Posted by: shannonc | March 13, 2009

The Importance of Being Earnest

So returning to the issue of being a lawn dart…thinking about the experience, these possible reasons for the behavior came to mind.  Not in any particular order:

  1. horse is a young TB who has not been ridden for almost a year.
  2. horse is the antifan of my riding style/abilities.
  3. horse does not want a job.
  4. horse is in pain.

Investigating each…

4.  Horse has recently been seen by the vet, horse is sound on the longe, and saddle fits.  Considering his history of racing and stall rest, I don’t find the idea of his being out of alignment somewhere completely farfetched.  If behavior continues, it makes sense to consider #4 more carefully.  If horse becomes mine, or even possibly if horse does not, I would like to have an equine chiro see him. 

3.  Most TBs have an inherently good work ethic and like having a job.  This one does seem to rather enjoy vacation, but I also think he’s a curious sort.  I’m inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt here for the moment.  If he does turn out to be the exception to the TB work ethic rule, I don’t think it will take long to figure that out.

That leaves me with 1. and 2., or some interplay of 1. and 2., to explore.  We’ve all heard there are no bad horses, only bad riders – and we’ve also all heard there are a lot of horses out there, never try to force the wrong match.

Poking around on the Internet I found myself buried in a lot of Natural Horsemanship reading, which was good food for thought.  On Rick Gore’s site, a couple of things really resonated:

  • he says repeatedly, describing various situations, “the horse is not being bad.  The horse is being a horse.”  He doesn’t mean that everything a horse does should be allowed – he means that horses don’t just sit around and think about what they can do to be naughty.
  • he talks about how, “when you try to be too nice and correct too softly, you make the problem worse.”  You teach the horse to test you, you make the horse believe you are playing a game rather than making a clear statement about unwanted behavior, and you teach him not to take a correction seriously.

Oh, wait.  Click.  I have been here before, with that other OTTB, Blue.  While OTTB #2 is not nearly as aggressive, he still needs leadership.  So.  Off to boot camp.  It worked before, maybe it will work again.

Here is how it went:

Arrive at barn, fetch horse as usual.  When horse nips at pocket for additional treat, clock horse sharply on bridge of nose and tell horse “no.”  Move on immediately.

I had to do it twice.  He has not used his teeth on me again.  He is not headshy, he is not afraid.  He just understands now that it’s not an acceptable game to use his teeth.

I have struggled with his mouthiness since Day 1.  I feel like slapping myself upside the head when I see that I can fix it in one session by not half-fixing it in thirty.

Cross tie horse.  Look horse in the eye.  Give horse pep talk meant entirely for human:

“Horse.  You could  have a very nice life.  I haven’t had any complaints yet from the others.  But you need to behave.  Get it?”

Tack horse up, put horse out on longe line.  When horse breaks into leap mode, drive him forward immediately.  When he turns his body and offers to stop working without being asked, drive him forward immediately.

I had to do this maybe 4 times.  He has not done one naughty thing on the longe since.  I’ve tested.  I’ve added canter work and transitions, I’ve worked him a bit longer, I’ve tightened and lifted the side reins a notch.  Nothing.

Well.  It would appear that horse is going to do what horse does until shown what is and is not desired behavior.  (Now there is a brilliant insight!)  Suggesting that horse may again be not-fun under saddle for a ride or two, but also suggesting horse could very well get past that if rider sticks to confident leadership.  And, uh, sticks to horse.

We’ll see.



  1. :-)

  2. *Rechecking breastplate and adjusting new helmet*

  3. I think you are on to something with the horse checking the leadership role. Horses in the pasture will continue to test the boundaries with the herd boss, but once the herd boss is established then they don’t test as often (or as much). Johara and Buck are hilarious to watch at feeding time….No doubt who the herd boss is there!

    I think it is a great idea to continue to assert yourself as herdboss. Mix it up – don’t do the same routine. Add something in where you ask him to move out of your space – and if he doesn’t peck at him with your hand (teeth!) at the neck OR back towards him and kick out of him. It looks silly, but it is VERY effective in teaching the horse who is boss.

    Keep up the good work :)

  4. Video demo! Video demo! I want to see Sarah biting and kicking!

  5. That would require someone to video tape while I was doing……Hmmmm…..Maybe I can get Mike to do it for me……I can use my trusty stead Jojo and she can model her new haute halter at the same time!!!

  6. Just like kids; they’ll test you but they want rules and to know who’s the boss!

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