Episode 118: How can I STOP my horse from being aggressive towards other horses?!
House rules. Pasture rules. Grandma’s rules…
Do you really mean that? Are you bluffing?
Can I chase your kids?
Can I have your spot in the pecking order?
When you walk by a stall does a the stalled horse threaten?
When you walk by a tied horse…does that horse threaten?
When you are leading or riding…does the horse you’re riding or leading threaten?
Your horses have questions…do you have answers?
Announcer: [00:00:03] Podcasting from a little cabin on a hill, this is the Stacy Westfall podcast. Stacy’s goal is simple: to teach you to understand why horses do what they do, as well as the action steps for creating clear, confident communication with your horses.
Stacy Westfall: [00:00:23] Hi, I’m Stacy Westfall, and I’m here to teach you how to understand, enjoy and successfully train your own horses. Today, I’m answering four questions that were left on my voicemail over on my website last week it was 2, this week, it’s 4. No, it’s not going to be 8 next week. But anyway, the–the common thread that I see in all four of these questions is herd behavior versus behavior around humans. And it’s–in my world, it’s kind of the same thing, which is actually, in my viewpoint, what makes horses trainable. So horses have pasture rules and sometimes we call this like herd dynamics or the order of ranking or all kinds of different things. I’m just going to call it pasture rules, and then I’m going to say that humans have house rules. And this is where we just have to basically educate the horses on what the rules of the house are, or if you’re not bringing them into your actual house, just the rules in your domain, whatever that is. My domain happens to be mobile and traveling. So I want my horses to know that my domain is when I am within a certain distance of them. And then that way when I travel, my domain, that–that thing, goes with me, and then they act under my rules. Because the cool thing is they kind of–when you train them this way, they’re like, she’s all knowing, she’s all powerful, and her rules fly everywhere. Not just at home, not just in the stall, not just in the arena, not just in the pasture, but when we travel somehow she magically controls all these other horses, too. And that’s how this becomes mobile.
Stacy Westfall: [00:02:16] So you’ve heard me talk a little bit about this theory when I talked in Episode 2 about Grandma’s rules, because that’s another way of talking about your house rules and what the rules of your house are. In case you haven’t listened to Episode 2, you can definitely jump back and listen to that because it’s about a 20 minute long episode, 16, 20, I forget. But basically the very short version of it is that I notice when my children were very young that they could identify the rules were different at Grandma’s house than they were at my house, because Grandma rules at her house…kind of–we allowed those to trump our rules. And so with that being said, it’s amazing how young a child will recognize that horses catch on to this very quickly. Let’s go ahead and listen to the first two questions and get started.
Caller 1: [00:03:16] Hi, Stacy, my name is Holly. I work at a nonprofit youth ranch where we have 16 horses, and on one of your podcasts you had said something about, I think, how you said that your horses aren’t allowed to fight with each other if you’re within eyeshot, eyesight. And I’m really perplexed and interested how you teach them to do that, because I definitely would appreciate if they also respected that, especially when you have kids around them and stuff. So just wondering if I had heard you right and if you could explain how you teach them to do that. Thank you so much. Really appreciate everything that you do.
Caller 2: [00:03:59] Hi, Stacy, I have a question about my three-year-old filly. She’s in the pen with my gelding and whenever my kids come out with me, she wants to chase them like she’s playing. She doesn’t have her ears back, like she’s trying to be aggressive or mean, but want to see how I get her to stop doing that. She does it with the dogs as well. And I’ve done the groundwork, here’s your startup book, and she’s great in the round pen. But when she’s just loose and the kiddos come in with me, sometimes she like wants to chase them. So want to see what you do with that. And also I remember you mentioning that you don’t let the horses be aggressive to each other around you. And I want to know what exactly you do, like if you chase them off or how do you address that where they’re not allowed to be aggressive towards each other in your space? Any help is greatly appreciated. Thanks for all you do.
Stacy Westfall: [00:05:03] Well, thank you to both Holly and Christy for leaving those questions. And Holly, yes, it is true my horses are not allowed to fight around me and Christy, yes, you are close. The chasing them off is a piece of it. I’m going to go into more detail here. And another quick observation, Christy, is that it sounds like you have actually established round pen rules. So I just said there’s pasture rules and house rules. You’ve kind of–it sounds like you’ve installed round pen rules, which is sort of like, oh, look, I walk into so-and-so’s house and this is allowed to happen in here or not allowed to happen in here. And so what we need to do now is give you some other tools so that you can also create kid rules. Like rules for kids or rules for horses with kids, which will also help you, Holly. So let’s just jump into some of this, because this has been a popular question through email also.
Stacy Westfall: [00:06:03] So in general, the basic concept is that horses can be trained, that there are different rules when humans are around versus when it’s only horses. So if you picture it, you know, let’s say your horses, you’ve got four horses turned out overnight. You go to bed, they are out there having a life, and they are doing whatever they are doing. And whoever is biting who and whoever is scratching who and whoever is chasing who and whoever is eating first is, it’s all happening. And that is what’s going on in their world. Over there. When you walk in, it is a little bit like you are changing the dynamics. And the goal for me is that when I come into their world like that or when I bring them into my world by bringing them into maybe a more human looking sport, like into the stall or into the horse trailer or in to ride, I want them to recognize this is a different set of rules. And what that means to me is that the horses are going to be looking at me–I’m not a huge fan of saying as the most dominant, but it is the highest ranking. So whatever that means, that means I want even Gabby, who is my high ranking horse around here, I want her to respect, identify with me as a leader. You’ve heard me play around with the phrasing because I’m not a huge fan of the phrasing that sounds like this is a dominance kind of a thing. But in reality, when you watch them out in the field with each other, I don’t know if you’ve noticed the biting and the kicking, but it kind of looks like a dominance thing. But the cool part is I think that we can be more creative with how this goes so that it doesn’t just feel like a dominating thing. Because you’ve heard me talk in some other podcasts, the problem with just kind of like the–I’m going to phrase it like this, like crushing down the soul of the horse or something like that. The problem with it is they’re not really good team members at that point. They’re kind of just dominated and crushed down. And that’s not at all my goal. But to save time for me, like searching for the perfect words today, please feel free to email me perfect words if you want. I’m just going to go with this phrasing. So basically I want them to look at me as the leader. And that doesn’t mean I want to, like, take away their roles, but their roles all do shift when you shift a different leader around. And so if we know that’s true within their herd, that we can shift a different leader into there and get completely different hierarchies, then we’re just going to use that same thing over here. So basically, this begins on the ground and then it moves into riding. Both of these locations. The horses need this to be trained. The…sometimes, again, making this go to extremes helps plant it, at least in my mind, and I’m hoping in yours. So I remember the first time I went to the Quarter Horse Congress and was watching the warm up arena…I have no idea if you could even find video of that, but I’m not talking about the horses going in and showing. I’m talking about the warm up arena where there were so many horses–50, 60, 70, 80 horses all riding around. Like you could–riders would be able to reach their arms out and touch hands with another rider riding by at different directions. I’m talking mares and stallions and geldings and mares coming into heat and mares going out of heat and mares in heat and no issues anywhere. That is a great example of horses that are are trained to understand that the rules are not the same. Because I am by no means saying that we could then take, let’s just use the number 50, we could not then take those 50 horses, pull the saddles and bridles and throw them in a 50 acre field and have them all just peacefully grazing. They would all have to go in and work out the rules of the pasture, which they all know. and when I phrase it like this, we all know are not going to be the same. The mares that are coming in and going out of heat and are talking all kinds of different things about don’t look at me and the mares that are in heat and the stallions that are hoping the mares and the and the gelding’s that are just like, ooh It’s a party, like it’s–it’s, it’s going to be a mess. So we want them to understand these rules, not just for our sake, but that pasture full of 50 horses is also going to be…I’m going to use the word violent. Because if you just throw 50 horses out there like that, they’re going to work things out very hard and fast, depending on, you know, who’s what and how much space they have to get away from each other. That’s not pretty.
Stacy Westfall: [00:11:00] So I’m saying that we can actually teach the horses that when we are around there are different rules. And let’s talk a little bit–I’m going to go backwards. I’m going to go from riding down to stalls and leading, and then I’m going to go to the pasture. So right now, it’s interesting because I can still feel the tremors of this with Presto when I’m riding. And what that means to me is that like when I very first started riding him, I rode him alone. So this wasn’t an issue. It was just me, him, round pen. And then when I rode him more, I rode him with a horse that was above him. It was, it was Popcorn. And I ponied him from Popcorn. And so even in their little herd Popcorn was the the more dominant one. And then when we were together, Presto didn’t have any questions because he’d been turned out with him a lot and we ponied him, so he wa–this was all like, the “I know what this is.” I very clearly remember the first few times I rode him when people were coming over and taking lessons from Jesse. And so I was just out there riding. Presto had a reaction to the strange horses that were here. And basically for me, what it is, is he’s like, I don’t know what to do with this. I have no idea what that guy’s rules are. So he’s looking over at this horse he’s never met. And he’s like, oh my gosh, I don’t know that guy’s rules. And so he would react. And sometimes the way that feels is that the horses will try to duck away or run away. Sometimes they’ll pin their ears, like because they’re basically trying to like increase their bubble space, like don’t come near me. And so I could really feel that in the beginning. Now I just feel little flickers of it. And that tends to be just in what’s happening is as his training progresses my aides and his understanding that I’m in control, we’ll both grow. And so right now, my aides that control him, my hands and my legs and my my turn left turn right, stop, go back up. Those things are above most of those reactions. And that’s what’s allowing him to basically, we could say, submit to my age and be like, OK, she’s got this. But it’s not just my age he’s submitting to. It’s the idea that I’ve got this. So what that means is, like the other day my husband was riding a horse that Presto really likes to play with. And so they kind of play fight. But the interesting thing is this is when they’re turned out and we’re watching from, you know, a distance. And when they do that, it’s not just play and fight it’s also like they’re questioning each other’s stacking in the order. And they haven’t worked it out because they don’t get turned out together very often. And so because they haven’t worked it out–so my husband was loping towards me, but not straight towards me. Presto was fine with that, and not straight from behind, he’s fine with that. But he kind of came at me like, si–from the side. Just the way that I was in the arena and the way that that he was in the arena. And when that happened, I felt a flicker in Presto and you could actually see it like his ears kind of flicked further back. And there was this flicker and it was this thought or question running through Presto’s mind, because I realized instantly that this was kind of that sideways angle that they tend to run up to each other at in the field. And, you know, like maybe this is when she would like jump up and bite his withers or whatever. And there was that flicker of, oh, is this coming? That went through Presto’s mind. And so, not a big deal. I just have to answer it like, no, pay attention to me. Here’s my left rein, here’s my left leg, move here, and then he’ll just start to notice, oh, not only did Stacy do that, but also this horse didn’t then come and attack me. So he’ll start to recognize more and more that the rules are not the same. He’s actually gotten better, faster with the strange horses. And that’ll be interesting when I haul him again, because when I haul him again and I get around a lot more strange horses, it’ll be interesting to continue watching this.
Stacy Westfall: [00:15:11] But here’s another layer to this. One of the reasons he has this reaction at all is because of who he is in the field. If you were able to watch Presto, Presto is fascinating because he’s kind of like a middle–middle horse. So that will change depending on who he’s turned out with, whether he’s middle or top or bottom. But he’s kind of in the middle. But what’s interesting about him is that his approach is terrible. He always just like marches straight up and kind of is in your face, which generally turns off all horses. It turns off the dominant horses, it turns off the middle horses, it turns off the low ranking horses. So basically in Presto’s world, he goes marching up and not really understanding. And I wonder sometimes if this is just who he is or if this is the fact that he didn’t get to watch a lot of herd dynamics because he was taken away from his mom at three days old. He just boldly marches straight up and tends to go right straight into like the, the hey, you want to bite lips? Bite me? What am I allowed to do? Face-like maybe bite kind of thing? Which is a huge turnoff to the other horses, which means that 99% of the time upon first interactions, the other horse wants to attack him, basically wants to like increase their bubble of safety because he’s huge. And I don’t think he gets the–he’s like huge and he’s walking up with this energy and, like, biting. He has no intention of backing it up because he runs away. But he’s–but he’s just–he doesn’t have good initial social skills. But the problem that I see with this is that when we get into other situations, like I’m riding with him and I’m riding around strange horses, he assumes 99% of horses are going to drive him away, because in reality, when he gets turned out, that’s what he’s causing over there. So this is why I believe it’s taking me longer with him. Horses that are really good with reading interactions with other horses pick this up so fast it disappears within a week or two. And here Presto is struggling with it a couple of years later. And, and that is the difference in their learning style, their temperament, whatever. It’s not just the training, because I’m doing the same stuff with other horses and I’m observing that there are differences. And so there’s another layer to it. OK, back on track, Stacy.
Stacy Westfall: [00:17:34] So, when I’m riding them, they need to learn this. A quick side note–so when you were asking the question, Holly, about the summer camp and stuff, one of the challenges I see there is sometimes when you’ve got a bunch of inexperienced people riding–so let’s say there’s a bunch of kids riding on horses. Out in the horse–let’s say that there’s a horse that ranks number 1 and a horse that ranks number 4 and a horse that ranks number 16. A lot of times that horse number 4 will be like, maybe today’s the day. And they’ll ask questions in the spot where they know the horse number 1 one won’t fight back, won’t answer. And a lot of times they’ll, when they know the rules change around the kids, that’s why you’ll have those interactions, because the horses are like, when the kids are around, this is different. So keep in mind, there’s a lot of dynamics going on here. I’m going to answer your question more fully in a minute. But anyway, so my aides can control Presto, I feel the flicker. He’s going to catch on to the pattern that I’m in control of my horse, which is Presto that I’m riding, that the other riders are in control of their horses. Because that’s the only situation I’m going to ride in. If I go to a place where I think that there is a rider that might not be in control of their horse, I will not be mounted on Presto until I know that I would be able to control him. Now, interestingly, Gabby, dominant, strong, confident, right now she’s the horse that if I was like, OK, let’s imagine that something’s going to happen and a horse is going to get loose and be running around the arena, which horse of mine do I want to be on? I want to be on Gabby. Willow has more buttons and control, but she’s naturally a more insecure horse. Gabby would be more like, oh, well, that’s interesting. And if the horse came into their space, she wouldn’t shrink. If anything, she would kind of grow a little bit like you imagine a stallion kind of puffing up. Gabby would do that and those are their, again, their natural temperaments, kind of like leaking out into this situation. So I will not put myself into situations on Presto where I think something like that could happen. So anyway, so let’s go, to I’m leading the horse or the horses in the stall. And so if I’m leading the horse or the horses in the stall, first of all, in the stall, I want to teach all my horses to go up against the back of the stall side, pass up against the back of the stall facing one of the corners. I don’t care if you’re on the on side or the off side, but I want a cue that teaches the horse to go stand over there. This is kind of a version of teaching the horse to ground tie. And the reason I want to do this is because I don’t like them pawing at the front of the stalls during feeding time. But it also comes down to, again, can I move your feet and tell you where to go stand? This is a great one for a horse like Gabby. Works for all of them, but works great for a horse like Gabby. So I’m like, Gabby, go back there and, and OK, a little quicker now because these are the places where I’m instilling that I am the leader who is making the plan. She’s allowed to still be a confident horse but here’s where you need to be. And so this is why I’m saying I don’t want to call it a dominance game, but I’m not just, I’m not just hitting her because I’m afraid. Sometimes people think that when you have these strong-willed horses that kind of resorting to, like, you know, physical stuff is–is the answer. But really, again, I think I’ve–I’ve compared her several times to like it’s like playing chess. Well, this is one of the chess moves. I’m going to be like, chess move, Gabby to back right wall in the stall. OK, and then you know what Gabby is going to do? She’s going to go there and then she’s going to go and I’m going to ask, what about the right front foot moving six inches to the left? Like those are–this is how the chess game goes. This is such a better game than just, you know, pure force to work with these horses. So in my stalls, my horses the can reach over and touch each other between the stalls. Like–like the wall between the separated–of separation of the stall is low so that the horses can reach over and then they can reach over the front, which also means that if I’m leading one horse out of a stall, then another horse in another stall could theoretically reach over and nip. I built my stalls like this because I wanted to have all these conversations. If you think about a stall with a solid wall in between where the horses can’t touch and solid bars up where the horses can’t reach out, interestingly enough, the horses, a lot of times we’ll still be having the conversations, especially the horse in the stall that you’re not handling. A lot of times that will be the horse that you’re leading a horse by. And if you look out of the corner of your eye, that horse is pinning its ears. It’s running up, its rigging his teeth on the front of the bars, it’s doing something. They’re still interacting. I wanted the wide open interaction, which also puts more responsibility on me for like controlling the conversations that are happening. So what am I going to do? Well, all the horses know the go-to-the-back-of-the-wall cue. So let’s say that I grab Gabby out of her stall and I go to lead her out and Presto’s in the stall next door. And his neck is a mile long because he’s like a giraffe. So let’s say that he sees a moment of weakness where I’m leading Gabby out of the stall and so he reaches over and bites her on the butt. Can you tell this has happened? So when that happens, here’s the problem. Gabby is saying, like, OK, I’m accepting you as the leader, lead on, and I’m leading her out, and Presto reaches over and bites her. Well, now, Presto’s like, ha ha! I got this sucker shot in! See, Gabby, I can take you. Not really, but there’s a wall here and Stacy’s here so I can probably take you. And Gabby’s like, what’s the deal? Like I thought you were in charge. If you’re in charge you should be in charge of Presto, too. Otherwise I’m going to need to pin my ears while you lead me because you can’t actually control Presto. Do you see how there’s a dynamic going on here? So I need to be aware not only of the horse I’m leading, but I need to be aware of Presto, who is about to ask this question. So if my horses know the button of like, go to the back over there now, then I can use that proactively and be like, look, go to the back over there now. Now I lead Gabby forward two feet. Let’s assume he like spins around and comes back to the front because he’s like, I see that you’ve dropped your guard and I put him to the back and we do this over and over and over again until I can keep him at the back while I lead her out. But they don’t always have to, in my world, stay to the back forever, but what happens is then maybe he’s standing up near the front peaceably one day. And I look and I think today’s a good day to try this out. And I go to lead Gabby out and I’m watching. Well, don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t be mistaken. I’m not the only one watching here. Gabby is watching and Presto is watching. And and so Presto will be watching, and if you know your horses well, like, I can see this little look in their eye and there’ll be this look like, OK, is today the day? Or there’ll be this look like maybe not, or there’ll just be kind of an innocent look. Hopefully there’s the innocent look. That’s the one I’m ultimately training for. But if I, if I suspect there’s a suspicious look, I’m just going to send it to the back. I’m not going to set the situation up over and over again. But if I think he looks kind of innocent, I’m going to lead her out through and I’m going to leave him standing there. He didn’t break any rule because I didn’t send him to the back. But this is how he’s going to learn that he can stand at the front and look innocent and watch me lead Gabby out. But you’ll get, if you keep practicing this, you’ll get better and better about reading what was innocent and what wasn’t innocent. Because if it wasn’t innocent, he’s going to reach out and the whole thing’s going to start over again. Gabby is going to doubt me, Presto is going to be like, haha! Gabby–Presto is going to doubt me like and we’re going to–and I’m going to send him to the back and the whole thing’s going to start over again. And so I want to do this here because this is going to pay off for me when I’m riding and this is going to pay off for me when I’m in the pasture.
Stacy Westfall: [00:26:04] So all of this leading and stalls and ground tying like. So I’ll ground tie my horse my husband will bring his horse up and ground tie and we generally keep them just out of, like, reaching distance. Which again, on giraffe Presto, means they need to be further away because technically he–all four feet can stand still, but he can still reach forever because his neck’s long. I want the rules the same when I’m around them. And so I make the rules the same everywhere. Then when we go to the pasture, it gets kind of interesting because when we go to the pasture, the horses are loose out there. Well, when I, when– when I’m totally out of the picture or like, I first turn them loose, there’s usually a lot of running around, but they’re not generally actively fighting. So let’s take a typical pasture thing. So the horses are all coming up to the gate because they all know we’re going in to go eat dinner or whatever. And so they’ve got this, like, they’re kind of piled up. They’re–they’re in order because, you know, they’re kind of lined up. But the more dominant one will push the lower one out or whatever. Whatever’s happening in your field. I’m just trying to make this up. None of that’s actually happening in mine. As I’m–as I’m doing this, I’m like, wait a minute, they’re all lined up and there’s nothing happening. But let’s just say they’re all lined up and that your dominant horse goes to push the other one away. That’s when I push them all away. So the dominant one doesn’t get to stay there, I push them all away. And then I will go back and then they’ll be kind of like approaching suspiciously, even if it’s the–even if it’s just the more dominant one approaching, they’ll be approaching again with that, kind of, this innocent look, this like, questioning like, is this–are you having a bad day? What’s going on here? And they’ll kind of be coming up and I’ll catch them and they’re in that–they’re not–they weren’t pinning, biting, chasing, whatever. Now, I–I also lead horses together at the same time. So I will lead Presto and Gabby at the same time. Guaranteed, like Gabby is going to be like, yay, we’re going to the field and Presto’s going to be like, can I bite Gabby? No, you still can’t bite Gabby. But what he’s doing is he’s just clearly identifying, he knows there’s a difference in rules there. And if I don’t take the leadership, Gabby will be tempted to pin her ears. Can you hear how similar this is to what we were just doing? Nobody’s allowed to pin their ears. I’ll back them all up. I’ll trot them all forward. I’ll lead them, whatever. But I basically, you know, I’m looking for who’s the problem causer, which if you haven’t caught on yet, it’s Presto in most of these examples. And so when I go out to the pasture, I will bring my horses in in different orders just to mess with the thinking in the pasture. So sure, sometimes it’s easier to bring the more dominant horse in first. They’re up at the front. The other ones are kind of naturally shirking back a little bit, put the halter on, take them in. But when I want to start advancing it a little bit more, I will shoo the more advanced one back. Get back, Gabby, back up, and I’ll put the halter on Presto and I’ll lead Presto in. And, and so this is the kind of stuff that starts to mess with the way that they think about each other. This is also when Presto will start to get like all puffy and he’ll be like, she’s coming after me. Let me bite you. Then I have to chase them all away and be like, cut it out. You’re not allowed to bite anybody. It’s–this is not changing the rules. This is way smoother when Presto’s not involved, by the way. So like, Willow, much easier. Willow, Lucy, my husband’s horses, Lucy and Jewel, like the–all these other–Gabby, all these horses together, they’re all just much more accepting of the, of the order. Like I can go out there and it’s really funny with them, with the ones that are older that have been around there. I’m telling you like, Willow and Lucy, I can be like, OK, Lucy. And Lucy’s like, yep, it’s me. Or I can be like, OK, Willow and Willow’s like, yahoo, because she’s below Lucy. And so it’s so funny because they really, really know who I’m targeting and–and they’re good. But you, you’ll have those horses, if you have a horse like Presto, this is a long term game for quite a while with him because he’s just very persistent. Other ones fall into line much earlier. So big rule, no nipping of the horse that’s being led out of the gate because, again, so like maybe you can picture I could be leading Presto out and maybe Gabby would be like giving that, like, jealous nip. That’s not allowed. But you can also imagine where I would be leading Gabby out and Presto would be like, sucker punch! Again, same thing that you want to do in the stall. Like, no nipping. And so you’ll get way better at reading their little thoughts if you start really focusing in on all these dynamics. And so and then there’s Presto–then there’s the pasture that’s got like Willow in it, and Willow there’s–there’s no nipping going on like in her, in her pasture. When I watch the horses in there, they all read the cues much more subtly between horse to horse and human to horse and horse to–all of it. Like they’re just reading all of it. And the most that’s happening in that field is like flicking of ears. And there’s kind of disappointed looks or happy looks, but there’s like this perking up or slightly wilting. But there’s not this level of nippy, bite-y kind of stuff that’s coming on with Presto in the mix, basically.
Stacy Westfall: [00:31:40] Ok, so basically when Presto fully understands the rules and sees them as seamless, he will stop doing this. He will stop doing this at least when he sees the rules are consistent. There’s a good chance, after having him, he’s now five, for this long, he is just kind of that, you know, class clown, questioning, kind of a…He’s–he’s a little bit of a–he stirs up trouble. And some of that I’ve seen go away with age because they just kind of age and get a little less, you know, like that. But I don’t know how that’s going to play out. But if you’ve got one of those just enjoy all the things you’re going to learn from watching them, because it’s endlessly something unlike, you know, little Willow who’s just being much more simple in this whole thing. Now, when Presto fully understands the rules, he’s going to stop being as much trouble. This also explains, if you think about all of this interaction, this also explains how my stallion was fine to ride and show when there were mares around that were in heat. So if you are in a situation where you go to horse shows and there are lots of stallions there, you go to the training futurity, there are going to be a lot of stallions there. Go to a lot of these big shows there’s going to be a lot of stallions there and they’re not acting like stallions. Well, what in the world does that mean? That basically means they’re just not acting like they’re out in the wild and doing what they would do in the wild. And so that ties in with the next question. Let’s listen to the question.
Caller 3: [00:33:19] I Stacy this is Christy in Texas, I have a question about my three year old filly I’ve only ever had geldings and I can tell she’s very sweet horse, but sometimes she has mood change during certain times of the month and she’ll get pinny-eared and try to nip at me a little bit. And I want to see how you approach that. I know they sell different supplements, but also want to know, do you leave her alone for a few days or try to work her through it somehow? And if you have found any supplements work or not, I would greatly appreciate your advice and always very grateful for all the information you provide to us. Thank you.
Stacy Westfall: [00:34:05] Ok, can you guess where I’m going to go with this answer? So for me, I will look at this primarily as a herd dynamics issue. So typically when I see mares, and when I say typically, I’m saying 99% of the time when I see mares that are nipping during their heat cycle, pinny-eared, having different–different, you know, opinions like that. Most of the time, in my experience, this has been more of the same thing I was just talking about with what is allowed during this time. Now, I’m not saying that mares can’t have issues, but in my entire time with horses, I have only found one mare that needed medical treatment for an ovary problem. Her follicle wouldn’t rupture. She would get stuck and he–and she would be sitting on the wall. And I’m talking like pressing, hard pushing. And it is just much more common that these mares are, yep, they feel like they want to express themselves and people allow it. And the way that I could explain this differently would be to say if the stallion wanted to ask questions about, oh, like I want to–I want to go breed that mare, I want to talk to the mare, I want to go do this, then then it is usually more accepted by people that correcting the stallion is saying, don’t say that, don’t do this. You know, this is how you get to behave, that mind your manners. That seems to be more acceptable than when people think about mares. But I look at it exactly the same. So amazingly, my mares don’t show me that they’re in heat when I’m around them now. I’ll notice it like maybe they’re tied in the tie stalls and I’ll notice one of the mares, like squatting or doing something. But that’ll be the same mare that I just got done riding and I made no exceptions for and that I was leading. And no, she’s not allowed to stop and squat or, you know, she’s not allowed to squeal because when the mares are coming into heat and out of heat is when they’re actually that really like, loud like sassiness. When they’re actually in heat, they just want to stop and stand and squat. And so I’m like, none of it. You can keep on walking. If a lion was chasing you, you’d keep on moving right now, get moving. And, you know, this is not a time or place for this conversation is basically how I look at it. This is not the time or place for this conversation. And so I don’t actually know that much about the different supplements, because the only thing that I’ve ever had a horse on before was Regu-Mate and the only time that I ever had horse on Regu-mate was when they were actually breeding them. And so they were using the Regu-Mate to to control the hormone levels, to regulate like coming in and out so that they could time the cycle and the shipping of the semen and the breeding schedule. And I noticed no difference because I wasn’t having a problem with it before. If I 100% truly believed that this was a hormonal thing, I know that I would put a horse on Regu-Mate, a mare on Regu-Mate for like, you know, 60 or 90 days, because what you’ll probably end up seeing is that you still have the majority of your training problems, like the horse being pushy in the same areas. Now, would it be caused by the desire to be bred or be expressing the breeding desire? No, but you’ll still see those–if you’re seeing that, you should be seeing it in other places, because basically they’re just expressing their herd mentality instead of changing into the human mentality and being in that set of house rules. So I actually haven’t used any of the supplements. And I still just think it was really funny that when Greg was breeding Roxy, he would come and we’d be like, is she ind heat? And I’d be like, I have no idea. And he would holler to the vet and they would palpate her and they’d be like, she’s in raging heat. And we bred her and then drop her off at home and nothing, no difference. Like a–no difference. I didn’t notice that she was in heat before in–not any after, like it just wasn’t something she was allowed to express around me. And I wasn’t teasing her at home because I wasn’t interested in bringing that up because I didn’t need to. And so it just wasn’t part of the mix. And so this is actually really similar to the question about the the rules changing around the kids.
Stacy Westfall: [00:38:34] So what’s going on? You’ve got to just think of it like this. Like you’ve got round pen rules. This is how you behave. This is where it’s allowed and where it’s changed. And then you’ve got like, oh, when they’re in heat, if you change the rules for when they’re in heat, heck yeah, they’re going to act differently when they’re in heat. And then if you change the rules, when the kids come around, then the horses are going to pick up on that, too. So two things on the kids. Number 1, empower the kids. For me that’d be real clearly a–you like, here’s a stick and string, don’t let the horse come within, you know, six, eight feet, whatever. That distance, kicking distance, running distance, just, like–let me think, about 8 feet because the stick and string, the stick part’s about 4 feet long, the string parts about 4 feet long. I’m like, don’t let the horse come within 8 feet. There’s your rule. There’s everybody’s boundaries. Just don’t. Because medical bills, it’s just not worth it. The horses can totally stay without. And then it’s–this is so much exactly like what I talked about in Episode 117 when I was talking about Gabby looking for the weak spots in the training. If you go back and listen to that one, I was talking about how they’re–as you’re moving the training, you’re slightly changing the rules. And the specific example, I’m not going to fully do it here, but look for the spot where I was talking about she–I wave my legs at the end of the spin and let her–she’s–I let her kind of lean against that and almost ignore it a little bit. But it’s not allowed to be ignored in other places. And so as things get more progressed, because I guarantee if I say give the kids a stick and keep the horse 8 feet away, someone out there listening is like, oh, my gosh, you’re going to be scaring the horse. And the horses are just going to be running around and they’re going to be scared of the kids. And it’s like, that’s not a bad place to start where they’re out of your space because the chance of the horse or the kid getting hurt? Way lower when there’s like 10 feet or more distance between them, which causes the other problem of like, well, yeah, but I want to be closer to my horse. Yes. That’s also moving further up the training scale. And at that point, one of the rules, the horse has to know, is as we come in closer to the humans, even if there are little humans or big humans, we don’t come in with this much energy. We don’t come in with this intent. We don’t come in with this thought. So that’s where, again, we go back to, like, remember that innocent look I was looking for for Presto when he’s watching me come out of the stall? We want that innocent look when they’re looking at our children or all kinds of situations. Horses are wired to look for the rule changes. The whole herd dynamics is what we’re playing after. It’s what we actually love, the idea of when we’re talking about natural horsemanship. So again, they’re looking for the rules, but they’re not just like, oh, got the rules, done. Good to go for the next ten years. They’re looking for the nuances of the rules. They’re looking for how it changes person to person, how it changes situation to–situation. And then each of the horses’ temperaments, some of them are going to accept the rules easier. Some are going to test a lot more, like Presto. So the temperament is influencing the training. Or you could say it this way; you could say the training is influencing the temperament, but that temperament piece is actually what’s affecting the timeline of the training, which is why it’s not all the same. And this ties in with the final question.
Caller 4: [00:41:50] Hello, Stacy, my name is Jeri Guri [sp] from Canton, Georgia, and I have a herd of four. Five, including myself, three Connemara ponies and one donkey. The one pony that I’m having some issues with is a pony that’s low on the totem pole and has been challenging to me for ten years. He wants my spot. Needless to say, my ground work is quite good because of him. Teaching manners to this pony is never, is a never ending, you know, battle. And some issues carry over to under the saddle. I just started using a gadget, first time in ten years, to let him fight himself instead of fighting, instead of having a conversation with me. His mind is quick and hardly ever rests. Allowing him to make good choices really doesn’t work with him. He’ll get the release and I’ll give him the way to comfort, but it doesn’t matter for long. Any suggestions with this pony? He will be 12 years old. Thank you very much.
Stacy Westfall: [00:43:03] Jeri, I have listened to your message quite a few times prepping for this and I laugh every single time. I absolutely love how you say, “and he wants my spot.” I love it. So I actually totally think you’re reading him correctly right there. And I think there’s more to the story. I want to tell you both sides of it. Oh, my gosh. I just love how you say that. So let me start with the “why.” I think there’s more to the story, but also maybe you’ll see how I do think that you’re correct that he wants your spot. So my boys ran cross-country and there was a T-shirt that used to have a saying on the back of it, and I could not find the saying. So I found this story that basically summarizes the same idea. So here’s a short story. So this apparently takes place in a country where there are lions. So, so get this in your mind. Two people are walking along and suddenly they see a tiger in the distance and it’s running towards them and they start running away. And then one of them stops and takes out some running shoes from his bag and starts to put on the running shoes. And the other person says, what are you doing? Do you think you’ll run faster than the tiger with those on? And he says, I don’t have to run faster than the tiger. I just have to run faster than you. This is what I think your horse…it’s why I said I think I might, I think I agree with you about your horse’s spot. So maybe, you know, maybe he’s not looking for comfort, is the other thing that came to my mind when you say that comfort doesn’t work for him. My thought there is that I think you’re accurate there, too, because maybe he’s not looking for comfort. Maybe what he’s actually looking for is strength. Let me make this a little bit more extreme so that I can show the different ranges of options that horses might be looking for. So on one hand, a horse could be looking for a release of pressure. For you to stop having a move, that could be his reward. Maybe his reward is treats, maybe his reward is scratches. Maybe his reward is praise. Maybe it’s all of the above. You release the pressure, you give him a treat, you scratch him, and you praise him. And so this in my mind is what happens when I think of the word comfort. On the other hand, a horse could look for strength. And so let’s put this out in the herd, which is instantly where my mind goes with this. When I think of that, I think of a horse laying down to sunbathe while the stronger horse stands guard. So that horse’s ability to relax is directly related to knowing that there is another horse that’s going to go to battle with them. I think–think about this out in the herd. Like all the horses in a wild herd are not all equally thinking about defense. Like some are thinking about who to get behind. Like they’re like, there’s the line of defense, A-B-C-D, I’m way down the line. And so I think that it’s interesting that when they see the strong one, they not only don’t fight them for that spot. They actually kind of willingly step in under the wing. So I think sometimes when we’ve got these lower ranking horses, I think they crave security above comfort. Which actually, when you think about it, makes a lot of sense because it’s hard to be insecure and enjoy comfort. Like it might be impossible. I mean, when’s the last time you felt insecure and comforted at the same time? It’s just, it’s not–the security comes first. So if I were working with a pony like this, I would actually suggest that you adopt this manner of a strong teacher figure or a strong coaching figure. It–this pops into my mind like, I don’t even know. Are there multiple shows like, you know that show with the British nanny where they come in and like the British nanny helps people get their kids under control? It’s like that kind of a feeling. So it’s not like a spoiling kind of a comfort, kind of a feeling. It’s this like strong, clear, strength kind of a feeling that we’re going for here. And maybe a good thing is like if you have a great movie where there’s a really strong coaching figure, like a lot of time, the coaches aren’t like, oh, good job, here’s your ice cream. They’re like, you know, there’s the strength that’s portrayed in the way that they are making the players stronger. So when I pictured these things, I don’t exactly picture comfort. I picture strength, which I think is what the the weaker horses are looking for. Because if you think about it, that weakest horse doesn’t want to just actually be one notch above. They actually wish that they were they like, what do I–I want to be protected by that most dominant one. And so there’s so there’s something in there that I think you need to be looking for. Can you guys all see how this has a common thread of this herd behavior and the behavior around the humans? This is why I’m calling it house rules and pasture rules. And basically your horses have a lot of questions.
Stacy Westfall: [00:48:47] I hope I helped plant some seeds and answered some of these questions. Thanks to everyone for leaving your questions. That’s what I have for you this week. Thank you for listening, and I’ll talk to you again in the next episode.
Announcer: [00:49:08] If you enjoy listening to Stacy’s podcast, please visit stacywestfall.com for articles, videos, and tips to help you and your horse succeed.
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Oh my gosh, my mare Kami is exactly like Presto haha! She had a life-threatening injury at 3 months old so her and mom were forced to live in a stall for a better part of Kami’s first year of life and then when she was allowed outside, she was started in small pens by herself with other horses in the surrounding pens. Because of that she didn’t get any time in a herd as a youngster and now as a 6 year old, she has incredibly poor social skills! Same thing, when a new horse comes into the herd, she is right up in their face, biting, chasing, picking fights and its almost like she’s trying extremely hard to be dominant over the new horse. And she is massive – probably 16.3 or 17hh now and very thick. She always ends up on the bottom eventually which I think is because they get annoyed and end up attacking her just like you described for Presto. She did start doing this a bit with humans a few years back but I was able to train that out of her pretty quickly. I also noticed when I first started trailering her to ride at a boarding stable with other horses, she would do the same thing – pin her ears and try to lash out at horses travelling towards her head on from the opposite direction. Thankfully she’s realized that’s not allowed and picked up on that pretty quick but it was shocking the first time it happened lol!
Oh this episode has brought up questions where I didn’t think I previously had questions. I will be listening at least 3x the entire episode. Especially the parts I think I know already. I will be reviewing episode 115 relating to team dynamics. You have brought me perspective this week. And for that, my horses thank you! Your fan from beautiful Prince Edward Island ?
This was great!
I have a gelding that will take the leadership role!