Q: I recently bought a 15-year-old mare. She seemed so sweet but when I brought her home, she became a completely different horse. At feeding time, she rears and kicks or turns her back end toward me and threatens to kick. If you try to take her away from food, she does the same thing. Sometimes she does it when she’s being longed. She gets along with other horses and she’s great under saddle, but I need to know how to stop her behavior from getting worse.
What you own is an alpha (boss) mare who is territorial about her food. She’s also attempting to assert her dominance over you by her displays on the longe line. As you’ve already figured out, her behavior is not only dangerous, but it will typically continue to get worse until you set some strict limits. Although we hear this term a lot in the horse world, it’s quite true: You need to explain to your new mare that you are the herd leader.
The problem with that concept, however, is that it requires a great deal of skill, timing and previous experience dealing with aggressive horses to be safe, humane and successful. You need to know how to read a horse’s body language so you can tell when it’s time to step up and exert your authority and when it’s time to get out of the way of a possible bite, kick or strike. So I urge you to consult with a local professional in your area. It needn’t be a show horse trainer. Look for a community instructor associated with the 4H or Pony Club or a natural horsemanship advocate with perhaps a working cowboy background. They will work with your horse and also teach you how to apply the same techniques.
Primarily what your mare needs is structured groundwork. Right now she is dictating when, and under which circumstances, she will allow you to invade her space. With a knowledgeable handler she’ll learn to yield to you. They should use a combination of voice commands, authoritative body language and a carriage whip (similar to a longe line but with a shorter lash) to convey their commands. Please don’t worry about the use of a whip. It’s nothing more than an instructional aid. It hardly compares to the teeth and hooves your mare is using to keep you in line. And although your teenaged mare has probably developed this bad behavior over many years, she can still be taught to envision you as the new alpha mare. Once she sees you in that role you’ll have a much safer, and much more enjoyable, relationship.
— Cindy Hale
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