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Learninghorses (Jerri)

Very insightful. Once I got a grip on being a 'horse person', I had to deal with an agressive mare who was convinced she was the alpha. I, by nature, am not a passive person. I express myself and have no issue asking my horse to do the same. So bad horses were not a problem. But I was overwhelming to the sensitive horses who were gentle and just needed comfort and encouragement. So now I try to be what the horse needs. Sometimes I am right, sometimes I am not, but at least I try.


Thanks for a great post...and perfect timing! I bought my first horse about 2 1/2 mos ago. He was, with his former owner, very lippy...she usually let him mouth on the cross ties or lead rope. I have been having a very hard time with getting him to realize he is not to nip at me or mouth-on me. He doesn't pin his ears when he does it, he does it more for play; however, no amount of *becoming big* and even a sharp whack has helped. He is particularly bad after he has been outside with several other horses...it is like he is still finding his place in the herd when I am with him. Everyone at the barn says, "just get after him"...not sure how much more I can get after him without being reported as an abuser! (j/k) My question is, does it just take a lot longer with some horses than with others? Aside from this nippy stuff, he is a really fun horse and very safe and sane to ride.


Good question Maureen! First I would suggest reading Heed your horses a previous article about ground work and the "feature articles" section of www.meredithmanor.com which discusses in depth the importance of ground exercises in order to establish a respectful relationship between you and your horse. Second a question... Is it just the nippy behavior that is an issue or are there other difficulties in leading him? Just "getting big" wont solve anything. Its like speaking really loud to someone who doesn't speak English. No matter how loud you get your still not getting your point across. The intensity and excitement does nothing without direction. Sometimes when we groom horses try to reach around and nip as a way of reciprocating the gesture. Either way its not o.k. its an invasion of your space. Since there isn't much you can direct him TO DO while he is supposed to be standing on cross ties I would suggest two things... One is to stabilize his lower jaw with a dropped nose band ( before anyone tells you otherwise NO it is not uncomfortable or Mean ) It is used in riding especially when riding in a snaffle so that the horse cant open the mouth big enough to escape bit pressure in order to evade. This eliminates the concern of him reaching around to bite you. Second I would have a dressage whip or crop in your left hand and stand parallel to the shoulder as you groom always holding the whip upright so that your hand is about a quarter of the way down from the top. This is a different way of using a whip. I dont want you to hit him with it or at all. But whey he brings his head over to nip or simply invade your space take the butt of the whip and push him away at the poll ( the top of the neck about in the middle between the mane and jaw. Push it over to center and go right back to grooming no yelling or fuss just direct him to stand straight and ignore his attempts to rile you up. Eventually you should be able to just lift your whip up a bit when you see his head turn and he will return it to center on his own. After practicing that a bit when he stops trying you can just keep the whip near by just in case. I would leave the noseband on until he stops trying. Sometimes it takes just a few days and sometimes i have horses that do it for months. If you have access to a round pen I would suggest working on ground work when you have some free time. He sounds like his issues are really minor so anything you do on the ground will only enhance your relationship and improve his already good riding behavior. I hope that helps!


Thanks so much for the helpful tips! I am glad to know I am on the right track as we do groundwork several times a week, especially since the weather has been colder. I will def. try the crop-thing when he is in the crossties. I think part of my problem is that he does tend get me worked up and probably enjoys it. Your advice to correct him without a fuss will be taped to my forehead!
He nips in the crossties and sometimes when I am leading him...mostly if we stop and stand for several moments. It is like he gets bored. I think the girl who owned him before usually gave him something to have in his mouth when he got this way...so he comes by it honestly, I guess. I don't feed him treats by hand or anything so he has never received anything positive for doing it...he is just taking his time in stopping! Thanks again...love your blog!


Thank you for another wonderful article, chock full of tips. I have so much to learn...


Love your blog , you write very well. However, this idea of 'alpha horse' whether mare or stallion is not based on any reliable evidence. Horses do have hierachies - but they are rather loose and if you look at any of the ethnologists research you will find as many differences in evidence as there are consistencies. SOME herds have a definite alpha mare - others have extremely loose hierarchies where leaders change based on the circumstances or even where there are triangular relationships (A is higher ranked than B who outranks C who outranks A).

The original research that was performed and has since led to all this 'alpha' horse\dog\wolf terminology was performed on chickens... and later translated (but not re-researched) onto other animal species.

Regardless of all this - even if you believe in 'alpha' theory, it is still debatable whether an animal would truely accept or view a human in the same way as another of its species, albeit that they may transfer some roles to the human.


Thanks for the comment, and the link on your site too!!! You make a good point. I believe all of it is up for debate. Its obvious in my experience with domesticated herds that hierarchy is a big part of communicating. Whether or not there is always an alpha I'm not certain. I also think positions change everytime a new horse is introduced and on occasion even in a gelding herd, I have two that are so close in hierarchy that I end up moving one to avoid constant bickering. I would love to hear more about your opinion on this matter as I have always been very interested in the dynamics of the herd. I think what I was trying to convey in my post was not that horses relate to humans as part of thier herd. but that they are capable of seeing you as more of a leader than in position "c" of the triangle you mentioned. I think assessing and understanding the individual personality is the most important aspect of training. You can train a timid horse as if it were a bully and vice versa. At least thats been my experience. Thanks again for the comment, and I look forward to continuing this topic :)


WOW. I'm happy to have stumbled upon this link and eager to read some interesting blogs about personal horse experiences.I consider myself lucky, for the second time in my life to have the chance to work with horses. I am presently awaiting my NARHA certification workshop in OCT 2009. I live in South Florida and am inquiring about any good workshops that promote natural horsemanship/positive rienforcement,I believe word of mouth is the best referral source...so please shere any good sources : }

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Very insightful post! This post give us a lesson that we should always follow our leader otherwise we will never ever get success. Thanks for sharing this amazing post. I really like your site and also bookmarked it. Waiting for some new posts from your side. Thanks again. Keep it up.

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Horses are impressive animals but like most of other mammals. there are alpha male that he is the head and everyone follow his lead. the funny part is that it is quite opposite with humans. because they follow the person that he/she has more money.

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Very insightful. Once I got a grip on being a 'horse person', I had to deal with an agressive mare who was convinced she was the alpha.Good Luck


Please one more post about that.I wonder how you got so good. This is really a fascinating blog, lots of stuff that I can get into. One thing I just want to say is that your Blog is so perfect


What remarkable post! Its obvious in my experience with domesticated herds that hierarchy is a big part of communicating. Whether or not there is always an alpha I'm not certain.

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Actually I don't know how to communicate with my horse. It is little and this is my first time to do so.

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Very insightful. Once I got a grip on being a 'horse person', I had to deal with an agressive mare who was convinced she was the alpha.Good Luck

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So cute! I already like you on FB and also get your posts on Google Reader. :)

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It's so nice to have you do all of the research for us. It makes our decision making so much easier!! Thanks.

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Thanks for the information! Partnership training, regardless of the method or style is reliant upon the fact that horses instinctively seek leadership. It is absolutely essential that you are aware of this instinct, and the nature of the horse you are interacting with. Your success and more importantly your safety rely upon this knowledge.

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There will always be easier for me to work with horses react to what comes naturally. But I learned very quickly that if passive management has its place.

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