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The tack room

Upset - horse had ''feeding tantrum''...

21 replies

Whitehorsegirl · 02/08/2022 19:29

I had my usual riding lesson (adult beginner rider) this afternoon with my usual horse and although the actual ride went well it all went a bit pear-shaped when I had to untack the horse and it has left me a bit shaken.

Usually the horses at the school are pretty chilled and will stay still and straight and I can remove saddle and the bridle without issues.

But today when I walked the horse back into the stable he went straight for where his food is usually kept (no food was there has he already had been fed before the lesson) so the instructor suggested to just let him rummage for a bit and remove the saddle as he was doing that and then push him back and position him straight and remove the bridle. I managed to put him in the right position but he continued to be agitated, shaking his head so I started getting a bit concerned and I asked her if I should get out. The instructor just told me to carry on but she ended up getting in and she lost her temper when he almost nipped at her , gave him a sharp tap on the side of the head to push him away (not quite a slap but that still upset me...) and called the horse ''rude''. I finally managed to remove the bridle and got out. The horse continued to be agitated, kicked the door a couple of times, stuck his head out and sent a bag that was hanging on a hook outside flying. Full on tantrum...this is a big horse (17) too.

One the grooms I spoke to afterwards just said he was annoyed because it could see that other horses were eating and that is why he was having a tantrum as they can get all competitive with things like that and that it was best to just leave him to calm down.

Apparently two horses were also fighting in the school's field this afternoon. I wonder if the heat is upsetting everyone...

What do people think? any tips for avoiding a repeat...

This is a big riding school in London with quite a good reputation but they do expect you to lead your horse back in the stable and remove everything but what I don't get is that you are basically stuck in there with a loose horse. They don't make you use a halter so you can you tie them while you are removing the saddle then the bridle so of course if one decides to make a beeline for their food it can become a bit tricky. The ones I had before only needed a quick pull to be reminded to stay still but this one was having none of it.

I hope this makes sense as I am aware I don't know all the terms yet but the last thing I want was to get stuck again with a horse having a tantrum.

I won't be using that instructor again as I did not like the way she pushed the horse but I am so fond of that horse that I don't want to stop riding him and I am blaming myself for all of it to the point where I had a little cry afterwards.

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QuestionableMouse · 02/08/2022 19:34

Honestly it's safer for everyone if the horses are tied up in situations like this, especially if you can tie somewhere away from the stables.

Nothing wrong with a tap if he was getting nippy. It's a bloody dangerous habit.

I'd insist on tying somewhere else and untacking there. It's not uncommon for horses to get a bit bargey and cross if they can see others being fed and they're not getting anything!

If they won't let you do that, then maybe chuck a few treats in the bucket so he's getting something, but that wouldn't be my preference because it's really just reinforcing the "must have food straight away" issue.

Stickytreacle · 02/08/2022 19:43

I don't think it's a huge issue, although the stables should ensure that routine is stuck to as horses can find a disrupted routine upsetting and it's understandable he would have expected his food if others were being fed.
If you enjoy the horse normally then continue to ride and handle him but maybe ask the instructor to show you how to deal with bolshy behaviour, and avoid handling of he hasn't been fed if your confidence isn't up to it just yet.
Some lessons in groundwork might be useful.

Lastqueenofscotland2 · 02/08/2022 19:44

I agree with the above. I’m a lazy twat with my horses but when I worked with race horses I’d never be loose in a box with one.
I also wouldn’t have a nervous novice untacking a horse unsupervised, it’s asking for you to get hurt or the horse to get confused and upset.

However I’m soft as shite with my horses and on the hippy-dippier side of horse ownership these days (barefoot where possible, daily turnout unless it’s missing a leg, low starch/sugar feed/very much not a forceful rider) and I wouldn’t bat an eyelid at someone giving a horse a firm push for biting, it’s much the same as another horse would do and as they said above, really fucking dangerous, I’ve seen some horrific injuries from horse bites.

Lastqueenofscotland2 · 02/08/2022 19:44

That should say I’d never be ina box with one loose

Pleasedontdothat · 02/08/2022 20:05

You can’t be nervous around horses and they have to behave themselves around food - they’re too big and strong not to! When I’m untacking in a stable I don’t let the horse go in first, and I get them to turn round so they’re facing the door. I don’t tie them up to untack - that shouldn’t be necessary in a stable. It sounds like the horse was picking up on you feeling a bit nervous and pushing his luck. Can you get some groundwork lessons as that would help you feel more confident and less likely to get pushed around

Whitehorsegirl · 02/08/2022 20:10

OK. Thank you so much for the reassurance and advice so far.

I guess I always have this thing about not wanting to hurt a horse in any way but I can see the logic in saying that another horse would probably have shove/tapped him back in the same way, so that's no big deal.

I don't think I would be allowed to give him treats but I must say bribing him sounds tempting....

I am going on a riding holiday with mixture of hacks and lessons soon and I will ask them to spend time with me going through the best tack/untack routines and how to handle a horse that's being ''bolshy''. There is so little time with regular lessons that the ground aspect is barely covered and I have never been told what to do if they are grumpy when on the ground, the focus was always how how to handle them when I am riding them :)

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Whitehorsegirl · 02/08/2022 20:14


That's a good point. I have never had that happen before though. I do that as well: lead them in and turn them around so they are facing the door. That one is so big though, he did turn and faced the door but then pushed left to his feeder. I guess next time I will have to be more firm and not give him the opportunity to do that.

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closingloop · 02/08/2022 20:45

Bribing him with treats just means that he'll get cross with the next person that doesn't give him treats. Did you shout? Current horse responds well to 'Oi' if he starts to do something that he shouldn't.

sunsetsandsandybeaches · 02/08/2022 21:47

As everyone has said, it's normal for horses (and any animal really) to get a bit bolshy if their routine is disrupted or if they see everyone else getting fed when they're not.

Biting and nipping is also something you have to stay on top of - bites from horses can be incredibly dangerous.

I look after an old horse who can try his luck sometimes with being a bit bolshy and pestery if he wants attention. He tried it with me when I first cared for him and a quick "I don't quite think so!" in a firm voice soon stopped him. You do have to be on top of it - don't hesitate to be firm with them or you could end up very badly injured.

Pleasedontdothat · 02/08/2022 22:04

@Whitehorsegirl I’d be very wary of bribing him - that would be likely to make him more bolshy not less! If my horse looks like he’s even thinking about doing something I don’t want him to, a quick sharp ‘uh-uh’ and he immediately starts behaving again. I wasn’t as assertive when we first got him - it doesn’t come naturally to me, but it’s much better for both of us to have the confidence that he’ll do what he’s told

maxelly · 03/08/2022 10:10

Please don't worry, sounds like a fairly normal incident, no-one was hurt including the horse and you've identified what went wrong and why. Horses are big animals and when you've got used to them being quiet and well behaved it is a bit unsettling when you are suddenly reminded they don't have to comply with us! Feeding time can be a real flash point for unwanted behaviours in horses because in the wild where resources are scarce competing to get enough food could literally be a matter of life and death, so it's natural even in our spoilt domesticated animals that if they think another horse is getting what they aren't or you are getting between them and food it can encourage aggressive behaviours. For that reason be really careful with treats, only ever with the owner's permission and in a calm environment, not as a bribe (tends not to work with horses anyway, unlike with dogs they don't seem to easily make the connection between good behaviour/treat, they just grab the food and continue doing whatever they were doing before IME 😂)

Like others I do tack up and untack loose in the box because it's quicker than tying up and I'm very confident in my horse's ground manners but it's not really the proper/safest way, so while I appreciate you are kind of stuck with the riding school's rules, using a headcollar would really be the longer term solution if this became a habit with this horse. And if he got fixated on the food bucket I'd actually groom and tack up/untack on the yard away from his feeding spot if possible. But really it sounds as though the instructor did the right thing and stepped in with a firm correction to remind him of his manners which is necessary sometimes particularly in horses which are dealt with by novices, sounds highly unlikely the horse would have been hurt in any way, like others have said horses are pretty physical with one another in the herd environment and respond well humans behaving as another horse would, so if nipped ie a loud noise (No! Or Oi!) and use of body language by pushing them away hard (another horse would show their teeth or lash out with hind legs, not necessarily to make contact but as a warning) shows them very effectively that it isn't allowed or wanted behaviour. You can't reason with a horse in words so body language and tone of voice much better, although you can also positively reinforce by patting and using a nice tone of voice when they are standing nicely, that they understand and respond to also. Prevention better than cure also so now you know this boy can be a bit bolshy I'd keep a tight hold of his head as you lead him in, put yourself between him and his feeder and be quick with your 'no!' or 'wait!' and a pull on the reins or sharp push away of the head if he tries to lunge for the bucket.

As a rider/handler you learn these things by experience and you don't always get it right first time so please don't worry this means you won't be able to confidently manage a.similar situation in future! Good luck with the lessons and holiday!

Whitehorsegirl · 03/08/2022 11:37

@maxelly thank you so much for such a lovely post and all the advice!! I really appreciate it and will be better prepared when I deal with him again next week :)

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horseymum · 05/08/2022 08:46

It's a shame so many riding schools don't teach horse handling skills or teach people about horse behaviour as they would have happier, more confident clients. I hope you have a great time on your holiday and get to spend a bit more relaxed time on the ground with the horses, observing their behaviour and getting more confident. We ride a friend's pony a couple of times a week and my kids learn a lot on the ground, catching him, leading him, learning to predict when he might try to rush. I worked in a riding school and it's hard if the lesson finishes at feed time as they all rush into their stables and dive for the bucket, making it hard for a novice to untack. I think you will get more confident at handling if you learn about how horses learn and that you do need to discourage them from barging into your space

horseymum · 05/08/2022 08:49

You might find the fb page Equitation science international interesting as there is a lot about how horses learn and how we can shape their behaviour.

Alfr · 05/08/2022 09:00

You can untack him safely without tying up if you leave the bridle on - you can keep hold of the reins to stop him barging around. Walk him in, turn him round, take the saddle off and pop it on the door, then undo noseband and throat lash, and slip the bridle off as you leave his stable.
I wouldn't condemn your intructor for giving him a smack for biting. Better a swift slap from her to remind him of his manners, than him learning that he can bite and get away with it.
I try and minimise interaction with horses in their stables, as that's their space. I do everything outside, and have stables ready with hay/water/feed when I bring them in from the field, so I lead them in ,turn them to face the door, and slip the headcollar off. They don't get to drag me across the stable to their feeds - they know they have to turn round and wait til I let them go.

Whitehorsegirl · 05/08/2022 10:09

@Alfr''You can untack him safely without tying up if you leave the bridle on - you can keep hold of the reins to stop him barging around. Walk him in, turn him round, take the saddle off and pop it on the door, then undo noseband and throat lash, and slip the bridle off as you leave his stable.''

That's the usual routine for me which worked for all the other school horses. Unfortunately this time he rushed for his feed before I could stop him after I had turned him round. I think I was a bit stressed that day and tired so he probably felt he could get away with it...I had spent the lesson in one of the outside arenas in the sun/heat and doing no stirrup work so my legs were pretty much jelly after an hour!

I appreciate everyone's advice and will be more assertive next week.

@horseymum I will look at this resource Thank you so much for the suggestion. Yes, I think I really want to learn more about ground behaviour and what to do when they play up before you get on but that is never really a part of the lessons unfortunately.

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Slavetolove · 05/08/2022 12:06

He needs to learn some ground manners. If this was my girl I would make her move her feet until she calms down, like walking in circles.

she used to do this alll the time, it was becoming dangerous. She doesn’t get fed in the stable anymore and she’s learnt a lot.

same with how she used to throw her head up everytime my daughter went to put her bridle on. A quick tap and a no after a few times she’s learnt and she’s absolutely Amazing now!

blobby10 · 05/08/2022 12:26

My family had horses for years and whilst they were all absolute angels most of the time, they all had their moments! You have to be firm with them, especially with your voice, when you want them to do something. This doesn't mean shouting at them. keep it simple. If he's barging then its No or Stand. Use one syllable words.

Like PP have said, when you are leading, don't let the horse go first. if he/she tried to barge ahead, use your body as a block to their shoulder, use your elbow on their breast area if you need to enforce this. They are clever animals - they soon know who they can take advantage of and who will make them behave!

Whitehorsegirl · 12/08/2022 13:58

To update people: I had no problem this week with leading and untacking the horse.

Funnily enough one of the grooms asked me if I wanted to stay a bit to see the horse have a sponge bath to cool him off outside and get some sunscreen put on his nose :) before she put him out in the field for the afternoon. The horse was having none of it when she was trying to tie and position him to get his bath and she had to try several time to put him in the right place before she could go ahead. Apparently he thought he was going straight to the field and objected to stopping for a bath.

Anyway it was interesting to see and learn that even the professionals have to be firm sometimes when the horse wants their routine to be kept to the letter.

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maxelly · 13/08/2022 16:50

Aw nice, yes someone failed to pass my horse the memo about it being silly hot and them enjoying a nice shower to cool down, he's not keen on water at the best of times and was quite clear with me he preferred to keep his home-made decorations of half his dinner and some poo stains Blush rather than being clean today, some distinctly un-BHS approved language was used as I tried to get him to stand in the wash bay! They are funny, they've all got their own ideas and quirks and clearly this boy likes his routine!

Whitehorsegirl · 13/08/2022 18:14

Yes, the groom said this one also does not like them using the hosepipe and the dedicated space where the school horses usually have their little shower. So she was trying to tie him up somewhere else and give him his sponge bath but he just was not having any of it at first. He seemed to enjoy the bath though once he finally agreed to get in the right position.

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