Controlling A Food Aggressive Horse In The Stall – Part 2By Jeffrey Rolo
If you haven't read part one of Controlling A Food Aggressive Horse In The Stall already, I encourage you do so first since this is a continuation of the series. With that said, let's continue.
Tip #5 – Avoid Confrontation With The Bluff
The best way to fight aggression is to employ the same tactics a horse uses against you. When a horse charges towards you and pins its ears back, what do you often do? You reflexively back away, right? More often than not a charging horse doesn't actually strike you – they are just trying to intimidate you by putting on a good show and using their body language/weight against you. So rather than take their bait and get bullied, turn the tables on them.
Instead of backing down to an aggressive horse's posturing, retaliate with some of your own. Make your body language aggressive and large, and move towards him the same way he tried to move towards you. Humans take size seriously, and it's not in our nature to challenge someone or something much larger than us – it seems illogical. But again, we're predators, so we selectively choose battles based on our perceptions of risk and ease of the "hunt." Horses are prey animals, so although they may bicker and fight from time to time within the herd (of which you're an indirect part of), they are also very quick to back down if challenged. They would rather flee a confrontation than see one through.
Also remember that your voice is a powerful weapon, more powerful in fact than your body language. When your horse starts misbehaving or becomes aggressive, put a growl into your voice. Talk slow, talk firm, talk loud, and talk angry until they back down. Sure, some people can project their voice in a more intimidating manner than others, but everyone is capable of training themselves to put an edge in their speech when necessary.
With most of my horses, a simple change in the tone of my voice is enough to get them to reconsider their present actions; I don't even need to escalate it to body language or corrective actions. So don't underestimate the voice – it's a powerful tool.
That being said, you should turn aggressive body posturing and your loud voice on and off as needed. If your posture is always aggressive, it's counterproductive. Your goal is not to become a bully; it's simply to disassociate negative behavior with positive results. If every time your horse misbehaves he is confronted with hostility and a menacing warning (usually non-physical), while every time he backs down he is rewarded with a more positive mood, eventually he will understand that negativity breeds negativity. But in order for this theory to work, you must provide a release for when he backs down and behaves, otherwise what's the point? If you're always aggressive with him, he really has nothing to gain by being good or bad… his treatment will always be the same in his eyes.
Finally, body posturing and voice works on most horses, but you need to be cautious and use common sense when judging any individual horse. There are rare horses that will not just charge in a posturing manner, but rather will see it through and try to cause you harm. There are rare horses that won't easily back down to simple body language or voice, and instead accept your challenge. It's not common to encounter horses this sour, but it is possible… so until you know a horse and can accurately assess the risk potential, be careful and be ready to escape if need be. Additionally, until you know a horse is the typical bluffer, I strongly encourage you hold a whip, crop or rake to help deflect a horse from your personal space if necessary as you move to safer grounds.
Tip #6 – Accidental Rewards
One of the most frequent mistakes new horsemen make is to inadvertently reward bad behavior. Picture this scenario: a horse is pinning his ears and shifting his hindquarters towards the owner as he eats from a grain bucket, in a way to warn the owner to get away from him.
So what does such an owner do? If experienced, the owner will at the very least push those hindquarters right back and remind the horse who really is in charge. The experienced owner will also likely force the horse away from the feed bucket and deny him further eating rights until the horse reconciles.
But the inexperienced horse owner will often start talking to the horse in a soothing manner and stroke his neck in hopes it will settle the horse down and show him that he means no harm and/or isn't after his food. Makes sense, right? Why look for a fight when you can convince a horse that you mean no harm and settle him down through gentle words and stroking?
In a human world perhaps we can settle misunderstandings with such gestures, but horses are not humans and cannot be treated as such. Compromise is for the weak, and by stroking your horse's neck when he disrespects you, you are actually rewarding that negative behavior and encouraging it again in the future. You are not acting like a compromiser, you are acting like the low horse on the totem pole and granting your horse alpha status.
With horses it must be black or white, right or wrong. If they behave, they are rewarded. If they misbehave, they are punished – no exceptions. Don't think like a human; think like an alpha mare. How would she respond to a young buck pushing her around? Would she talk it out, or would she quickly put him in his place?
We're almost done, but we have one more article in this series pertaining to controlling a food aggressive horse while in the confines of a stall. It deals with the mindset of both you and your horse, and it's critical to understand the proper mindset and context behind any actions if you wish for them to be most effective.