What steps would you take with a horse who has no respect for people and often acts out dangerously? Have you ever been in a situation where you had to think fast?

There is a mare I know that often acts out, mostly I think because she has no consistency in her daily handling; different people with a vast array of experience with horses handle her every day, and unfortunately most are very inexperienced and let her get away with rude and dangerous behaviour.

What would you do?

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Hi Deb!

Thank you so much for your reply. I didn't see it until now, and I am very glad I did.

We got a new mare about two weeks ago who is really a blessing for us. She is a super handy ranch horse with plenty of confidence, yet still sweet and even goofy without being dangerous or clumsy. She knows when she's asked to do something it's time to work, and when it's play time she is free to muck about and be silly.

I've been using this mare (Blue) to work with the troubled mare in the round pen. My hopes were to sort of break her back down to a state where she has to accept that she has to submit - when I work her from the ground, she will eventually "submit" (I recognize signs of submission as licking/chewing, lowering the head to the ground, and sometimes trying to cut across the round pen rather than moving at the farthest edge possible looking for a way out), but she always seems to resist quite a bit. When working her from on Blue, she seems a lot more focused on what we're doing rather than trying to just make us go away/escape/etc. She does get grumpy after a while if I continue to make her move or if I move in on her space, and has thrown a few bucks - I think this is because she is out of shape and when she is getting tired and I ask her to continue moving she throws a little fit. 

The last time I worked her with Blue, she was rather obstinate/stubborn from the get-go, and we worked at it for 45min-1hr with no progress. When I decided we were probably going to start doing damage if I made her move any more or tested her further, she was seemingly of the same mindset as when we started. Leading her out of the round pen back to her paddock she was just as disrespectful as always, trying to rip the lead out of my husband's hand (my husband handles her how I handle her, by the way), and standing on top of him while he was opening the gate. We make her back off when she does this, and pull her head up when she is trying to pull away. It seems the only time we make any progress on her being polite is when using "potential force" ie running her lead under her chin, carrying a crop/whip, etc. She then acts more polite but will still test the handler. 

I apologize if this sounds like a rambling mess - it's sort of an update of the last two weeks. My plan so far for the immediate future is to switch my game plan and try possibly to be a little more "coddling" so to speak. Stern, but rather than dealing with her as if she's doing all of this on purpose, deal with her more like a scared child who is throwing a fit because they're scared, not because they're trying to make their parent mad. She is definitely the lowest of the entire farm's totem pole, of any herd she is put into, and she seems upset about it and sort of confused because she tries to assert dominance over other horses but she seems like she's not sure how to. She seems confused and anxious, and as such acts rudely when she knows she can use brute force or intimidating/rude body language to sort of "win" mini battles of dominance. 

Any thoughts?

A happy update for all!

We have recently (in the last two weeks or so) cut everyone's grazing back from 18hr to between 4-6 hours a day. The mare wears a grazing muzzle every day while she is out, and when they DO get hay, it is pretty low-grade, long, stemmy stuff. It seems the mare has lost a few lbs from this as well as from the round pen work I've been doing with her, and she seems a bit happier. 

When leading, we have been running the lead under her chin like a stud chain, thus not allowing her the opportunity at all to reach the grass, let alone pull someone's arm off in the process. I did see her go back to her rude ways yesterday with her owner who did NOT have the lead on in this way, but rather just attached to the lead ring (of a web halter). If I do not attach the lead this way, then I have her in a rope halter to sort of do the same thing. We have stopped allowing her to even attempt crowding behind us when opening the gate to put her back out, so she is learning to stand quietly (without trying to eat grass) while we open the gate. Again, this is only with my husband and myself thus far... with her owner she has not changed.

In the breakfast department, I have changed my ways a bit. I was making her wait outside, back up, etc before I would feed her. Now I allow her to stand in the stall, but with a crop, I direct her to stand parallel to the back wall and wait until she starts calming down before I will even begin to pour her food into the pan. I make sure she is not turning her head to look when I pour the food, and I also make sure she is still standing there calmly before I allow her to start eating once I've poured it. The whole time I praise her when she is calm, and stay quiet when she is acting anxious, other than redirecting her feet if she starts to step away from the wall. This has worked really well so far, and she has stopped crowding me completely. I will eventually try this in the round pen with another horse where they are not segregated but she has to be patient and calm in order to get her food.

There is still another person feeding her 3 days per week, and as far as I am aware, this person is scared of her, so she throws the food into the pan, rushes out, and locks the stall door behind her. I plan to show this person my method eventually so 1) she can see that the mare is actually changing and is capable of being calm, 2) she can gain some confidence, 3) they both can start to have a relationship built on respect and confidence rather than fear and intimidation, and 4) so this mare has more consistent handling. I would like to do this sooner than later, but because of the lack of knowledge I feel this person has, I may wait until the mare has this routine perfected so that the other person can see what it looks like when it is successfully completed.

Riding-wise, I haven't ridden her myself but for a quick bareback ride last week. I've been working her in the pen with the new mare and ponying her, all of which seems to be adding up to her being more confident and calm. I rode the new mare on a trail ride with Troubled Mare and her owner yesterday, and she did great there. When there was grass around, however, she was encouraged to stop and eat, and not surprisingly was rather grumpy and reluctant to pull her head up and stop eating when asked. This is something I would LIKE to disappear, but I feel the sentimental attitude that circulates around here may prevent that, if that makes sense.

A huge breakthrough I have noticed is that more often I am able to walk up to the mare in the dry lot and pet her without her pinning her ears, walking away, or turning her butt to me. That is not to say she doesn't still do these things, but I have been able to walk in and actually pet her forehead without her pulling away or pinning her ears, which she has not allowed me to do before. Baby steps! I was even able to walk up to her in the pasture today (her huge "runaway" zone, I would call it), and pick her head up by her grazing muzzle to pet her, and she didn't put her ears back or try to pull away. 

The mare has a long way to go in terms of consistency and respect, but I think changing my mentality from "she's being a jerk on purpose" to "she's insecure and needs a confident buddy" has really helped break through the crust. I am (for once) excited to continue working with her and see where things go.

Ashley, this is often difficult to correct even by an experienced hand. Pushiness comes out of a lack of consistent boundaries; kind of like naughty children. If a mother gives in and buys candy every time a child throws a fit in the grocery store, the parent has taught the child it is correct to throw a fit to get what they want. The same thing happens with horses. Horses respond to when pressure is released whether it be the person stepping back and away or giving. She has learned that if she acts in a pushy manner, the handler steps back or away, i.e. releasing pressure which is an inadvertent reward. If you suddenly start setting up boundaries, the mare may suddenly become more aggressive before she gets better b/c she has learned that pushiness works, so she needs to be more pushy to be effective. This can very often lead to rearing, biting, kicking and other extremely aggressive behaviors. 

What I would do? 

there is too much to write in one reply, but I will have a video about this up on my website very soon showing Buster McLaury working with a very dangerous and pushy Trakehner mare and it would be very helpful to see the changes and how they happened. If you are interested to see it send me a message and I will send you the link when I post it:)


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