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Kicking Mare & Treats


This past June I purchased a 7 year old quarter horse mare. That first month was spent at the Trainer's as she had not really been handled much and not ridden for well over a year. I've been working with her and she has come along wonderfully. She is very smart and catches on quickly. She also has a lovable disposition. I was told at the beginning that she would be difficult to catch in the paddock so I had started using bits of carrots or little bite size treats when I go out to get her. I give her a treat, halter her and bring her in - no problem. Well, several weeks ago one of the other boarders (a woman) was kicked very badly by my horse (luckily not breaking her leg!!). I asked her what the scenario was when this happened, was the horse provoked in anyway? She said not at all, in fact, my horse came up to her friendly as can be, put her head on the boarders shoulder and nuzzled her when all of a sudden, out of no where, my horse spun around, her ears pinned back and nailed the boarder. Well, after speaking with the boarder, I went out to the pasture, with my usual carrot bits (no halter or lead - no intentions of riding that day, just passing through to see her), she walked up to me, I gave her the treat, a pat on her forehead, and all of a sudden her passive, friendly disposition turned ugly, ears totally laid back and swung her back end at me and kicked, just missing me by a fraction of an inch. She has never done this to me before!!! I left the pasture and returned with my riding whip in hand. I entered the pasture, she walked towards me and I showed her the whip (I did not use it on her....) and spoke calmly to her. She came no further, and just stood still. I then left the paddock (due to the rain the footing was very muddy and slippery and I felt conditions were not suitable for pursuing this any further that day for safety reasons (both mine and hers). Several folks have said to "use" the whip on her when she attempts kicking again. To a degree this makes sense, but then again I feel it just may make the situation worse and I'm not really big on physical discipline. Other than this newly acquired bad habit, she's really a nice mare but this habit has got to be addressed immediately. What possibly could be on her mind - one minute she's a pocket pony the next she's ready to attack!!! Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.


Hi Victoria,

This really could simply be the result of giving a horse treats without ever setting a boundry around the treat. It is really not the treat that creates the behavior you are seeing. It is not setting a boundry or asking for spacial respect when giving the treats. I give treats as a special thank you. I always set boundries with a treat by having the horse back up a few feet and stay there or move to one side or the other. Always set spacial boundries with horses and only consciously allow them into your personal space, not randomly and expecially when any food is around. As the 'leader of the herd' you control the resources of the herd. Some of those main resources are; food and territory. You should always be consciously controling those things. If you do so, you do not have to control the horses. Giving the treat without any leadership around the act of giving the food does not show leadership, respect nor command respect from the horse. Sooner or later their desire for the treat will surpass any regard for you.

There is nothing wrong in carrying a crop or dressage whip with you into the pasture. A lead rope would do as well to simply fend the horse off a bit. Not enough to scare her away, but just enough to keep a the horse a safe distance and always facing you. You do not have to touch the horse with the whip or whatever you have. You can 'activate' it by shaking it in the direction of the horse. Be conscious and aware always. People get hurt because they forget these are horses and not dogs. The dynamic is different and because horses are so big, the danger should not be minimised. Make the treat mean something more than a bribe so you can catch your horse. You do not have much of a relationship if you cannot get with your horse other than when you bribe it. You need to have some meaningful action and interaction with a horse to develop a relationship. Much more than merely riding your horse, which is more about the human than the horse generally. Play on the ground with your horse more. Dance with your horse on the ground and develop a real relationship based on mutually successful action, like ballroom dancers. Just like beginning to start a relationship with someone of the opposite sex, you might dance together first to really get something going. It is the same for the horse and the human.

You do not need to be a diciplinarian. You need to be a leader and a very good one at that. Every instant be the great, conscious leader like Gandhi. Always the conscious, compassionate, skillful and purposeful leader. That is who your horse is looking for. That is the individual the horses will always follow and want to be around, the one who keeps them safe by asking for things and always having successful outcomes. I use treats a lot sometimes. But make it mean something....

Keep me posted and good luck.

Sincerely, Franklin

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