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Pawing, herd bound and attitude

Hello, Franklin,

I have an 8-year old paint that is the love of my life. Prior to being mine, I found out he was a working cattle ranch horse. He has the sweetest temperment (loves to cuddle and follow me like a little lamb) and is very bonded to me. He is very capable of walking, jogging and loping very nicely -- if he wants to. We had some "who is the boss" battles when I first got him 8 months ago, but that settled a while ago for the most part. About two months ago, my new horse and my other horse got into a scuffle (they are very jealous of each other when I am around) and the new horse kicked him in the chest, leaving an obvious hoof print between the chest muscles where the hair was removed during the kick. I have been very careful with him since, so the injury could heal. Over the last couple weeks I have seen him bucking and running in the pasture, so I assumed he was fine to ride & nbsp. However, every time I ride him after about 10-15 minutes he begins to paw pretty strongly. Since I know that he likes to get away with not working, I have been wondering whether this pawing is because he is being stubborn or could he still be hurting from the kick? Obviously, if this is him being obstinate, I want him to work and will keep him moving, but I am afraid that he might be trying to tell me he is hurting. How can I tell? Might he paw if he hurts? He shows a little bit of stiffness (when I first take him out of his stall), but no lameness. He even paws if I am doing ground work with him for more than 15 minutes, so that makes me very suspicious.

Also, do you believe that horses feel jealousy? My barn owner where I board thinks I am crazy when I suggest that, but because of the strong bond I have with my two horses, it seems logical that it is jealousy when they are so aggressive with each other but not with any other horses, and especially when I am present.

Thanks for any help you can give!


Hi Carla,

Horses are honest, they do not lie. If you have not trained him to paw by getting off and putting him away when he paws or doing something that would apppear to be rewarding the behavior, then the pawing is showing anxiety, i.e. fear of pain (or something unpleasant) and nervousness. A kick in the chest would not necccessarially cause lameness, but possible. It certainly could create enough muscle trauma to cause him to be stiff. But most stall bound horses or horses kept in small paddocks will be a bit stiff when first moved around. We humans are too when we first arise or get off the sofa. Usually stretching and warming up before much movement helps both horses and humans be more comfortable. The pawing when "doing ground work" after 15 minutes could be conveying that the horse is bored and frustrated with what is going on. Have you considered 'playing' with your horse and changing the action and activity every few minutes? I never do one thing more than 10 minutes or so with any horse. This way I keep their interest and attention. They learn better and have better attitudes to what I am doing if I vary it a lot during the sessions. For the horse pawing after a bit of riding I would try providing a consequence for the bahavior (not a punishment). Get good at asking for and receiving hind-quarter yields from the saddle. Practice in a quiet safe area before you really need it as a consequence. It is a non-abusive way to immediately put a horse's attention on the rider (or handler if done on the ground) no matter what else is going on. As a horse can only focus on one thing at a time, for any behavior you do not want, put the horse to a simple task, some movement. I like hind-quarter yields as it takes no space beyond a horse's body length, it is easy, quick, convenient and totally non-abusive. I use this technique to calm everything from jiggy horses, balking horses, kicking, rearing and biting horses, fearful and nervous horse behavior and more. Your horse will quickly learn (after three of four legs yields in both direction like that) that it is better and less work and effort, if he keeps focused on you and what you want, rather than anything else.

I want to caution you about projecting too many (or any) negative human traits on to your horse. They are not premeditated in their behavior. It is not the horse's intention to be stubborn. If it looks like he is, the behavior is actually caused by fear of something unpleasant or painful. Look closly at your schooling routene. Do you attempt to make it fun for the horse as well as productive? Most humans only work a horse. Then they wonder why the horse is resistant to the work. All work and no play makes for an unhappy individual. I don't say I am 'working' horses anymore. I am 'playing' with them, teaching them or 'dancing' with them. How we language what we do reflects how we think about it and what happens. How we think about it reflects how we view it as well as how we feel about it and what we physically do. Going to 'work' has a particular feeling around it as does going to 'play' with someone. It changes our whole dynamic around the action, our energy and what we do. Play can be just as educational and physically and mentally conditioning as can work. I rather play and get into shape and learn at the same time. So would horses. Attitude is everything actually.

Your paradigm around what you are doing is the most common. Consider that it may be a bit narrow in scope. Consider leading a dance more than working your horse. Change your action every ten minutes or so maximum. Change the energy and action often; sometimes slow motion and sometimes faster. Keep the horse guessing about what is coming up next. It keeps a human's attention better when they don't know quite what is going to happen next. Don't make it scary by too much inconsistency. Rather have the development of trust be your bottom line goal and then develop more 'feel' for your horses feelings without judgement or projection. Be the great leader like a parent for a child. To keep a child from being bored and acting out in such ways, we vary what the child does. It is the same for horses.

Horse do get jealous. They form attachments to who gives them the most attention (treats, affection, time, etc.). Your barn owner knows little of horses. This is very typical. I work several horses at a time sometimes, as well as one at a time and leave one in a stall, paddock or tied. I make cetain I give appropriate attention to the all the ones in my care at the right time. Leaving a horse tied in view of you working another is not a bad thing to do. Consider trying it. It gets the other horse used to being tied for longer periods and it can watch. Make certain it can't make too much of a mess pawing in the place it is tied. It will stop pawing eventually. If it paws, no big deal. Just let it. Some of what you are seeing is typical herd bound behavior. It has more to do with the other horse being removed than attachment to you. That is another reason I sometimes like to just tie the other horse in view of the training session. Also, horses will learn by viewing something going on with another horse. Most folks do not understand this and never take advantage of it. Now you can. Keep me posted on how it all goes and thanks again for your question.

Sincerely, Franklin

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