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Rearing and Herd bound

Dear Franklin:

I recently purchased a 5-year-old mare. Spring is 1/2 TB 1/2 ApHC. She came to me easily 200lbs underweight and I have put about 100lbs on her in the last 4 months. When I first rode Spring she was relatively easy to handle when worked along side other horses in fact my young daughter was riding her occasionally while I rode my other mare. However the last couple of times we rode I began asking Spring to go out on her own and she has shown her disapproval by rearing up and falling over backwards. Each time she has reared I make her walk around my pasture so she doesn't feel like she's succeeding in getting me off. After her last rearing instance I lunged her for 10 min or so then rode her bucking and rearing for about two hours before finally getting her calmed down enough to ride 2 laps around my small pasture. By the way she is good on the ground even after she rears. She's usually willing to lunge without much difficulty. But last time I got off of her she wasn't to willing to let me back on. The next day she avoided me like the plague, which was sad because she’s a real sweet thing, and usually runs right up for her treat. She is rearing when I lock my other horse in the barn or if I put my other horse in the adjacent pasture where Spring can still see her.

I had Spring checked by the vet and had her teeth floated, so I don't think she's in pain. I'm riding in a D-ring snaffle and have added a martingale, which doesn't help. She just doesn't tolerate being rode without another horse (preferably my other mare) along. The Vet said she's just feeling fat and happy for the first time in her life and the consensus is that the prior owners were starving her to keep her under control. I think she may be a bit hot but I really feel this is more related to her herd bound nature than to the feed she's getting (3lbs of quality grain and 4 flakes of timothy grass mix per day with pasture turnout).

Do you have any suggestions for helping my mare get over this herd bound behavior? She's got loads of potential and I don't want to get rid of her, but I don't want to get hurt or ruin her either.

Thank You, Tareena

Hi Tareena,

Thank you for your question. She definitely sounds a bit ‘hot’ I think you do have two situations going on. The increase in her diet of protein is definitely contributing to her energy and acting out. She has more energy than she knows what to do with. Make certain your feeding is not too much by inquiring with the vet as to proper addition of protein and supplements to a horse that was being starved. If the diet change has been abrupt, that is not good. Changes in the equine diet need to be instituted gradually over time to allow the horse’s system to acclimate.

Additionally, a round pen would be a wonderful tool for you to work with your mare. First and foremost, relationships with horses are formed on the ground long before any riding is done. Sounds like your mare has not yet really bonded with you. I would spend a lot more time on the ground with this horse. I mean a lot more time. I would even forget about riding for a little while until you have established more of a relationship on the ground with her. All the riding in the world will not get her over her insecurities until she trusts you more and has really bonded. By always showing up with treats, anytime she comes to you it will be the treat she is coming to and not you. You can give her a goody for a while to help you catch her, but unless you establish a real relationship with her, nothing will change. With a round pen, you begin to interact as in a dance. In ballroom dancing there is always a follower and a leader. In the horse human dance, it is incumbent on us humans to always lead that dance and do it confidently, skillfully and with compassion and patience. A few weeks spent doing ground games (not just simple lunging for exercise) will transform your horse and you. You will actually develop a relationship based on mutual trust and respect, which you do not have now. Once this is done you will become the real ‘herd leader’ for the mare and the herd-bound behavior will be a lot easier to deal with. It may even subside on its own as you become more and more part of her herd yourself. Does this make sense to you? It seems you have already had some real horse experience, so I am hoping you already know what I am saying is true. There is no quick fix. There is good training over time, period. I rehabilitate horses a lot. From herd-bound horses to dangerously aggressive horses, the solution is always the same, retraining on the ground to establish trust, respect and mutual cooperation. It is always a two way street. It is not about us humans trying to make a horse do anything. It is always about establishing the great relationship. We develop sensitivity, self-awareness, communication skills, mindfulness, and a host of other very desirable traits by training horses in this gentle way. Developing trust is the answer.

Once your relationship has begun to develop, at liberty, in the round pen, then I would move into a larger space and continue, at liberty and on a long line, playing ground games with the horse and working on communication and your bond of trust. Do you know and understand the kind of games and techniques I am referring to? Your horse is not bad and you do not have to get rid of her. She is afraid pure and simple. It is up to you if you want to go the distance to develop the relationship you are envisioning. It would really only take a few weeks of very consistent training to realize your dream.

Please let me know you thoughts about all this. For me it is never about trying to make something happen quickly. Great, lasting relationship takes patience, time, compassion, skill and love. It is the same for your relationship with your horse. Thanks again for contacting me.

Sincerely, Franklin

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