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New horse and biting :(

(11 Posts)
ChopinLiszt Wed 22-Jul-15 13:30:06

Hi guys, I haven't posted here before but I could really do with some advice.

A week and a half ago I took on a rescue/project horse. She's about six years old, only been out of the Forest for a year and has spent that year with:

a) the gypsies
b) a girl who had NO CLUE about horses whatsoever but has decided to take up breaking them in for a living hmm

Christ knows what the poor mare has been through sad I knew when I got her that she would be a tough one, but she's such a sweet mare I decided that I simply wouldn't place any expectations on her. Maybe we can ride her one day, maybe she's too traumatised in which case she stays as a pet.

She has come on in leaps and bounds since she arrived. The first day it took us an hour to get the headcollar on her - by the third day she wasn't batting an eyelid. She ties up nicely, can be groomed all over and picks her feet up well, despite not really knowing what you're asking her. She was a bolter apparently, I only saw her bolting back to her field, but she hasn't done anything like that so far with me. It's lots of gently, gently and then praise. We don't raise our voices, we are very patient, sometimes it takes us 20mins to get out to the field because she just likes to stop and stare, taking in everything around her. She does join-up with me brilliantly and instinctively - I hope this means that she trusts me.

Fast forward to the problem - I decided to put a lunge line on her today and lead her round the outdoor school as the very first baby steps towards her rehabilitation. I've taken her in there twice before and led her round and she was fine. She was a bit nervous about the lunge line so we didn't do much, just patted and lots of praise and took it off. Then I decided to see how she'd react to free-schooling. She was just in her headcollar and walking was fine; she followed me. However when I began to jog a bit to see if she would trot she first of all tossed her head around sharply (I had no contact with her) and then secondly lunged in to bite me. And I mean, really BITE. My DDs were watching and they said it was about a cm away from my ear sad I became nervous then so we stopped and praised her, clipped her leadrope on and walked her back to the yard. But she had an aggressive look in her eye sad

Now, I cannot make it clear enough that there are NO expectations placed on this horse. I am a very experienced owner and we have another horse who is turning out to be a beautiful little showjumper smile

But I have no experience of the biting thing - it was like she was attacking me - but only when I was jogging away from her! Does anyone have any experience of this? I had a horse whisperer out for my other mare last summer when she was a pain to catch and I'm wondering about doing the same again. It's £100 though.....not a decision to be taken lightly.

Sorry it's so long! Any advice would be appreciated.

Pixel Wed 22-Jul-15 22:46:59

Sounds like you are doing really well with her. The only thing I think might not have been a good idea was when you praised her after she tried to bite you. I know you have to tread softly with her given her background but you won't be doing her any favours if you let her think she can get away with being that aggressive. She'll be more happy and secure, not less, if she has boundaries and sees you as the leader. I'm not saying you should hit her or scream and shout or anything like that, but I don't think a growled 'no' would have gone amiss under the circumstances. At the moment she is just figuring out what the rules are so you must start as you mean to go on. Lots of praise and taking things at her pace is all good but there is nothing wrong with letting her know when she's overstepped the mark, as long as you are fair and consistent. It's all part of building up a partnership.

Quasicrystals1456 Wed 22-Jul-15 22:49:57

Oh tricky. Like she doesn't know how to behave - what the cues are.

I ride a very traumatised gypsy 'reject' hmm and he has some behaviours that I've never seen before either.

No advice really. I think your doing great smile

GillynMilly Wed 22-Jul-15 23:59:39

Yes sounds like you doing all the right things,my only thoughts are that we do need to remind the horse that we need personal space,doing join up etc and building the bond is great but they sometimes start to treat us another horse! Sounds like a bit of play/ pushyness and as pixel says,testing boundaries! I actually read your post last night and walking our Shetland out today was reminded of it as I stepped in front of her to go through a narrow bit and she tried to nibble me,much as she would try to bite my mare if they were close together! She thinks she's much bigger than she is and likes to be boss,we have only had her a couple of weeks and are starting work with her,she definitely dosnt respect anyone' else's space! Her joining up and following you is great but teach her now to stay a foot or so away and still come with you,also make the free schooling different from the following and get her a lunge length away and get the voice commands going? If she tries to bite again a stern 'no' and maybe make her go back a few strides,'rejection'. If you watch horses in a field and they take off its not unusual to see them stretching out to try and bite,chase the other away,maybe avoid raising the energy with any running with her?

frostyfingers Thu 23-Jul-15 11:47:01

I would suggest that possibly you are going a little too fast with her and her brain is a bit overcooked! She's done a lot within a week and a half so perhaps she needs a bit of a break from learning new stuff and some down time and repeating what you've been doing so far. I've had my rescue pony seven months and although he'd been in the rescue place a while wasn't used to much handling and only now have I started doing more than the basics - he's jumpy and nervous which is why I've been so slow so slightly different from your mare.

Obviously she needs to know that your the boss and she can trust you, and aggression does need to be dealt with, but maybe a little rest first might help?! Good luck, and good for you for taking her on.

Gabilan Thu 23-Jul-15 14:22:02

OP you say you have no expectations but your actions speak differently. As Frosty says, you've actually done quite a bit with her. All of this is fair enough, but perhaps bear in mind that whilst you aren't expecting things of her, she doesn't know that! All she knows is that she's in another new place and people are doing things with her and she has no control and no say in it.

I agree with PP that the aggression needs to be dealt with quite firmly. IME the problem with horses who have had a hard time isn't just the fact that they may have been beaten. It's actually inconsistent behaviour they dislike as they don't know how to behave in a way that makes it possible to avoid a negative response. If things are black and white for them, they're generally much happier. So if she goes to bite, a very consistent, loud "No", with confident body language to back it up, EVERY time she does it, leaves her in no doubt where she stands.

Much/ most training relies on pressure and release. Unfortunately we sometimes exert pressure and then release it in ways we don't quite mean to. So when you started to run, she felt pressured. That's not your fault at all and is presumably just something to do with her previous bad experiences. She has learned that threatening to bite makes people back off. Thus she went to bite you and bingo, you stop running and back away, thus the pressure she felt is released. Unfortunately, it's a great way to train her to bite.

I would just go for very consistent praise/ treats when she's behaving in a way that you want. If possible, ignore any unwanted behaviour but aggressive things like biting I would nip in the bud straight away. When I say "treats" I don't necessarily mean food. My Dhorse is very greedy and pushy if he gets tidbits so for him a treat is a good scratch in one of his favourite itchy spots. Good luck with her. I hope it works out.

Pixel Thu 23-Jul-15 20:40:53

Agree about attention being a reward/treat. When I got dhorse he was very aggressive (still not perfect but so much better now) and I've found that the worse punishment I can give him is to ignore him. He absolutely hates it!

Pixel Thu 23-Jul-15 20:41:38


Gabilan Thu 23-Jul-15 22:02:18

My first horse had had a really tough time of it. If he were a human, you would have said he was in a deep depression. The only way I could get through to him was praise and fuss when he did what I wanted. I just ignored whatever else he did as he couldn't take any negative reaction. He was never aggressive though.

I spent a lot of time grazing him in hand. It was a really lovely, no-pressure way of spending time with him.

Plomino Thu 23-Jul-15 23:30:58

My newest rescue project is similar in many ways - bought for a pound from a totally clueless owner , who didn't feed him apart from one section of hay . In the snow . For a Belgian warmblood who has the equivalent temperament of a border collie . He saw all the other horses on the yard being fed, and nipped his owner in temper , so he fed him an apple. And that was one bad lesson learnt . When we first got him , you couldn't take your eye off him for a second because he'd proper try and take a chunk out of you , at any opportunity . The only thing that worked for him , was growling at him every time he tried , regular meals , and absolutely no food treats at all . Ever . Now he might do a kind of absent minded nip if I am messing about with his girth , but once reminded he becomes very very apologetic . Consistency was definitely the watchword . He's still a cheeky bugger though !

AuntieDee Mon 10-Aug-15 15:28:01

With my youngsters I spend at least 6 weeks with them before I ask anything 'work wise' of them. Just spend a few weeks getting into a routine of bring in, groom (and maybe a feed dependent on weight) then turnout again. Spend time in the field with her too. Let her find that you are not going to push her, but you are nice to be around -this in plenty of education to start. Once you have a bond established you will have much more success with schooling.

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