What is a Vice?

Cribbing, stall kicking, weaving, and any number of other self-destructive or barn-destructive behaviours have historically been categorized as ‘vices’. They were held to be transmissible from one affected horse to another by observation, and they made it more difficult to sell a horse. Some vices were connected with physical ailments, and for all these reasons they were often physically prevented. What is the modern take on ‘vices’, and how do we deal with them?

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Help for the Halter Puller

Unfortunately horses that sit back against their halter and rope when tied are all too common. There is hope – you will not have to have someone hold your horse for you forever!

The first step is to find out why your horse pulls, and how severe the problem is.

Why: Some horses pull because they are scared of being confined. This is the result of improper training or handling. It can be fixed, in time, if the severity of the fear is not too bad. Others will pull simply because they have learned that if they pull they can get free. Whatever the reason, you must understand why the horse pulls before you can begin to treat the issue.

Severity: I will give you a scale so you can see what I mean. Your horse is a one if he occasionally jumps backwards, then jumps forwards again, looking rather surprised that he couldn’t leave. Your horse is a ten if whenever you place any pressure backwards or forwards on his halter, he resists so strongly that he actually flips over backwards.

I am very sorry to say that there is just about nothing I can do for the horse that is a 10. If he can be taught to stand still, it is possible that when you are least expecting it, he will pull back and fall on top of you. He is very dangerous in all respects! So I hope that none of you reading this ever own a horse that is a 10.

The fix: The first step in retraining is what I always say it is. Start at the beginning. Your horse must respond immediately to any pressure you or anything else exerts on his halter. Do this simple exercise to see where you are with this.

Standing facing your horse’s neck on his left side, extend your left arm, and place a small amount of pressure on his halter. Does he stretch his neck out, or does he step forward softly at your command? Release pressure and then pull harder suddenly. This will be very telling. If he sets his feet, you need to teach him to lead properly to any small amount of pressure. Then, when you do this test again, you will find that with the same sudden hard pull, he will jump forward. This is exactly what you want. Now when the horse goes to set back against his halter, he will feel the pressure and jump forward instead.

Now, tying to a solid post without any give is still going to be dangerous for the horse, even with his new found knowledge. Get a tractor or car tire inner tube, cut off the metal valve, and squeeze it through your tie ring. Loop it through itself once, and tie the horse onto this loop, safely, with no excess loop of rope. If you have a command to tell your horse that he is expected to stand still, tell him so. Leave him be now, not alone, but be a fair distance away. If he pulls back now, he should step forward, but if he does set back, the inner tube will have some give and he will not injure himself.

Good luck with this! If you are still having troubles, Contact Us and we’ll do our best to help you in your own particular situation.

The Horsegentler

Stall Kicking, Part 2

Once more, you need to find out why your horse is kicking. Another common reason is aggression. If you find that the horse either doesn’t like the horse in the stall next to him, or across the aisle, or he wants to get out and teach that horse passing by a lesson, then try the method below. I suggest you do not punish your horse for this display of temper. He has nothing else to do. The best remedy for this is to put him in a pen with other horses and let them sort out their differences. Horses are born to fight out their social order. If he isn’t allowed to do this he begins to feel very insecure. At least when he knows his place, be it top or bottom of the pecking order, he knows who he is subordinate to and who he can boss around and this makes him much more comfortable with his surroundings. Every horse needs to know his place.

Aggression toward humans is a more serious problem. As with the horses in the method above, he needs to know his place among his ‘herd’ of humans, and this knowledge does not enter his brain through beatings! The way to deal with this is a technique called round-penning. However, if done improperly, this can cause serious damage to the horse either physically or mentally. I do not at this time feel qualified to explain how this works, as I am figuring it out myself right now by trial and error. I am beginning to get a good grasp on it, but not good enough to teach about it just yet. I suggest you find a trainer, such as myself, to help you and your horse work through this problem.

Stall Kicking, Part 1

The reasons for a horse to kick at his stall, unfortunately, vary. However, finding the cause of this annoying behaviour, and stopping it, will save you money on stall doors and wood paneling!

Most times, stall kicking is because a horse wants attention. He sees you coming towards him, and wants to hurry you up – and up until now, this has worked marvellously. This post will focus on stall kicking because the horse wants food. The next will describe the method for dealing with kicking for different reasons.

Keep careful note of when your horse bangs on his stall door or wall. Often it will be when he sees food coming down the isle, or when his food is late (and he knows it!). If this is the case, you need to make a connection for your horse. He needs to realize that kicking makes his food come slower. And since he was kicking to make it come faster, he will soon stop, because the exercise is pointless.

So here’s how you do that. As soon as he starts banging, stop moving towards him and do something else until he stops kicking, even for one second. Then move towards him again. As soon as he begins again, stop moving. A horse’s brain works most efficiently through trial and error, although this is often the method that takes the longest amount of time. However, by being vigilant, you can stop the kicking very effectively.

If this is not working and the kicking problem is only getting worse, try backing up until he stops kicking, then proceeding forward when he stops. By doing this, you will make it even more obvious to the horse that kicking is not gaining him any ground, and in fact he is losing it.


Barn Management Post Series

I want to know what you think: would you be interested in a barn management post series? All the posts I have right now are about horse training.

Topics could include other training things such as keeping your boards un-chewed, or simpler things like how to save money while keeping your business profitable or your horses healthy.

Please comment on this post and let me know what you think!