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Minor behaviour problems are common in horses but there is always a logical answer. Horses are emotional creatures and have long memories but they are not good at reasoning. The best way to train a horse is by repetition and kindness rather than punishment. Even difficult horses respond better to a firm but kind handler as the well-known Monty Roberts has proved time and time again. 

More serious behaviour problems can be difficult to deal with and you might need the help of an expert. Horses have different characters but usually fall into two groups: leaders and followers. The follower horse is much easier to train. The leader horse is bold and brave but will often try to keep getting the upper hand which can be very annoying at times. It is important to remain firm but kind with him and never lose your temper. A horse needs to understand that you, the handler, are number one in the pecking order. If you can get to grips with knowing how your horse's mind works, you stand a better chance. 

 
Tips on temperament
  • Horses, like people, have different characters (temperaments) 
  • Leader horses are more difficult to manage
  • The leader horse is the bossy one in the group
  • Nervous horses don't suit nervous riders
  • A nervous horse will often turn out kind with right rider
  • Older horses don't always have good temperaments
  • Horses often misbehave with nervous riders so buy one with kind temperament
  • It's important rider is Number One in pecking order
  • If you can't manage your horse, ask for help

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Weaving, crib biting and wind sucking

These three serious vices are counted as an unsoundness and have to be disclosed at a sale. There are many feed supplements and gadgets on the market which claim to help but unfortunately most serious cases are extremely hard, if not impossible, to cure. In many cases, the most you can hope for is to reduce the stress causing these 'nervous' problems.

Weaving

A horse is said to be a ‘weaver' when it continuously rocks from side to side on its forelegs and sways its head. The horse will usually do this with its head over a stable door. The constant effort causes the horse to lose weight and it can also damage the legs. Weaving is usually caused by boredom or nervousness. Highly strung horses which are stabled for long hours often become weavers. Some believe that it can also be copied by young horses which see older horses weaving but I have never seen this happen. Weaving horses are like a human with a nervous ‘tic'.

If your horse turns out to be a weaver, you can try the following:

  1. If the horse is bored, leave it out in the field for longer periods. A horse doesn't normally weave at grass.
  2. Fit an anti-weaving grille to the top of the stable door so that the horse cannot swing his head. Unfortunately this will not stop a bad weaver which will continue to weave behind the grille.
  3. Highly strung horses can improve with more work. An over-fed, underworked horse will be full of pent up energy and this makes a weaver worse.
  4. Keep weaving horses stabled away from other horses to stop youngsters imitating them.
  5. Some supplements to the horse's diet can help to relax the animal, such as herbal and liquid calmers. It is worth trying these if your horse is a bad weaver.

Crib biting and wind sucking

A crib biting or wind sucking horse is deemed to be unsound. Crib biters hold onto objects, such as a stable door or a manger, with their teeth and swallow air. Wind suckers arch their necks and swallow air. Both make a loud, obvious noise. These vices can stop the horse putting on weight and can also upset the digestion and cause colic. Try the following which might help:

  1. If the horse is locked up in the stable for hours, try leaving it out on grass for longer periods as the problem may be caused by boredom.
  2. If you have no land to turn out the horse, give it something to ‘play' with in the stable to keep its mind occupied, such as a Jollyball.
  3. Feed plenty of bulk fibre. A hay net with a fine mesh is a good idea as it will make the horse take longer to eat its hay.
  4. Some horses respond to a special wide strap fastened tightly around the neck which helps prevent them from sucking in air.
  5. Keep a wind sucker or crib biter away from other horses as young horses may try to copy them.
  6. Ask your vet for advice if the habit is severe as there is now surgery available which might help.

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What's in your horse's mind?
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Understanding horse psychology helps training

Horses are emotional creatures 

Horses are emotional creatures with finally tuned senses. They can see for great distances and react to things advancing from afar. Their hearing sense is highly developed, again to help against predators, and their large ears rotate around to hear sounds from a long off. Horses communicate by touch and smell. They rub up against each other in the field and groom each other for pleasure. If a horse wants to check something out, he will sniff it thoroughly. He will sniff the nostrils of a stange horse which, in the case of mares especially, is often followed by squealing and sometimes kicking.

Telepathy or sixth sense

We all know that horses are supposed to have a sixth sense which is like a form of telepathy. They can tune into feelings and emotions more quickly than their riders. They can sense fear or anxiety in a rider and will react accordingly. This is why a nervous rider will make a sensitive horse more nervous. On a more positive note, it is wonderful to watch a highly trained dressage horse work with his rider and to witness (because we can't see) the invisible communication between them.


Two little friends
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Horses and ponies hate being on their own

Horses enjoy the company of others

Horses are herd animals and don't like being on their own. A solitary horse can often become depressed or develop behaviour problems. If you provide a companion in his field, even if it is a donkey, the horse will be much happier in himself.

Horse box problems

I had a dressage horse who hated travelling in a horse box on his own. I tried hard to ignore his stamping and pawing on the floor of the trailer but it was difficult on long journeys to shows and he would arrive upset and in a sweat. I was given a small pony and brought him as a travelling companion. My horse's attitude changed instantly. I was able to load him on my own and he was delighted with his little friend. The horse behaved well at the shows as he had other horses around him so the pony was able to remain in the horse box. However, I would not advise you to use a travelling companion unless your horse gets really bothered about being alone. More info on training horses to load.

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What goes on in your horse's mind?

The first thing to remember about horses is that they are herd animals. This is how they have survived in the wild over the centuries. There is safety in numbers - a horse which strayed outside the herd or got left behind was vulnerable and usually ended up as a predator's lunch.

Horses like company and are communicative by their body language. If you put a new horse into a field with several others who have been together for a while, you will notice an immediate and often quite aggressive reaction. Very quickly the leader of the herd sorts out the 'intruder' and lets him know who's the boss. Horses threaten each other with a variety of expressions: ears back, teeth bared and sometimes swinging their hindquarters towards the newcomer but they rarely have to resort to serious violence. The pecking order in the field is sorted out quickly and then peace returns.

Horses are flight animals 

Another important driving emotion in horses is fear. They are flight animals because they counted as prey in the wild and this is why they can move so fast. If one horse hears something unusual he will take flight and others will follow. Have you ever noticed when hacking out that if the horse leading the way suddenly shies at something, the horses walking behind will also shy? Fear is programmed into your horse and you have to reassure him and help him trust that you know best.

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Horses can see for great distances