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Horse Problem - Kicking problem - horse kicks others behind her on trail rides









QUESTION: Hey Sylvia. I recently bought a 4-year-old Cleveland bay X mare, who had been broken in about 3 months prior to me getting her. The lady who was schooling her for the owner (who is overseas) told me that this was the nicest, easiest horse she has ever schooled (and she is 60, so she has ridden a few in her time!). This woman ensured me that the mare had never had any bad experience and had no idea how to be naughty, never having kicked, bucked, reared, pushed, or bitten. I tried her out for a few days before making a decision, and found her to be incredibly uncomplicated for a very green horse, certainly not dirty at all, and very laid back.

I got her home, and after she had had a day to recover from the long trip down (3 hours), I took her into the our local forest (which we are fortunate to live on). I was aware she had never done anything like this before, so took it very slowly. All throughout the ride she behaved like an angel, calm and cool, never spooky. However, coming home, my other horse (whom my dad was riding) was behind her, although not even very close at all. She was a little excited (perhaps overwhelmed from having gone for her first ever forest ride?), stopped, and actually backed up, sending a kick right at my gelding's face, missing him by inches. I was absolutely shocked! My dad was terrified, saying that if she had gotten him, he would be dead, it was that strong a kick.

I took her for a ride again today, and was careful to stay at the back, but on one short occasion a horse was slightly behind her, and she did it again (the horse she kicked out at this time was a mare of my friend's). That's two out of two rides.

I was hoping that you could please give me a few pointers on how to cure this, or potential reasons. Perhaps she is in season? At the moment I feel like I'm handling a loaded gun, and I really don't want to get anyone hurt. Please help! Thanks!

REPLY: This is not an unusual problem. And no it's not necessarily in-season related, some geldings and stallions have this problem as well. It has more to do with their pecking order status (that they perceive) and how they feel they need to keep reminding the other horses that they are leader, "so back off!" they are saying. But you're right, this is dangerous behavior and not to be tolerated any longer. YOU are the herd leader when riding her, not her, and she needs to be reminded of that fact and focus on you and only you at all times when riding her, including out on the trail. She's shutting you off and thinking she's the leader (even over you). You are going to have to reschool her there to remind her that her only job there is to listen to your instructions and that pecking order behavior like that is only tolerated when she's out in pasture alone with horses, but not while you, the real herd leader, are riding her.

Don't worry, there's a way to fix this problem. In natural horsemanship we use pressure and release of pressure to teach or school a horse. All horses learn via the release of pressure what it is we want, not the pressure itself, so we are going to use that principle to fix this problem, as well as use the natural horsemanship tenet, "make the right thing easy, the wrong thing hard."

You are going to need to have someone ride behind you for your reschooling of this problem, but they don't have to ride too close at first, you just need someone to help set it up to flush out the problem, affording you the opportunity to school your horse on this problem from saddle now. Here's how:

Before she backs up or preps to kick the horse behind you, your horse is going to flatten her ears back irritably giving you a pre-sign that she wants to kick. She might even flick her tail angrily right before as well. Whatever her signs are before the kick, watch for them astutely and be prepared to react instantly at the very beginning of this behavior, catching her "in the act" as early as you can. The second she preps mentally for that kick (get observant!), I want you to bounce in the saddle up & down, flopping your bottom on her back as you bounce, and fly your hands around (with reins) erratically, flailing them, making a loud "SHHHHHHH" sound, repeatedly all at the same time. Like a crazy monkey in the saddle suddenly. :-) In other words, be instantly very, very annoying to her (bizarrely even if needed) up in saddle in as annoying a way as you can that is uncomfortable to her and even surprises her. Is not about hurting her. Is about making her very uncomfortable suddenly with your antics, and even greatly surprising her. She's going to instantly shoot her ears back up and onto you and forget her kicking thoughts as she focuses on, "Huh??? What the heck are you doing up there??!" The second she focuses on you there and forgets her kicking thoughts, release the pressure instantly, go very, very quiet. Life is suddenly good and peaceful. Be quiet, still, stroke her neck to reward for her stopping the kicking thoughts, checking them at the door (even though your antics are what shifted her to focus on for a moment, you want to show her the "get along spot" and how peaceful it is). Then continue her ride.

Again, ask for the hind rider to approach again, this time slightly closer and repeat this exercise. The second your horse's thoughts or actions turn to kicking back ideas (catch her right at the beginning of this behavior, not after), repeat your annoyance actions as above. Get loud with the Shhhh sound first (very, very effective disciplining sound with horses, we've found, don't use "no," use the "Shhhh" sound), and get very annoying again, bouncing, flailing your arms, pulling the reins upward. But the second she stops the kicking thoughts behavior and focuses on you (watch her ears!) and not on the horse behind her, stop instantly your actions, releasing the pressure. Give her a second to think, then stroke her for stopping the behavior and focusing only on you.

Since all horses learn from the release of pressure what it is you want, get your release timing split second instant, the moment the horse does what you want -- and that would be: focus on you, her leader, nothing else. This works! Give it a try. Do this repeatedly until a horse can follow behind her safely. Make the right thing easy, the wrong thing hard for the horse and your horse will find that kicking horses behind her thoughts or actions is a very distasteful route to go.

If you use the "shhhh" sound in the beginning of your disciplining there, and throughout, pretty soon just the "shhhh" sound will stop her kicking behavior in its tracks, as a reminder, when you see her ears go back irritably at the horse behind you and you won't need to go up the pressure scale there.

If you find this ineffective, though it is quite effective with most horses....another method for correcting such trail riding bad manners behavior like you're having there, kicking other horses, which is all about your horse trying to be dominant over others when she should be focusing on you and only you, her leader, and this method is still in the category of "making the right thing easy, the wrong thing hard": put the horse to hard work and remove the companionship factor the second such disrespectful behavior occurs. Horses at all times seek comfort and companionship, is instinct in them. You will remove those two for disciplining purposes when she tries to kick others. The hard thing there for her is work and isolation from horses, and the easy thing there is rest and companionship, nearer the other horses. The release (remember the release is the reward) here will be letting the horse rest and be with the herd (your trail buddies) when she's complying and more respectful (no kicking thoughts or actions). You are also showing her here what we call the black & white zone. White zone is when she's behaving and life is good and easier for her; the black zone is when she's misbehaving and that's when pressure gets applied to her to correct the behavior. Here's how that will work:

While you are out on the trail (and go ahead and flush this behavior out so you can school her there), have a rider ride up behind her, and the second that your horse shows signs that she is concerned about another horse behind her in your group, like you describe there, you can instantly take her away from the herd and put her to hard work: turn her, circle her, change speeds, back her up for many steps, lope in circles, stop, go, ride in figure eights, do everything you can think of that is filed as hard work by her one after the other. Do this even until she's tired if you have to the first few times. When she becomes obedient and responsive to you well there, then let her rest by coming back to ride with your trail buddies. When and if she becomes aggressive again, threatening a kick, immediately take her away and put her to work again as before. Repeat this process enough until the horse begins to make the mental connection that her kicking behavior will instantly produce very hard work for her away from the trail herd (who have life a lot easier as they walk along quietly). This may take only one time, or it could take dozens, but be consistent there if you want to go this route. If you feel you are not up to reschooling her there, don't hesitate to call in a professional natural horsemanship trainer to do this for you. But the bottom line is, both methods involve making the right thing easy, the wrong thing hard and the horse will settle down and lose the kicking thoughts because to "go there" makes life just too hard for her and highly distasteful.

Note: If at any point you need to regain control after your in-saddle antics (route #1) or at any time period when working with her, just pull on one rein and do a one-rein stop, bringing her head over to one side (keep the outside rein long and slack, inside rein brought in tight, locked onto your thigh for leverage if needed) at the same time you bump your inside leg back to disengage her hind quarters. Wind down to that one rein stop. Remove your legs off the horse once she's disengaged the hind quarters, which means the horse's inside hind leg crosses under the outside hind leg, which is like pulling the emergency break in a car.

All forward impulsion in a horse comes from the hind quarters. You disengage the hind quarters (disengaging the "engine") via pulling the head over to one side at the same time you bump the inside (the inside of your bend) hind quarters over with your inside foot back. When the horse's inside hind leg crosses in front of their outside hind leg, they can no longer go forward, but can only circle. You've then removed the "go" from the horse. This forces the horse to circle and wind down to a stop, but remember to remove your feet off the horse when the hind quarters comply there, or the horse will keep circling if you keep the leg on her there after she's already disengaged/complied. If you ever get stuck with the horse keeping circling, not stopping, even with your leg off of her there, simply reach up and stroke the outside (outside of the bend) neck and this helps the horse to realize she's supposed to stop. Once stopped, keep the head over and reach down and stroke and scratch the inside cheek and rub the horse's inside eye with the open palm of your hand, bond with the horse from up there, rewarding for the stop. This helps to bring them back down to rationality and listening to you.

I'm just showing you a one-rein stop (which all horses should have in their foundation deeply before ever riding them out anywhere!) in case you need it there at any time in the future, or for during this reschooling lesson at any time. It's your safety brake if you ever need that, but it's always best to practice the one-rein stop in lessons in a confined area first so that you both have it down for later -- and at all gaits! Riding a horse without the one-rein stop deeply planted into their foundation is like driving a car on black ice. I.e., it's just an accident waiting to happen! Remember though that the faster you are going, the wider the wind-down circles you will make there, snailing down to the one-rein stop. Don't just pull a horse's head over abruptly if you're going fast or the horse could lose her balance and fall (that's how Hollywood stunt men bring down a "shot" trick horse!). At the canter or the trot, make your one-rein stop and winding down in a circle very wide (proportional to your speed), making smaller and smaller circles, snailing down as the horse slows until you're circling at the walk, then stop the horse.

So...take the time to plant a one-rein stop into your horse's foundation now, first at a walk, then at a trot, then at the canter, then work on the reschooling of kicking riders behind you problem afterwards, in that order. And take the time to teach this one-rein stop to your family and friends. In my opinion, there's nothing more important than instilling the one-rein stop into every horse's foundation. A one-rein stop can stop a runaway horse, a bucking horse or rearing horse usually, so is very important to get that down, both you and your horse together as a team, to keep you safest.

Hope this helps and let me know how it goes! Good luck to you there.

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