This series is based on questions I get on either Instagram, other social media platforms, or in person. I will provide both the question for reference as well as a follow up answer.
I want to keep these brief so that I can reference people to my answers without them having to surf through something that would otherwise be nearly the length of an encyclopedia. But I hope you find these interesting as I get some great questions!
Q: How do you teach a horse to have manners about personal space? Or is it just personality.
A: Horses don't inherently know our "personal bubbles" or that we are more fragile than them, so it's all about rewarding the behaviors you want and encouraging a specific safe "distance". Some horses struggle more with this idea than others, but you have to teach all horses safe behaviors.
Check out my blog article about getting started with clicker training. I talk about manners and how to teach them, this transfers over to distance. Also, if you check out River's training videos there are a couple where I specifically show working on personal space. #csRiverProgress on Instagram or on Youtube.
Q: Hey! I'm a follower and I have a quick question about bad habits and stuff. My horse recently got into the habit of breaking halters and also not wanting to take the bit. She's also very skittish and I'm not able to see her every day. I was wondering if you had any advice or tips on how to break the bad habits? Thank you!
A: Personally I would want to have her checked by an osteopath or someone that does cranial sacral adjustments , as frequent trauma to the head (breaking halters) could be causing the skittish behavior or reluctance to accept the bit. Also, when was the last time her teeth were looked at/worked on by a equine dental specialist? Those "bad habits" are very possibly stemming from pain related issues, I would need to know more and would want the horse checked thoroughly for pain before addressing them.
Once the the horse was fully checked over and free of pain, I would begin re-training the horse to tie by working on giving to poll pressure, and then making standing quietly and calmly a positive experience. You can watch the beginning of this video to see how I train my horses to give to poll pressure, and then check out the hashtag #csRiverProgress on Instagram for more videos on teaching patient tying. Consider also a product like this one (click here) to help the horse not feel so trapped and to discourage sitting back.
Q: Hi, I wanted to ask you for some advice after having seen your last post! My current horse that I “lease“ you could say is 12 years old already but his owner loves him too much and is not very consistent with him.. Besides him begging for treats all the time, the thing that annoys me most is that he cannot stand still while I brush him? After like 2 seconds he starts to get bored, he will try to move around. ..., bite into his rope etc And now he is developing really bad things such as shaking his head, scratching with his hooves... And he wants to eat all the time out of boredom, licks the walls... Its so annoying because I hurry so much with brushing and tacking up, it does not take me very long and there are other horses too!
I'm always scared to leave to get the saddle or something else because I think that he will maybe do something really stupid and I hate that. He is out in the pasture every single day for at least 7 hours, has access to hay and water 24/7, gets moved every day and his stall is very big with a small pasture on it, too. So I really don't understand his behavior. I try to ignore him and do my stuff and when he comes too close or gets too aggressive with his begging, I push him away really softly (Don't worry I don't hit him!), but yeah I just wanted to ask you for advice because I really like what you do with your horses!! Thank you in advance for even reading all of this.
A: Hi there! It can be very challenging when we have to cope with behaviors other people have created in our horses. Inconsistency makes for very confused and frustrated horses, but it's important to recognize that it's not the food/treat giving that is the problem. The problem is that the horse is being rewarded for impatient behavior or food seeking by being given more food when he acts in such a way. Effectively the horse is being trained to act impatiently because it thinks that's what you want.
That being said, to go about mending this it will take some time and you can actually continue to use food but the food will only be given to the horse when it's standing still and quiet, not looking for food. In this article and the video that's attached I explain more about teaching manners .. which leads over to standing quietly. On Instagram you can click on the hashtag #csRiverProgress and find videos of me teaching River this same idea. That is my preferred method of training patient tying. I start as if the horse knows nothing trying never to trigger impatient behavior, and begin "capturing" the calm relaxed behavior from the beginning then slowly add in duration until they can stand quietly for extended periods.
An alternative method for a horse that already knows how to tie but needs to work on its patience would be to tie up the horse, then look for opportunities when the horse is standing quietly, even for a split second, and reward that behavior with a food reward or scratches or even being untied and walked off to graze or something enjoyable for the horse. After multiple repetitions the horse will begin to recognize that it gets "free" or "rewarded" when it stands quietly, at which point you can begin asking for longer periods of quiet standing... like 30 seconds, then a minute, then a couple minutes etc. each time you add criteria (how long you expect them to stand quietly). It needs to be repeated at each level of duration until they are 100% successful.
On a side note, if there are any time you are not able to actively practice quiet standing (which should be way less often than the times you practice in the beginning), maybe hang a hay net or groom him/tack up while he grazes etc, just until you get the anxious behavior under control or you'll risk inconsistency and training will be less effective. Hope this helps!
Q: I guess it doesn't really happen much with your horses, but if a horse were to try mild biting/kicking, and often greeted you with pinned ears and stamping, how would you combat that (they're not my horses, they're school horses)
A: That's a hard one. A horse that acts that way is often in pain or greatly dislikes being worked (because of how it's being worked or the equipment used when being worked usually). Often school horses are over worked, have less medical/physical attention then is needed, and often are treated poorly or roughly as they have many handlers.
That being said, If I were to be tasked with working with a school horse or any horse that behaved this way I would first eliminate any possibility the horse is in pain... I would begin by talking to equine dental specialists, osteopathic vets, massage therapists, trimmers/farriers, regular vets, saddle fitters and so on. After that I would address who's training/riding the horse and how it's being worked/trained/ridden.. and then finally I would begin counter conditioning the horse to associate being worked and handled with positive things.
Some horses are far more sensitive than others and will develop sour attitudes at the slightest negativity, but the cause is still the same. I actually have a mare that had developed some sour responses to being worked or saddled, and after doing an extensive process of elimination for pain causes we have now begun counter conditioning to change how her mind/emotions respond to being handled/saddled/ridden. -- I hope this answers your question!
Q: I was wondering if you could help me. My mare has a tendency to go to the edge of the arena to eat grass, just like Tiger [during liberty work], but the thing is that she doesn't seem to want to leave the grass, could you please give me some tips on how to convince her to come back to me?
A: If the horse doesn't want to leave the grass then it's likely the grass is a much higher reinforcer than you are or what you are offering. This isn't as "bad" thing, not for the horse anyway but it can make training at liberty a bit of a struggle. A couple suggestions would be to allow her plenty of free access to grazing when you're not working with her. If shes only able to get grass during the times you work with her she will want the grass more. Also, you can let her out to graze for awhile before you start working so that the novelty wears off. This will help eat down the grass too and make it less tempting. Taking frequent breaks during your sessions to allow the horse time to graze as a reward is also helpful. Also, make sure you are making your work fun and not too stressful for the horse or no matter what reward you can offer it won't be enough.... And last, increase the value of the reward you are using so that it's more important than the grass to the horse. You may have to guide the horse over to you a few times in the beginning to show them you will offer them something positive for coming to you.
If you have any questions, email them or ask away on my instagram @thewillingequine , I try and answer all the questions I get and who knows, your question might get featured on the next Q&A!