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Franklin Levinson's

Horse Help Center

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Problems with miniature horses

Hi Franklin,

I have worked on a horse rescue for several years--with big horses. I have never had a problem with them bullying me, threatening me or any other personal space problem. However, I moved to Texas and rescued 4 Miniature Mares and bought one Miniature Gelding. The head mare of the herd respects me totally. She never gets in my space, never bites, crowds or kicks at me. In fact, if anything, she is so respectful that I feel she is overly intimidated by me. Not so with the other miniatures. When I try to lead them, they push and crowd and spin and nip and .... I could go on. I've tried using the lead to get them to backup, but they trust me so much (I'm a humane trainer of professional working dogs,) that they just look at me as if to say "big deal." Two of the mares like to "crowd" me but not in an aggressive way. They like hugs and grooming, etc. It just seems they like to be hear me and feel comforted if they can stand close or have my hand on them. BUT the other paint mare is wacko (or I am, probably.) She has tried to back me into a corner, tried to bite me, swings her head, and a host of other nervously aggressive behaviors. However, this same mare, Navajo, if there is a fence between us she will move forward, moonwalk backwards, turn her butt to me so that I can pick up and groom her tail, allow affection and brushing without ANY aggressive tendencies. Obviously, it's my being in her space that is scaring her. How do I get her to stop these behaviors when I'm in the pen with her? She's not a small mini, but the AMHR 38" one. She's very quick too. I do NOT want to use force of any kind with her, but I need her to stop these behaviors. I'm the only one who can "handle" her and vetting her is horrible.

Then the Gelding I have is trying to get the upper hand with me. He is professionally trained and showed in the ADT circuit with carting. I met him before buying, and even carted him, but now, he is challenging me. I expect that I have to earn his respect/trust, but he is also rather large for a mini 38" and I don't want him to hurt me. When I put his halter on, he tries to shove me around, backs up, etc. I've trained him to stand and allow me to halter him for a small piece of carrot dropped in his pail. I do not use bribes, he MUST allow the haltering and THEN the carrot.

I notice he is afraid of his carting harness in spite of my being told her was trained without force. He runs from it. Long story short; with horses like these that have past histories of abuse or training that may have used force, how do I establish leadership without using violence?

Yes, I looked on a site for similar articles, but saw none that addressed working with miniatures. In my experience, miniatures are like small dogs; they go on the offensive much more quickly simply because they are smaller. Are these problems that can be addressed by phone?

Oh, as far as getting help with them around here, I moved to TX from the Northeast and this is a culture of using extreme force with horses. I do not trust any of the trainers here. Heck, I'm having a hard time teaching people they don't have to hit their dogs to train them.

I'm also not a novice about animal behavior. However, most of my work nowadays is with dogs and one of my dogs' will be featured in Jane Goodall/Marc Beckoff's Encyclopedia of Human Animal Relationships. I have a background in behavioral psychology as well.

I'm sending a pic so you can see what I do. Although I'm not a novice, I sure need some solutions with my horses.

Thanks. Karen

Hi Karen,

First thing I would suggest to completely turn any horse around is to go back to the basics of good training and re-start any horses with substantial problems. This is how I rehabilitate abused horses. It takes patience and skill. The process can take as long as it takes. It is never to be rushed. With mini's it is important to somehow get down a bit to their level (literally). A lot of training communication would go right over the head of a mini unless the trainer makes certain it is directed at an animal that size. I remember a lady who brought a mini into a clinic I was providing and the mini was basically dragging her all over the place, had no respect for her, would even charge her, turn it's butt to her, crowd her and more. All I did was to trim the bangs (forelock) of the horse so it could see better and begin to interact at the animals eye-level. The problems dissappeared almost immediately.

I find working with mini's no different than any other horse actually, other than their size. Yes, I agree that a smaller stature can give rise to bigger attitude. However, it is still all about good and appropriate leadership, the development of trust, skill and precision in requests made, consequences for unwanted behavior (not punishment), patience and compassion. A good consequence for a horse who displays unwanted behavior is movement. I will use hind-quarter yields as a good bit of movement as a consequence for a horse doing what I do not want. I provide rewards for what I do want in the form of a short 'rest' or break, along with a 'Good Boy.' Even if the horse goes "on the offensive" quicker than a bigger horse, your response should be basically the same. As the leader of the herd, you control the resources of the herd. You control the food and the territory. You do not need to control the animal. By controlling the territory, or space being occupied, you should dictate where and when an animal goes to a certain spot by simply occupying the spot you want, when you want to. If another horse is on that spot, you haze them off of it and stand there for as long as you want. Do this a lot for a while and the horses will totally respect your space and where you go. It is a quiet and way to develop your leadership of a herd.

For the horse that is afraid of his harness, re-start him appropriately and take your time. There is no quick fix to any of your challenges. There is no quick fix with any animal generally. Skillful, patient and precise, compassionate leadership will do the job every time. I would be happy to assist through telephone coaching. I do it a lot and it is a very effective and efficient way to get the support you need. Let me know if I can be of assistance. Thanks for your email and please keep me posted.

Sincerely, Franklin

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