Leading An Aggressive Or Angry Horse Safely – Part 2By Jeffrey Rolo
In the first part of this article we learned about the power of voice control when dealing with a frisky or aggressive horse, so now we'll continue escalating the pressure/tactics until we convince our naughty horse to respect our authority.
Watch Your Space And Carry A Crop
When a confrontation cannot be solved through body language and vocal command alone, you will inevitably be forced into a physical confrontation. Stubborn or lazy horses aren't quite as much of a problem – they'll generally just plant their feet and require a battle of wills. But aggressive horses are another matter altogether; they may very well push you around, attempt to nip you, charge you, or even kick you.
For this reason it is critical that you do your best to maintain a safe distance from your horse at all times so that if he attempts a cheap shot or aggressive action, you'll have adequate space and time to avoid or deflect the aggressive action, then quickly counter with one of your own.
To read about proper body positioning (as well as general leading tips and advice), check out the article Training Your Horse To Lead.
It's never a bad idea to carry a riding crop (or similar tool) with you as you lead an aggressive horse. The crop can serve as an extension of your arm (thus helping lend you further distance) when providing a slap or nudge to the ribs to push a horse away from you.
Chain Shanks & Rope Halters
When a confrontation cannot be solved through body language and vocal command alone, you will inevitably be forced into a physical confrontation, and let's face it: pound for pound, the horse clearly has the advantage. For this reason, it's useful to explore any tool or technique that will lend us some additional leverage should a confrontation get physical.
The chain shank (where the chain portion of a lead line is wrapped around a horse's halter in various ways) is one of the most widely used tools in the horse world, and for good reason: when used properly, it can quickly remind an aggressive horse that it's in his best interest to calm down. When no pressure is applied by the handler, no discomfort is passed on to the horse. As pressure is applied, the discomfort can be steadily increased until, in most cases, the horse backs down and pressure can be alleviated again.
Some natural horsemen aren't fond of chain shanks, and there is solid reasoning for being skeptical of them: when used improperly, a chain shank can injure your horse and create further distrust between you. Improper use of a chain shank can also cause your horse to become head shy or even rear. So although chain shanks can be an effective tool, they must be used properly.
If you are unsure of how to apply or use a chain shank, check out our articles The Five Ways To Apply A Chain Shank and How To Use A Stud Chain Safely And Properly.
I personally use chain shanks either over the nose or under the chin, depending on the horse and circumstances. I never chain shank a horse over the gums or inside the mouth, and I don't recommend you do either no matter how aggressive your horse is. Although you can apply immense pressure when using in-mouth shanks, the potential for excessive pain and even injury is far too high to justify it in my eyes. Over the nose or under the chin shanks, on the other hand, minimizes the chances of a cautious handler accidentally applying too much pressure.
You may feel uncomfortable with the notion of a chain shank, no matter how harmless they can be in practiced hands. If this is the case, or if you want to pursue another alternative entirely, consider a rope halter. They are designed to work in a similar manner as a chain shank by giving the handler added leverage.
Flat halters provide little to no pressure against a horse naturally, making them ideal for well-trained horses but not so great for aggressive or green types. Rope halters are thinner, thus they make their presence felt more when a horse resists and pressure is applied to the halter. Additionally the knots on the halter work as tiny studs, again giving you added leverage when pressure is applied. (To read more about rope halters and what makes them so effective, you can check out Rope Halters Versus Flat Halters.)
(Note: Other tools similar to a chain shank or rope halter are war bridles or war bonnets, both of which are controversial among many horsemen. Some feel that these two options are too harsh, while others believe that a tool is only as harsh as the handler's use.)
Always remember that rope halters and/or chain shanks are temporary aids, not crutches. Your ultimate goal is not to maintain a controllable horse, but rather a well-trained horse; the two are not always one and the same! You don't want to depend on tools such as these to keep a horse well-behaved; instead, you should use them to temporarily assert your authority, improve your leverage and safety, and get them to the round pen where you can perform round pen work to imbed good manners into your equine companion.
Don't be afraid to use a chain shank or rope halter on an aggressive horse, but don't become reliant on them either. Your end goal is to create a horse that can be walked easily on a flat halter without any shanks, crops or other gimmicks.
Crops, shanks and/or rope halters will allow you to better keep your distance from an aggressive horse while also amplifying your strength when you need to control a horse's head. Most times this will be more than sufficient to end the battle of wills and carry on as normal – few horses will truly "have it out" for a handler.
Sometimes, though, a horse will be sour enough to initially ignore these tools and attempt to invade your space, bully you, or strike you. Once this occurs, it's time to take the "battle" to the horse as best you can while keeping yourself safe. We'll learn a couple more techniques to help out in such cases in the article Controlling A Bullying Horse While Leading.