We have been asked about pen dominate horses lately. We at the Lonesome Dove Rescue rarely have a problem with a pen dominate horse and when one comes in the problem doesn’t last long. First we give a new horse some time to adjust, settle in, the other horses here teach the new horse it’s OK to be comfortable around us. We all understand that every time we are near a horse we are training it, no matter what we are doing. Just walking by a horse is training. Whenever someone is around a horse, it is learning how to behave. Letting your horse run you off, bite or kick you is unacceptable and dangerous. So how does a person stop it? First evaluate what is causing the horse to act aggressive. Most common cause we encounter, is the owner has given limited time to the horse, he feeds, checks the water, but spends,very little or no time with the horse. This type of horse has little interaction with people. Then the horse is taken out and worked above their conditioning level, then put back and left idle, sometimes for weeks at a time. This builds resentment, the horse soon learns to act up. Every time you mess with him he gets sore, you are giving it the reason to act up. Once you leave, they get the release they were looking for, you are not offering any comfort to the horse by being close to him. He wants you to leave, so he can relax and his body language shows it. On this type of horse we teach the horse the most comfortable place is with us, by moving the horse away until his approach is non-aggressive, then we love it up let it be near us as we do chores. The horse gets affection and a release for the right action. We never have to fight with the horse, because we never started a fight with the horse; it is, really this simple. The horse that has a aggressive approach is sent away, remember you do not even have to be in the pen at his point wave a flag, toss a rope what ever it takes to put just enough pressure to move the horse off. Once the horse has moved off let him come back in passively, make being with you is most comfortable place for him to be. That way he learns what you expect and there is no reason for aggression when he is near you. This is you, making the right thing easy and the wrong thing difficult. By doing less sooner the quicker the results will come. Have you ever wondered why horses never seem to act up around some people, these guys have doing less sooner to an art. You might not see it, but it was there and effective. It is so natural they do not really know they are doing it.
Aggression can be a horse showing his fear. Here we prove to the horse, it can trust us, We may have to move slower, talk softer. We may be showing our fear of the horse. They know when we are uncomfortable, they are masters at reading body language, if you are worried they are going to be looking out for whatever is out there that has us worried. Horses that generally have lived sheltered lives. Everything is new and scary to them. They do not know how to be a horse, they are afraid of other horses, dogs,cats a new water tank even wind. I am sure you know this type of horse. You will need a quite confidence, if you are not afraid of these things the horse builds his confidence through you. We expose them to new things but never to the point of a negative reaction the horse builds his confidence. The more exposure the horse has the less it has to fear. This security takes away the need to attack, as your horse becomes more confident the need to push everything away fades. Here the key is to set it up so the horse never gets hurt.
You should have concerns over a horse acting out, being unaware is how most people get hurt. Watch your safety zones. We hear it was my gentlest horse that hurt me the worst. I never thought this horse would do that. I let my guard down. In fact I never thought about my safety zone it was not his fault.
The last type of horse referred to here is the severely abused horse. This horse would rather hurt you than give you a chance, to hurt him again. This one takes time, sometimes you will have to get firm. It can take more firmness to get through to this horse. Remember abuse caused the problem. What I have done in the past was still basically the same. It is getting the horse to trust you. Be fair, if you are to soft he gets worse. if you are to hard he gets worse, pay close attention to this horse you can lose his trust easily.
The horse that comes to mind a mare, she would bare her teeth and run across a pasture to kick you, run you down, bite you anything to make get you out of the her pasture. I started throwing a lead rope at her to turn her then I had to go to a 20′ lead rope with a halter to keep far enough away. We needed to teach her to respect our space. We put her in a round pen moved her out until she hooked on. We started over many times and she did hurt several people including me. She walked by she kicked me below the ribs. She found out any sign of aggression things stopped she went to the round pen and we started over again.
When she approached passively she found comfort near us. We were much more careful around her for a long time even though she had became a friendly horse and would let us work with her, doctor her she even ended up good with her feet, you could not force her to do anything, but if you asked and presented it in a way she felt safe she would do anything. This mare taught me more about horses than any other horse I have worked with.