Archives MAIN PAGE

Franklin Levinson's

Horse Help Center

Professional support for you and your horse!

Excited behaviour around loose horses/donkeys/mules.

Hi Franklin,

My horse, Chaparro, a 10 year old Andalucian gelding stabled in Spain. He was gelded at 3 y.o. and I bought him when he was 5 y.o. He generally well adjusted and confident hack who is nice natured and good to deal with but he has gradually started over reacting to loose horses/donkeys/mules that we come across whilst out riding and he especially reacts on the way back home. We ride a lot of bridal paths in the Sierra so passing livestock in fields is commomplace. At best it's a fancy show off trot and at worst he prances and bounces around and tries to head sideways towards the offending horse.

This started sporadically about 3 years ago when I moved him to a new area and I am looking for a effective and gentle way to put this right. As a result of this behavior I have become a bit nervous when I know there is a horse coming up and find a bit difficult to disguise this and of course he know this!!!!

He's never bolted, he doesn't spook much ( only what I would consider to be reasonable), he's good to box, shoe, catch and is very willing and accustomed to long trail rides with all sorts of obstacles and is good alone or in company (although he always goes best out front) - really this is his only obvious vice.

I get a lot of advice here like show him who's boss etc.. But generally feel he just needs to be working more so am making sure that he gets school work before we hack out which seems to take the edge off. If I know that we are going to see a horse or a donkey in a field along the path then I'll stop him and move a little bit at a time so that he doesn't start prancing or edging towards the other horse... if he behaves well then I make a fuss of him and if he started to misbehave then I turn him in a circle if he refuses to stand still. I also try not to show my nerves, but not sure how successful I am! I ride a lot alone and I also do long distances so want to feel safe - which I do 98% of the time so long as we don't meet other horses/donkeys/mules. The other 2% is a bit scarey sometimes.

What is weird is that he can be absolutely fine for a spell and then one encounter can set this behaviour off again - especially if we are lucky enough to meet a hobbled mare with huge bell round her neck accompanied by a donkey! He is absolutely fine with cattle and pigs (there are a lot of them in the sierra).

I'd like to know if it's stallion behaviour, if he's just full of beans and showing off, whether he's scared or stressed or just not getting enough work. Chaparro is much loved and but I know this is an issue I need to deal so that I can continue to enjoy riding him safely so would appreciate any help/advice you can offer.

Thanks, Jan

Hi Jan,

Its called FEAR and nothing else. What you are experiencing with your horse is quite common and often times much more dangerous than what your horse does. It is not about showing him you are the 'boss.' It is never about dominence. It is always about skillful, trusted leadership. You do not tell me if you play on the ground with your horse much. This is truely where your bond of trust and your leadership is established. If you are only riding your horse, your bond of trust will never be that deep or strong. Perhaps you have seen demonstrations of horses surrounded by all sorts of scary things and loud scary noises, loose animals, etc., and they stay calm. These horses, often mounted patrol horses and the like, have gone through a 'bomb-proofing' program. Typically these programs last a week to a month. A week is a bit too short I think. A two week program is average but longer ones are the most effective.

First it would involve exposing the horse to all sort of scary things, and, in your case, including loose animals of various sorts. This is done in-hand, in an arena. So, you would have to find a way to expose the horse to these things in an enclosed space of some sort. You could do this in a field once you get very good at handling the horse on the ground by spending a lot of time with him in-hand around other scary things and situations. This would up his level of confidence and trust in you (which he has limited amounts of at this time). The basic principle/technique is...bring on the scary thing and if your horse stands with you w/o getting too fearful, initially only for few moments, then immediately have the scary thing move away a bit and offer the horse an immediate reward for not freaking out by extending a few moments of safety/peace/quiet and a little praise (a simple Good Boy). That is the basic process. Only allow exposure to the scary stuff initially for a few moments and then remove the pressure of it and immediately reward the horse. You build on this as you see the horse becoming more and more confident and willing to stand quietly.

Even if you cannot expose the horse to loose animals, expose it to other sorts of scary things using this process. This will develop your bond of trust, your good leadership, his confidence and all manner of good things with your horse. There was something lacking in his initial training that is prompting this behavior. But you can help this a lot but taking these suggestions. If you do not understand what I am suggesting, let me know and I will try to explain it better. Keep me posted.

Sincerest Regards, Franklin

Look for: