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Can't get our new mustang mare not to kick

Hi Franklin,

I was wondering if you might be able to give us some advice. We have just adopted a 4 yr old mustang mare from the BLM. She was captured just over a year ago but was on the range for all of her life before. We have been working with her this last week and she has already come a long leaps and bounds. We have a sturdy round pen that we exercise her in and she has been doing really well. The big issue is she is quite a kicker. My husband trains her as I am 5 months pregnant and she kicks at him as much as she can. We have been using a 6-foot sturdy whip with a plastic bag on the end to get her to move where we want, not touching her or anything yet just using the noise and sight. We can get her going in a nice circle but when she does stop she immediately turns her back to him and kicks, to get her to go again is has to try and maneuver the bag towards the opposite side of her head and rattle it a little whilst dodging hooves. Any suggestions, the BLM show showed us the circle pen but he was able to get the horse to turn in towards him (a different 2 year old gelding) where as ours point bank refuses to turn inwards and always turns butt first.

The other thing I have been working on with her is hand feeding her threw the fence. She will accept food from me and I have been able to move my hand up and she will tolerate me touching her very slightly but she is still extremely jumpy. I have so far been able to touch up towards the top of her nose between her eyes and she seems to be better here then on her nose tip or lips. She does however sometimes grunt at me and stamp her foot and paw the ground as close to me as possible but with the fence she can't touch me. She then continues to feed from me. She also only prefers to do this if I am sitting or at least leaning down, she is very weary when I am standing fully upright.

Any tips or tricks to help us would be great. We know it will take time and patience but are just trying to get as much advice as possible to work with and try different things.

Thanks, Sue

Hi Sue,

This mare has a lot of fear, obviously. First off I would not feed her from your hand. This will encourage her being mouthy and potentially, eventually bite you looking for treats. Better to put the treat in a feeder, tub or bucket of some sort and put it on the ground near her. This would probably help with the stomping and pawing as well. I would suggest your husband not push the horse horse so hard to and not look for the horse to face him for a while. I think you are asking too much too fast of this horse. I suggest your husband only ask the horse to move a quarter ways around the pen. Then, back away and allow the horse to stop, offering a verbal cue and then some praise. Give the horse a minute to relax. Then repeat the process. Do this for a few days. You should see the horse begin to soften its responses. A great reward will be for your husband to back away from the horse when ti moves a little as he would like. This is training one-step-at-a-time which works quite well if you include a lot of patience in the process. After a few days, when the horse starts to turn to look at your husband when it stops (and he has walked away from the horse), he can ask her to go half way around the ring and do the same thing. Do this for another two weeks. Once the horse shows you it is relaxing with his requests, he can ask it to go one time around the ring and back away (the release of all pressure is the reward for effort by the horse). Eventually, when he leaves the horse (backs away) the horse will begin to take a step towards him. He should encourage the horse coming to him by backing away yet again and calling her or inviting her to come over. Once the hrose actually faces him and begins to move towards him, he can go slowly to her and just let her smell the back of his hand. If she touches it with her nose, or even brings her nose to his hand at all, he should remove the hand gently, wait 30 seconds and offer her a smell of his hand again. He should repeat this a few times and end the session. Don't make any session more than 15 minutes for now. I get the feeling that you really are asking too much too fast and making the horse more fearful with a lot of shaking the bag, etc.

Another method would be to simply 'occupy the same spot as the horse' is. In other words, carry the flag, but keep it down. Only use it if you need to fend the horse off (if she charges). You simply quietly move towards where the horse is standing, the horse moves away on its own, and you occupy the spot for a minute or two. Then you move to where the horse is standing again, and stand there (occupy the spot). This sets you up as the leader of the spacial aspects of the herd. Repeating this process over a weeks time will also get this horse to relax with your proximity and begin to develop some trust. All cues with the flag or whatever, must be gentle and minimal. Scaring the horse seems to be what you are doing at this time. I have great success developing trust and leadership with dangerous stallions by being very quiet and gentle with them and only asking for one small step at a time and then back away a step or two as their reward. Of course, I keep myself safe at all times. Forget the horse changing directions by facing you for a good while. It is unimportant at this early stage in your relationship with this horse. Getting the horse to gently come to you is actually more desirable at this time. DO NOT FEED HER FROM YOUR HAND. Developing and keeping good boundaries is important as well. Once the horse begins to follow you around and easily accepts very simple requests for movement, then you can go to asking for a specific way it is to change directions. If you scare the horse at all, you are taking steps backwards in your training. Everything you do, every little move, every request should be to develop feelings of safety within the horse. Feelings of safety are the single most important thing to a horse. This is done through excellent leadership and not through any dominance or you being alpha, that is BS. The leader of the wild horse herd is the smartest mare with the most highly developed sense of intuition. She is not the biggest, nor the strongest. Be smart, be wise, be compassionate and be an inspired leader. Keep me posted.

Sincerest regards, Franklin

Thx for the advice. We tried some of your techniques today. I stopped hand feeding her and just sat outside the corral with her and chatted with her while she ate. I also tried sitting eating a carrot which she was very very curious as to what I had although I don't think she has ever eaten anything like that as when I dropped it in for her she just sniffed and left it.

My husband also tried the moving into her spot and this worked great, a few times we had to be careful not to block her in as she got a little edgy but only a few hooves turned up, no kicks.

Thx again. I shall keep you updated, we only picked her up on Friday night so she is doing superb in such a short time. She doesn't mind us outside the corral or even going in to sort her food and bed, she doesn't charge and is not spooked when we clean out her area. she loves us to be lower, i.e. bend over or like I do sit down on a bucket and she is then more then happy to come within about 2-3' and eat or just watch us.

Unfortunately we have no other horses here and I think she gets quite distressed and lonely at night as she tends to pace back and forth and dig a hole. We are hoping she will settle down soon and I pop out there several times during the night just to check on her and she comes over and seems to like the company.

Anyway thanx again,


Thanks for the feedback. I am delighted my suggestions seem to be helping. Please be aware that horses are extremely social and relationship based animals. A horse without other horses nearby is a sorry critter indeed. This will contribute to your horse's anxiety and angst. Even being able to see another horse relatively nearby would help. I strongly urge you to get some sort of companion animal (preferably another horse) for your mare.

Also, the horse is showing great interest in you because it is alone. The interest is a bit obsessed and unbalanced. Any attention by any other creature will be meaningful. I never suggest folks keep one horse isolated from others of its own kind. How would you feel if you were kept isolated from all human contact? It is the same for the horse.

Even though Tom Hanks managed to bond with a volley ball to keep his sanity in the movie Castaway. That volley ball, named Wilson, was a poor substitute for human contact. Please consider this aspect of horse ownership as a very important one.

Keep me posted please....Sincerest regards, Franklin

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