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My horse is unhappy at home after being leased out

Hi Franklin,

I have a paint gelding that I used to show often, but had to stop when I went to college. I decided that rather than letting him sit in the field and get fat for 4 years, I should lease him out so he'd still have something to do because he seemed to love travelling and going to shows. This turned out to be a huge mistake. He came and left home several times going to new places for short term leases and I thought he'd be happy with being busy and always having somebody there to love him since I was away.

Now he's back with me and his wonderful, sweet, "wouldn't hurt a fly" attitude has changed into a grumpy towards people and aggressive towards other horses attitude. I trust him not to hurt me, but he didn't used to pin his ears at me and look so nasty. And he seems to only be interested in me if I have a treat, otherwise he'll pin his ears, back up, and flip his head when I'm trying to visit with him at his stall. Also, he used to be at the bottom of the pecking order in the field - getting along with everybody who tolerated him and he was usually the one getting beat up. Now he's the aggressor, when it has to do with food or not. He chases the smaller horses around the field (he's 16.2H) and gets into fights with other horses. He's been turned out in a paddock with my two year old paint and he follows him from corner to corner trying to pin him against the fence and kick him (for the 10 years I had him before he left, I had NEVER seen him kick another horse). I don't want to have to keep him confined in his stall because he's beating everybody up. I'm trying to give him as much attention as I can because I thought it was a jealousy thing. I visit him with and without treats, rub on him, bring him out of his stall just to groom him and play with him. But I'm just not sure about why he's so unhappy, and that makes me unhappy. Any ideas?

Thank you, Devra

Hello Devra,

I sure do have some 'ideas' on your situation. First off, horses need a job of course, but they also need consistency in handling and surroundings even more. Your horse has had just the opposite. Different people with different skill levels and levels of respect for horses. Different locations with different people also created confusion for him. His behavior is quite normal for what he has been through. Sometimes it is better to just let the horse be in a pasture if his location and handling is going to change that much. You will need to get reacquainted again and I would re-start him. Then you you have a chance to rebuild his confidence and trust. If you do not do this, he will probably remain as he is if not get worse. You have shaken his world up big time with different handlers, riders, and locations. He is very insecure now and acting like it. His confidence is in the manure pile. More than attention, he needs to be re-started appropriately by you, handled consistently with appropriate action and activity. He will come around with time and patience if he was great before the trauma, and it was trauma he has been through. If you were passed around like he was, you would be very unhappy and insecure as well. He does not know where he belongs and who he can rely on. If you want your old horse back, restart him and take your time. It may be six months or so before you begin to recognize your old horse again. But he probably would come back if you are willing to do the time, so to speak. I am certain you'll never make the same mistake again. A hard lesson to learn for sure. A shame to have put your lovely horse through it. Good Luck and please keep me posted on your progress if you choose to retrain him. If you need assistance, let me know. If you do need to lease out a personal horse again, do it only to one experienced person and choose wisely.

Sincerely, Franklin

Dear Franklin,

Thank you so much for your thoughtful reply. I had no idea I put him through so much and I thought that I chose good homes for him while I was away, but you just never know. I will definitely 'do the time' because he is very special to me and I feel horrible to have given him this trauma. I hope you don't mind me asking another question on a completely different note (I just stumbled onto your website and have found your answers to be incredibly insightful).

I work at a barn where there's a little POA mare who is perfect for the tiniest kids to ride. She's safe and takes really good care of whoever is on her back. On the ground, it's a whole different story. She has turned out to be a kicker. She's kicked me when I was picking her back feet and launched me into the wall, she kicked the farrier many times in a row, and she even kicked her owner when she was just walking around behind her and now she wants to get rid of her. I think it might be wise because she's not really safe around the kids as is, however she is awesome for beginners to ride....dilemma. Every time I have witnessed her kick someone, she has squirted all over as if she were hot in heat. I have tried to lunge her to get her loosened up, play the 'move your rear away and face me' game, and touch her all over so she's not so afraid of having someone back there. Sometimes she's fine about it and it seems like she spontaneously goes into heat when she feels provoked or when somebody gets uncomfortably close (I'm pretty sure she's not squirting urine, it's a milky cream color). The funny thing is....she's apparently "fixed." Have you ever heard of a horse being fixed? I haven't. And wouldn't that affect her heats? It would be an awful shame if she had to be sold because she is a great school horse and the kids love her (if you stay away from her back end!). I really appreciate the time you put into your responses. And if there's anything I can do to regain this horses' trust I will try it.

Thank you so much. Devra

Hi Devra,

What you are seeing with the pony is similar to what you saw with your horse. A horse that was at one time well mannered and well adjusted is made frustrated and doubtful of humans because of such a huge amount of inappropriate and inconsistent handling. The pony is constantly abused by well meaning but unknowledgable humans. It is not being bad or anything like that. I do not blame this horse for the way it is acting. It is basically urine she is spraying despite the color. Of course a mare can be 'fixed' to prevent conception. It is most uncommmon as it is so commmon to have geldings around rather than stallions. Good thing this is not a gorilla we are speaking of as they throw feces rather than spraying urine when unhappy.

The same solution is available for this pony as is for your horse, if anyone wants to take the time and make the effort. Re-start and retrain the pony appropriately. Then, more consistency in handling is neccessary. What happens a lot is that horses in the situation of 'school horses' or stable horses where they are handled by everyone and their brother (kids in particular) are not handled or ridden by experienced horsepeople on a regular basis and thus, they develop an attitude of defense and the habit of fending for themselves and avoiding being handled. The humans around them do not have the skills and (and in most cases) the willingsness to regularly handle this horse correctly to keep it compliant and trusting of humans. So, behavior happens as you have described, it goes unaddressed and escalates into an unmanagable and dangerous horse. The horse gets blaimed and labeled as 'bad' and either gets put down or begins a series of abusively being passed around from owner to owner who try to punish and dicipline the horse into compliance. This is a most distressing situation and frequently leads to tragic outcomes for both the humans and the horse involved.

You know, sounds like the facility where these horses are could use some assistance. Perhaps someone in that barn would be open to gaining some real knowledge and horse skills in how to keep a horse safe, willing and compliant for humans, all humans. But maybe not. I am available to travel to provide horsemanship seminars internationally, which I do a lot. Please give it some thought. Maybe there is someone there who really loves and respects horses as you do and would give it a shot considering the problems that seem to exist there.

Thanks again for reaching out and again, I wish you the best of luck. Check out the DVD's in my shopping corral. Perhaps there may be something there that interests you. Telephone coaching is also available that is most effective and efficient. Keep in touch and let me know what happens.

Sincerely yours, Franklin

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