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New Arabian with 'bad' behavior

I just acquired a 15 year old Arabian gelding that has not been ridden in 2 years. I first rode him in a round pen at the previous owners house, then one time after he was delivered at my house. Everything went smooth. The next day I had a little trouble catching him; finally got him saddled; when I got on he was okay for just a few minutes, then he started to rear and buck twice. I know he really did not want to throw me, because he did not rear or buck high. Hes a big horse; I was not thrown, but got scared and dismounted quickly. What would cause the seemingly sudden change in his attitude?

(One observation: He hit his neck on the fence post the day before and had a tennis ball size swelling on the under-side of his neck. It was not sensitive to touch; did not seem to bother him)

What can I do to feel safe; take control of the situation; nip any bad habits in the bud?


Hi Johanna,

I think there are several things going on here. First off, he has not been handled much in two years from what you say. It would be expected that a horse would quickly show resistance to being caught and worked (handled and ridden) if he had not done so in quite a while. For this I would suggest a period of 'getting acquainted' where the horse is schooled on the ground a week or so before being ridden. This is to get some sort of relationship going with the horse and to get him used to being 'caught' and handled. I would make this initial phase as stress free and pleasant/fun for the horse as possible.

Also, it takes a horse a while to acclimate to a new home. So I would have not put the extra pressure of having to be ridden on him until a bit of time had passed and he has a reasonable period of adjustment to the new environment. Riding out in a new place is also stressful for a horse. The injury you describe would have also increased the horse's stress in his new home. Just because it didn't seem sensitive to the touch does not mean he has no memory or stress around being hurt in his new home.

If you want to feel safe with your new horse, you need to do things that will support him feeling safe with you. Be more patient, provide a period of adjustment where you do things on the ground with him that are fun and provide a bonding experience (simple dances and movements on the ground with lots of reward for compliance). Only handling him on the ground first, for a little while anyway, will help you both to develop the kind of bond you will need to feel confident with your new horse and him with you. You do not need to "take control." But rather show up as a more thoughtful, patient, considerate and even skillful horse owner. Let your agenda be your horses's sense of safety and the development of trust, rather than getting on and riding (at least for a little while). Getting right off your horse when he showed his fear (resistence) trained him to to repeat the behavior when he gets afraid. I am sure he learned the lesson quickly that if I rear or buck even a little, I get rid of my insecure rider. Rather than dismounting I would put the horse to doing simple hind quarter yields, several rotations in both directions. A horse cannot buck, rear or run off when doing this move and it will put the horse's attention back on you as opposed to anything else. You need to practice this move in a safe environment before you really need it. That way you will have a great, familiar tool to use if and when this situation arises again. To "nip any bad habits in the bud" I suggest looking at what you are doing as opposed what the horse is doing (acting out of fear). Your horse is acting normally for a new horse who has not been handled for a while, with a new owner, in a new environment. It is rare the horse is the one with the problem actually. He really is acting normally with behavior that is to be expected given the situation. 99% of the time it is how the horse is being handled, what and how the horse it is being asked to perform and how much pressure is being put on the horse. Your horse wants to get to know you, to have some trust in you, to trust he can be safe in his new environment, to have confidence in you and know that he will be OK with you. Consider letting these things become your agenda for a while to get your relationship with your horse in track.

You do not mention the question of pasture mates and herd information. This would be a big factor as well in his adjustment to his new home. Just like with children adjusting to a new home, new friends, new school, teachers, etc., your horse is going through a similar time. If you have a round pen I would begin to use it a lot. Not to tire your horse out or even exercise your horse, but rather to have the opportunity to dance and play games with your horse and to develop a trusting and loving bond. You only mention control, riding and nipping your horse's 'bad' behavior in the bud. How about yours? No offense intended. But I hope I have given you some things to think about.

Best Regards, Franklin

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