Ugly Biting

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Post by Sunny Admin on Sat Feb 20, 2010 3:56 pm

I really appreciate your expert help. I have TWH 9 year old gelding. He is smart and assertive. I am an experienced with horses, worked with youngsters, and believe in firm, kind handling with clear routines and expectations. This horse is fine to ride - no issues. Is calm and smart on the trail, figures stuff out, spooks momentarily if there's real cause, but no melt- downs. He has good ground manners, no problem with feet, grooming, tacking-up. No tail swishing ever, but as I work around him in cross-ties, lots of ear pinning and sudden lunging bites that are not playful. He can really do damage. Whatever reprimand - sharp smack on the body, making myself big and yelling - nothing works, and he only gets angrier. I do not believe in smacking a horse on the face, though that's been recommended. In the stall, sometimes he is fine for me to put a lead shank on, other times he lunges and bites. I never know what to expect. I feel that when I get into it with him, it's going to escalate, and I'm not not going to come out on top.

My compromise has been to doing everything very predictably and quietly, and to ignore the ear pinning and stay out of range of a possible bite. It feels like I'm giving in, but that seems better than creating a pissed off, angry horse. Most of the time, he is fine and calm. He whinnies when he sees me coming, even though I do not feed him treats. I have managed to get him to pick up his feet on command, and he used to be just horrible with that. He is now also really easy to bridle, and he used to be very difficult, so I have been able to make progress in some areas, but not with the biting.

My gut feeling is that at some point in his early years, someone got into a big battle with him and he learned to be aggressive right back and to win.

Any suggestions gratefully received.


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Ugly Biting Empty Re: Ugly Biting

Post by Cheryl Ward on Sat Feb 20, 2010 6:25 pm

Hi Della,

Sounds as if you have a wonderful horse and you already have clear line of communication. I love the smart horses because they have so much to say. His behavior in the cross-ties seems to be saying, "I'm uncomfortable here. I'm restrained on both sides of my face. I'm stuck and I feel vulnerable." His ear pinning and lunging bites are his way of saying he's scared and in his mind is simply trying to protect himself. In a nutshell, he's not feeling good.

Here's the exciting part. All you need to do is to help him feel better. You can help him see that being in the cross-ties can be the best place he's ever been.

You've been able to help him see that picking up his feet earns him something that feels good, a carrot morsel, and your good feelings because he picked up his feet! You've helped him see that targeting his nose through his headstall and accepting this bit is a good feeling activity as well.

You can take that foundation to the cross-ties. Here's what I'd do. I'd make certain that he never, ever, ever receives a food reinforcer unless he has first heard the sound of a click either with a hand held clicker or a click with your tongue on the roof of your mouth that says: "Yes! Right answer!" I'm not big on rules, but this is one rule that is essential, "No click, no treat." Horses get super confused if they receive a food indiscriminately. It is ultra important for us has humans to tell the horse exactly what it did to get the food. At liberty, in search of food, horses know exactly what they did to earn their food. We need to give them that same clarity.

I also implement this same dynamic when I'm training without food, except I don't use a click. I use a very clear and happy sounding "Good boy" or "Good girl" and then take a moment to pat the horse or give it a good rub in a place that needs a scratch, like the mid-line, under the jaw, withers, chest, any place that they can't usually reach.

So for the horse, the click means food is coming, and a verbal "Good boy" means a good feeling is coming, but not food.

After you and your horse get a working dialogue that tells him "I'll ask you to do something like raise your foot, you'll hear a sound or a word and you'll get something that feels great" then I'd introduce a target for him to touch. I like to use an old crop or dressage whip and fasten a supplement lid or half of an auto sponge on the end with duct tape. You'd then teach him to touch his nose to the target. Every time his nose touches the target, he'll hear a click and receive a food reinforcer.

Here's the magic of the target. You can create a stationary target in the cross-ties. For your first practice sessions, have him touch his target stick in the area where you usually tie him, but keep him untied. Play with him with the target, lots of touching and click-treats. You're doing two very important things. One, you are giving him a good feeling job to do thus distracting him from getting defensive or feeling trapped. Two, you are forming very crucial happy associations/good feelings of being in the cross-tie area.

Then you can place or mount the target in the cross tie area so you don't have to hold it. Then the next step would be to introduce a 20" x 20" concrete paver/floor target or heavy plywood that he can stand on that feels different than the floor. You can teach him to target his front hooves to the station. You can click-treat like crazy for him as he stands with both feet on the floor target.

So now, you have two very strong objects to attract him to happily stay in the cross ties. You have a stationary object he can touch with his nose, and a stationary floor target he'll be targeting with his hooves. My prediction is that he'll be so enthralled with all these funs jobs/games you've given him to play, he'll be so focused and happy that only the equine dentist will see his teeth!

Here's an example of what this type of targeting can do. The very first time I sat on my young Clydesdale's back, he was unhaltered, unrestrained, and I had nothing attached to his head, but his hooves were firmly rooted to his stationary target, and he was targeting his ball on the ground. His focus and communication with me was so much stronger than if I had him restrained by a lead or reins. This was the first time I had truly felt the strength of a brain-to-brain communication, rather than brawn-to-brawn by physical restraint. There's no way my slight frame could out power his 1200 pounds. However the power of attracting him by engaging his brain through targeting was immeasurable.

My favorite mantra is, "Make the right behavior so clear and easy, that it never occurs to the horse to give you the wrong behavior."

With all the horses I've worked with in similar situations, they all seem to literally think they've won the lotto the moment they understand what I'm asking. I swear I can hear them say, "This is the best thing in town. I can just stand in one place, not moving, not doing a thing, and great things happen.... for just standing here. You know what? I can stand here all day!" I often see the horses arch their necks and swell with equine pride at their sense of accomplishment and in response to the smiles of their owners.

With my herd of four, I use this same technique. They each have a tire pedestal/floor target in which they stand for grooming. I groom all four at the same time. The are unhaltered, unrestrained, and thrilled to be standing on their pedestal. They patiently wait their turn as I groom them one by one. By targeting their hooves to the pedestal, they learn to stay for long durations. It makes for a great platform to perform medical procedures, as well as tacking up and grooming without feeling confined.

If any of my horses want to get my attention, instead of pestering me, they'll walk away to go stand on a pedestal. The pedestal represents a place where good things happen and they know they will always be reinforced with good feelings.

I'm not a fan of cross-ties simply because it can make a horse feel very vulnerable. I prefer a single tie line. However, If you personally like the cross-ties, your horse can adapt to your preference. After you've creating happy feelings for him while he's in the cross-tie area through targeting, I'd make certain to click-treat each time you fasten the snap to his halter. I'd do everything I can to create the best feelings possible surrounding the ties. Even when you unsnap a cross-tie and it hits the side of the wall or post, click-treat. Let him know that even though he's restrained, good things happen. This will tell him that even if he's restrained, you hear him, and recognize his efforts. I believe he will feel secure and he will have no need to activate his defense mechanisms because his needs are met.

Also too, I've found that the process of reprogramming good memories to replace the bad memories can happen in a very short time. And it makes you look really attractive in your horse's eyes. I usually work in 5-10 minute sessions. I keep sessions short and sweet and leave them wanting more. I have a very good feeling that in no time at all, your TWH will be as fabulous in the cross-ties as he is everywhere else!

I hope this helped. Keep me posted!

Best wishes,

Cheryl Ward
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