Question: My gelding tried to kick at me on the lunge line yesterday. He postured and turned his back end to me. He is always good. Would the wind have anything to do with it? I tried to hit him but he just got mad and tried it again, then moved in to me. I went after him with the dressage whip and he pulled and ran away. What could be causing this?
Answer from April Reeves:
The Change of Seasons
My first thought is that it’s fall, and horses often tend to do mysterious things like act up and get spooky or excited for no apparent reason. At least to a human there seems to be no reason. With horses, everything they do has reason because they live in the moment, not the future or the past like humans do. So their reaction is always about what is happing here and now. If your gelding has NEVER been aggressive to you in the past, this behavior is a bit odd. If he is boarded out and you are not the primary caregiver, then there may be history you are unaware of. If he was allowed to get aggressive with another handler, it may spill over to you.
Horses keen sense of smell is activated in the fall, when the winds blow harder than normal. While we smell nothing, horses often use this sense to alert them to dangers and changes in their environment. Not sure this may apply here though.
I’m assuming you have never had this problem before. Aggressive behavior must always be stopped, as it usually gets worse. Let’s look at some of the changes you need to make to get him back to being trustworthy.
Timing is critical in the training of all horses.
By your post you may have timing issues that could set him off. Spanking him on his butt was a good reaction, but it needs to be timed at the exact moment he postures you. When a horse brings his hind end in towards you during lungeing, and seems to give you “the eye” (you’ll know it – they look at you and size you up) it is at that exact moment when you need to deal with the situation before he kicks. I use Natural Horsemanship methods to deal with this. My horses are taught that moving a back end towards me is not a pleasant experience, and they respect this (but not fear it – aggression). I use a long horseman’s stick and when they begin to posture, I quickly draw their head in and spank their butt hard enough to get the message to move it away from me. Then (timing) when they turn towards me and stand quietly, I soften the line and also stand very quietly. This is where you choose to be aggressive (human communication) or speak to him like another horse would (preferred). I never speak, nor do I raise my blood pressure. I just stand there, quietly, as if nothing happened. I let the horse think about this lesson for about 20 seconds, then begin to lunge again. If I get postured again with the hind end, we repeat again and again, quietly but firmly until
it’s gone. I do this both ways. It can take quite a bit of time so give yourself the time to do this. Do not give up, get mad or aggressive, or you will lose the lesson.
Timing is critical in the training of all horses.
Horses never respond positively to aggressive humans.
I work with horses the way other horses work together. The lead mare always signals her intent, and they all follow it. If one horse is out of line, it gets bit. Then everyone goes about following the lead mare again, as if nothing happened. Horses have a short span of attention, not because they are stupid, but it is an instinct for survival. If they dwelled on stuff like humans do, they would be sitting there pondering the lead mare’s bite, while a wolf lines them up for dinner. This is another argument for timing. Lead mares will time it at the exact moment the ‘bad’ horse is being bad,
and not a moment after.
Try not to add your human emotion to the problem. I know it’s easier said than done, but this is what horses teach us. They ask us to be reasonable and to speak their language, not ours.
Respecting space must be established in order to have a healthy relationship with horses. It sounds like the two of you may have slipped here a bit. He needs to respect your space. If he ever touches you or leans into you while walking, he is not respecting space. A 2-day clinic with a good Natural Horseman on this issue will help immensely, as I could write volumes about that.
What went wrong?
Try to stay neutral when he does something out of the ordinary, or presents a challenge. They can sense your anger, and that puts you in the ‘challenger’ role. Geldings use to be stallions, and although gelding does stop many stallion behaviors, they can become stallion-like when presented
with specific challenges. My Quarter Horse gelding, Max, has latent stallion behavior. If you get aggressive above his head, he will rise to the challenge and it’s not pretty. He is the perfect horse otherwise, but a Clinician decided to try it once, and we opened a can of worms that took over a
year to work through.
Stay with him and work through each issue that comes up. By staying neutral, you will diffuse his position.
When he does try to kick at you, nail him quickly and accurately with enough force to make a difference, do it once, then stand back and let him think about it. Give him time to think (soak). Then try what you were doing again. Retesting is important in training. It is not the first 3 times that sink into his brain, but the continual testing daily that really helps him get the message.
Also, try to be very clear with what you are asking him to do. Flipping the end of the line or whip at him is not clear comunication. Use equipment that is built for lungeing.
To get him to increase his speed on the lunge line, use a verbal command in the form of a ‘cluck’ or kissing sound. Keep it the same every time you use it. Use your voice and lunge whip at the same time, then after 20 lunge sessions, slowly drop one of the aids: the whip or your voice. Let him
respond to only one aid.
Timing is a part of lungeing. When the horse has increased his speed like you asked, DO NOT continue to cluck at him or use the whip. It only desensitizes him as the aid is no longer clear to him. He has increased speed; what more are you asking (he will be thinking).
Be very clear with what you are asking your horse to do.
Keep an eye on him
If you find he still behaves badly, he may be in pain somewhere. Only a vet can help you here. I presume it’s not that but do know that if you continue to have problems or they increase, you may find he is in trouble or in pain.