Most people have experienced a child throwing a temper tantrum at one time or another. Often we see these little tyrannical episodes when the child is out shopping with their parents. The child wants something that the parent refuses to supply and the child reacts with an emotional explosion. Children are not born with patience and understanding, those are learned virtues. When a child erupts into a fit over not getting his way, we as the bystander, often think to ourselves “well if that was my child I would fix that problem A.S.A.P”. We are often mind boggled by the fact that the child’s parents do little to regain their control and are mortified when we see them give in to what the child wants just to pacify him.
I feel the same way when I see a horse throwing a temper tantrum. A horse can become spoiled rotten by it’s owners very easily. The saddest part of the situation is the owner does it in the name of love with good intentions at heart.
By “spoiling” your horse you are only setting him up for bad behavior development. I talked earlier in the book about how humans try to make a horse think and feel like a human. We assume that they abide by the same rules of affection. We think we must be loving on them constantly and feeding them treats to prove to them how much we care.
I have even heard people making up excuses for their horses bad behavior like a mother would for her child, “Oh he is having a bad day, he isn’t normally like this”. Horses don’t have bad days. That is one of the great things about horses, how dependable they are regardless of outside influences. A horse may move a little slower in the heat, but if you make him go faster he will. I horse will just as easily trod through the snow in minus zero conditions, than run through a meadow in spring. They are very steadfast and dependable by nature.
When you see an outburst from a horse, it isn’t because he is having a bad day, it’s because he has become spoiled in some way, shape or form.
There is one exception to this rule, a horse that is suffering some sort of pain. I have made the mistake of saddling my horse and forgetting to make sure her mane wasn’t under the pad. She became very agitated during the ride. Twitching her tail, not paying attention, acting as if she was irritated and cranky. I stopped and checked everything out but found no reason for her discomfort. I kept feeling her twitch her muscles in her withers as if she was getting rid of flies, so I thought maybe a horsefly was biting at her. When I looked down I saw her mane was pulled tightly back under the saddle pad and with every step it yanked at it more. She was reacting to pain. As soon as I fixed the problem, she went right back to her normal dependable self.
If a horse who normally is well behaved starts to take a fit, check for physical discomfort first. Maybe the cinch is pinching him, there is a burr in the saddle pad, or a horsefly is biting him.
If a horse has a habit of throwing fits then there is a chance he has been spoiled and needs to be corrected and placed back into a state of submissive follower. A horse that is in a submissive state of mind will not throw a fit. He can’t, it is impossible. Only a horse who feels he is in control and boss will throw a fit or try to dominate a human being with bad behavior. A spoiled horse is a pushy horse. He will try to push his owner around, just like the bossy child. He try’s to make his owner do what he wants by throwing little fits.
Spoiling a horse is the leading cause of behavior issues. Signs a horse is spoiled…
In a pushy horses mind it is fine to crowd its owner, pull him around, drag him even if he wants too. He can be in the owners space, even knock him down if he doesn’t move out of the way. It is OK to bite his owner when the owner doesn’t follow his lead or takes to long in complying with his wishes. He expects a treat regardless of what he does, he wants one just for showing up. If you don’t give it to him, he will stick his nose in your pocket and take it. In his mind he is the boss.
The pushy horse will mature into the aggressive horse, it is only a matter of time. Soon he is biting, charging, and kicking anyone who stands in the way of what he wants. If he doesn’t want to be handled he throws a fit, he is completely out of control. Usually there is a submissive person running around telling him to be a good boy and mommy will get him some apples.
Human beings just can’t understand that a horse does not reap one good reward from over indulgence. It is all bad. It is the worst thing you can do to a horse. You must try to find balance.
Sometimes we do it ourselves, sometimes it was done before the horse becomes ours. It doesn’t matter who did it, it has to end right now. If you have been spoiling your horse, just stop it and learn a new way to reward him that will result in positive effects you will both enjoy.
Rule 1: Never let the horse come into your space unless he does so with a submissive attitude.
Rule 2: Never accept any attempt to dominate you in any way.
Even the slightest infraction of this rule needs to be corrected immediately.
Rule 3: Never use food as his sole reward for good behavior
Mix it up with body pats, and ada boys.
Rule 4: Never give the reward before he deserves it.
That constitutes bribery. Bribery doesn’t work for you, it works for the horse. A horse learns quickly that by not doing what you want him too he gets a treat. Think about that for a minute. If the horse doesn’t want to follow you on the lead rope and you give him a reward hoping he will move, he takes it as he refuses to do it and gets a reward. He will not get the reward and then say “wow she is so nice I should do what she wants.”
Rule5: Be aware of how you physically interact with him.
Body language is the only language a horse speaks. Be confident and show control in your physical demeanor. If you are shaky, nervous, or show submission he will hear what you are saying loud and clear. He will instantly seize the opportunity to be leader of the two man herd. He won’t feel bad about it in the slightest either. He is just doing what horses do.
I spend a lot of time with my horses every day. I am around them for the better part of any given day. I do so because I want to maintain my status as leader and I love them. I am constantly practicing these five rules and they have paid off for me personally and the are paying off for my horses too.
Human affection is natural for us as humans. Love for a human is shown through affectionate acts. We express our love between humans by giving gifts to one another. So it is only natural we want to do the same with the animals that we love. But truly it isn’t received the same way humans would accept our affection. It only confuses them and makes them feel as if they are in control. They don’t understand we do it because we love them, they take our “love” and understand it as “submission” and it can destroy your relationship with your horse, and the horses ability to be well mannered and obedient.
The Importance of Body Language
Imagine that you were to spend 24 hours a day, seven days a week for 5 years living in a herd. Imagine that you could not speak but had to totally rely on your body to convey what you wanted. You had to learn what others wanted from you in order to avoid being kicked or bitten. Imagine that for a minute. Think about how you would adapt and be able to interpret the slightest movement of the horses around you. This is exactly how your horse has been trained first, by horses in the herd.
I can see when a person is fearful or even nervous when handling their horse. Fear is written literally all over their face. It is in the way they stand nervously out and to the side. It is in the way they hold their arms in a defensive manner. If I can see it, trust me the horses can see it too. They have spent their entire life learning the skill of conversing in body language. When a horse is nervous in the presence of another horse it signals submission. A submissive horse or person cannot lead.
You MUST lead or you will have to follow. If you follow you will be pushed around, bitten, kicked, and treated far less respectful than if you were the leader.
This article is an excerpt from the book H.E.R.D Human Equine Relationship Development written by author Tamara Svencer