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PostPosted: Mon Mar 07, 2011 12:58 am 
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Hi everyone,

For those of you who "know" Comet and me, we have had some issues with his dominance/aggression in the past, but not directly aimed at me.

He had seemed happier once he adjusted to the new pasture boarding situation we moved to in June of 2010, but has been more aggressive again since the hay came out for winter.

I started walking with a stick, or lunge whip in the pasture with him, as he would often charge at the other horses if I was trying to pet them. (he wanted me all to himself)

Today when we drove up he was in a corner by himself, and I just went out without a stick or whip. I pet and scratched him for a while, and pulled some icicles out of his hair. He seemed pretty cheerful and appreciative, as he was pretty itchy.

then when I started to walk away to go find my other horse, he followed, so I stopped and gave him a bit more attention.

When i backed up a bit and went to turn away he struck me with his front leg. I had just taken a step backward, so his hoof just grazed my jacket and leg. If I would have been a few inches closer though he would have really hurt me.

I was completely stunned, not knowing what to do. I certainly didn't want to smack him for a few reasons~though I might have instinctively reacted that way with my little filly if she did something, but with him I think he would fight back.

I just stood there and asked him why he did it. Then I went and broke a stick of a bush, and started moving him around the pasture (Resnick leading from behind style) . I just wanted to have some communication with him, but I also didn't want to get too close. He would move for me, but was quite aggressive, turning to face me, head high, chest out, looking angry.

I don't know if it was the best way to deal with the situation or not, or what I should work on with him next. I feel so bad, as I don't know why he struck at me. He has reared and struck out twice before, but both of those times involved deworming.

Any thoughts are most appreciated.

Thanks,

Lisa

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PostPosted: Mon Mar 07, 2011 2:57 am 
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There will be some experienced advice for you from other here. :pet:

All I could offer is what popped into my when I imagined myself in that situation :ieks: , but it is not from any experience :sad: . So please hang on. You will get some ideas. :yes:

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PostPosted: Mon Mar 07, 2011 5:58 am 
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Thanks Karen...

Comet is a tough horse to figure out sometimes.

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PostPosted: Mon Mar 07, 2011 6:20 am 
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Horses come with different personalities just like people.

A sure way to fail in a relationship with a "people," is to make the goal more important than the relationship.

True too with horses.

A few things to think about as you work on this issue with Comet:

Liberty work tends to energize and even agitate the horse more especially if he is in a location that he regards as "his," and is a dominant horse using aggression to establish and hold his territory.

What works with one horse doesn't necessarily work for all horses.

A dominant horse that acts as though you are one of his herd can be very dangerous. A little nip, or a playful strike that wouldn't hurt another horse could injure or kill a human.

A horse like the above is feral in his thinking - a "mustang," still.

A mustang can be gentled. But only if you remember it's a mustang.

Talk more about your horse. I only vaguely remember the problems with aggression you've referred to before.

What is Comet's history and might be part of this striking behavior?

It is natural for a horse that doesn't feel safe to be reactive.

Striking, like kicking and biting, is a manifestation of fear, though it may not look like it.

I would, were I in your situation, seriously consider techniques used to gentle mustangs. The job of the handler is to lay the foundation for later more complex interaction, horse to human, human to horse.

More importantly, rethink if you want to work Comet at liberty in his pasture. Unless you use a barrier to work behind liberty work with this reactive horse is going to be one, very dangerous, two, not very productive.

Donald, Altea, and Bonnie Cupcake

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PostPosted: Mon Mar 07, 2011 7:45 am 
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Sorry to hear that he kicked you, Lisa. :pet:

Here are two links to similar topics, maybe you can find some help in there:

Lacie kicked at me
Dealing with aggression when training

Personally I am a big fan of differentiating between clarifying rules and roles when it comes to dealing with unwanted behaviour. That is, I prefer to focus on the behaviour, showing the horse that this is not how we interact, instead of showing him that I am the leader.

I'll try to speak for myself, because whereas I could write endlessly about the effects I have seen different styles of interaction have on the horse's behaviour, my foremost reaction to dealing with aggression is a personal one, being a rather dominant person myself. I know precisely that for me it does not resolve the conflict when someone tries to prove me that he can boss me around and make me do what he wants me to do. Whereas this might make me shut up at times, at least temporarily, it does not resolve the problem for me. Just the contrary, it makes me so angry at the person, and what I feel for him then is mostly disdain.

When I think back to situations where people have set boundaries for me in the most efficient way, these were always situations where they told me that a certain behaviour from me did not work for them and they could not interact with me like that - that is, they spoke about themselves ("This does not work for me and I need to be clear about that") and not about me ("You are bad, which is why you force me to hurt you, it's all your own fault").

I do believe in clear boundaries. Maybe it works for others to just be nice and loving and accepting and then the partner/horse will not do anything that's going to hurt them. For me it does indeed lay the basic to be polite myself, and most situations of conflict don't even come up when I see it early enough and then ask the horse for a behaviour that is incompatible with the dangerous or unwanted behaviour. However, if the unwanted behaviour occured, I do show them that this is not the way we are going to interact.

Mostly I do this by freezing, preferably for small unwanted behaviours, like trying to bite at the treat bag or walking into me. I just stop moving and soon the horse realizes that I am not going to further interact with him that way - so they back up or do something else that resolves the unwanted situation.

For behaviours that I find more dangerous, I ask the horse to back up or move out of my way for a few steps and in a polite way. The thought I am holding in my mind then is nothing along the lines of "I am the boss, so I can make you move" but "Please give me some space, I need you to be a bit further away from me now."

And then there are the behaviours that I can in no way accept and where I think I immediately have to show the horse that this is an absolute no-go (for example attacking Pia out of jealousy because I am interacting with her). Then I do chase the horse away. But, and that is important to me, I chase him out of my/our space (showing him that I am not interacting with him that way and that if he behaves like that, I don't even want him around), but I do not, never-ever, follow him and drive him around the pasture (showing him that I am the boss who can do that).

After this I put a lot of emphasis on showing the horse what DOES work, which I think is at least as important as showing him what does not work. Of course I should have done this before already, but that the conflict situation has appeared in the the first place is a sign that I have not been good enough at this, actually. If I take the chasing Pia example, I would wait for the horse to approach us again and then reward him enthusiastically for doing so in a careful, friendly way. I would let him stay with us, but be very attentive to see any signs of aggression before they actually appear, counter them with the smaller conflict-preventing steps (if I am early enough, even holding my breath and freezing for a split second is enough), and then reward the horse very much for any sign of reacting to that and for example taking the tension out of his body or looking attentive instead of angry.

Donald has made a very good point, I think, when he said that aggressive behaviour is based on fear, even if this is not obvious at all times. And this makes me believe that a dominant way of dealing with it (showing the horse that I am the boss and can do things with him aginst his will) is not an option for me. In my view, countering fear with intimidation just doesn't seem to be very productive.


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PostPosted: Mon Mar 07, 2011 10:16 am 
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Is Comet high or highest in rank in the herd? If so I can explain his behavior and give you some help. But if not, than it is more complicated but we can still get to the bottom of it :)

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PostPosted: Mon Mar 07, 2011 3:01 pm 
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Ruphina has her periods in which she seems to be more aggressive... What I do when she behaves incorrectly , rearing up in front of me... threatening to bite, anything that makes me feel 'scared' is the same as Romy...
I freeze in my position (as long as it is a safe position... when she is still to close to me I ask her to back up the same as romy, just out of my space... go misbehave somewhere else' and I wait, for me to relax (I always get extremely tensed because of this) but also I wait for her to relax for her to safely approach me again.
I also tell her that it scares me...

As soon as it feels right, we cuddle, and we proceed where we stopped.
For now I always had the feeling that Ruphina was not trying to hurt me she was either telling me to loudly that she didn't want to do something, didn't understand my question and panicked a little, or just didn't take to much care of my personal space/position....

To Ruphina this is really clear, I just don't have the position to walk away all the time (leaving her alone in the arena while other are riding.. is not a good idea) but freezing also helps!

Important part is that when she is out of my personal space, I relax everything and I actually stare to the ground... waiting for my heart to get out of my throat or toes... into it's proper place ;)

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PostPosted: Mon Mar 07, 2011 3:16 pm 
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Hi Lisa:

First question that popped into my head was wondering whether you guys have worked on leg lifts together?

Circe has done this to me when she wants attention -- clipping me by accident when I've turned away from her. In her case, it had nothing to do with dominance and everything to do with equating leg lifts (which she adores doing) with getting a great response from me -- usually a treat.

She offers it -- often -- when she wants to get my full attention. She's so intent on her foot she doesn't think about where it might land and whether it might hit me, and there have been times when she's connected. Including the day where she lifted her foot between my legs and I found myself sitting on her outstretch leg! :ieks: :funny: :roll: (We have no dignity, she and I...)

Just thought it was worth mentioning/asking -- is it possible he was essentially lobbying for more attention from you rather than actually trying to hit out at you? I was wondering because it sounds like it came from behind, so you didn't necessarily see him move. And I know that if it were me with a horse I'd struggled through some dominance issues with, it would be easy to assume that's what had happened even if that wasn't what he meant.

Beyond that, I agree w/Romy and Donald -- in my experience, actual pushes for dominance that are aggressive and fear-based aren't best solved by trying to do any kind of an alpha roll, but instead, calm holding of space and not being reactive. (Versus Circe being pushy because she's egocentric, in which case I am perfectly willing to give her a hard time -- there's no fear there, just self-absorption and accompanying rudeness! She tells me when I've been rude, too, so we figure it out... :funny: ) I liked Kirsten's description of what she does with Ruphina a lot...

Good luck with this, regardless!

Best,
Leigh

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PostPosted: Mon Mar 07, 2011 4:15 pm 
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Oh I love you guys. :love:

I just don't have experience with all of this. I remember a certain someone once saying that it is best to ignore bad behavior (like a stallion biting) but the key isn't to just stand and take a beating, but to carry on asking the horse to do something constructive - without an emotional spike (like getting angry). LIke Kirsten saying she waits for her heart to return to it's normal place.

There is a stallion where I board and in moments of high spirits from him, he would rear and strike. He wasn't intending to kill anyone but he had no idea how fragile people could be. I wouldn't lead him anywhere. He was not my responsibility and honestly I was intimidated by him. A young lady at the stable, who does not have a horse of her own, took him on as a project because she knew she would not have to share him with anyone else (I mean there would be no one else training him to conflict with her training) and I have been so impressed by her steady nature in handling him. At one point early on, because I understand the theory (albeit no practice) I did suggest to her that she not punish him for dangerous behavior (to not have a punishing state of mind)...but to have a clear, constructive and measured response to simply ask him to do something that wasn't dangerous (see Romy? I learned that from you!). I am just so impressed to see her stand her ground (in a safe place) if he rears up or tries to bite her, then simply ask him to do a few giravoltas (which puts her in a more safe postion in relation to him) or some other behavior that switches him mind from instinctive reactions to thinking interactions that allows her to then praise him for his fine movement and at the same time the movements take enough physical effort from him that it uses up a bit of spare energy. Then he tends to calm. He likes the praise. He is gradually showing fewer outbursts.

Anyway, I have nothing to add to help, but I just wanted to say :clap: :kiss: to every helpful soul here.

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PostPosted: Mon Mar 07, 2011 4:56 pm 
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Thanks for all the ideas and support :f:

A bit more info on Comet for those who asked...

~he is coming 6 years old...has had lots of attention and time spent on him from us in the past year since we adopted him, not lots of training per se, but trust, relationship issues, and hoof care, as he was foundered--has thankfully grown in healthier hooves--and suffered from chronic abscesses

~he has never been ridden, don't know if that is a route we are going to take with him. I just can't picture him being ridden. He does seem a bit wild Donald. Like a horse that just wants to be left to be a horse.

~He is fairly high in the herd, but 2 mares and one older gelding are definitely above him. There are between 15- 20 horses usually in the pasture. The herd dynamics are different now that they mostly stick around the hay.

~He is often over-aggressive with the other horses, and possessive of me in the pasture

~I don't technically do any training in the pasture, just spend time with them out there when it's too cold to do anything else, like yesterday. Just pet/scratch each horse for about 10 min. then back into the warm car.

~several people around the barn have suggested he is a proud cut stallion because of his aggressive rearing, striking, posturing etc. and very active herding of the mares...but he never acts out sexually...even when pesky mares are in heat, he just turns his back and tries to stay away from them. When we first moved our 3 horses there, he kept all other horses away from his 2 fillies for quite a long time. he would charge, rear and strike, bite, kick out at anyone who tried to come near them.

~he used to be very herd bound, not wanting to leave the pasture, now he doesn't mind so much, but he will get worried if one of our girls is out of sight for too long. If they have been gone from the pasture for several hours he attacks them when they get back :ieks: he sticks to himself more these days, and just looks plain miserable

~he was previously neglected, very untrusting, completely dissociated and it took months for us to even be able to touch, handle him consistently

~he has never been very affectionate, doesn't like a lot of touching or brushing. will back up if he feels you're being too touchy

~he is the horse who always will go with you...ie, they are in a pasture that is at least 100 acres, and if you go for a walk across it he stays right at your shoulder, without a halter or anything.

~when Comet struck out I had taken a step back, so I was still facing him. It happened so fast, I can't really say even what his facial expression was like when he did it. I was thinking he was in a pretty good mood, and he had just really enjoyed having his face and eyes scratched, and the icicles picked off. He usually doesn't like a lot of rubbing on the face especially, but he was really itchy, and rubbing his face on my hands too. He seemed cute and foal like, a way he doesn't act very often.

~he does get possessive though, so maybe when he saw I was leaving he reacted to that with his leg. for whatever reason he did it though, it just isn't good. I am often out there alone, and have to feel safe enough to at least get him up into the arena.

~figuring out how to be with him is tough. he clearly dislikes any move you make to show him you are being dominant and pushy, and we worked so hard to earn his trust, it kind of defeats that. but at the same time, he has no trouble showing his dominance, and now acting out physically. I don't want him to become dangerous...well I suppose many people would say he already is dangerous.

on a side note, I suppose I also need to let the lady where we board about this. Everyone already stays away from him, and he doesn't like people he doesn't know just walking up to him. But she should be aware. I'm scared she'll say he can't stay there if he's acting out like that.

Thanks again,

Lisa

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PostPosted: Mon Mar 07, 2011 5:18 pm 
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This is just a completely random thought that came to me while I was reading your info you posted:

He seemed in good spirits, wanted your attention etc (I think it's safe to say he wasn't in his mind being mean) is it possible he sensed you were about to move your attention off him and leave so he (over) reacted like a spoiled child trying to keep you "with" him mentally? I know Diego catches me the most off guard when I am only just beginning to think about another task, often when I'm about to leave him to do something. He'll pull out some bad habit or start really acting out because he knows that will get my attention again.

That said, I don't have specific advice, except what I would do (which is continuing to evolve). I do still assert dominance occasionally to get a horse to 'back off' me, but I am trying to look for other alternatives. Politeness was not modeled for my boy Diego by horses OR humans so he can be very rude and sometimes he has hurt me. In the beginning I would have been seriously hurt if that's all I used but now we are getting to a point where I talk to him verbally - telling him how I feel if he bumps me, bites me, hits me with his foreleg etc. I also continue to "not react" to his bad behavior. I find that is extremely helpful.
Now I say ^ this because the "Leading from Behind" that CR does is based on alittle dominance. Don't get me wrong - I love her! But in this situation like you said, it just seemed to make Comet more angry. I use it in the ring at liberty in a more calm setting with D, so it's more of a "give/take" type dance as we walk or trot. If I used it in the pasture after he was a brat I'm sure he'd react much like Comet. :roll: Lips pursed, ears back, etc.


Maybe Comet just needs more alone time with his human? To get his needs met and feel important/secure? Even something as simple as doing leading/halting + treat exercises around a ring or pen. Diego comes across as very dominant and for a long time was VERY herd oriented too, so I know that's a huge pain to deal with when you want to take them to a ring or other spot to work 1 on 1.

One very nice thing about a ring/pen is the ability for me to LEAVE when D gets RUDE. Diego gets so belligerent often that just standing still doesn't work... he pushes into my space, shoves me, bites etc when he gets too excited. So I walk away immediately and stand outside the gate/fence. This really shocked him the first few times he just stared at me like "What? Why?Come back treat machine!" :funny: But my point is he could still be close to me but he got the message of "Oh... she leaves if I step all over her. That's no fun". The challenge is me staying very calm and coming back within 2-5 minutes as if nothing ever happened and starting over.


I don't know if any of this helps but I feel for you. Hope you get some ideas that really help out! :f:

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PostPosted: Mon Mar 07, 2011 5:34 pm 
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Thanks Colinde,

I think that is what he wants. he does love being alone with me. i will have to just approach him more mindfully, and first order of business take him out of the pasture and into the arena, where he gets my undivided attention...and his bowl of goodies...which he usually makes me hand feed him.

I will not give him attention in the pasture. so if he refuses the halter to come out he'll have to settle for getting ignored that day.

Once in the ring I usually do take the halter off, as especially with him I've always wanted him to have the choice to participate or not, and it is a fairly big outdoor arena so he still has room to go off by himself. he does sulk sometimes.

It is one thing I really learned from Carolyn Resnick, to always do sharing territory, and wait until he engages me so I know he wants to do something. I have only done a few of the rituals with him, as he is very sensitive, and I haven't wanted to be too pushy with him. We too just usually do leading from behind very lightly and slowly, and never in the pasture until yesterday. I just felt like I should do something...just had no idea what to do, after my stunned silence was over. So I guess really the only reaction he got from me was nothing. I just stood and looked at him. By the time I got the stick about a minute had passed.

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PostPosted: Mon Mar 07, 2011 6:44 pm 
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Vivid Horses wrote:
It is one thing I really learned from Carolyn Resnick, to always do sharing territory, and wait until he engages me so I know he wants to do something.

This helped us a ton too, though we usually do it once we get back to the barn right now (FREEZING cold in the pasture! ;) :roll: And I'm a wuss, even in southern temps). I think it's been the main factor in him really engaging me now as opposed to 6 months ago when he wanted nothing to do with me and acted sullen/ withdrawn 85% of the time.

Quote:
I just felt like I should do something...just had no idea what to do, after my stunned silence was over.

I know the feeling. I frequently have moments like that since I'm kind of in an interim learning space in my mind. Had some yesterday since D was super aggressively biting & nipping me on the stomach & arms/hands (he felt he was 'playing/engaging' me and was very wound up). Sometimes he catches me off guard and my brain just draws a blank "Uhh ok what do I do now?" :blonde: because I know my old ways aren't the right way but another way hasn't presented itself yet in that instance...

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PostPosted: Mon Mar 07, 2011 10:36 pm 
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Hi Lisa:

Random ramblings that may be of no help what so ever...

If this is even possibly about him wanting your attention rather than being upset/afraid, then my instinct would be to treat it as such -- even though you obviously don't want him to kick at you, even in play.

Circe is learning (and this is hard for her, so we have to re-learn it every time we've not been playing together a lot -- she gets over excited and forgets) that when she really, really wants my attention, the best way to do that is to stand like a lovely dressage horse in ramener.

It actually is incredibly cute, because she'll reach to grab food, or rub me with her head (she's knocked me over doing this, so I don't like it) or jambette, or what have you -- and when her brain is switched on, I can actually see her start the movement towards me and then think "oh, no, that's not what I should do!" and then she'll pull into a ramener and stand, quivering, until I give her attention. "I'm being good! I'm being good! I'm being good!"

Otherwise, she is fully capable of being pushy like a small child is pushy -- barging into me, knocking me, etc. She doesn't realize I'm fragile and she wants what she wants when she wants it! :queen: :roll:

So -- if it feels like it's wanting more attention, my suggestion would be working with him to tell you that in other ways.

And I truly wouldn't worry too much about the "I let him get away with it" fear -- that is such a huge deal in traditional training, with all of the "let them do it once and they'll always know they can get away with it" -- I find it's just not that black and white. And actually, staring at him and walking away, if he was all excited about playing with you, is as clear a message as any that that isn't what you want from him. I think that's why it's really important to have a sense why they did something before we react to it -- for me, anyway, the intention is the real issue because then I can have a sense of how i want to respond.

Best,
Leigh

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PostPosted: Tue Mar 08, 2011 1:16 am 
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Leigh I think you are right. He likely was just being demanding, and thought he could use horsey body language on me.

I clearly didn't like it, and can see why the other horses are giving him such a wide berth. He really is lacking some social skills.

But I will keep working with him, and try and make it really positive and fun, when he is interested, and then ignore him when he intimidates or gets to pushy with me.

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