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Horse vices - causes and combating

Published: 2015-10-27 10:57:32 Categories: Horse health Rss feed

Horse vices - causes and combating background source:

"What are you doing, you stupid horse!", "Try again and you'll see!" - such statements and others, less and more vulgar you can hear both in stables and during competitions. Riders use them to, mildly speaking, show their flack concerning their steeds behaviour. Lack of obedience, kicking, biting during cleaning, snapping his teeth on people who use the girth, prancing, shying... and many other horse "crimes" can completely take away the joy from ride or even the mere contact with the horse. What is more, such behaviours might be very dangerous and simply end badly.

Instead of punishing the animal, it might be worth to consider why the horse acts this way. Usually, the cause of undesirable horse's behaviours is misunderstanding, fear, and often bad memories emerging from particular situation or item. In order to cure the horse from such negative reaction, we have to learn what is the exact cause and how we can level or completely eradicate it.

How does a horse work?

Horses are social animals that seek safety in group and feels best in it. Fear is the strongest impulse to various kinds of behaviours that are mostly instinctive, thus completely unconsidered. Horses hear, feel, and see in a way that is completely different from our human way (we dedicated for this matter an article "How does a horse see?"). They notice many things to which we do not pay attention. Throughout evolution, those animals have fallen victim to carnivores, thus their natural reaction is to run from potential source of danger, which allows them to survive. A horse will react first, then think. In such situation, it is good to know that calm voice, slow movements, but also our self-confidence will have enormous effect on the horse. The animal would be able to overcome his fears, if we would give him enough time and be mentors, leaders in our little "herd" horse - human, which will make him feel safe.

herd of horses source:

Unfortunately, horses are unable to tell us what is the problem, which contributes to occurrence of sad situations that with time might lead to bigger problems, thus disrupting relationship between the rider and horse. However, it is possible to prevent it, while remembering that horses are very predictable - they function basing on constant reactions and mechanisms. If we get to know them well, communication with our pet should be no problem to us.

Problems in stable


Horses are not naturally aggressive - they can only become so, when they are badly treated by a man. As we already mentioned, in threatening situations, horses run away. However, some situations make them react aggressively. When? Usually when they are unable to run away, when they have been "cornered" (for example, in a stall, pasture corner, or manege). It is always caused by the horse's fear, not his malice.

Of course, sometimes it happens that horses show aggression because they want to enforce something (for example, to avoid training). Just like children, who got used to dealing with problems by bursting into hysteria (uncontrollable cry, stamping) so their parents would do whatever they want them to do. When children see that they can change a "no" into a "yes" in such way, they start using it. For example, if a mom or a dad prefers to buy their child a lollipop instead of sticking to the prior ban on sweets, so the child does not make a scene in public. Eventually, the problem will become more serious.

The exact same situation applies to horses. The rider enters a stall with his whole equipment. The pet, seeing the saddle, starts snapping his teeth and laying his ears back. If in such situation, we will leave the stall and resign from riding, we will give in to the horse, showing him that we are afraid of his actions. He, in turn, will start using it against us systematically. What to do in such situation? First: do not react aggressively - that won't lead to anything good. If it happened for the first time, you should immediately verbally reprimand the horse, saying loud and clear "no" or "you mustn't". You should not scream. Remember that at a child, father that is firm will command more respect than the one who loses his temper. Our horse will have the exact same impressions.

aggressive horse source:

When new horse appears in the stable, we usually do not know much about him. It happens that a very calm animal, one day fails our trust by, for example, attacking a friend of us who does not suspect anything. We cannot understand where this aggression comes from. Sometimes, the reason is very simple. Horses remember sad situation that they experienced even many years ago. When a facto that reminds them of such situation appears they immediately react with fear, runaway, and usually uncontrollable aggression.

The most striking example of such situation is reaction to smell. For example, a person who smell like garlic caused pain to our horse by abusing him for a long time. Then, the smell of garlic will remind our horse of the pain, and thus it will arouse fear. He meets another person few years later (even in a completely new place), who smells just like that. The horse immediately "turns on" his defense system, because negative association with this particular smell is very deeply rooted in him. He will surely attack the encountered person, who is not guilty of anything, from whom he will feel garlic. As soon as the attacked person punishes the horse, it will only strengthen the association (garlic = pain).

In such cases time is not always the best healer - horses have good memory in which they store traumatic experiences even after many years, and they flash back when a similar situation or particular factor appears.

Problems during saddling

Does your pet fidget during cleaning and saddling? Grubs with his hoof, looks for carrots in a box, bites the equipment? You should saddle such "impatient" horse in the stable corridor, tie him on two leads attached to two opposite stalls so that the horse stands along them, with his nose pointing the entrance or exit of the stable. Animal tied in such a way has no possibility to mince or make waves. And what if he will show his unwillingness by grubbing with his hoof? Just like with misbehaving child - at first it is good to ignore him. But if the horse will continue to grub for some extended period, you should reprimand him with a loud and clear "no".

Many horses have trouble standing still, and even bigger problem with saddling. Some animals at the very sight of the equipment start fidgeting, rolling their eyes, waving their heads, flexing, grubbing with their hooves, or jumping. Usually, the cause of such behaviour is sad experience connected with saddling. Putting a bridle or girth becomes a nightmare. In the first case, the horse usually yanks his head during our tries to put the bridle on. Then you should check whether you are doing this properly, if it is properly fitted and whether it does not squeeze in any part of the muzzle, making the horse uncomfortable.

If this problem recurs and it is not limited to the habit of yanking his head, because the horse seeing us, immediately raises his head, even his nose, so we cannot reach it, we have to pay more attention to him, so we won't have problems in the future. First: the horse should always stay in a halter when he is in his stall, because otherwise it would be hard for us to hold him. Work with such animal is toilsome and long-lasting. At first, you should get him used to touching his muzzle, ears and occiput, very slowly shifting from the body parts he allows you to touch to the parts where he reacts nervously. You should not force anything - if you notice any anxiousness accompanying any move, step back for a moment, so later you can come back to this underbelly.

Exemplary situation: the horse does not like when somebody touches his ears and that causes unwillingness to wear bridle. If at first you will massage his neck, slowly shifting to the occiput, and then ear, he will surely react reluctantly when you touch the last. In such situation, you should go back to massaging the occiput and neck, and after a few, or dozen seconds reach his neck. Repeat this process as long as the animal will get used to it and stop reacting. Each time the horse stands still you should reward him verbally, or even with a snack. The animal should associate this process positively, and not react negatively to touching his ears in the future.

Sometimes, the horse's unwillingness for bridle is caused by pain caused by the bit hitting his teeth. If the horse experiences such unpleasantness a few times, he will surely try to avoid what he associated badly. In such case, it is good to very gently but firmly put the bridle on with previously lubricated (for example, with honey) bit, so that the horse can positively associate it immediately after putting it on.

Of course, there are plenty of such cases. There is no one fixed way that will work for every horse. You should approach each case individually and at first establish what is the source of unwillingness and avoiding of applying the bridle, and only then start slowly accustoming the horse to it.

horses-about-com source:

Many animals also show their dissatisfaction, and even aggression during attaching a girth. What causes it? Some horses just do not like the feeling of "squeezed" abdomen. Usually it is caused by mistakes made at the very beginning of working in a saddle, when the girth was attached too firmly too soon.

Some horses tense up during saddling, inhaling out of fear of fastening the girth too firmly. Pressure becomes then even stronger, what leads to increased horse's fear and unwillingness. You should not rush in saddling such horses. You should fasten the girth pretty loosely, on the first holes (in a way that will allow you to put your arm between the abdomen and girth) and walk with the horse for a few minutes on a manege or field, in the meantime slowly narrowing the girth. Of course, it won't be possible with every horse, as a loose girth = less stable saddle. For example, a prancing stallion will not go far with a loose girth, because the saddle will probably shift and land on his abdomen. Thus, it is good to ask somebody for help in leading the horse, while we narrow the girth a bit on our way. The horse, during moving, is not able to constantly flex his abdomen, and that enables us to slightly narrow the girth.

However, the most important, in a situation where the horse shows us his dissatisfaction, is to check whether it is not caused by some pain. Maybe the horse got hurt by the girth during previous ride and now he has enormous bumps on the abdomen (shifted chest muscles), causing swelling of this area, but also stiffness and pain. Another possibility is that the pain is caused by wrongly fitted saddle, or other health issues.

Problems with saddling - how to prevent them

1. Saddle your horse only in calm places, preferably tie your horse with two leads so he cannot move. 2. Gently put the saddle on, be careful so the girth does not hit the horse's legs. 3. Fasten the girth on first holes in the stable, narrowing it right before mounting. 4. Walk the horse in hand for a few minutes so he can relax and not flex his abdomen - only then you can narrow the girth. 5. Mount the horse only from a platform, alternatively using help of someone else.

Problems with saddling - how to prevent them background source:

Problems during riding


Many steeds are really impatient during riding: they fidget, spin, taking a few step forwards at the very moment when the rider put his leg in a stirrup. It is not those horses fault - it is whether their temperament, or mounting cause them pain, from which they try to run away, or nobody paid attention to them and taught them how to stand still when they were young.

Remember that it is never too late to teach our pet new rules of mounting. Of course, you will need a whole lot of patience and help of a third person. We should mount the horse from a platform - if you do not have a special stool or steps, a fence or elements of obstacles would work just fine. Many people see it as a sign of laziness or lack of physical fitness. However, we keep forgetting that this is not about us, but about the horse's spine which is not so burdened when we mount him from a platform. To teach the horse how to stand still, we will need the aforementioned help from a third person, who would keep the horse so he won't walk, fidget, but will stand still. Such multiple mounting the horse from a platform and required standing still for a few seconds from the horse even after we are in the saddle and without the help from a third person should form a positive habit. When we will start mounting the horse without helper, you should extend the process, of course in a way that won't burden the horse's back. Of course, each time the horse meets your expectations, you should award him verbally and with patting on the neck. Remember to require the horse to stir only when you give a signal with your calf, not sooner, because otherwise you will be inconsistent.

mounting from a platform Mounting from a platform, source:


Every horse, especially during winter, happen to prance. Sometimes it is due to having too much energy caused by lack of motion and too much high-energy fodder, and sometimes it is just a result of the horse's happiness (especially after successful jump). Of course, if it is a simple prance during whole ride, you should not worry about it, however some horses prance multiple times, giving a "rodeo" to their riders and transparently wanting to get rid of them from their backs.

prancing source:

In such case, it is good to lunge the horse before riding, so he can use some of his energy and get a little crazy. It is pretty obvious that a horse who has no possibility to run on a pasture (especially during winter), will not calm down even on a lunge line. We have to give him opportunity to use open space, even for a short time for a long time before riding, so he can have some time to cool down and dry in the stall. We can even provoke him a little on the pasture, so he would play with his friends.

After lunging, if the horse still tries to prance, you should require him to move forward a bit more energetically, but also rhythmically. The pet while prancing always lowers his neck and head. Do not let him lower his neck until you feel that he goes slowly and at a steady pace, and he wants to lower his head out of being relaxed.

prancing during riding 2 source:


Stallions living in wild herds were fighting for leadership and power in the herd, and threatened predators. In equestrian everyday life, this vice is considered to be the most unpleasant and dangerous one. It is especially dangerous at young horses who have not get used to additional weight on their back (the rider) and by rearing they try to control how much they can raise on their hinder legs and lean back. Such attempts of the youngsters usually end with painful fall on their backs with the rider, while the latter might get squeezed by even 400-600 kg weight of his or her steed.

fighting horses source:

Even best riders admit that when their horses rear, they heart skips a beat. When a pet discovers this "way", he usually has a leverage. "Wonderful" means that are supposed to cure the horse from rearing are countless. Usually they are disagreeable, dangerous, and more often than not ineffective (for example, a rider provokes his horse to rear and then knocks him down and beats him up with fists or backsword between the ears, or pour a hot milk on his head as soon as he unburdens his front and tries to prance). We do not recommend applying such "actions", because finding a cause of pracing should be way more important to us than trying to level its effects. We will not achieve anything with violence in such cases. The problem might only become worse.

rearing source:

Usually, the reason for the horse's rearing is too strong actions with the rider's hand with too little aid from hastening tools. Another reason might be back or muzzle's pain (badly suited equestrian equipment). When stallions rear, it is usually due to excitement, desire to impress other horses. Animals who often rear, for example, during competitions, before they enter the parkour, are usually showing their dissatisfaction with the start, jumping, exhaustion with trainings. The only guilty one for such state of affairs is human - rider and coach. It is not the horse's fault that the expectations were too high. In such case, it is obvious that we should let it go and give the horse a few days off.

First, you should learn the cause of rearing and try to eliminate it with a huge dose of patience. Just like in a case with problems with saddling - first, you should rule out the horse's health issues. Problems with relaxation, or muscles are possible to solve with proper training and gymnastics exercises. Surely, you should take a step or a few steps back in the training, coming back to basics and start working with particular emphasis on relaxing and the horse's trust for the rider's hand.

In such case, working on lunge is advisable in order to attain better permeability. As soon as you feel that the horse tries to unburden his front and rear, you should force him to lean on all his legs again and moving around litter circle with action of your hand. The same in the saddle, if you feel that the horse might rear any minute, you can shift into smaller circle and due to more active actions of your calf, ride a bit more energetically. The horse when bend on a circle, has no possibility of rearing.

rearing horse The worst thing you can do while a horse rear - lean back and pull the reins, author: tucul_photo | CC-BY-SA


Remember that if it happens that our pet does rear, you cannot pull the reins and lean back, because it might end up with fall. If you lose balance while your horse rears, you should catch his neck.

  1. If you feel that the horse slows down and prances his front body a bit - try to ride forward energetically, not allowing him to stop.
  2. In dangerous moments ride into small circle - bent horse has no possibility of rearing.
  3. Never lean back nor pull reins, when the horse has already reared!
  4. Check if the problems are not caused by the horse's health issues or wrongly suited equipment.
  5. Earn back your horse's trust. Focus on relaxing exercises, for example, chewing from a hand, or working on lunge.
horse's rearing - how to prevent it background source:

Above we have mentioned only a few most common of the horse's vices, however each occurs only due to wrong doing of the man. Horses acquirebad habits, get prejudiced to various situations and only our patience and will to toilsome work might result in the problem, for example with saddling, going away. Remember that only gaining the horse's trust, not using violence, makes it possible to fix any mistakes. Everything is possible if we try hard enough! ;)