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Dealing With Super
Human-Aggressive Horses

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Dear Marv,

I'm in college and I start colts and I just wanted to say that when I put the horses I'm starting through 'the bonder' as you call it, there was a dramatic improvement in their training and their attitude -- no bucking/bolting/rearing on their first ride -- they just didn't care. I'd heard a lot about this sort of stuff but I guess seeing is beleiving. I'd no idea I'd get results like that. All the natural horsemanship stuff greatly interests me but, as you'll probably be able to tell by the end of this, I still have so much to learn about it.

I'm writing because I recently purchased an 18 mo old stud colt (which will be gelded within the month) who turned out to be extremely aggressive. He's also huge weighing about ten times more than I do and he's a good 15hh. He was previously kept in huge pasture all by himself and the lady who owned him was afraid of his studdishness and let him get away with anything -- as a result he neither respected horses nor people when I first got him. He is now kept with another young gelding his age and he seems to have developed more respect for other horses but the people problem is still there. Now I'm by no means new to handling stallions but this horse has me at my wits ends. He had been jumping and rearing up at me before so I took to carrying a stick with me to visibly enforce my space. He tolerates the stick for awhile and then he turns on you and the only thing that stops him is a really big whack.

I brought him the the rp (I start all horses in the rp with groundwork) and had with me a longe whip in one hand and a stick in the other. I waited 'till he was at the far end of the rp and went in. Immediately he began walking straight for me with his head low. Increasing the pressure (eye contact/waving the whip) didn't phase him at all. I began swinging the longe whip in an arc around me wo that were he to enter my space, he'd get hit. Well, he didn't care about the whip, he wanted a peice of me. Now he's four feet away. I poked the stick into his shoulder hard (he's now on his hind legs) and when that didn't phase him I whacked him on his shoulder as hard as I could. Now, he's almost on top of me and I'm fumbling with the gate latch while trying to ward his open mouth off me by grabbing his halter and pushing. He's still on his hind legs and he swung around 180 degrees. I obviously fell onto my back and I remember thinking for a split second that he was going to trample me with his front feet and draw my knees up before he was on top of me. He came down on me on his knees with one knee on either side of me, his forehead pressed into the sand near my head and his gaping chin pressed into his neck. He wanted a peice of me. One big kick in the belly and he jumped off and I quickly made my exit over the fence.

I retreived my sticks and my colt tried to come at me through the rp. I tell you, I whacked over the nose as hard as I possibly could. It stopped him. I then started working with him from outside the rp, getting him to move away from me. That graduated to me working him from the top rail. As soon as he'd enter my space, I'd jump down and "attack" him. He learned real quick. Eventually, I was able to stand in the center of the rp and move him around me.

Watching horses as I work with them for hours and hours each week, I've gotten so that I can read their body language to the extent that I usually know what they're going to do before they do it -- see them thinking about it. Of course, I'm by no means an expert but I know when this horse wants to turn on me. He nearly did countless times as I worked with him in the rp that day and only the threat of the whip kept him off.

The lady I work for is an experienced stallion handler -- there are six stallions on the ranch and handles many of the stallions in the area and she said she's only seen one case of a stallion being this aggressive. She also doesn't want me either working with this horse alone or loose. He's just too dangerous.

I began with leading exercises trying to keep him out of my space. He doesn't care about twirling lead ropes but the stick seems to help him. However, if he wants to move into me, he will and the stick only annoys him. I understand the concept of pressure and release so don't think it's all pressure and no release. I release him and reward him when he does things right or shows the inclination to cooperate. The other day though, I was working in the paddock and he chased me through the fence at least three times. He'll be stellar, doing everything right but when he's had enough, he's had enough. The stellar moments last about 30 seconds to a minute.

He will be gelded soon and I'm aware that that will most likely 'cure' some of these problems. However, I want to learn from this horse, to be able to safely handle a horse like this. I'm pretty sure most of his behavior stems from not respecting people and gelding won't necessarily change his attitude toward humans.

I've tried whips and sticks to keep him off of me (and hit him should he try to attack). I just don't know. I kinda think next time he thinks about attacking or starting to attack he needs to be laid out. The other day I had him tied up (he was annoyed that he should have stand tied) and when I asked him for his foot, he gave it to me and immediately tried to set it down. I've shoed horses before and I wasn't about to let him get away with that. He started biting his leg hard and then stretched his long neck way around to bite me. He nearly got me. I dropped his leg and began hitting him as hard as I could on the butt. Maybe I should take self defense classes to learn how to pack a punch because the next time I went near his head, he tried to take a chunk out of me again.

What I want to do more than anything is tie his legs up, one leg at a time and let him fight the ropes. He's an extremely intelligent horse and right now, he knows that he's stronger than humans. Heck, he has me trained to a certain extent. So, I really don't know what to do and thought I might draw on your greater experience and knowledge of horses, especially aggressive horses, for some ideas of what to do with him.

Thank you so much for reading this and any response at all would be tremendously appreciated,

Jessica

Jessica, Jessica, Jessica, Jessica, Jessica, Jessica, Jessica, Jessica!

I said that to give myself a few moments to think and collect my thoughts before I begin. It didn't work, so I'll let myself go into automatic lip mode and see what comes out.

In all my horse experience I have only come across three horses like the one describe. Oh I have come across a number of aggressive horses but few like the one you describe.

The first one was a very large Oldenburger at one of the very first clinics I ever did. His name was "Killer." He would lay his ears flat back and start whipping his head as soon as he saw you coming toward his stall. He had grabbed his owner and flung her over the stall wall shortly after she had purchased him. As soon as he was haltered he was better(?) so she would have the halter ready whenever she went in with him and when he would snake at her she would slip the halter over his head. He'd calm down to a manageable level and she'd tie him while she was in the stall doing whatever.

The usual key to dealing with these animals is to defeat their aggression. When the aggression does not work, they usually cave like a bested bully in a school yard. I told her how to deal with his behavior and she pointed to the stall and said, "Have at it!"

I grabbed a short stiff whip with a large plastic button on the end of it and blissfully went in the 10 x 10 matchbox stall with a 1400 horse. He saw me step through the door and lunged at me. I immediately rapped him between the eyes with the knob and he stopped short and looked at me for a second or two. Just as I was about to say, "See? That's how it's done," he switched ends in that stall before I could blink and was mule kicking at me. Luckily those big feet were going by me on either side.

There was no getting away. Each time he would drop to get momentum for another kick I would scream, "NO!!!" and slash him for all I was worth. This happened three or four times and then he switched ends on me again and stood in front of me with a "Hey? What got up your skirt?" attitude. He turned out to be a pussy cat.

The second one was the horse featured in my video Dealing With The Determined Challenger. While he did not carry through to the degree yours did, he certainly left no doubt in my mind that he was willing to. Usually, when aggression in a horse is defeated once or twice, they **USUALLY** abandon it. In his case he kept going right back to the same tactic, as yours does, but eventually he gave it up. But it was touch and go for a few minutes.

The third time I encountered a super aggressive horse was a 2,200 draft gelding at a clinic. Like your horse he just lowered his head and advanced on me and no threats, no physical responses on my part made any difference to him. He just kept coming and I had no escape. I very clearly got his message, "I'm going to take care of you." The only thing that saved me was keeping my cool and presenting a VERY STRONG mental message to him, "You win!" The second I formed the thought he stopped his advance roughly 18 inches from me.

The amazing thing is neither the second or third horse's owner was aware of either horse's tendencies. Neither of them had ever insisted their horses do something they didn't want to do.

The second owner realized there was a problem and said, "Do what you have to do." I was able to get past him. He is now a very nice 2nd level dressage horse at stud in California.

The third owner never saw the problem because she had no trouble with him since they didn't require him to do anything he didn't want to do. I told her my opinion and added that I wasn't going to do anything because she saw no problem and I didn't want her telling everyone I "beat up her horse for no reason." I told her when she discovers the problem for herself to call me and I'd like a second chance at him. So far I have not been called and may not be because they never insisted he do anything. When they led him from place to place they'd go with him as long as he was going in the direction they wanted but when he veered they circled him back to the direction they wanted. They circle led him everywhere.

Now then, coming to your horse again...

You have defeated his aggression on more than one occasion and yet he keeps aggressing. He yo-yos between stellar and savage and he does it rapidly.

He is clearly far outside the norm for horses in general. As far as being normal for horses with his nature goes, I don't know what to tell you. Few horses are that bad and of those who are that bad, even fewer have been reformed. There is not enough anecdotal experiences available to be able to form a reliable expectation.

Unless a horse like this has some great attribute that makes it worth the hassle of dealing with an attitude like this, I would question the logic of keeping it or investing a lot of time and money on it. If you are able to overcome it, how long will it be before you can reasonably say the problem is overcome?

I personally would not deal with a horse like this. However, I find myself doing it when the owner makes it very clear that they are going to go forward regardless. At that point I try to lessen the risk as much as I can.

I know that wherever the feel gooder horse training purists gather around the smudge pot and chat is going to buzz at this but here's what I have said on occasion about dealing with horses who are determined to eat your lunch no matter what...

I'd go to the nearest cop shop and buy the strongest stun gun made. I'd want the one that when you activate it in Texas the lights on Broadway go dim. I'd figure out how to re-wire the switch so that I could put it at one end of a stick and the stun gun at the other.

The FIRST time the horse came through my physical responses at me I'd let him have the stun gun and hopefully drop him right there. I'd wait until he regain his feet and then I'd very calmly and matter of factly tell him what I wanted him to do. If he made another move on me, I'd drop him again. I'd wait until he regained his feet and then I'd very calmly and matter of factly tell him what I wanted him to do. If he made another move on me, I'd drop him again. I'd wait until he regain his feet and then I'd very calmly and matter of factly tell him what I wanted him to do. If he made another move on me, I'd drop him again.

I think you get the idea.

Man, that sounds so incredibly mean and vicious but here it is in a nutshell...

An attack simply cannot be tolerated and one must use ANY means to stop the attack. If anything happens to you that horse and any other horse you may happen to own is on its way down the road or on its way to the killers. So, it is in the horse's best interest to bring it into compliance. And we haven't even begun to discuss the impact a serious attack would have on your family.

There are things all through your email that tell me you are one sharp cookie. You have already done most of the things I would do and what I would tell others to do while throwing in a good handful of warnings which to you would be redundant.

If he were mine, I'd cut my losses and move on.

Now then, as far as the leg tying thing goes... what's he going to do? Attack you? Normally when people reach their wit's end they just do something out of frustration simply for the sake of doing something. You seem to have given it a lot of thought and in all honesty, if I were there with you I'd probably say, "You rope the front, I'll get the back."

I can't see that laying him down for an hour is going to make the situation any worse. It is obviously a last resort situation.

My best to you,

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