Horse Problems & Solutions
Do you have a horse with one, or more, of these vices – biting, kicking, invading your space and pushing you over, crowding the gate, not leading calmly?
These can be very dangerous problems to have with your horse and they need to be sorted out pronto.
Our blog Horse Problems & Solutions will help you identify what is going wrong and give you the tools to fix your horse issues.
While some of these may seem like big problems don’t worry they can be fixed and often times quite quickly. Fortunately they all stem from some behaviour of your own which you can correct and in turn help your horse become a better equine citizen.
What!!! My behaviour?? I know I can hear you saying it.
“I didn’t teach my horse to bite me!”
“I don’t want him to kick me!”
“Only an idiot would want their horse to run over the top of them!”.
Woah take a breath. I know you didn’t intentionally teach your horse to bite, kick or run you over; but never the less you have inadvertently created the very behaviour you do not want.
Horses do not start out wanting to hurt humans. In fact your biting horse may still not want to hurt you, but let me tell you from experience if his teeth connect it’s going to hurt all the same!
OK enough chatter let’s get into this blog and show you how to fix your horse problems.
All of these behaviours stem from one basic issue your horse does not understand what is acceptable behaviour with you.
And by your lack of action when the problems were small, you have given your horse permission to increase the intensity, and probably frequency, of the bad behaviour.
Horses are continuously testing the boundaries of their relationships with their herd members, of which you are one. Not only that but every time your horse is with you he is learning what behaviours are acceptable.
Biting – How it starts
It all seems innocent enough. You approach your horse and he lays his ears back. He doesn’t nip at you or move towards you to bite and so you ignore the behaviour.
It started right there!
In your head you may have thought “Oh that’s nothing to worry about he didn’t actually go to bite me so that’s OK”. In your horses head he said “Hmmm so laying my ears back and showing I am not happy with being groomed is OK, wonder what happens if I nip at her?”
Your opportunity to prevent the problem from getting any bigger was right when your horses ears went back. That slight brace needed to be corrected.
Now assuming your horse doesn’t have a physical reason to be sore, and you must always rule this out before reprimanding your horse, you needed to make putting the ears back uncomfortable for your horse.
You are not punishing your horse and you certainly must not inflict pain on him.
You do need to show him that he behaviour will not be tolerated and you do this by moving his feet. So it might be a quick bop on the lead rope and send him back three steps.
Never any anger or aggression on your part. As I said this is not punishment it is simply telling your horse, in horse language, NO!
You do not have to say the word, although you can if you want too.
The language of horses is to move each other’s feet. So by causing your horses feet to move, you have told him you are the leader, and his behaviour was not acceptable to you.
You then return the horse to the same position and continue with what you were doing.
You need to trust your horse has learnt the lesson, and allow him to do the right thing, or to make the mistake again. If he does choose to push the envelope and have another go, bop harder on the lead rope and send him back further and quicker than the last time.
If you have caught the small brace, just the ears back, then usually one or two times of this and they will give it up completely. BUT if you do nothing at this stage the small braces get bigger. Next time you horse will nip towards you and if you miss that, the time after that he will sink his teeth into your arm.
It’s about this point that many people say “well I never saw that coming, he’s never bitten me before”. There is always a first time for everything, and if you hadn’t missed acknowledging and dealing with the small braces it would never had got to the point were you were or could have been injured.
You have probably watched horses play in the paddock together. More often than not there is a bit of squealing and some mock kicks in the other horses general direction but very rarely do they actually connect.
If your horse has got to the point of actually kicking to connect with your body then things have gone way to far.
I have always been taught that it is very disrespectful for a horse to face his rump towards me. Once again this is the start, it is a small brace, a small sign that my horse is starting to think he is a little higher in the pecking order than I am.
My horses know not to put their rumps towards me. Any rump facing me, no matter whether it is showing a pair of heels kicking towards me, is unacceptable. If your horses rump is never pointed towards you, you can never get kicked. It is as simple as that.
So early on if your horse moves his rump towards you unasked, tap his rump with conviction or flick with your stick and string.
A word of caution, make sure you are well out of the kick zone the first time you do this. You can expect your horse to retaliate initially, as you have always allowed his behaviour and now all of a sudden he is being told that it is not acceptable.
Do not allow your horse to turn his rump to you ever. Be consistent and persistent if you have to be. You will find that your horse very quickly learns not to put you in danger and to move his rump out of your vicinity.
Crowding the gate
This is an easy way to start showing your horse how to respect your space and goes a long way to stopping the pushy horse running over the top of you when you are leading or simply standing with your horse.
You want your horse to acknowledge your presence when you enter his space. When I approach my horses yards they both turn to face me before I actually open the gate.
They may be at the other end of the yard, I don’t expect them to run whinnying up to the gate to greet me, but I do expect them to show me the courtesy of acknowledging my presence.
If Jon is too close to the gate he will immediately step away and provide enough space for me to enter safely. Horses that crowd gates have simply been allowed to do it and have never been shown that there is another way to be.
To teach this you take a carrot stick with you, as you approach the gate, look over your horses head to a space you want him to back up too, in my case three or four steps back is enough. Give your horse three seconds to respond and if they don’t flick the end of your string up under the horses chest causing him to move away from the gate.
Stop and give your horse time to process what has happened. You need to give your horse a chance to learn and understand, especially if you have been allowing this behaviour for a long time. Of course your horse is going to be surprised that the rules have suddenly changed!
This flows on from the gate crowding and into leading without being walked over or pushed on. We all have our own personal space. I think of it as a bubble around my physical person. I don’t want my horses coming into that space unless I invite them in.
Once they have been taught what is an acceptable distance from me I expect my horses to stay out of that area.
This makes things safer for me should my horse get a fright and unexpectedly jump forward or sideways into me. If they have enough space then I don’t get hurt and they also have time to move their feet and come to terms with what ever had startled them.
My personal space grows or diminishes depending on the circumstances. I have previously told the story about my boys who get quite worked up at feed time. They instigate a bit of play fighting between them which results in hooning up and down the fence, trying to bite each other, some rearing and general high enthusiasm between the two of them.
I have to enter both yards and get the feed buckets so at these times I grow my bubble to take up half the yard. The horses are well aware of my bubble as we have been training it for some years now. They can feel my intention and the size I have set my bubble and they do not encroach on that space so I am kept safe.
All horses should be able to lead well behind you and this also comes to training personal space and keeping you safe. Some English disciplines and certainly the race horse industry lead their horses “by the beard” meaning holding the lead rope very short and often having your hand up on the clip just under their chin.
Your horse is too close to you if you are leading your horse this way. They are already in your personal space and have nowhere to go if they get a fright.
Many horses who have been lead like this feel insecure when you ask them to be in their own space and walk on a long lead.
Start by walking in front of your horse, keep a consistent brisk walk, don’t dawdle along, walk with purpose as if you are going somewhere. Keep at least 6 foot of rope between you and your horse. If they start walking faster and closing the gap between you immediately stop and back up causing your horse to back up back to the 6 foot distance. Then start moving off again.
If your horse won’t respond by moving back because you have then swing your stick and string behind you to create the required distance between you and your horse.
Be consistent. As soon as your horse is one step inside the 6 foot span do something about it.
You might abruptly change direction and expect your horse to keep up. You might decide to go backwards for 10 steps. Your horse needs to understand that no matter where you go they need to stay 6 foot away from you.
This still applies when you stop walking. Your horse doesn’t need to stand right next to you, in fact they shouldn’t. They should keep the required distance and maintain their attention on you so they are ready to move when you move off.
You will find after a few times of leading like this and being consistent that your horse will keep the distance between you and you will not need to worry about being walked on or dragged around.
Consistency is key with horses
If you treat your horses this way and correct the small braces every time you are with them you will have a safer, calmer and more confident horse.
A horse that knows what to expect from you and what is expected of him, and a horse that is left in peace when he is complying with those rules.
Horses after all just want what we all want, to have a happy, easy life where they know what is expected of them and have the skills to comply.
We have a duty as horse owners to teach our horses what is acceptable behaviour and to prepare them for the lives we expect them to lead.
Let us know in the comments below if you are having problems with your horses behaviour or if you have questions about how to fix them.