Dear Mr. Walker:
Well, thanks to your help we got through our gelding's injury, but now we are having a very severe problem with him... respect.
He does not listen or react to what I ask of him at all, just walks wherever HE wants to. He was respecting my Mom until today. She walked past him and his hay, and he reached over, laid back his ears and bit her... hard. To me, this sounds like a respect problem, but I could be wrong. This is really concerning to me, don't want a bully for a horse, and I'm not sure how to address this.
Any advice you could give would be greatly appreciated.
"Mr." Walker doesn't know enough about horses to be any help at all so I guess I'll take a crack at this.
This is a very difficult thing to address over the puter. In my experience, aggression (biting is aggression) has one or more of four causes.
1.) Fear. The horse is super afraid. He's like a bully in a school yard. He has no idea how to deal with and react to people so he immediately seeks to put you in your place BEFORE you do anything to him that may make him uncomfortable or harm him. It is a question of doing it to you before you do it to him. When fear bullies are confronted they usually immediately align themselves with the confronter. When bullying doesn't work, they turn into a cajoling buddy..."Hey Buddy, you and I are friends, right? We can handle any troublemakers who come our way, right?"
2.) Disrespect. Occupying your space, punishing you for not doing what they want when they want, paying more attention to some petty distraction than you and a number of other things that make you feel meaningless when you are around the horse. If you are doing something he doesn't like, he can, and often does, bite, or threaten to bite. You may gain some insight from my video Dealing With The Aggressive Horse
3.) Pain. Suppose for a moment that you have a twisted back or neck and every movement sends a spear through you...would you bite if someone crossed your path? Sure. In the case of pain (physical issues) you may gain some insight from my video Troubleshooting Physical Issues In Horses
4.) Mental illness whether caused by hormones or what have you. These horses are exceptionally dangerous because logic doesn't work with them. If a horse is mentally ill, it usually exhibits some additional symptoms as well such as irrationality, inconsistency or total unpredictability.
Regardless of the reason, I *WILL NOT* tolerate biting. I will retaliate immediately if there is the slightest threat to bite or any other sign of aggression, such as kicking.
At my 11/14-15/98 clinic I had a weird group of horses. I say weird in that there was a very high percentage of aggressive horses. One of them was quite bad. He tried to eat people up when they got close. His owner said that when she did anything with him she hurried to get his halter on because then he was fairly easy going ONCE HE WAS CAUGHT (confronted). Even haltered he would still nip if he had the chance. He had even grabbed the owner by the chest and flung her OVER the stall wall when she first got him.
The clue here is the halter. She did nothing with him until he was haltered. Once caught he buddied up for the most part. Fear was the main reason he was so nasty. It's hard to believe a 1500+ (oh he was huge!) could be so fearful, but he was. I told his owner the cure was to treat him in the opposite way she had been. Instead of letting him drive her out of HIS space she should allow him to stay in HERS. See the difference here?
She told me, in effect, it was much easier said than done. She essentially told if it was that easy, to just have at it. I picked up a wand (a small white dressage whip with a plastic button on the handle) and started into the stall. He immediately pinned his ears and whipped his head to bite. I curtly told him "NO!" and thumped him once on the bridge of his nose just below his eyes. He was stunned and it stopped him in his tracks. Then to my complete surprise he whipped around in the stall barely big enough to contain him then aiming his truck-sized butt at me and began trying to kick me into the corner.
I had left escape room in the stall door but wasn't able to get out as his mule kicking legs went by me on both sides. Each time he would lower his butt to spring it up to kick I'd rap him on the butt as hard as I could and tell him "NO!" Three times I whacked him and then he turned and faced me acting like whole thing was just a joke and that was that.
I reminded the owner that SHE paid for the stall, it was HERS and not his, she was merely allowing him to share it with her as a team that she directed.
She informed me later that she had gone in and picked his stall as he ate unhaltered and "I even let him get between me and the door which I wouldn't have even considered before."
In this case a fear bully was confronted to get past his aggression and get him started on his way toward discovering most of the things he was concerned about would never happen.
Another aggressive horse didn't respond to the herd dynamics / bonder procedure in exactly the way I expected. It took far longer to complete it than I expected. I performed a despooking scenario in the afternoon but while there was marked improvement, it took longer than I expected which is normally about 10 minutes. Surprised to hear his stall manners were still somewhat atrocious I went to help his owner deal with him. As I went in I saw a suspicious bulge on the side of his neck and when I examined him I saw he had 4 cervical vertebrae out. I was able to be in the stall with him but he wasn't very friendly at all. Judging from the discomfort he was in, I would expect him to be ill tempered. Follow-up after chiropractic care I'm certain will find him a whole new horse.
In the case of that horse pain was undoubtedly the culprit.
Now then, about your horse...
If I remember right, this is a horse that was really easy going then a few days after you got him, he changed to a pain in the rear. I felt then it was physical and your follow up messages said you had indeed found serious injuries. Now, he appears to be worse tempered but physically better.
Any time a horse makes an abrupt change I suspect a physical condition.
The first thing I would *suspect* is that he is not completely better. He still is in some degree of pain - and I say that based upon the fact he was obviously in pain a few weeks ago.
Could we have respect issues as well? Oh yes. If he has singled out one person to bully - definitely yes. But you report he is starting to annoy everyone so let's assume he has a major disrespect problem as well as pain issues.
If he is not *obviously* in pain I'd perform the bonder on him and then if he still exhibits the same aggression (and I really doubt he will) I'd be even more convinced there is a strong physical cause. Performing the bonder with him, even if he has undiagnosed pain, will make him more compliant and allow you more freedom to uncover any pain problems.
My gut feeling from here based upon some computer messages is that your problem has a 70% pain, 20% respect issues and 5% handling cause. Perform the bonder with him and then let us know how he is doing then.
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