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Aggression While Feeding
WRITTEN BY: Cheryl Sutor   [December 1, 2000]


Training Question:

I recently bought a yearling filly. My husband and I have been working with her for about one month, trying to halterbreak her and just get her used to people. She was doing very well, then started "testing us." She is very dominant when she wants food. When we try to walk over to her with her feed, she will try to grab some out of our hands. If we don't stop she turns and puts her butt to us, pulls her ears back and starts to squat like she's going to kick. We tell her "NO!" and swing the lead rope out and make her move. When we don't give her the hay she puts her butt to us again. She has never kicked anyone, yet. If she does keep her head to me, it's to try and bully me. She will keep smelling me and trying to push me backwards. She has nipped at my husband several times. I'm starting to be afraid of the horse I once wanted so badly. I would greatly appreciate any advice. Thanks

From: Amy


Trainer's Response:

Even though the filly has not kicked anyone yet, her behavior is just as dangerous as a filly who has actually kicked someone. Kicking and biting are extremely dangerous behaviors, nothing to take lightly. Whenever you become afraid of any horse, just remember that (as trainer John Lyons has said), "fear is only common sense in disguise. When you become afraid of a horse, the only thing that is happening is that your brain is telling you that you could get hurt".

The filly is in a herd of three (you, your husband, and the filly). When either of you enter her stall, paddock or pasture, you immediately begin interacting. Whether through body language or physical touch, your filly is constantly picking up signals from you and your husband. From the signals you've given her in the past, she believes that you and your husband are less dominant than she is in the pecking order. You'll need to change the signals you are giving her to prove to her that you are, in fact, more dominant, and that she should respect your space.

What you'll need to do, is constantly signal to her that you are more dominant. This does not necessarily mean that you need to be physical with her. But, if a stern voice and strong, aggressive stance doesn't get her attention, you may need to make a physical contact to get your point across. Every little movement you make contributes toward her thoughts of you and the pecking order status. Always stand straight and alert, and walk with confidence when around her.

When she becomes a little pushy, be a little pushier than she is. When she tries to bully you and get you to step back, confidently step forward instead. If she puts her mouth on you, whether to nuzzle or bite, immediately step towards her with confidence and ask her to back away from you. A horse should never be allowed to touch you until he/she can consistently respect your space and rank in the pecking order.

When she turns her butt to you as if she is going to kick, your idea of telling her "NO", then swinging the lead rope out to make her move is a very good method. I use the same method on every "kicker" I work around. However, when you use this method, you must be aggressive enough towards her that she completely swings her butt around and faces you. Once she faces you, praise her and pet her gently. This will teach her many things. Most importantly, that you are more dominant than she is, and that you are a pleasure to be around when she is also being pleasurable.

A good way to practice this is in a round pen or stall. If you use a round pen, you can teach her that when you "kiss" to her, it means you want her to turn and face you. When she does not face you, or when she turns her butt to you, tell her "NO" and swing the rope at her rump to tell her to turn around and face you. If you use a stall for this exercise, just be sure that you are out of the way if she decides to kick at the rope or at you. A good way to stay out of her kicking range, is to leave the door open only enough that you can get the leadrope through to swing at her rump. Immediately when she turns to face you, praise her generously and pet her gently.

The most important thing to remember when working with your filly, is that when she is in your space (rubbing on you, nuzzling you with her nose, pushing on you, etc...), you must immediately ask her to back up and get out of your space. Ask her to back up at least 5 feet away from you. If she decides on her own that she'd like to come right back into your space after you've asked her to back away, demand that she back up again and and that she stay at that distance until you "invite" her back into your personal space, or until you give her another cue or request.

With a little information on equine behavior, pecking order, and how to conduct your own behavior when around aggressive horses, you'll be on a great path to understanding your filly's behavior and being able to easily correct it for good. More articles on this subject that may interest you are listed below. I wish you the best of luck with your new filly!
Happy Horsin'
Cheryl Sutor



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This article was published on: December 1, 2000. Last updated on: February 23, 2002.