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Anti Social Horse


Hi Samantha,
I hope you have some helpful advice! I've read books, talked to many, observed, studied, watched RFD TV, DVDs, attended a clinic, etc., yet can't find an answer anywhere to what seems to be a unique problem ... HELP!

I bought an orphaned 3 day old Palomino filly in 2/05. I cared for her and loved her like a Momma, feeding her mares match around the clock until she was old enough to be introduced to solid food. From there I taught her ground manners, and worked our way up to breaking her myself. I've been riding her for the past 2 years, Western pleasure and on Trail Rides. My now,

four and a half year old filly is a smart, willing, good partner for me, particularly considering she's still young - - however she is extremely territorial on trail rides and very anti-social to all other horses. If any other horses come near us, along side of us or behind us on a trail ride, (reasonable distances), then my horse pins her ears back, acts extremely territorial, agitated, and anti-social to the other horses.

My horse has jolted as though in fear, and acts nervous when horses come up from behind, or even beside us. She's not relaxed in any normal horse traffic on rides, and has also kicked another horse once.

At first I thought she might be acting like this due to fear of the other horses on rides. I thought this as a possibility because she was the only foal on our ranch without a Mare the spring she was born and ultimately pastured with our brood mares and their foals. This placed her as the low man on the totem pole in the peck-in order, thus I've regretted since the possibility that this may have been a factor in her social skills and development with horses. Also keeping in mind she spent great amounts of time with me as a foal vs horses as well. Maybe her early years retarded her social skills with other horses, or maybe it's her fear of the other horses that might be playing itself out.

I'm not certain, as I'm not a horse psychologist. I've also thought of the possibility that she was being overly protective of ME, her "Momma-rider". To my amazement, my Farrier suggested the same concept in his thinking.

Now what???
How do I break her anti-social, mad, pinned back ears, overly territorial, protective attitude and negative behavior to other horses on rides? I would like to enjoy the rides, and not have to be concerned about a potentially dangerous situation?!

Any advice, suggestions or help would be greatly appreciated!
Seeking Happy Trails,

The first concept I'd like to introduce is that your horse's actions are a reflection of her mental and emotional status. Most horses that have a hard time interacting with others, whether a person is around them or not, has to do with their own insecurities. Although your horse may respect and accept you as the "leader" of her herd, she still has worries that have not been addressed. There are two parts to your question- the first is what is she insecure about?  The second is even if she is feeling insecure she needs to learn how to deal with her concerns in a "reasonable" manner.

The reasoning behind her worries are probably a combination of issues. She probably is a bit anti social because of how she was raised, but it's pretty hard to "take the horse out of the horse." You may have to try different horses with her to find an "accepting" or less threatening buddy horse that she can interact with.

Also, even if she's been a "quiet ride," there is still a lack of trust towards you when other horses are present. You would like that your horse asks "What can I do?" rather than having the "Why should I?" attitude when working with her.  If she's worried she should feel confident to ask you for help. Instead her nasty attitude and aggressive actions are a reflection of emotional and mental frustration and she is using them as an "outlet."
The first thought that comes to mind is that perhaps when life appears to you as "good" for your horse, it may still be lacking a "warm and fuzzy" or confidence building experience.

You mentioned that she normally rides out nicely. Not knowing how you work with your horse I'd ask if there is any possibility of a patternized or routine behavior you and/or she have together when going for a ride. If the location is a familiar spot you ride at do you always mount and dismount in the same place, do you always head down the same trails, if you are riding with another horse do you ever present "unexpected" questions to your horse?

People and horses easily fall into comfortable riding behaviors especially on a trail ride where most people are looking to "let down and relax." Our horses may appear to be well behaved and having fun until we change what they are used to, and then we "suddenly" find a problem in our partnership.

Even if your horse has never displayed extreme signs of stress, frustration and worry that she showed when you uncountered other horses on the trail ride, does not mean that she may not be carrying those feelings around with her all of the time.

The first thing I do translate from what you have described is that when she does reach his "melt down" point she is unable to emotionally, physically or mentally deal with a scenario- and she is not turning to you to ask for help. The second, is that perhaps there are times when you believe your horse is okay and perhaps she is not.

This in turn means that there needs to be a re-established level of clear communication between the two of you so that no matter however minor or major an issue may arise, when your horse has a problem, she should ask you how you would like her to deal with it rather than to make decisions on her own, such as what she showed on the trail.

The other horses passing you on the trail, whether it is geldings or mares in heat, are irrelevant. Whenever we work or ride our horses their brains ought to be with us at all times (which is an attention demanding task on both of our and the horse's level of participation.) You may have to take a step back and assess the quality of the relationship between you and your horse- starting on a "good day" with simple tasks. Below are a few things you might consider:

How sensitive and available is your horse to address and listen to your aids with you do as little as possible and him offering you as much as possible without any stress?

Can you interrupt your horse as he is doing something you asked and "suddenly" present something else? Is she willing to let go of what she thought you wanted to try the new task?

How is her confidence with a scenario that has never been presented to him before? Does she turn to you to help him or does he "take over" trying to figure out the task at hand?

Many people say "Move the horse's feet in order to influence the brain." I actually present the opposite theory, "Influence the horse's mind to get a physical and emotional change." It does not matter what physical task you ask of your horse whether you are doing circles, serpentines, figure eights, backing, transitions, etc. The point of the task is to ask for the mental availability, participation and then commitment with her physical movement.

Let's say you are presenting a circle. The horse should be able to tell the difference when you are asking her to first LOOK towards where you might want him to turn. (So many horses go through the motions of movement without ever thinking or looking about where they are going.) Then if you ask her to step towards a specific direction, the front leg closest to where you would like her to step should move first- and only ONE step at a time. (This is important because it means she has shifted her brain and then her physical balance to prepare to "follow" her thought towards the designated direction.)

Next there should be a softness and intention in her step and a bend in her body if she feels "good" and is committed to where she is moving. (If not it will feeling like you are sitting on a board and you will feel her "leaking" out the shoulder opposite from the direction you would like her to move.) If there is a "drag" in her step she is not thinking about moving forward. This is common in horses that are insecure because they become so worried about understanding or anticipating what the rider might ask of them wrong, that they offer two extremes- they would rather not try anything rather than make a wrong movement and get reprimanded for it at all OR they try everything they can come up with that might be the "correct" answer.

The quality of a physical pattern you present to your horse should be the foremost priority. You may only get three steps of a quality circle until there is clarity between you and your horse and availability in her brain to hear what you are asking of her. If at home or in a "safe" scenario there is any holes in your communication or her mental try, whenever you add stress, such as the above mentioned trail ride, you will only get even less of her to "hear" and address what you are asking of her.

Get the basics as quality as possible so that whatever scenario presents itself along the way you will be able to address it in small quality steps (mentally and physically) with a horse who has the confidence and trust to believe that what you are asking of her will make her feel better. Horses typically "take over" as a self preservation mechanism, not because they are trying to cause havoc and stress to their rider.

Good Luck,

1 comment:

  1. This is just the same as people do in relationships!


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