How do you handle a horse that is aggressive towards other horses? For example, when riding in a group, some horses will pin their ears and kick at other horses when they come into their space. How do you change that around?
Exercise #1 To Cure An Aggressive Horse
To get this aggressive behavior corrected, it’s actually the opposite of the buddy sour exercise. For the buddy sour exercise, we make it difficult to be near the buddy. For this exercise, we make it easy to be near the buddy.
A while back, a clinic participant had this same issue, so we worked on it and caught it all on video. You can watch it on our Buckaroo Crew membership site.
To explain what we did, we will call the horse that kicks Horse K (kicker). The horse used to bring out the aggressive behavior will be Horse V (victim).
We had the rider start trotting Horse K in some tight, fast circles. Horse V started to approach Horse K. When Horse V got close, Horse K got to stop trotting and rest. But Horse K then decided to get aggressive, pin his ears, and maybe start thinking about kicking Horse V. So Horse K was put back to work and Horse V went away. A few more times of this and Horse K began to see that life is easier when Horse V was close to him. Horse K decided that having Horse V around was a good thing. He quit pinning his ears and being worried about or aggressive towards Horse V.
Exercise # 2 To Cure An Aggressive Horse
Another exercise we do at clinics is called ‘Chaos’. I have all the riders move to one end of the arena. Then we all start randomly trotting around in every direction. I encourage them to keep their horses busy moving, to cut each other off, to hoop and holler, to give high fives to passing riders, and above all to make it fun. It loosens the riders up and builds their confidence. It also helps the horses learn to ignore and tolerate other horses being in their space.
Exercise #3 To Cure An Aggressive Horse
If you’ve ever been on a trail ride with a horse that kicks, the other riders typically try to keep their distance to prevent that from happening. But this situation is another prime opportunity to help the aggressive, kicking horse be okay with other horses around.
Have a rider begin to slowly come up a safe distance behind your kicking horse on the right side. Watch your horse closely and when he begins noticing and aggressively thinking about the approaching horse, bump with your left leg and jiggle the left rein to pull his attention to the left (the opposite side of the approaching horse). Move his hind end to the left to keep him from bracing to kick. Then trot him forward 30 feet.
If you do this consistently with good timing, the aggressive, kicking horse will get in the habit of ignoring the approaching horse. You have not only given him something else to do and a different mental path to take, you have caused the kicking horse to yield to the approaching horse by moving his hip and then trotting him forward. When your horse got worried about the approaching horse, you gave him a way out by trotting him forward. This will soften the aggressive attitude of a kicking horse pretty quickly.
You would apply this same concept to any other aggressive behavior such as biting or charging. Make the undesireable behavior difficult and give the horse a different path to take.
Aggresive Horse In The Pasture
As far as controlling aggressive behavior when you are not present, be consistent with feeding with the flag. Feed the horses together. Have a flag with you. Any horse that shows aggression is pushed off the feed using the flag. A horse can only come to eat when not hostile towards you or the other horses. So if one pins his ears, attempts to bite or kick, use the flag to push him away. Then give him a chance to come to the feed with manners.
It can also be helpful to flag the dominant horse while RIDING the non-dominant because you’re causing the dominant to yield his feet away from the non-dominant. Doing these things can change their perceptions of how to be and transfer over to when the human is not present.
The Ultimate Cure
We are all aware that when a kid bullies another kid, it stems from a root of insecurity in the bully. Horses can be the same way. An aggressive horse that feels like he needs to defend his space is lacking confidence. So even though the exercises above will help, the ultimate fix is to build confidence into your horse.
Build confidence into your horse by getting him more sure about everything you ask him to do. We must work on ourselves and get good at timing our pressure and release, communication, and approach. We owe that to our horses. If it weren’t for us, they would be in a pasture grazing and never encounter these situations. It’s only fair to teach them how to handle it.
To access my free webinar about ways we hinder a horse’s confidence go here: Top 8 Ways Webinar
Why Horses Do What They Do
I remain convinced that a horse is the most easily changeable animal in the world. I have never ridden or worked with a horse that I felt was being stubborn or trying to get the best of me. Horses that are tagged with those labels are simply confused. I have found that horses just want to get along and feel comfortable. And it’s our job to help them find that easier path. Listen to your horse and find out where he lacks confidence. Then help him become more sure. As your horse gains confidence, his aggressive tendencies will melt away. Remember that a horse never does anything right or wrong. They do more of what feels good and less of what doesn’t feel good. If we can just get in the ballpark with our timing and communication, the horse will fill in the rest.
Listen to my podcast on this subject here: Ask Carson James