I think we’ve all seen horse owners who are afraid of their horses . . . and many times those horses see that leadership vacuum and step right in, treating the humans around them like they are subordinate horses in the herd — and that can mean biting or charging at humans.
I’ve been up close and personal with two horses who had those tendencies — one charged me in the pasture, rearing up and striking out at me; the other would try to bite you while you fed.
It’s no fun to be in situations like that and even less fun when it’s not your horse, because the owner might not appreciate your method of dealing with their behavior. In these cases I’m a strong proponent of John Lyons’ three second rule. In Lyons on Horses he wrote:
The horse never ever has the right to kick or bite you. Biting is more dangerous than kicking because it is a more aggressive act on the horse’s part. You can’t every justify that action in your mind.
I don’t want to be bitten. If the horse tries to bite me, I will try to kill him. His act is that dangerous and my rule is that simple. I have three seconds in which to kill this thousand-pound beast. The only limitation I’ll put on the murder is that his head will be off limits. Remember, I don’t want to blind him, I want to kill him. Immediately after I’ve exhausted the three seconds, I’ll pet him to reassure him that I still like him, but he knows that he made a serious mistake that almost cost him his life.
While this might seem to be an overreaction, you should take some time and watch how horses interact in a herd situation. Retribution is swift, can look harsh, and when it’s over, they all move on.
I won’t say that I tried to kill any of those horses but for those three seconds I was loud and scary. With one, I carried a whip and used it (not on his head).
My own horses are not aggressive. They can’t be — I’ve always had larger horses and it’s meant that manners are important for my safety and for anyone else who handles them. I have a zero tolerance for bad behavior and so most potential issues get nipped (pun intended) in the bud, before they become a problem.
Freedom will, on occasion, give me the evil horse face and pin his ears, but he backs right off if you growl at him or assert your leadership. Once or twice he’s cocked a hind leg — when that happens, he gets to run around in the field a bit until he wants to “join up” and behave like a domesticated animal again. In fact, he looks very offended if you chase him off.
Zelda will push the boundaries (she is, after all, big) but in a totally passive way — by not moving, or by walking off slowly, knowing there is no way that you can stop her. With her, it’s important that she always respects my personal space, picks up her feet nicely for the farrier, and stands quietly for getting tacked up. She occasionally needs to be reminded that she can’t always be the boss, and she generally takes reprimands well. A growl or chain over the nose is enough to convince her to step down before any force is required.
How do you keep your horse in line? Have you ever reverted to the three second rule?