Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Aggression Toward Other Horses

This little stinker has been bucking and kicking at my gelding at feeding time. Before she came along, feeding time was very orderly. I approached the barn with a wheelbarrow full of hay, let myself in through the gate, opened the stall of the alpha mare first, she stepped inside, I closed the door behind her, I then opened the stall of my gelding, he stepped inside, I closed the door behind him, then I brought the wheelbarrow through the gate and pushed a flake of hay through each of their windows. It was a low stress dinner for everyone.

However, now that 3-year-old Gabbrielle is growing up, she's been vying for a higher ranking in the herd. Lostine, the existing alpha mare, somehow commands respect with a mere look in her eyes. Nobody messes with her, so I can still open her stall door first. However, while Lostine and I are walking toward her stall, Gabbrielle is posturing, bucking, and kicking at Bombay. She never actually touches him. It's all just a dance. However, I want to communicate that any kind of aggression is not acceptable. So, I clap my hands and holler at her, and she settles down, but still shoots nasty looks at Bombay.

I used to open Gabbrielle's stall second just to get her put away and out of my hair, however I have since then decided to make her wait. Bombay has been let into his stall second all those years before she came along, and I'd like to keep that routine for his sake. He is well behaved, so he should be rewarded by being allowed to enter his stall before Gabbrielle.

Today I took the No Aggression rule a step further. Instead of just stopping the aggressive behavior, I showed Gabbrielle what I expected her to do instead. I herded her toward her stall door and said, "Ho!" I then made her wait there while I put Bombay to bed. She shot him some nasty looks, and I shot her that teacher look that says, "I'm watching you." Gabbrielle put a sweet, innocent expression back on her face and waited patiently. I then praised and petted her, opened her stall door, and in she went. Hopefully, I can get this down to an art, so that each horse will be waiting at his or her stall door without any prompting from me... just like it used to be.


Twinville said...

What a fantastic and talented trainer/teacher you are.
I'm so impressed that you have earned so much respect from your horses.
You go girl!

BrownEyed Cowgirls said...

Insisting that your filly behave herself at feeding time is good. They certainly can get goofy and if she decides to actually take a dive at your gelding it could get dangerous.
I had to carry a buggy whip with me for a few days this spring when I was putting grain out because the geldings were getting pushy. A couple of taps with that and everyone started respecting my space again.
My mom calls each horse by name and they come in order to be let into the barn. That is pretty neat to watch. They all line up, looking and when she calls their name they head into their stall.

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Twinville - Thank you for the compliment. I think I am carrying some of what I learned as an educator over into my work with the horses. You never know if all that positive and negative reinforcement works with horses until you try. I was surprised that it worked the first time with Gabbrielle. Usually, horses don't stay unless they are tied. I'm sure it helped that I had just spent a lot of time over the weekend working on stop and stay in the round pen during driving.

Browneyed - I am worried that Gabbrielle might actually progress to making contact or that I will find myself within kicking range. That is amazing that the horses come only when your mother calls their names. My horses will only do that if I call them in a specific order. Bombay will never go into his stall ahead of Lostine. I can call his name, and he'll just stand back looking worried and throwing his head to tell Lostine to go first!

Katee said...

Isn't it amazing how clearly they can communicate "Who me? I'm not doing anything"

Callie said...

Sounds and seems like a good working plan to me!

Lulu said...

Very orderly!!!

I grained a yearling filly out on the pature last night with an older mare, for the first time. I knew the older mare was alpha so I fed her and the walked over to where I was going to feed the filly. I'll be damned if she didn't lift her head and come right at me with her chest, pushing me around. (no biting, no kicking, just crowding and shoving)

Phew, she got in trouble for that!!! Luckily I had an empty, rubber feed tub in my hand to use as a weapon. By the time I finally put her grain in the tub, she was standing quietly. Her ears were pinned, but she was a safe distance, and she was being quiet.

Me thinks she could be a handful if not constantly corrected!!!

Victoria Cummings said...

Good for you for insisting on respect at feeding time. When Siete got uppity for much the same reasons this winter, I started clicker training with her. It's had an amazing effect. Now, even without the clicker and the treat, she's back to being well-mannered.. You might want to give it a try with Gabbrielle. It's easy and fun.

photogchic said...

Way to mix it up. Sounds like she really respects you and you definately entered the situation with a plan that was well executed.

BrownEyed Cowgirls said...

Maybe that is my mom's trick. I know she puts everyone in in pretty much the same order every night.
Momma was mad the other night though...one of the geldings totally ignored her when she called him in. He was mad because she didn't turn him out on grass that day-LOL. They certainly keep a person on their toes.

Grey Horse Matters said...

I think you have a good plan going there. The younger one will just have to learn to respect her elders. I'm surprised Lostine didn't put her in her place also. They sometimes do. Keep at it. Good Luck.

Rising Rainbow said...

I think they will go in whatever way you teach them. It may make them nervous at first to change to routine to a new one (like going in when their name is called) but once they get used to it, the anxious part should be over.

My horses know that the pecking order goes out the window when I am there. I can befriend whomever I want and move that horse up the chain and they must all accept it. That makes it much easier to put horses in because they can go in whatever I see fit instead of the order they chose. Once it a while someone needs to be reminded but mostly they know there is to be no shoving, kicking, biting or other kind of gestures in my presence. They must instead present as happy horses, glad to see me and do what I say. It sure saves getting trampled because of their silly games.

emma said...

Ponies can be very intimidating...they have that little guy complex.

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

MiKael - I've been ruminating on your comment about us having the power to move a horse up or down in the pecking order. It's got me thinking out of the box. Though I refer to Lostine as the alpha mare, technically I am the alpha mare because Lostine does what I say. However, I've always thought of me being seperate from the horses' pecking order, and I figured I didn't have any control over what they do within their herd when I'm not around. I'd like to put Bombay ahead of Gabbrielle since he is respectful.

Sometimes I put food in one trough and work on getting the horses to share. Whoever tries to chase the others off, gets chased off by me and is not allowed back at the trough until she can share. Bombay almost always ends up getting the most food, because he doesn't chase off the girls.