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Bites & bullies

Hello Franklin,

We have recently purchased two horses, a 12 yr. Quarter mare and a 11yr. Arabian gelding, they are both beautiful specimens and fully registered. Presently we are lodging them at an acreage close to our home and see them every day for work and grooming and just plain enjoyment. They are with 3 other horses at the farm and make a very interesting herd to say the least. I have two questions that I need help with as I can not locate quality answers for.

1) The mare has balking, backing up, rearing, and running away problems when it comes time to tack up. She's hard to catch at first but takes the halter very well. We lead her to the tack area and she stands fairly well with just the halter and lead. The bridle, blanket and saddle are stationed nearby and ready. She begins to get a little "jumpy" after the bridle, backs as we place the blanket and saddle, and goes a little freaky with doing up the cinch. We just do it up enough to make the tie and then walk her for 50ft or so and then tighten about half way and more walking, then fully tighten. As the cinch is tightened she pulls back and has reared with head shake. Often moves away 20-30 ft. She fine after this and a pleasure to ride. We have checked for any stabbing things or abrasives, knots nothing found. We have changed her cinch to a felt strap but no change. In her 12 yrs she has had several foals most recently 11 months ago.

2) The problem with the Arabian gelding is that he is the bottom of the totem and the Alpha gelding as well as the number 2 gelding are bullying him and the Alpha is biting him quite often. These are deep and scaring bites mostly on his rump. If he finds a good location to graze in the pasture they run him off, he is not aloud in the shaded area of the main paddock and has to eat and drink last. He is a well mannered, trained horse and a pleasure to be around but I fear for his safety and health as winter is coming and they will be outside the majority of the time but for the 3 sided shelter with bedding and as of yet he is not being let into it by the two bullies. Can anything be done to bring up his self esteem and confidence?

Thank you, Greg & Marina

Hello Greg and Marina,

Both horses, being quite mature, are very habituated to their behavior. This makes the behavior more difficult to modify. For the mare I would suggest doing something on the ground with her (direct some simple movement like hind end yields or circling around on the leadrope) for 5-10 minutes before grooming or saddling. Get a good connection going before anything else. Tune into your intuition to determine if the horse is really connected to you and trusting, or not. If not, you should keep repeating the process until you determine she is connected and trusting. Move slowly, thoughtfully and very consciously. When you feel her tense up, do not proceed, but rather go back to the suggested, simple, easy movement of hind quarter yields, several rotations in both directions. Then offer her a little break (Ho!) and let her sigh and lick and chew a minute or so before proceeding. You need to take the time to feel her relax a bit before moving forward. Patience is really important here. The little rest after the movement is a reward and waiting until she sighs, licks and chews helps her to settle. You are doing really well with taking your time with the girthing. Something else to try is for one of you to slowly lead the horse in a circle (very relaxed) and at the same time the other person applies pad, saddle and girth while the horse is moving slowly. The horse can only focus on one thing at a time. If she is moving that will keep her attention and the saddling will not become such a big deal. Eventually you just stop moving and the horse should be a lot quieter. Changing the procedure, staying very calm and relaxed no matter what, asking for some relaxed, easy movement (leading the dance in a calm, conscious way), offering lots of rests and breaks as reward for compliance, waiting for the horse to sigh and then lick and chew during the short reward breaks should help a lot. It will take time as the horse is very habituated. The horse cannot do anything at the same time it is doing hind quarter yields. This is part of why I like that move in particular. There will be no rearing, backing, nothing other than that movement when it is asked for appropriately and executed precisely and calmly.

The situation with the gelding is more difficult to deal with. The best solution in the short term is to somehow be able to allow the horses to get better used to each other in separate pastures. After a period of adjustment, if the pasture is big enough, the horses will usually work it out themselves. However the scars from the bites still remain. Introducing new pasture mates, with the horses in hand can assist in the transition as well, as opposed to throwing them in without any preperation.You are right that with winter coming on, the situation is even more critical. I would look at ways of changing how the pasturing is set up at least for a while. If you could put your horses in with only one new horse at a time, that might help. This gives them the opportunity to get used to one new pasture mate at a time as opposed to several new ones at once. There is no easy solution unless there is enough pasture to gradually introduce new horses into a new herd. Never just throw them in together without a period of adjustment by isolating the new horses for a while first.

Good luck and please keep me posted.

Sincerely, Franklin

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