In-Stall Aggression and Grumpiness Overall

This topic contains 7 replies, has 4 voices, and was last updated by  G & S 2 years, 2 months ago.

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  • capitalq Original Poster
    Topics Started: 1Replies Posted: 1

    Hi! I am currently leasing a 17.2 German Warmblood named Cappy, and am 5’2″. Sometimes he can be a bit much for me because he’s so huge, but this is especially a problem in his stall. He’s been at his current barn for a little over 3 years at this point, and has always been aggressive in his stall, exempt from when he is getting food, water, or is being taken to go out to pasture. I asked my trainer about this issue, and he said that it was a problem for him when he first came, but he was able to stop Cappy’s aggression toward himself by asserting himself as the “alpha horse.” He did this by claiming the area of the stall he entered, then turning away from Cappy until Cappy decided that he would ‘follow’ my trainer, like he would to a lead horse. I tried to do this as well, but only managed to get bitten.

    Something which has been working lately is that I just go into Cappy’s stall and immediately put the halter on him- stopping any attempted bites with the lead rope- but I’d like to know how I can stop or at least quell this aggression on the whole. It seems like he was abused in his stall at one point in his life, but I’ve asked about his previous owners and nothing about abuse has arisen. Is there something I can do to make him less aggressive?

    Thank you!

    Joe-Joe Joe-Joe
    Topics Started: 17Replies Posted: 1205

    Time, time, time and patience. If possible, try handfeeding (or just holding his dish) for his meals, so that YOU are the source of the good food, and therefore your presence is a good thing. Spend hours grooming, and talking to him. You can even sing him songs – just get him to look forward to your being there, and he may come around. I don’t care for your trainer’s response at all. If he is in charge of things, it was his responsibility to ensure that the horse would be safe for anyone to handle, and he’s had three years in which to do it. He may also be aggressive because he is in a stall for too long. Horses should be outside as much as possible.

    It is never the horse's fault

    capitalq Original Poster
    Topics Started: 1Replies Posted: 1

    Hi Joe-Joe! Thank you for your response. To clarify some things, my trainer has been with Cappy for a little over 4 months at this point- Cappy has been at the barn for three years (going on four), and this is the beginning of my second year. I leased him from Jan-June last year, and renewed the lease this September. I completely agree that time with him is important- from the beginning he has gotten much better, but is still aggressive. He’s also turned out from about 8-3 every day with an sweet old pony, then ridden (so out of stall for 3 hours including grooming), so I think he’s getting an ample amount of outside time. On the weekends he’s out for the whole day as well. Also, when I or anyone else gives him food he doesn’t have a problem with people entering his stall, it’s when I don’t have food or treats to give him that he turns aggressive.

    Joe-Joe Joe-Joe
    Topics Started: 17Replies Posted: 1205

    Aggression is a dangerous vice. No way to sugarcoat that. If you are not safe with him, there is a serious problem. Even if he is not aggressive when food is around, if he thinks of you as the food source, he should not be aggressive if you don’t have any. Perhaps your trainer (I misread your pronouns initially, which confused me about which he you meant – we need more pronouns in this language) could help you with this issue, as he is probably larger and stronger than you. Good ground manners are essential – teach this horse that he does not run the planet by making him back up when you enter his stall and stand. He should know those words. Also, stop him from entering or leaving until you say to do so (literally stop him outside the stall and don’t let him in until you release him from the hold back). Require him to turn his hindquarters away from you so you can remove his halter if you are just leaving him in there, and make him stand quietly for you to groom him, if that is what you choose to do. As for treats, there are two schools of thought about them. Some people don’t like giving them at all, some give them as a reward for good behavior (that is what I do). I spent months teaching my horse the concept of “put your head down”, because when I got him it was like trying to groom a giraffe. He only gets a treat after I have completely finished the grooming ritual or if he has to stretch for one (he wasn’t flexible at all initially). They outweigh us generally by a factor of 10, so will always win a physical fight – never let it get to that. I’d prefer to say teach him good manners, but for your safety while you are working on that, can you put him in crossties for grooming? What I did was to put Joe Joe in crossties with a lead attached to his halter (we were working on accepting being in the wash stall, which he thinks is a gas chamber) so that if he got jumpy I could take the lead rather than having to leap for his halter to calm him down. It is less startling to the horse that way. All I can do is offer some ideas that have worked for me, and hope they may help you. The stall is his space, but he must allow you to enter it and do whatever it is you go in there for without any fussing at all. I have read of using a boiled potato (still hot) to combat biting, but not sure it is practical. Put it under your sleeve (or wherever he mostly bites) and let him bite into it. He would burn his mouth, and decide that the consequences are not nice, thus he would stop that behavior. I don’t know if this works, it is only something I read eons ago. You, if you were to do this, would just ignore all that and continue with whatever you were doing.

    It is never the horse's fault

    G & S
    Topics Started: 16Replies Posted: 253

    Being an “alpha” has more to do with self image than physical size. If you approach a horse firmly believing that you are the alpha in the situation, you will have a much better chance of convincing the horse. One of the tricks I have learned over the years is to use my “drill sergeant’s voice”, which is deeper and more commanding than my usual voice. Most women have voices that are naturally higher than men’s voices, and my normal speaking voice is at the high end of the normal range, so deepening my voice and using a commanding tone that says I expect obedience and will have it NOW makes a huge difference. Your large horse will see you as lower in the pecking order until you dominate him with your mind.

    I end up with a lot of stray cats, and one of my favorites is a little 4-5 lb. female, who is the smallest adult of all the indoor and outdoor cats. But she sees herself as being an alpha, and the other cats accept her image as reality. When one of the larger males approaches her, she fluffs up her fur and growls and hisses, and so far the larger cats have always backed off. I call her 60 lbs of cat in a 6 lb. body. The problem is at least in part that you don’t see yourself as being higher in the pecking order than your horse because he is so much bigger than you are. Pecking order is not established by physical size, but by self image. The leader in a group of horses in a pasture is not always the biggest horse, and once leadership and pecking order have been established, usually the head horse does not have to defend his position physically, as long as he dominates the other mentally.

    susannah
    Topics Started: 1Replies Posted: 2

    I can see where you would be worried about this “giant horse” getting the upper hand. I ride an off-the-track Standardbred who is 17hh. But he was trained for the track by my friend who is barely 5′ tall!! She is not abusive to her horses, but she definitely doesn’t tolerate aggressiveness. She cannot afford to with a barn full of race horses to train. When I got this horse at 5 years old, he didn’t like me coming in his stall when he was brought in to eat. He wasn’t used to being fussed over–just train/race/rest.

    I just went in anyway, and brushed him, and combed his mane and tail, and just spent time in there with him, until he decided I wasn’t going away, and I wasn’t doing anything to upset his dinner. Now, he gets a treat in his grain pan while I groom him in his stall prior to tacking up to ride. It’s our routine, and he accepts it. I even clean his stall around his feet sometimes just to remind him I can.

    Routine is what horses love, and you have to set it up for him. When they know what to expect, they are comfortable. They don’t like surprises or changes. Setting up this stall routine is a slow, laborious process, but worth it.

    You might also want to consider trying out a calming supplement that would soften his mood and make him more accepting of your presence in his stall. SmartPak has a variety of those available. I use Quiessence with my other horse, a Haflinger gelding that I use for driving that was made into a bully by his previous owners. When I bought him, he was extremely fat from over-feeding and treats, and expected food from people whenever they approached him. This made him a biter, and I would not tolerate that.

    It took me several weeks and some negative physical contact to convince him that I was not a “vending machine” or a “chew toy” for him. I like Quiessence because it is a calming supplement and also helps with metabolic imbalances that can cause horses to maintain fat in their bodies (easy keepers). I was not able to get any weight off him no matter how little I fed him, or how much I exercised him!!

    It took several months to see a difference, but the supplement really helped him with both of his issues. With diet and exercise and this supplement, I was able to reduce his roundness, increase his energy level for work, and settle his attitude down. I wouldn’t be without it now. He’s a completely different horse now. He’s happy and friendly, and has lots more action on the cart. He even runs and bucks in the pen now–he never did that before!

    You may have to resort to someone else with more experience teach your horse some ground manners, and then transfer that authority over to you. I like Clinton Anderson’s approach to ground work. It’s no-nonsense, and he works a horse like a lead mare would do it in a herd. Ask once nicely, tell again firmly, whack! Did you hear me that time? Horses are very intelligent, and learn quickly. It’s just too bad that sometimes they are learning bad behavior, instead of good.

    Good luck to you with your big horse. Never let his size make you back down. We are smaller, but we are smarter.

    Susannah

    Joe-Joe Joe-Joe
    Topics Started: 17Replies Posted: 1205

    Horses are not only intelligent, they have better memories than elephants. I really do not advocate hitting animals – any animals. They will remember, and it can make everything worse.

    It is never the horse's fault

    G & S
    Topics Started: 16Replies Posted: 253

    You might also want to check this horse’s magnesium level, as this sounds to me a lot like a magnesium deficiency. I finally remembered to look up the web site address for the company from which I bought my magnesium supplement:

    PerformanceEquineNutrition.com

    Not all magnesium supplements are the same, and which one you use can make a major difference. This company has (or had when I last checked out the website) a list of typical symptoms of magnesium deficiency, and what amazed me was how many negative behaviors can be a result of an undiagnosed magnesium deficiency. Sometimes it is less expensive to put the horse on a magnesium supplement rather than testing for it first, and if one follows the direction, the extra magnesium will not harm the horse, if a magnesium deficiency it not the problem.

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