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Franklin Levinson's

Horse Help Center

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Cranky Mare

Hi Franklin,

I work at a barn with 7 geldings and 1 mare and this 13 year old mare drives me up the wall. She's a sweet and sensitive lady when you're riding her but she's aggressive and nippy if you go into her stall to get her or, if the turn out areas are icy, clean with her in there. She knows she's going to be smacked if she bites, but she does it anyway and then runs (or turns) away immediately. Then a minute later she's back for more. When I first go in to get her, she snaps her teeth in my direction to see how I'm going to react. She gets worse the longer I stay with her or if I leave and go in a second time, with flattened ears and full on biting. But she also shies away if you raise a hand to pet her. It's a constant war if you go into her stall. So I generally don't go in with her or pet her when she's in her stall. However, if I go visit her in her paddock, she comes over to the fence to see me. Is this just mare behavior? I see her about 4-5 times a week but she seems worse with me than with anyone else. I would say I have a medium amount of horse experience and I get along fine with all the geldings.

What am I doing wrong?

Thanks, Christie

Hi Christie,

What you are seeing here is a half-trained horse. This is very common, especially with English trained horses. The vast majority of their time with humans was spent being ridden by them. So, they are often great under saddle, but not very good on the ground with humans (biting, kicking, pushy, moving away from the handler, dis- interested in humans on the ground, dis-respectful of boundaries and more). This negative 'on the ground behavior' is reinforced by being handled by humans who really know little of appropriate ground skills with horses (how to be the good leader on the ground), how to train for and keep boundaries, how to become the good and wonderful leader for the horse whether in the saddle or on the ground. The good news is that the horse can still be trained to become compliant and cooperative on the ground. It takes knowledge and skill of horses beyond riding instruction that most riding instructors do not know, will not teach or just don't care about, in deference to riding. This really does create an imbalance with many horses and humans alike.

Many of the techniques I am speaking of are easily seen in horse training DVDs. Many good ones are available in the backs of all horse magazines. I have several in the shopping corral of my website that would be very helpful to you. No matter whose DVDs you get, get several and watch them a lot. Learning these training techniques are like trying to learn to Tango. You have to see it to get it. Describing these methods by writing about them is tedious and mostly ineffective and falls way short of possible advances when one is able to view the technique. Some of the basic paradigms that support the techniques are: never blame a horse for anything, never take anything personally a horse does, horses are always innocent (no matter what the behavior), most all resistance in horses is fear based, a seemingly aggressive horse is fending for itself in the absence of a good leader, be The Great Leader for a horse every instant you are with it, guide/lead each and every step consciously and precisely, never take anything for granted and never assume anything - anytime about a horse. These principles may sound easy. But not taking things for granted and not assuming things are two of the most difficult lessons humans can aspire to learn. Also, the horse knows all your inner workings like anxiety level, confidence level, calm, nervousness, heart rate, attitude, how you are feeling and more. In light of this knowledge, it becomes paramount to success with horses to moniter our inner processes and approach horses with the best we have to offer at all levels, each time. One of the ways to bring our best forward is to gain as much knowledge and education about these animals as possible.

Again, training DVDs are a great way to get the information and skills you do not have at this time.

So Christie, its not so much that you are doing anything wrong. Its that you do not have the knowledge or skills just yet to help the situation. To become the sort of leader I am suggesting, one must first gain the knowledge and education about those who we want to lead (psychology, language, basic behavior motivation, etc.) and then practice the leadership skills first on individuals who will willingly follow a leader. Then begin with individuals, like this mare, who will resist a leader until they know this leader knows what the hell they are doing and that they can trust this leader to be consistant, patient, compassionate, skillful and kind.

Get some DVDs. Read everything on my website about leadership and horses, aggressive and, especially, biting horses, handling aggressive horses, kicking horses, etc. There is a lot already written there you have not seen. Research the archives in the HelpCenter ..... Good Luck.

Sincerely, Franklin

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