Controlling A Bullying Horse While LeadingBy Jeffrey Rolo
Horses can sometimes get a little pushy or even a bit lazy while you're leading them, so it's not uncommon that they may invade your personal space a bit or attempt to plant their feet so as not to be forced to work. In cases such as those, you may find the article Training Your Horse To Lead to be helpful.
What happens when you deal with a bully instead? A horse that not only invades your personal space, but does so in an aggressive manner designed to intimidate and discourage you? Or worse, what happens when you deal with a horse that disrespects your authority so much that he attempts to bite you or strike you with his leg?
Those questions will be the focus of this particular article. Before we continue, I'm going to assume you are using a chain shank or a rope halter, as well as holding a crop, lunge whip, or a similar item so that you have additional reach. If you're not, you're severely handicapping yourself when leading an aggressive horse since you'll need all the leverage you can muster.
The first thing to keep in mind when dealing with a bully is personal space; it is imperative that you force your horse to keep a safe distance not only to enforce your authority, but also to better ensure your safety. Whatever you do, do NOT allow a horse to crowd your space. It can throw you off balance, frustrate you (thereby making you lose your focus and judgment), and place the horse within an unsafe range where they can feasibly bite or kick you.
Additionally, when a horse gets feisty the best way to control the aggression is to force the horse to move out from you. Not only is it more difficult for a horse to strike out when he's actively moving, but it also forces a safe space between you both. How do you accomplish this?
The best way is to approach and point towards the horse's haunches with a crop or whip in one hand, while simultaneously pulling his head towards you with the other. If the horse resists my body language, I can also slap or poke his haunch for added reinforcement.
So for example, if I'm leading my horse on his left side, I would hold the lead line with my left hand and the crop with my right. My body would approach his butt, with my right hand/crop pointing towards his haunches. Meanwhile, my left hand would be pulling his head towards my body. What this does is force your horse to walk out in a circular pattern around you. It's the same concept as lunging a horse or forcing him to move out in a round pen, just with a lead line and in a tighter circle.
Moving in circles may not seem terribly productive when your goal is to move in a straight line, but keep in mind that the circular motion is to assert your authority, protect your personal space, and diffuse the situation so that you can retry moving forward again. This action may not seem logical to you, but think like a horse: what exactly are you doing? You're forcing the horse to bow to your will and acknowledge your authority. When you demand he move off and away from you, he might be annoyed by the request, but the bully will come to terms with the fact that your dominance is winning the day.
In a nutshell, if you control the feet, you control the mind.
Be prepared for an extended battle with repeat skirmishes. Often a bullying horse will finally acquiesce, start moving forward again, and then start up round two, thereby forcing you to go back into a circular pattern. Try not to get frustrated when this occurs; keep yourself as calm as possible and behave consistently and firmly. Over time when a horse realizes that defiance will always lead to a consistent result, he will be far less likely to repeatedly push his luck in the future.
A firm voice, chain shank and/or rope halter, and foot control via the above method will almost always gain you the upper hand provided you are patient and insistent. A horse will have a much more difficult time charging you if he's being forced to walk off you in a circular motion, because not only does a charge require a straight line, but you're also making yourself a moving target (you're never directly in front of him). This isn't to say that a horse can't absolutely refuse your demands, plant his feet and aim for your direction – it could conceivably happen. But it is uncommon – the horse would need to be abnormally alpha, severely abused in the past, or borderline psycho.
As long as you provide yourself enough personal space, always keep aware of his body language and positioning, and know your limitations, you should manage to remain safe. Although it is bad practice to give up your authority and retreat, it's even worse practice to get in over your head and potentially find yourself seriously injured. While confidence and collected aggression are necessary to counter an aggressive horse, in the end, discretion is the better part of valor. It's better to throw in the towel and let your horse go than it is to get charged or kicked… so judge the severity of the situation against your confidence and experience levels.
Finally, be prepared to do whatever it takes to ensure your safety. For example, anyone that reads this site knows that I dislike using blunt force, but if a bully pushed me into a wall, I wouldn't hesitate to knee or kick his gut to force him back. If a horse bites at me, I will immediately counter with a smack. If he tries again repeatedly in a violent battle, then I'd even consider balling my fist and striking back. If I felt that a crop wasn't enough leverage to retain control, I would consider carrying a rake instead – not to clobber the heck out of the horse, but just to give myself some additional leverage and force behind pushing his haunches away from me.
Always start with minimal pressure and steadily escalate as necessary until your horse submits, then immediately alleviate the pressure to reward his positive behavior and submission. As long as you keep a cool but firm demeanor, continue escalating pressure as much as necessary, and control the feet, you'll be surprised at how quickly you can make even the biggest bully reconsider his aggressive ways.