Solutions for Dealing with so called ‘Problem Horses’

Often when there is a problem in the horse-human relationship people are looking for answers that help them. They want a solution, for their problem.

In most cases it is the horse that has a problem, with the way he is housed, fed, handled, tacked or trained. It’s the horse trying to tell you he has a problem. I see most people are looking for human centered solutions which often focuses on symptom management, not a cure. I like to solve problems with the horse in mind, because that leads to reliable and long term solutions. I don’t cut corners and hand out bandages, my aim is to cure the problem. Let’s find out how.

Human Centered Solutions

In Human Centered Solutions the human gets what she wants:

  1. If the horse is putting his head in the air the solution is often a martingale.

  • If the horse is ”lazy’ (I don’t believe that label is applicable to animals) the rider gets a whip or spurs.
  • If the horse doesn’t want to walk into a trailer, he is forced into it either by putting a lunge line behind his butt or he has to ‘learn what the sweet spot is’ and is chased around and around until the horse ‘chooses’ the right thing and that is entering the trailer.
  • If the horse eats or chews wood, the solution is to put a bad tasting substance (sometimes even sambal) on the wood or I also have seen that a horse in his own stable was surrounded by hot wire in order to prevent nibbling on the wood.
  • If a horse injures another horse, he gets ‘solitary confinement’ as punishment or as ‘solution’.
  • Unfortunately I can make this list very, very long. I think we can all think of at least 20 examples, right?

    Short cuts

    Human Centered Solutions are shortcuts that make the struggle longer. They may seem to give a solution because they deal with the symptom(s), but they don’t change or solve the root of the problem. In the long run they might even worsen the problem for the horse.

    I like to look at the cause of a ‘problem’ and resolve that. My philosophy is for every problem is a solution. It takes a bit more, and sometimes a lot more to choose this way. In the end it is better and it saves time, pain, frustration for both horse and handler.

    HippoLogic’s Horse Centered Solutions

    HippoLogic works only with Horse Centered Solutions. Solutions that work on the root of the problem, not the symptom.

    Head tossing

    In cases where the horse throws his head in the air, let’s find out why:

    Is he in pain?

    • Does the rider have harsh hands? Teach the rider how to balance and take the reins away until he has an independent seat.
    • Does the rider bump in the saddle or is unbalanced? See above
    • Are the horses teeth causing pain (hooks on his molars)? Let a vet or equine dentist take a look at his teeth.
    • Does the saddle fit? Call an independent saddle fitter (not a sales person).
    • Is the horse physically OK? Ask the vet to check him out.

    Is he anxious?

    • Does the horse try to flee? Give your horse confidence with training.

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  • Does the horse try to bolt or rear? Why? Find out if he is in pain, if he does get enough exercise, gets too much grain and so on. Change what he missed into what he needs.
  • Is it learned behaviour?

    • Does the horse get reinforced by throwing his head up in the air? Change the training and reinforce him more for the opposite behaviour.

    Lazy horse

    If a horse is labeled ‘lazy’ I want to find out why. What does he do to get labeled as ‘lazy’? Does he not walk, trot, canter fast enough or doesn’t he react (fast enough) to the riders cues?

    Does the horse know?

    • Does the horse know what is expected from him? That he is supposed to go faster or react faster? Does your horse know what the leg aid means? Teach the behaviour first, then put a cue on it. Reinforce the desired behaviour with something the horse wants!

    Why is the horse not motivated to go faster or react quicker?

    • Is the horse tired? Does he gets his REM sleep (the only get REM sleep when they lay down to sleep) or is he sleep deprived? Take a look at his housing and check if he is laying down at least once every 24 hours.
    • Is the horse tired because he spent his energy on something else? Is he nervous, does he have to guard the herd, is it a stallion and is it breeding season?
    • Is the horse in good shape? Does he have the stamina that is asked? Is he overweight? Is he physically able to move better or faster? Let the vet check him out and ask a equine nutritionist (not a sales person!) for advice.
    • Is the horse not motivated enough? I like to use positive reinforcement to motivate a horse and a marker to mark the desired behaviour (increased speed or faster reactions to the handler cues). That is a bit of a puzzle, but once you figured it out you have solved the problem for the rest of the horses live (if he lives another 25 years that is worth your time investment)!

    If a horse kicks, bites, lashes out, rears or displays aggressive behaviour, take a look at what might cause it, before trying to fight fire with fire.

    Find professional help and ask lots of questions to find out the professional is horse centered (Why is the horse doing this? In what situation does this happen? What triggers the behaviour? What has been done?) or looking for human centered solutions (making the horse ‘shut up’, teaching him ‘a lesson’, teach him ‘how to behave’)

    I can go on and on. This is only the tip of the iceberg of possibilities you can try.

    Trailer loading, wood chewing and dangerous horses 

    _trailer loading_hippologic

    In these cases too, I focus on the cause of the problem: is there fear, pain, misunderstanding, physical needs or welfare issues that are at play?

    It takes time, effort and knowledge to understand what the problem really is. Sometimes it takes even more time, effort and trial and error to figure out a sustainable solution. But if you do, it is worth it, because you know it is a horse centered solution! Therefor you encountered the real problem and you are now understanding your horse. Who doesn’t want that? What is a better base for a relationship?

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    HippoLogic.jpg
    Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
    My mission is to improve human-horse relationships. I reconnect horse women with their inner wisdom and teach them the principles of learning and motivation, so they become confident and skilled to train their horse in a safe and effective way that is a lot of FUN for both human and horse. Win-win.
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    Tons of Winter Training Ideas

    Here in Canada it is Winter again. Normally the climate is mild here in Vancouver, BC but this winter we’ve already had snow that’s lasted for almost two weeks.

    _Kyra_sneeuw_hippologic.jpgWe all know that frozen pastures limit our horses ability to exercise themselves and horses generally are more spooky and more forward in cold weather conditions. Riders with an outdoor arena can’t ride due to the frozen ground. How can you get the most out of this time of year? Here are some tips.

    Work on Simple behaviours

    Choose to work on some smaller, but still important behaviours that will make your life easier and improve the relationship with your horse. Does every ride start with a bit of irritation because your horse lifts his head every time you want to halter/bridle him? Does he always walk a few steps while mounting?

    How does that influence your relationship? Imagine how you would feel to have a horse that would put his head into his own halter or bridle, align perfectly next to your mounting block and stand still until you give the cue to walk on?

    Simple behaviours you can work on in Winter that would improve your life at the barn can be:

    Have some fun with your horse

    If the weather isn’t allowing you to ride you can spend time with your horse , groom him and do a wonderful photo shoot. Maybe you can have eternalize some of your equestrian goals you worked on this year.

    _Smile_tricktraining_horse_hippologic.jpgYou can take your horse on a walk to hand graze your horse. This would be a perfect time to start teaching him how to quit grazing on a cue, since winter grass is less enticing than the juicy green Spring grass that will be back in a few months.

    Start trick training and have a good time! Here is a good book that will get you started on a few easy tricks.

    What does your favourite Winter training looks like?

    Sandra Poppema
    Are you interested in online personal coaching, please visit my website

     

     

     

    Let’s talk about a taboo in Trailer Loading Problems

    Trailer loading can be a huge issue for horse people. Why? There are 2 components in trailer loading that play a major role: the horse and the handler.

    The horse plays a big role. If he is fearful to go into that little box on wheels, it makes us nervous. Who wants to stand in a small box on wheels, next to 1000 pounds of unpredictable and unwilling animal that is trying to escape instead of willingly walking in?

    Fear
    trailer_training_hippologicFear plays a major role in most trailer loading issues. In this blog I am not talking about the fear in horses. I think they can be trained away the easiest. I am talking about the fear of the handler leading the horse into the trailer.

    Handler
    I know I had trailer loading issues myself. People always thought I was joking when I said:”I have trailer loading issues” or “I have trailer fear”. Most people didn’t take the “I” in my sentence literally, but I really mean it that way.

    Here are a few of my biggest worries I had about trailer loading:
    – What if my horse gets injured in the trailer, during loading or during the drive.
    – What if the trailer or car gets a flat tire on the highway?
    – What if I get injured while loading a nervous horse into a very small space? Especially when I was pregnant this was a big fear.
    – What will people think of me if I can’t load my horse?
    – What will people think if they have to wait for me while I am loading? I don’t want to be a burden, they probably hate waiting, they might think I am doing it wrong, etc.
    – What should I say if people want to ‘help’ me load my horse and want to use pressure or force my horse?
    – What will they think of me when I decline their help? I don’t want to offend them by saying “Thanks, but no thanks”.
    – What if Kyra falls down in the trailer or gets stuck again? It has happened before…
    – What if she panics and runs onto a busy street?

    There are other factors that can play a roll as well like impatience or stress in the handler. It can be that you’re only worried or afraid when loading your own horse. I have loaded other peoples horses smoothly when the cause was the handler.

    With other peoples horses I didn’t have the fears I named above. Part of it was when the horse was in the trailer, it didn’t feel like my responsibility anymore. And I was never in a hurry because I was helping people out that were desperate and ready to take (wait) the time it took to load the horse.

    Solutions
    Back to my own situation. The moment I realized part of the problem was me, I was stunned. Was I part of the problem? Really? _trailer loading_hippologic

    Have you ever noticed that what you are focusing on grows? My fears stayed intact because I was repeating them over and over in my mind. It is like a fire and as you keep feeding it, it grows and takes on a life of its own. Instead of being relieved that Kyra got out of the trailer perfectly fine and without any injury whatsoever, I kept telling myself that I was afraid of her being injured and developing a trailer issue.

    As soon as I realized this, I started focusing on what went well and on all the improvements I had already achieved. Small improvements like every second ‘building duration standing in the trailer’, ‘standing more relaxed in the trailer’ as well as the big improvements ‘pulling me towards an open trailers to get in’ and ‘she didn’t poop out of stress’.

    Training journal
    Writing down my successes and filming the process helped incredibly. If you are familiar with clicker training, you already know this.

    I also realized that we are in a process. It takes time and every time I could build on the foundations of trailer loading I was building on the solid behaviour I am longing for: a confident horse that loads easily and enjoys the ride.

    Relationship 
    I don’t get nervous anymore if people are watching or waiting while I load Kyra. I realize that the relationship I have with my horse and my horses feelings are worth much more than what I think other people are thinking. After all, I don’t know what they are thinking… I refuse to stress my horse by pressuring her, because of my (irrational) thoughts. I don’t want to force her anymore. Ever.

    Circumstances
    What also helped to reduce my fears, is to make the trailer and the ride as comfortable as possible. In this way I can relax better while traveling with my horse. Like a light, roomy trailer, an anti-slip floor, shavings and a hay net so Kyra can nibble away, a experienced driver who drives defensively and so on.

    _trailer loading_hippologic
    Enjoy the ride!
    I hope you never have to deal with issues like this and when you do, I hope you overcome them too. Life is so much more enjoyable now. Taking my horse to places gives me so much joy and satisfaction, without stress and my fears. I really enjoy loading Kyra into a trailer now to go places. Oh, and Kyra does too, she literally pulls me towards a trailer if the ramp is down. Like she want to say: “Let me in. Take me with you. Let’s go!”

    We are still working on a self loading horse. I am sure we can tick that off of our list of goals in 2015.

    Sandra Poppema

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