Horse went from docile, friendly and loving to angry, afraid and dangerous.

“Stacy, I know this is a long shot. I train horses in Canada. I have a clients horse who went to a different trainer initially. When the horse left the owners possession it was docile, friendly and loving. He has returned home angry, afraid and dangerous. He was simple to catch and came when called and now upon attempting to catch him the horse will kick out and bite. I’m trying to work him through this for my client and would love any input or advice as this is beginning to look hopeless to break him of the kicking and biting. Any tips or advice would be greatly appreciated.” Thank you, Noel M.

Yikes. Sounds like something went wrong somewhere. More information would make my answer more accurate but I will still attempt to offer some thoughts.

It sounds like you are eventually able to catch him. If that is true then my first recommendation is to have him examined to see if there is something physically wrong. The list of possibilities in this area is large so having a vet is a great idea. I have seen a mare with raging uterine infections that went undetected which caused her to be angry and kick a lot. The list of possible physical issues is long and broad and include things that could have happened accidentally or with abuse.

Upon initially reading this question the first thought is ‘what happened over there’? This can cause us to immediately leap to the idea of abuse. Has the owner asked questions? Was she visiting during the time the horse was in training? Do the answers fit the symptoms that are being seen?

Hopefully your client had a reason to initially chose this trainer that included having visited the barn and liked how the horses and humans were being treated. If this is true then there are still other possibilities. If this is a young stallion and he sexually matured while there he may have become more aggressive. Combine that with someone, maybe not even the trainer, backing off when threatened and the seed of trouble could have been planted. Other horses can also influence how the horse response out in the pasture if they are constantly attacking and putting him on the defensive. It doesn’t make it right, just a possibility.

The list of words describing the horse are interesting. Angry and dangerous go together but afraid is the interesting one. Yes, horses can become afraid enough to become angry and dangerous but maybe I read the email wrong. You seemed to be describing catching a horse in a large area (…“and came when called”…) and in that situation the horse that is afraid will generally leave. If they are coming but with the intention of being aggressive they usually don’t look afraid.

If this is a stallion then the symptoms would be consistent with a horse that was struggling to control his hormones. If you suspect that there was some type of abuse then you are dealing with retraining. The retraining process can be a long one. If the horse was there for several months then you should be prepared for the process to take awhile for the results to be solid. Be creative. Think outside the box. Is the horse good once he is caught? Is he better or worse in a stall, round pen or pasture? How is he treating the other horses in the pasture? How is he being treated by the other horses in the pasture?

I am also including a link to some YouTube videos I did with a horse that wasn’t halter broke. The theory you should be looking for is that the horse needed to stand in a particular spot in the stall…and I was completely out of reach. See if you can think of a way to modify this technique to fit you and your horse and remember; safety first for both of you.

P.S.-These videos were made six years ago and this mare has gone on to have a successful show career. For the first half of this year she was in the top ten in the World standings in her division!

8 Comments

  1. Marcia Evans on June 1, 2016 at 10:26 am

    I am having a problem with a mare I purchased just about 2weeks ago. She is learning , But she doesn’t trust yet. My biggest problem is that she is actually dangerous when I try to handle her feet particularly the front feet. The previous owners used to take her up to the Amish to be trimmed, and they put her in stocks and tied her feet up one at a time to work on them. I’ve had to go very slowly with her front legs, at first she wouldn’t even let me brush them. Now she allows me to brush, and will (after patient attempts) let me pick them up and hold them up for a short time. But if I try to pick them out, we go right back to square one where she either won’t keep her foot up or won’t even pick her foot up. She overreacts to any form of discipline and even flinches when I begin to saddle her, but she is fine under saddle and has learned to lunge in the time I have had her. I don’t want anyone hurt by her so I am nervous about the farrier. Any tips to help me gain her trust?

  2. Kayla on January 6, 2016 at 11:11 pm

    I had a horse like this once. She was the best horse I ever had, until she “turned crazy.” I used to let little kids take their first lessons on her, and then it got to the point where she would be so dangerous you couldn’t get her even close to the arena. After a long break, she was better, but still took LOTS of slow work. But we were able to get her back to being rideable again. Once she was deemed safe, I sold her to a loving family. She was okay for a bit, but then acted up again. They had x-rays done and it turns out she had a suffered a broken coffin bone in the past. We never had x-rays done when we had her, but it’s possible that her broken bone was her trigger. She never exhibited signs of lameness, so we aren’t sure if she broke it with us, or if it was an old injury that flared up. In any event, if the horse doesn’t show improvement, I recommend having a vet check.

  3. Dennis Cappel on November 8, 2015 at 12:52 pm

    I would love to know what became of this horse and if it was ever found out what caused him to act out like this.

  4. Sharon Christianson on September 29, 2015 at 9:17 pm

    I had a similar experience. My little Arabian mare was a rescue. She had been a brood mare for several years. I got her when she was 10. She was not broke but the first thing was trailering her she’d walk into the trailer right from the start like a pro. Out in the pasture you could walk up to her and halter her all without any treats or bribing. I did a lot of ground work with her and got her to the point where the next step was riding. So I took her to a trainer in Ft. MacLeod, Alberta. They had her for two months. The cost for those two months was $1,800.00. Every time I tried to go over and watch them work with her I was always given a reason why it wasn’t possible. After I got her back it was a nightmare, she was afraid of everything. I couldn’t get her to stand beside the mounting step, she was terrified of it. Before she went to training I would stand on the step and drape myself over her back. There are so many examples I could use but there’s just not time to list them all suffice it to say she would spook at everything so it was back to square one. Thankfully they couldn’t take away her basic sweet nature and desire to learn.

  5. Sara Dyer on September 29, 2015 at 9:17 pm

    This is a timely share. I, too, have a horse who is erratically aggressive. He desperately wants to be with me – is smoochy and friendly – then attacks out of the blue. After his outburst, he looks all sorrowful and is ad.

    I am still going through the elimination process of determining if it’s due to physical, training or mental issues.

    Thank you for your comments. Each one of them could be valid for my boy.

    After buying him, I discovered he’d been abused earlier in his life (evidenced by scarring around the head) and found his atlas and axis were out of line (since fixed). My gut instinct tells me that he wants to be with me, but when we make contact he’s flooded with memories from when he trusted before and lashes out in warning.

    He may have nerve damage due to the misalignment; he may have a brain chemical/hormonal imbalance as a result of the stress endured during the abuse.

    Any research or experience is much appreciated. Thanks Stacy for your article and videos 😀

  6. Jennifer Mustoe on September 28, 2015 at 10:52 am

    We had slightly similar, but horse came back after solo turnout having lost its status in our little herd totalling 4.

    That definitely affected her and she started bullying us.

  7. Katy Negranti on September 27, 2015 at 10:13 pm

    The part that struck me was the horse was “docile, friendly and loving.” In my experience, when an owner describes their horse this way, the horse is more spoiled than respecful. When you start addressing the spoiled, they tend to act out, get mad, and be resistant. The trainers job is to establish boundaries, respect, trust and then teach the horse the skills for whatever his job is going to be. I have a suspicion that the horse wasn’t ever trained to be caught when he has with is owner. The horses friendly appearance was probably pushy behavior. I think the trainer didn’t address the basic groundwork and the horse learned to be evasive to being caught and defensive in by the way he was handled. It never hurts to rule out physical issues but I’d also take a good look at the way the owner handles the horse and how the trainer trains the horses.

  8. Brenda Korman on September 27, 2015 at 7:36 pm

    Hi Stacy,
    I just read about the docile horse returning from the trainer as being dangerous. I had this same thing happen to my mare about 7 or 8 years ago and it was scary. I followed your training from the time she was born. She was ground broke and I even showed her in halter. Every thing was great, until I took her to a trainer at age 2, that I thought was gentle and in line with your philosophy of training. When I got her back she was horrible. She struck out at me and even kicked my husband; something that was unheard of when I initially took her to the trainer. I thought maybe she was upset with being taken away from us – I was guessing and had no idea why. We worked through this and by the next year I sent her again, for more training. When I got her back, she was very dangerous. I ended up putting her in pasture, away from the other horses so she would bond with humans again. It took a couple of years for her to chill and trust again. I rode her daily, sometimes two times a day. she no longer struck or kicked as if scared or being on defense. I still felt I couldn’t trust her enough for safety around children, so I sold her for an experienced rider only. After months and months of research, I can only believe that the first training was not what he portrayed himself as, but was brutal. Before I sold her, I took her to a very experienced trainer that I had eventually found and watched his training techniques. He totally understood horses and really ‘liked’ the horse for who the horse was – personality, ability and bloodlines. My mare immediately took a liking to him and would do anything and everything for him. This confirmed my belief that the original trainer was abusive, putting her on survival mode. He had given her a mental illness, that only time and trust could help heal. Her name was Two Gold Breane (out of Two Eyed Jack)and she was a reg. buckskin Quarter Horse. Whoever has her, has never transferred her registration papers, so I have no idea where or what has come of her.

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