a speed of one step at a time. Trust is built up over time. If you baby a horse (not show leadership and guidance but instead make it a 'baby' ), it will begin to fend for itself, just as a child would. This 'fending for itself' takes on a lot of forms. Biting, kicking and like behavior are the horse trying to fend for itself by keeping you away. You have to have movement and interaction that allows you to immediately become the good leader and guide for the horse. You need to be leading and guiding the horse through simple yet successful movement. This will quickly set you up as the leader of the dance between the horse and human (it is all like a dance with you, the human as the designated leader).
A horse needs to believe there is a leader with it in order for it to feel safe. This is similar to a child who looks to its parent to know it is safe. In the wild, where a horse always remains in its mind to some extent, the leader of the herd leads the group to safety. It leads the group to feelings of safety actually, as safety only really exists in a feeling). If we as humans will ask horses appropriately to do simple movements and then give praise for the animal trying to comply, a bond of trust begins to be formed. Even a child, given a simple task it can do and then rewarded for trying, benefits by this small action in many ways; its confidence builds, its self-esteem goes way up and it gets to experience and practice success, among other positive results. This sort of thing done over time helps develop a productive, confident and willing individual. Its the same with horses.
A simple thing to do if your horse looks to bite you is let there be a consequence of movement that is a bit like work for the horse. I am not speaking of punishment, but rather consequences that are non-abusive, like appropriate work. If you have the skill to put your horse to doing hind end yields, or backing up firmly and decisively or lunging immediately, this certainly makes it hard for the horse to bite or kick. They learn quickly that there is a consequence for behavior that you do not want. This is a non-abusive way to modify behavior you do not want in a horse as it sets you up as the leader quickly without making the horse afraid of you. This aspect of non-abusive behavior modification is a very big plus. You actually begin to lead the dance through skillful and decisive direction of the horse's movement. This is the way to improve your situation quickly, without punishing or hurting your horse and developing fear. If you could see this done, it would really open your eyes as to how to gain the trust and resepct of most any horse quickly. Please come and see me in Athens over the May 13-15 program I am doing (info is on my website). You will discover and learn a lot about how to be successful with most any horse and rather quickly too.
Don't baby this horse. Rather become a Gandhi type of compassionate leader, a leader who does not blame, but rather inspires through embodying an understanding, kind, present and skillful guide for that individual. Do simple actions on the ground with precision and finess and give praise for any good effort by the horse. This is the key to developing trust with horses. Please review my website for a lot of additional information about developing trust with horses. I have a translation feature that should translate any article on the website for you into whatever language you want. Please let me know if you have a difficulty with that service. I also have a DVD for sale of a program I did in Syros that would provide a lot of answers for you. It is in English with a Greek translator present. It is well done and comprehensive. You can order it through my website. It will be formatted correctly for Greece.
Thanks for your question and I hope I see you in Athens in May.