Many horses have little quirks or bad habits that can end up being destructive to them or painful to us (or our wallets). On this page I have compiled a list of a few common vices that horses have, why they do them, and how to fix them. For different training tips that have more to do with furthering you horse’s education, go to the DIY Training page.
Why they do it: Most horses crib (chew wood) because they have nothing better to do. After they have gotten used to it, even if they are no longer bored, some horses begin to rely on crib bitting. So, while providing toys to play with and a supply of roughage to chew on all the time, that will not always solve your problem, even though it is certainly a good thing to do. So, once you have provided your horse with things to do (giving your horse a playmate, such as a sheep, goat, donkey, or other horse if he is alone, and giving him more attention yourself), you can go on to the next step and eradicate that bad habit.
How to fix it: First make sure that the horse has no vitamin or mineral deficiencies; this will sometimes cause cribbing. After that, the solution is going to sound too good to be true. Get a spray bottle, fill it most of the way with water, add about 2 tablespoons of bleach (for a 500 mL bottle), and spray all of your wood.
Why they do it: Bucking is a response to a corrupted ‘go’ signal. If your horse bucks when you ask him to move forward or go faster, he is simply confused and is trying everything he can think of to figure out what you want. If he is allowed to exhibit this behaviour it will very quickly become a bad habit, because it is highly rewarding. Horses try to avoid pressure. If you are using your legs to pressure him forward, then he bucks, and you promptly let all of your leg pressure go because you don’t want him to flip right over, he has just been rewarded for this and will certainly try it again!
How to fix it: This is a problem that requires major retraining. It is not an easy problem to fix, and I cannot attempt to explain it. The best thing to do is get some professional help. Please contact us and we will see what we can do for you.
Why they do it: Rearing is a response to a corrupted ‘stop’ signal. If your horse rears when you ask him to stop or slow down, he is simply confused and is trying to get rid of the pressure. Again, as with bucking, this is highly rewarding. As soon as he rears, you remove all rein pressure because you don’t want him to flip over backwards on top of you (which, by the way, is understandable!). Since he was rewarded once by a removal of pressure, he is sure to try it again.
How to fix it: Again, this is a vice that requires major retraining. It is another very hard vice to fix, and I cannot explain it here. The best thing to do is contact us, and we will do our best to get you and your horse back on the right track.
Why they do it: Horses kick because they feel threatened, or just because they are in a really bad mood and have zero respect for you. Either way, they need to be taught that they are never to kick at a human, and that when you are around, there is no need to feel threatened.
How to fix it: Once it becomes a habit, this is hard to deal with, but if caught when it is young, like almost anything, it can be easier to deal with. Find a long piece of foam, something like pipe insulation works well, and proceed to stroke the horse with it on an area where he is fine with being touched. Then slowly progress to a place where he objects to being touched. You have the long piece of foam so that he cannot reach your with his feet. Make good use of it! Touch there until he stops kicking and no longer looks rebellious.
Why they do it: Biting horses are dangerous, too. When a horse tries to bite another horse, he is telling that horse that he has had enough and it is time to back off, or he is being aggressive. This is fine and perfectly natural – among horses! When a horse tries to bite people, this is a different story. They either have been telling you for a while that something hurts, and now are moving up the aggressive scale to get your attention, or they need major retraining.
How to fix it: As with any vice, we want to make sure we are not causing the problem behaviour. We must rule out anything in the environment of the horse, including handling and the proper fitting of tack, that may be causing the horse to become aggressive. In almost all cases of aggressive biting directed at humans that I have seen the horse is simply saying, “Ouch! That hurts! I’ve put up with it for a long time and now I’m just in pain whenever you do that.”, that being saddling, in most cases. Many saddles simply do not fit our horses and are causing them pain. If this factor can be ruled out, you may be safe to assume that the problem is solely behavioural and you may begin retraining. Generally, retraining involves going back to the basics with the horse and treating them as if they have never seen a saddle in their life. There is a separate post on this, here, which explains how to introduce a young horse to a saddle.