Jessica helps Bellator and his owner deal with unwanted oral behaviours.

Jessica helps Bellator and his owner deal with unwanted oral behaviours.

I came across this post – “Sometimes It’s OK To Smack – Discipline In Horses”  – on Hay Net Social Blogging recently and found myself challenging every statement made. There is so much confusion in the world of horses about how to treat and educate them. I am hopeful that more work with understanding and communication vs intimidation and fear tactics will be shared. For this reason I am sharing my response:

Many horses will comply with a boss or bully in the human world, but they often show signs of depression, anxiety and stress. How does anyone enjoy riding a horse who is unhappy in his work or dreads being handled?

I agree that it is a dangerous situation when a horse runs over a person, but let’s face it – a smack is not going to stop a 1,000+ lb animal in that moment. Disciplining the horse only tells him what you don’t want, but you haven’t properly educated him in what you do want. A horse who understands what is expected of him is calm and relaxed, and is far less likely to step on people.

Horses don’t need a bossy human, although I do agree that horses also do not need a person who treats them like a puppy either. There is a good balance where the horse feels safe, relaxed and content to hand over the decision-making role to the person. This is an earned position in the partnership.

There are many reasons a horse won’t stand still for mounting – the saddle doesn’t fit right, his back could be sore, the rider causes him unnecessary stress when being ridden, and he is smart enough to know that things are better when that rider isn’t on him.

Horses are smart enough to realize that people are not horses, and that a human who kicks and growls and slaps is not a herd boss, just a human who lashes out. We need to develop a clam leadership role with our horses, but growing this mutual respect is impossible when we aggress on them for behaviors we don’t want yet often cause.

When you are riding with a friend and your horse pins his ears at the other horse, he is giving feedback that he is uncomfortable! Growling and slapping him only makes him even more uncomfortable. Ride with a larger space between you or trade places. Make decisions that prove to your horse that you are looking out for him. He will trust and respect you, and he will see you as a good leader for keeping him safe.

When a horse cow-kicks at you while you are tighten the cinch/girth, he is giving you feedback. The saddle may cause pain from poor fit, the girth may be too tight, you may tighten too abruptly, or the horse simply hates what comes next (the ride). Smacking and growling only makes the horse less confident or worse, more defensive. Slow down and consider your horse.

Horses that are difficult to catch are “yelling” with their body language that they don’t feel safe with you and are trying to avoid your unpleasant schedule of events. How could you enjoy your horse if you know that they really don’t want to be around you? I would prefer my horse feels relaxed and ready to work with me, not enslaved by the halter.

The horse in the video below, Bellator, was “disciplined” for over a year by trainers and handlers for biting. We resolved his reasons for biting and he was happier, more respectful, and didn’t bite after only a couple of weeks.

Don’t punish a horse’s only means of communication with you – their body language. Listen to them and learn how to communicate in an ethical way that influences leadership with your horse through a mutual respect. A horse that runs you over does not see you as a partner. A horse who tries to bite or kick you does not see you as a partner.

My horses are very happy to hit the trails, and we take breaks for a quick nibble of grass along the way, why wouldn’t I want them to enjoy the experience as much as I do?