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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I think I have been misrepresenting the horse in question here. Let me clarify a little further. When she has a halter on and a job to do, she is grumpy but will do what she is asked to do. She has spooked into me on the ground when tacked up a few times, and this is the extent of the "tacked up" dangerous behavior. 

However! If she doesn't have a halter on (or something to otherwise grab her face with and direct the direction of her butt), she is outright rude and dangerous. She has never kicked at me that I can recall, though if she would have, I can't say she would have a leg attached to her body in that spot for much longer (exaggeration!...). She will turn her butt and pin her ears, and if food is involved at all she loses her mind and will completely run over whoever it is, unless there is a whip/crop involved. With a crop/whip, she is grumpy and impatient but will keep her distance for the most part. If she can get inside the person's "bubble" regardless of if they have a whip, she will lunge for the food. She HAS bitten people before, namely a small child (which I did not see) and recently on a trail ride, a little girl came up to her to pet her neck, and she tried to bite the little girl several times. Luckily the owner corrected her before she could actually bite the girl.

So it's really boiling down to: horse is a big brat when she knows she can get away with it (ie if you can't catch her or otherwise direct her, she will be rude/dangerous) and is mainly just grumpy if she can't get away with it (ie under saddle, on a lunge, with a halter on, etc). Will add more thoughts later, possibly.

Wonder if some round pen work by someone who knows what they are doing would work.

I've been doing some round pen work with her recently. She has actually been more respectful in the food department - I can actually get her to wait and even back up off of voice command before she dives into the bucket and licks the paint off of it so-to-speak. I like Monty Roberts' "Join Up" method, which I know not everyone is fond of, but it has worked for me. So far, she shows great results when I use this technique - she becomes docile and obedient, and rather than running from me/turning her butt and pinning her ears, she follows me at a respectful distance. However, usually after I leave the area to do something else and come back 10 minutes later or so, she is reverting back to her rude habits. I have to think that she is just a very unhappy horse. She is becoming more respectful with consistent work; she's just grumpy and seems generally unhappy.

We've also recently (this weekend) changed their diet so that they are out during the middle of the day (about 11am to around 7pm) so they are not amped up on the sugary morning/evening grass. I think this is also helping, and hopefully will help her to lose some weight as well.

If she is a very unhappy horse the great probability is that she is in PAIN.  One of the horses I ride has a stiff back, he does fine in lessons and shows where there are lots of distractions, but in the ring all alone hauling around an exhausted rider (me) he just does not loosen up very much, and each time I stop to rest myself he stiffens right back up and I have to spend several minutes to get him loose again.

Your effective training may have distracted the mare from her pain, and after you leave she loses the distractions and then she feels the pain again, thus returning to her "bad" behavior.  Is there anyway you can get her owner to get the mare checked out by a really good vet, one that will look below the surface symptoms?  If the pain is not fixed the mare will never be happy with life since it just hurts too much.  If the owner cannot or will not afford the veterinary expense try to convince her to try acupuncture.  Be sure to check for ulcers, back problems and if she is overweight you might want to look to her feet too. 

Until the pain is dealt with this mare will probably never be really safe to handle by a beginner.  Some horses just get really snappy and impatient when they hurt just like people do.  It takes EXPERIENCE with horses to handle these horses safely, the type of experience where you learn to understand the subtle signals given by a horse that is about to explode.  A beginner is in real danger handling a horse like this.

If she is overweight and on spring grass, and acting grumpy, there is a definite possibility she has low grade laminitis. Which can happen even at other times of the year if a horse is overfed and sensitive to grass sugars (although it doesn't usually occur with hay and a normal weight horse). Because I am newish to caring for my own horse, and because it turns out he is an easy keeper and sensitive to too much grass sugars, he occassionally gets "footy". Now that I watch his weight, and very carefully gage how much turnout he's getting on grass, and when to turn him out, he is a happier horse and more respectful, (along with groundwork of course). Just getting more exercise like working in the round pen regularly and riding regularly, reduces the sugar overload, yes, but it may also be reducing the effect of the sugars on her feet. It's a tricky process to give them enough turnout to keep them fed and happy, and enough exercise to keep the weight down, when they are testy to work with from having tender feet. Carefully read the website  safergrass.org, they have a lot of info about how to recognize low grade laminitis and when the grass is not safe (for some horses in any amount), or is more safe in measured amounts. My guy is currently a good weight and still getting a few hours grazing on a lush pasture. Otherwise he's in a dry lot so he can still cruise around,with hay in  a hay net to nibble on the rest of the time. At this time of year he could gain on four hours grazing out of 24 with theoretically no extra hay, so any more than that, he would be heading for laminitis. When it's low grade, the signs are subtle but grumpiness is one of them. I also noticed he is more greedy and more hungry when he is suffering from  grass sugar overload, just as we can eat too many sweets and not satisfy our appetite. Which might explain her bad  behavior during feeding. If you do have to cut back grazing time, it's best to have them graze in the very early morning. Later in the day or in the early evening the sugars are higher and cause more trouble. That could also explain why riding in the evening has helped, or not. Just one more thing to consider.

For Jackie: She gets regular vet care by one of the top vets in the state, and this includes acupuncture and acupressure, as well as chiropractic care from time to time. She's a pampered pony for sure! She always checks out; she's just a plump little gal that could stand to lose about 100 pounds and build back up about half of that in muscle, at least.

Marlene: She (surprisingly) has pretty great feet. No thrush, no laminitis (don't believe she has ever had any). We changed their feeding schedule this last week so that everyone is out from 11am-7pm or so, GREATLY reducing the amount of pure sugar she's stuffing in her face. She was wearing a grazing muzzle, but since we changed the turnout schedule, we've taken it off of her (in lieu of using it on a horse that seems to have Cushing's [he's going to the vet next week for tests]). 

Honestly all of her health checks out. I really believe she is just 1) fat and sassy, and 2) spoiled. She is allowed to get away with things, and her two herd mates are elderly mares that generally don't correct her with much more than the flick of a tail or pinned ears. She parades around with her ears pinned unless there is food involved, and then she seems interested. Since I have been working with her, she has been becoming more respectful. When I feed her, I make her wait and even back up a few steps and wait before I will put her food down. I know the other gal that feeds her just sort of shoves the food in front of her and runs off, leaving her to stuff her face. Getting her in better shape, though it is taking a while, seems to be helping to calm her down a bit. 

Good work Ashley!

I've never known a horse which goes around with pinned ears all the time not be in some sort of pain.  Just because the veterinarians have not found the source of pain does not mean that the pain does not exist.  Please do not misunderstand me, I am not claiming that you all are meanies, and I admire you for proving that a "bad" horse can be made civilized through patience, firmness and work.

One great thing about regular gymnastic sessions (training) for a horse is that it serves as physical therapy too.  Weak muscles get strengthened enough so the horse's body works properly instead of sprawling all over the place 24/7.  Also, horses express themselves a lot through movement and if they think they are "heard" via their movements the biting behavior can go away.

It's sounds like you are probably on the right track. My guy tried a lot of rude stuff on me when I first got him. Some of it was clearly related to pain issues, like he was seriously distressed when he saw me approach with a saddle, and during saddling. But we just worked through all that and once he found out I would listen to him regarding saddle comfort and go slow on saddling, and paid attention when he seemed bugged about whatever. He shivered when I just touched him, and actually flinched when I said Good  Boy, which I really thought was weird. At the same time I didn't let him get away with just being grumpy or trying tricks on me, so we had a few "issues" to work out. He is much better now, but I'm pretty sure he would try rude and naughty stuff on any newby if he thought he could get away with it.

I know how you feel, Ashley. My horse is pretty much exactly the same. He is sometimes a pleasure to handle, he won't try to bite or run over you to get food. But other days he is just a night mare. And it's definately not pain, either.

Question for everyone: My horse (Cooper) is normally paddocked in a very large paddock with another little pony whom he is the boss over. We recently put up a dressage arena in that paddock and fenced it off with white tape, but Cooper keeps breaking it and getting in. So we put him in another paddock, but we left the pony where he was. Because it's a large paddock, the little pony can walk until he is out of view. Cooper will walk and trot endlessly up and down the fenceline for about half an hour, then he may stop. Cooper is paddocked alone, but has two other horses in the paddock next to him. Why does he do this? And you can't suggest turning Cooper out with the other two horses because one is a mare that he just comepletely disrespects and the other is a 30 year old gelding who he just continuously chases and tries to kick at.

Hi Lauren :)

To me, there seem to be a few things happening here. 1) Horses are herd animals. Being alone is not the way a horse tends to prefer things, simply by nature. Add in that he knows there is another horse and that he can't get to the horse, and this could become quite stressful. 2) Cooper seems like he may lack confidence in himself, much like this mare I am working with. Sort of like a bully who feels crummy about themselves, and takes it out on everyone else to seem "tough." If Cooper can't trust himself to even be alone/out of eyesight of the other horse, it seems to me he definitely can't trust a person to take care of him. Keep in mind this is not a reflection of yourself.

I would wager to remedy this, he needs some confidence building. I'll tell you a story I heard yesterday in fact: A man I know was learning to train, and was instructed to hop aboard a notorious bucker. Thinking the main trainer was a bit of a nut, this man did as he was told and started to put the horse through his paces. Eventually the horse pitched a little fit, throwing out a good buck. The junior trainer said, "what should I do?" and the senior trainer responded "pet him!" Clearly a little shocked, the junior trainer asked again, "what should I do?" and the senior trainer responded again, "pet him!" So, the junior trainer pet the horse. Each time the horse had a bit of an outburst, the junior trainer offered either a bit of consolation (a pet, a scratch) or ignored the behavior and kept on. Eventually, by the end of the session, the horse had gotten over his bucking. The moral of the story being that sometimes a horse may be acting out, even acting dangerous, but in reality all they are looking for is a little reassurance that hey, life's alright, and nobody is trying to kill them. It's important to note that the message conveyed here is not "reward bad behavior" or that we should coddle our horses every time they seem unsure. This leads to pushy horses who have no boundaries and will run you over the first time they spook at something. We want to continue to implement boundaries, particularly involving our personal space, and at the same time let the horse know from time to time that we're not there to kill them. Like getting an occasional hug when you're feeling stressed, or a "good luck" before an exam, a simple rub on the forehead can bring a horse from bucking maniac to confident companion. :) This story came to me at a really great time yesterday, and I'm glad I'm able to pass it on.

We have since sold this horse, but what you are saying makes sense. But this horse doesn't come across as a shy and underconfident horse. You go out to the paddock and stand at the gate, he'll come up, and you start patting him. Then when he decides he's had enough of you, instead of just walking off, he pins back his ears and tries to bite/strike out with his hoof. His new owner is big on Natural Horsemanship, and when she came to have a look at him he was constanly testing her. He's like a little kid that just can't resist the temptation to try and be the boss. However, in his new paddock (he was sold to a local and we have driven past a few times) he seems as calm as anything. The closest horses to him are over the road, and one day those horse were at the back of their padocks and heres Cooper, sitting down calmly. So I think he just needed someone who knew how to work with him , had the time to do so and was strong enough to handle him if he had a tantrum.


The problem you have and will continue to have is been touched on lots here.  You have a case of too many cooks spoiling the broth, and inexperienced cooks at that.  This horse clearly needs one or two people with the same agenda here, the same ways, wants and plans on how to carry out the plan on making this mare manageable.  There is no one way to do this, but fairness, consistency and being safe yourself must be attained or this problem will never go away.

I have worked with rough, dangerous, and totally unmanageable horses all my life.  It is what my husband and I are known for, you can often get 'bargain basement horses' that have a lot of talent, but not a whole lot of manners, or sense... and are usually from homes that have either been totally abusive, or neglectful, or at best inexperienced either at all, or with tough horses.  The only real key to these horses is consistency, patience, and to expect the horse to do what you want, which sounds simple, but is a way of thinking and being.  Most of my really tough horses know that I expect them to do it right, no matter what it is.  I go into it thinking that they will do it right, believe that they will... and they usually do act the way that I have envisioned.   When they don't, then I am prepared for it, and have a long list of what do thens... lol . 

A good example of horses needing one or two people working with them is my stud horse Che.  Any more than two is too many for him.  He also does not like people period, but has over the years learned to love us... He came that way, his family are all like this on both sides(all different handlers and homes), and he had six weeks as a yearling with grooms getting him ready for a sale, they roughed him up daily, bad handling on a colt that was separated from his mother and the other mares too soon, and then later from the other yearlings way to soon, and then a short amount of bad handling on a colt that comes from a hot temperamental sire and dam... plus he is a really big horse that knows it... all makes him the toughest horse I have ever encountered... we got him as a yearling--  he is horse that would be banned from most centers under anyone else's care... with Che we deal the same way everyday, the same program, the same plan, the same, equal fair handling that he expects from us... we expect him to behave, to not kill us, and to go about his work... but he is still allowed to be himself... we set high standards for his good behaviour, but don't crowd him, and don't try to make him something he is not... for this mare you will have to find a middle ground, let her be herself, but also do as you wish.  With my big fella at times we give him heck, and at others we chide him... telling a 1300 lbs stud 'Don't be mean, that's not nice' in an exasperated voice does more than raising your voice and screaming at him... I also carry a whip when I have do anything around him that I think will get me hurt... he knows I will hit him... so I don't have to-- no I don't beat my horses... far, far from it... but with Che he has to know that I will if I have too... it was my old gelding who taught me this... mostly Tattoo scolds Che lightly, but also hardly ever lets him away with anything less than perfect behaviour, is always fair, but very tough, and will give him a shot with teeth, or a kick with his hocks if Che doesn't mind him... Tattoo is about 900 lbs or a little more, and almost 4 inches shorter than Che... but has Che's total respect.  And Che loves Tattoo as much as any living thing.  And yet all hoses are not the same... Tattoo was horribly beaten for his lifetime before me, and has a lot of fear issues, he also has a bad temper, and when scared gets rough.  He is the opposite of most other horses I have had, when afraid you have to yell at him to get his attention... if you continue to talk nicely than it like water off a duck's back... yell at him-- get his attention and then talk nice... anything else means he will do whatever it takes to get away and back to the barn.  So they are all different.

So if a whip makes you safe, than go ahead, if you use it too keep the horse at a distance when you need it, or chain over the nose if needed, and use no more force than ever you have to--  or any other fair means for safety than go ahead, as long as you practice consistency, calmness and fairness with a big dose of kindness.  I once knew an 98 year old woman that controlled her Arabs with a whip... she never did more than direct them... it was an extension of her arm, her voice... it was used to let the horses know what she wanted, not a beat them up stick, it also gave her a measure of protection against rough intact colts that could knock her down... they knew she would hit them, so she didn't have to... they also knew that they would always receive kindness, food shelter, and fair handling from her.  Carrying her dressage whip was her way of having her beloved horses, but being safe too.

This mare sounds rough, but not a horrible case.  Good luck.


Tiocfaidh Ar La Stable

home of Che,  Tattoo, Steel, and Reilly





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