Controlling A Food Aggressive Horse In The Stall – Part 3By Jeffrey Rolo
This is the third article in a series about how to control a food aggressive horse while inside a stall. In this particular article we will review the mindset of a food-anxious horse as well as that of your own, but if you haven't already read part one and part two of this series I encourage you to do so first since they cover practical corrective actions that you should perform on aggressive horses.
Tip #7 – Strictly Business, Not Personal
When frustration or anger creeps up in us, it's easy to allow it to cloud our vision or make a confrontation personal. Try not to view it in such terms. You may not know why your horse is food anxious. Perhaps he was denied adequate feeding and care in the past. Perhaps he's so used to fighting for his scraps in a herd that he's become desperate and possessive. Perhaps he's just a brat that's testing your authority.
But understand that regardless of the cause, the confrontations probably aren't personal for your horse. Let's assume the worst: that your horse has never been abused, and is simply being a brat and jockeying for the alpha position. I ask you: so what?
I ask that question not to imply you should allow it for even one second, but rather to emphasize that even the worst motivation should not be considered as a personal slight. If your horse were human, it would be, but he's not! In the horse world, challenging the alpha status of a pack leader from time to time is a perfectly natural process. Up-and-comers ensure the alpha leader is still up to the task of leading the pack. If it is, the challengers back down for a while. If not, over time a new leader takes control.
Your horse will test you. It doesn't mean he doesn't like you or wishes to cause you harm or offense. It's just his way, and you'll have to accept that if you wish to maintain his respect. Such challenges are typically very small, and a proper response on your part will ensure you easily retain the alpha position. But it does you no good to get angry when such a challenge is presented to you.
You want your horse to think you're angrier than you really are. React strongly, but don't lose control or take anything personally. Be detached and view behavioral modification and re-training as a process rather than a personal agenda. By doing so, your reactions are more likely to be measured, laser-targeted and effective.
Tip #8 – Always Be Prepared
No, I wasn't a Boy Scout, but the motto cannot be more accurate. Although it doesn't take an expert to solve most cases of food aggression, you should know how to confront an aggressive horse and make sure you're equipped with the proper knowledge, determination and tools to win the day. Consistency is the key, and it's your responsibility to ensure every training session ends on your terms, because when a horse is food aggressive make no mistake: your corrective actions and responses during feeding time constitute a training session.
No matter how often a horseman tells us that most of the time horses respond to body language and conviction, most of us are going to be skeptical at first. Horses with pinned ears are scary, especially when they escalate things to shifting their rear towards you or shoving you with their body. Our first instinct will be that we can't possibly win, and unless we can swallow down that first instinct chances are our concern will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Don't be arrogant or careless, but be assertive; a lack of confidence will be seen as weakness. Until you are comfortable around your horse and you learn the extent of his defiance or aggression, it's typically helpful to use a riding crop or even a lunge whip to serve as an extension of your hand. That way you can impose your will on your horse while keeping a safer distance, minimizing the chance that you can get struck.
It also helps to keep your stall door unlatched while you stand near it - that way if you need to retreat you can do so easily enough. No one wants to be locked into a small stall if the kicks start flying.
And remember, these techniques, while useful to prevent stall aggression, are just a very small piece of the puzzle. Ultimately to combat aggression you must establish yourself as the alpha leader, and there is no better place to do so than in the round pen.