Category Archives: Horse Leadership

Posts referring to training the horse the know you are the leader. Horses need to know in every encounter who the leader is. It’s a life and death instinct for them. If you don’t quickly establish yourself as the leader, your horse will become the leader for that encounter. It’s a new question for every encounter but over time your horse can learn that you are always the leader. Or so we’re told.

Love Bites, Horse Style

Someone recently commented on Bill’s post about our horses trying to eat our fingers, and it occurred to me that I really ought to address the issue of horse bites.

Yes, horses do bite; some more than others. Usually, it’s a natural part of horse behavior. Horses have various ways of communicating, and biting each other is a big part of that – from friendly “nips” to show love, to more insistent bites to get another horse to move, to actual biting in an aggressive way. Horses can hurt each other pretty badly this way (always be careful when introducing horses to each other – yet another future post topic), but usually the bites are light enough that they don’t do any serious damage.

It’s a different story, however, when a horse bites a human. Our skin isn’t nearly as tough as horsehide, and I can tell you from personal experience that horse bites hurt. Now, horses bite humans for pretty much the same reasons that they bite each other. We are, after all part of their herd, and they need to communicate with us too. They will nip you in a friendly way to say “hi.” They will nip you if you’re standing somewhere they don’t want you to stand to politely ask you to move. They will nip in anger or to show you they’re the boss. As you can guess, this natural behavior is another way that they can unwittingly hurt us simply because they are so much bigger and more powerful. So naturally, you need to discourage that behavior.

As we have been reminded in comments to our post referenced above, horses will also bite you if you habitually feed them treats by hand. We do indeed feed apples, carrots and other treats to our horses by hand, but this is strongly discouraged by most people. There are couple of reasons for this: one, their aim isn’t all that good and they will accidentally suck in fingers or even a whole hand with their treat. Two, once the treat is gone, they may not realize it because your hand still smells like the treat or they just expect it to be there. Three, even if your hand didn’t recently hold a treat, if you usually offer one when you greet them and didn’t bring one this time, they may just take a bite anyway. So the best advice is to feed all treats out of a bucket. That’s an easy way to prevent injury and bad habits.

So, if your horse already has the bad habit of nipping you, what do you do? Valentine was quite the nipper when we got him. I don’t think he ever meant it in a mean way; all his bites were gentle, “friendly” bites – that unfortunately left me with not-so-friendly bruises. Old-timers we talked to advocate smacking the horse when he bites you, but I personally cannot hit my horses. I yelled “No!” in a loud, firm voice and spread my arms out wide – the idea is to make yourself seem bigger. Valentine startled each time and backed up. I think that was just the reaction he needed to have. It showed that he recognized me as the boss and that he shouldn’t do whatever he just did. It worked – he hasn’t nipped me in months.

The key though, as with any bad behavior, is to not let it go on. Nip it in the bud, so to speak.

Watch Your Head!

After being stepped on a couple of times, it appears that I’m paying too much attention to the horses’ feet and not enough to their heads. The other day, we were doing our usual carefully choreographed routine to get both horses out of the nice, comfy barn out to the wide open pasture. Now, the horses like being in the pasture (as long as it’s not raining, that is), but for some reason they don’t like to go out there. It probably has something to do with the gooey, mucky swamp of mud they have to cross to get there. So we have various tricks to maneuver them out there.

I have to say here that the RIGHT way to accomplish this is to halter each horse, lead them out to the pasture, stop them with a firm command, remove the halter, then walk away. The horse should not lead you out there, and should not walk away before you do. We have done it this way many, many times. However, unless we want to walk across the gooey, mucky mud-swamp, we have to take the horses out through the back of the barn, across our lawn and out through a different, drier gate. So every day, we have a choice: bring the keys, get each halter out of the tack room, halter each horse, negotiate a stall door and barn gate, drag said horse across the broad expanse of luscious, green grass, negotiate another, smaller gate, and release them in the pasture; or, just open a stall door and a barn gate and coax each horse out. We usually choose the lazier of the options. But do as we say, not as we do.

Anyway, this particular day Bill walked out to the pasture (through the “dry” gate) to lure the horses out there, while I managed the stall doors, one by one. We got the mare out (we still haven’t agreed on a barn name for her) without too much trouble, but Valentine had other ideas. Their stalls are on the west side of the barn, and his is closest to the gate. The hay is on the east side of the barn, diagonally from his stall. That’s where he wanted to be, and I was between the two. Now, he could have forced the issue – being twice my height and, we’ll say, 10 times my weight. But, lucky for me, he does respect me. However, in his search for a way past me rather than over or through me, he turned his head rather abruptly and completely clocked me upside the head. I gotta tell you, that HURT. I don’t remember any stars, but I swear I felt something shift up in there. I got a very noticeable lump on my left temple and any pressure in a 6-square-inch area up there was extremely painful for a couple of days. In fact, it’s been 6 days since it happened, and it still hurts to touch. (I know, I know, don’t touch it, then.)

So watch out for the top AND bottom of the horse. At the same time.

Bill takes over horse duties for the day

Mikki is sick today and it’s cold and wet outside here in East Tennessee. So today I’ll be handling horse duties. All bundled up, I went out to let Valentine out of his stall. I would have preferred to open the barn gate to let him out that way but it’s muddy by the gate so I decided to halter him to let him out by our yard gate. Now Mikki does this every day, something about it being better for training your horse about your leadership role, despite the fact that the barn gate would be far faster and easier. I don’t have a lot of experience with the halter since I usually opt for the lazy, quick way – through the barn gate. So today I grab the halter and spend the next 10 minutes trying to figure out how to get this stupid thing on Valentine’s face. I was amazed how patient he was even though I bent his ears a couple of times. I lead him out to the pasture and slowly remove the halter and this is when he became impatient and shook it off. That was followed by a push by his nose…head…the long thing at the end of his neck. “Hey!” I’m not afraid of him and I won’t let him push me around without responding but it’s pretty clear to me that we need to spend some time on this leadership role thing. But he’s a fine horse and we’re happy to have him.

On a technical note about the website, I’ll changed the login requirement so you don’t have to register and login to post comments. I personally hate having to login everywhere to make a little comment. We’ll see how this goes. Hopefully we won’t be inundated with spam. If you see spam in the comments, we’ll remove it when we notice it.

Also, we’ll be changing some of the links around a little and probably adding a discussion forum soon for better online discussions. Someday you might see a few tasteful ads around here. We’ll keep them relative to the topic at hand. We’re billed for the web space and all so we’re going to try to recoup some of that expense.

The Big Day!

Okay, I spent several days comparing the picture in the catalog, the pictures we took of Valentine all tacked up when we met him, and every other picture of a horse with bridle on I could find, and decided that today was the day.

I finally rode my horse, by myself.

First, we had to remember how to put the saddle on. It took a long time, but I’m pretty confident we got that right. It stayed on the whole time, so that must be a good sign.

The bridle was another story. I did the best I could, but I’m not confident at all that it was right. Valentine was so good and patient while I tried every combination with those straps that I could think of. I think he was annoyed by all the giggling, though.

Once the bridle was looking as close to right as I could get it, and the bit was adjusted pretty well, we maneuvered Valentine over to the tack room, which has a foot-high step up, so I could get on. Then Bill led us out to the pasture, and it was time.

Was that a wild ride! There are a few factors that came into play here. Valentine’s former owner hadn’t been riding him regularly, and we hadn’t ridden him at all in the month we had him. We were using tack that was all new to him. He is only 5 years old – a “teenager.” And, probably most importantly, I’m a total greenhorn and he knows it. So he spent the whole time I was on him trying to get me off. He ran under trees. He brushed up against the barn. He charged up to the barbed wire fence. He ran to the low point of the fence at the corner of our property, where I thought for a split second that he was going to jump it! He ignored every command but “whoa” and was slow to respond to that one.

The good news is, nothing he tried worked. I managed to stay on the whole time, and didn’t get off until I was ready.

Can’t wait to do that again…

Gotta Love Those Infomercials

Tonight we attended a workshop presented by Purina (Purina Horse Owner’s Workshop: http://horse.purinamills.com/). We were pretty sure it was going to be a live infomercial for Purina Horse Chow – and they pushed their horse feed pretty hard – but we got a lot of good information from the presentation. The best part was at the end, when they had a guest speaker to talk about horse behavior and answer our questions about horses. He was a guy who has been around horses all his life and now makes his living by using his experience with horses to show corporations how to apply the principles of horse leadership to people leadership. It sounds kind of crazy, I admit, but it sounds like it might work. He was really common-sense and down to earth, and gave us some really good advice. His name is Sam Powell (www.asksampowell.com). They also gave out free samples of horse treats, which Valentine loves. Unfortunately, they chose to call them “NickerMakers.” Do real horse people buy things called NickerMakers, or will we have to sneak into the feed store to buy them without being seen?