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How To Control An Aggressive Horse

By Jeffrey Rolo

It is essential when working with an aggressive horse that you understand the only way to conquer a bully is to stand firm against those bully tactics, or respond with greater aggression. Countering aggression with aggression might sound very un-natural horsemanship at first glance, but natural horsemanship isn't about being a pacifist. It is about trying to establish as natural a relationship with your horse as possible, and the natural order of horses is for a leader to establish authority and the followers to stand in line, albeit while occasionally challenging the alpha from time to time to ensure the leader hasn't grown complacent.

Equally important to remember is that aggression does not always equate to physical force, and in fact if you need to rely on physicality too often you are probably leading your horse incorrectly. True authority is established by your strength of will, body language and the power of your voice. With a regular round pen and/or groundwork program implemented, chances are greatly reduced that you will need to worry about dealing with a physically aggressive horse.

I will provide non-groundwork techniques to deal with the more combative situations shortly, but before I do I want to underline my emphasis on groundwork and why it will ultimately be your single most effective (and least confrontational) tool when taming an aggressive horse.

The first reason is obvious: when you control the mind, you control the horse. Once a horse respects you, the frequency, duration and intensity of any challenges to your authority are greatly lessened.

How does one control the mind? The easiest way is to control a horse's mind is to control his feet. Using voice control and body language solely will serve you better for respect maintenance than it will for establishing that initial relationship, and reliance on physicality is a quick path to failure. Even if you successfully dominate your horse physically, which isn't easy without being grossly abusive, you will fail to build a trusting relationship. You will teach your horse to fear you rather than respect you.

Instead, focus on controlling his feet by driving him in the directions and at the speeds you desire. By dictating the horse's actions, you are gently implanting your authority within his mind.

Foot control is certainly possible on the lead line, but the safest and most effective method of groundwork/foot control is the round pen. (Lunge lines are an acceptable substitute if one isn't available, but I much prefer to allow the fence to dictate the work borders and allow myself to focus purely on movement and body language.)

Unless you are dealing with a crazy, ultra-aggressive charger, which is fairly rare among domesticated horses, the round pen allows you to easily keep a safe distance initially and propel the horse forward with little more than the aid of a lasso or whip. By dictating when a horse can move forward, when a horse must stop, when a horse must change directions, when a horse may approach you, etc., you can plant the seeds of a strong budding relationship within a matter of a couple hours (if not quicker).

I have yet to see any approach rival the speed and ease of the round pen when establishing an alpha leader relationship. It works for the most experienced of trainers, and it allows the most amateur of horse owners to establish their authority confidently and safely. So if you're dealing with an aggressive horse, I strongly encourage you to wield the round pen as your weapon of choice. Over time, you'll find no better method to take some of the vinegar out of the bitterest of horses.

But how do you get an aggressive horse to the round pen in the first place? Ahh… well, that can be a problem. Let's look at some of the ways you can retain control of an aggressive horse while leading him.

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