Wednesday, November 17, 2010

17th November, 2010 Bring on the Angry Horses

As usual there have been recurrent theme over the last week or so, in this case a month, with me meeting horses and ponies that are quick to anger. In the case of the semi-feral foals it has been because they have felt vulnerable and felt the need to defend themselves - one learned to bite (and meant it) and the other learned to kick (and meant it). In the case of the sports horse colt, he has been met with inconsistency and force, is living on his own and is full of testosterone. In the case of two full grown, well handled ponies, just ready to be started, it's because they have never been asked to accept direction before and it came as a shock when up until now, they have had things entirely their own way. There's always a cause - it may even be physical - but horses continue to get angry and to escalate their behaviour it because it has been so effective at getting people to go away or stop what they are doing; job done!

There are two ways of approaching an angry horse (quite literally), I either try to go under the radar, very quietly imposing rules, making sure that I never push too far and hope that they learn that there is no need to get angry. Otherwise, I work at my normal level, always trying to be fair, always being consistent and reasonable and deal with the behaviour that is thrown at me. If the behaviour still has a cause that can be eliminated then of course I would take that away but, if the cause is a reasonable request for the horse to move here or there, or accept some piece of equipment, then I will persist - otherwise the behaviour is still working. What is so important is to have reasonable rules and boundaries, only very slightly elasticated so that they are utterly consistent; to impose them each time, every time the horse asks the same question - is it alright to walk through you? - no; is it alright to bang you with my head? - no; is it alright to refuse to move? - no. If the horse offers me aggressive behaviour I will protect my space but never by hitting or indeed touching the horse at all; I use assertive body language and if necessary I will slap a rope across my midriff as strongly as needed to ask the horse to leave my space - for some horses a rattle bottle might be necessary. It takes a good amount of intent and sheer adamance that I am not going to accept that behaviour but I also need to prove that I am not up for a fight, it's just take that behaviour away from me, that behaviour is not acceptable, that behaviour won't work and that behaviour is going to become inconvenient. The instant the horse stops the behaviour, my response to it stops too and if it safe to do so, I go and make much of the horse with a lovely rub on the neck. It is so important to reward even the small stuff with a lovely rub and to make sure that any mental or physical pressure is released instantly so that the horse can see that there is something in it for him. There needs to be a very clear contrast between the yes and the no.