The hard truth is that horse aggression is a part of every horse. It is usual for a horse to be aggressive for no reason. They may behave aggressively by pinning back their kick, ears, bite, and even charge. They may do this to protect and maintain their dominance in the herd, or to defend themselves. It may even be, as a result, to protect their foals, or to compete sexually.
However, there is a limit to horse aggression towards other horses or humans. If this behavior of your horse stands as a threat to other horses or humans, you need to interfere and change this behavior. Before you understand how to cure horse aggression, it is essential to understand why my horse is aggressive.
To know more about different behavior problems in horses, click this article “Most Common Behavior Problems in Horses“.
What makes a horse aggressive?
There are various reasons for horse aggression. Sometimes the horse is instinctively aggressive. At times, some particular stimulus makes the horse aggressive. Your horse may be aggressive because of some previous medical treatment. It may be aggressive because of insecurity from other horses. Food, sex, space, etc. can be the reason behind horse aggression.
If your horse is behaving aggressively for a long time, then you should try to consult a veterinarian. He or she can conduct proper tests and find out the root cause of this type of behavior in the horse.
Experts are not very sure why some horses are more aggressive than the other. It is generally seen that the foals of more dominating pairs are also very dominating. Horse aggression is not genetically determined, which may be because the foal learns aggressive behavior from its mother.
Whatever may be the reason you should try to find out the cause and take quick action.
Let us now find out what are the different types of horse aggression and associated horse aggression signs.
If you find that your horse is showing aggression, whether suddenly or gradually, have it examined by your veterinarian, sometimes these aggressive behaviors appear suddenly, and at times it develops gradually. Whatever may be the case, you must get it examined by your doctor.
If your horse is suffering from chronic pain like pain resulting due to navicular disease or arthritis, it can make your horse aggressive to even small discomfort. This pain irritates your horse, and as a result, it behaves aggressively. These symptoms are easy to identify.
Not all horse aggression causes are so obvious. At times it may be difficult to identify why your horse is behaving aggressively. Horse aggression can be caused due to testosterone.
Generally, only stallions can produce a significant amount of testosterone. However, this is not always true. Crypto-orchids can also produce testosterone. Mares can also produce sufficient testosterone if they are suffering from a tumor in the adrenal gland or ovaries.
Even if, after a thorough examination by your veterinarian, he or she cannot find the cause of aggression, it may be caused due to your horse’s dominant behavior, sexual instinct, fear, or maternal instinct. Before you can cure your horse’s aggression, you need to reach the root cause of this aggression.
If your horse is not allowed to escape some painful stimulus like the jab of a needle or the sting of some topical medication, then it can behave aggressively out of fear. Moreover, your horse starts to associate that pain with a certain touch, smell, or sound. Whenever any stimulus that can relate to the previous pain is presented before the horse, it starts to behave aggressively.
For example, if your horse had undergone some foot injury, then it starts to behave aggressively whenever someone tries to touch its foot. This response may continue even after the pain.
You can avoid pain aggression or fear aggression by reducing the pain in the treatment of your horse. You should avoid harsh reprimands as much as possible. In case your horse has some pre-existing fears, then treat him to make him accustomed to that stimulus.
Let’s take the previous example where your horse was fearful of touching his feet. In this case, you can accustom him to your touch by slowly and gradually taking your hand towards his foot. Don’t just start touching his foot. Touch his back, then gradually move towards his limb, extend the process as long as you can.
If your horse behaves as he should, then reward him for his behavior. Tell him that he is a good boy. If you treat him slowly and with lots of love, there is no disorder that cannot be corrected.
Domination Over Other Horses
Many times horses tend to use aggression against each other, which may be because they want to maintain their social position in the herd. This type of aggression is common when a new member joins the herd. They may use posturing or threat to maintain their position.
There are some signs that a horse gives when exhibiting these types of behaviors. The dominant horse will pin its ears back and will start lashing its tail, which is a warning sign for the less dominant horse to step aside. If the less dominant does not respond to this warning, then the dominant horse may emphasize its strength by kicking or biting the underling.
There are not many casualties in this type of aggression. Generally, these fights result in mild injuries like kick bruises. It can even lead to a slight loss of hair.
If you find your horse aggressive in the stable, there are some measures that you can take to reduce the chances of casualties. You can provide them with adequate space in the stall. Try to divide the fodder equally. It would be a wise decision if you could make more feeding sites than there are horses in the stable. This strategy reduces the chances of monopolization of food sites by the horses.
If you want to ascertain if your food sites are enough, then observe the eating behavior of the least dominant horse. If this horse eats peacefully, then there is less to no chances of horse aggressive over food. However, if one horse is very aggressive or timid, then you will have to step in and feed it separately.
As already stated, if you introduce a new horse to the herd, this often disturbs the hierarchy in the stable. All the horse starts showing aggression, not only to the new member but also to each other, which is a way to establish a position in the new hierarchy. You can prevent this with appropriate planning: turn out the same set of the horses together so that the new member is not continually introduced to the herd.
- You can control the horse aggression towards new members by following these simple guidelines.
- Find out an enclosed area that has plenty of room, preferably choose an area of at least an acre.
- Make sure there are no corners in your chosen space. This is to make sure that all the other horses do not corner the less dominant horse.
- Put your new horse in the enclosure. Give the horse plenty of time to adapt to the surrounding.
- Now you can add the members of the herd into this enclosure. Make sure you add only one member at a time, which will help the new member to establish a relationship with all the other members of the herd.
- After you introduce your new horse to every member of the herd, you can add them together in one stable.
- Do not rush. Take your time.
Horse aggression towards humans
Sometimes a horse may show aggression towards a human, which is an effort to improve their social position as they would with other horses. Owners are generally seen unwittingly reinforcing this behavior. The owner can manage this behavior like all other behaviors discussed above with strategic planning.
For example, when you enter the stable with a bucket of grain, a horse may show his aggression by pinning back his ears, which is a sign that he is competing with other horses. If you feed this horse first, then this reinforces his aggressive behavior.
Next time he will display his dominance more aggressively. When you enter with your bucket of grain for the next time, this horse may start kicking the wall to show his dominance. If you again feed him first, then he starts associating these dominance signs with faster feeding. You should avoid this type of association.
So what you can do is feed only those horses whose ears are forward, and it is not kicking, which invokes your reward option. The horse understands that there is a specific type of behavior that is loved by the owner, and if he behaves in that way, the owner will feed him.
You should make sure that the foals should also learn how to behave. Teach the difference between what acceptable behavior is and what unacceptable behavior is.
When the foals are growing up, their mother and other herd members are the principle disciplinarians. Generally, they teach them how to behave. If they don’t, then you should interfere and teach them. However, teaching a foal is much easier for the herd member as compared to you. If you do not teach it how to behave, then there are high chances that it will become aggressive as they mature sexually.
You should discipline them when they are less than six months old. If you don’t, then they may show their aggression by dominating people. They may even nip or charge them. To eliminate any chances of this type of behavior, make sure you define a clear distinction between acceptable and unacceptable behavior. Then you can use the rewarding process to promote more positive behavior. You can follow this simple rule “You be nice to us, we will be nice to you.” You can reward them by giving them food or scratching their favorite spot.
Sexual aggression is one of the most common forms of horse aggression. This can result from a variety of situations like mares do not want unwanted sex from mates, stallions competing among each other for mares and even mares competing amongst each other for the stallion. You should control sexual aggression, or else it can be seriously harmful. To reduce this type of horse aggression, you can keep the mares you are not going to use for breeding in a separate paddock.
Mares are instinctively bound to defend their children from people, particularly unfamiliar people. A mother may bite, charge, or kick anyone who tries to come too close to her foal. This is nothing but the insecurity of the mother. You can cure maternal aggression like all other horse aggression by strategic planning.
Timing is everything in this case. This protectiveness of the mother can create a massive problem for the owner. If you do not accustom the foal to the members of its new family, then it may not be able to interact with them.
See, you cannot eliminate this maternal aggression. But you can reduce it to a minimum. You can teach the mare how to behave before she breeds. The mare should not feel uncomfortable around you. She should allow you to handle any part of her body. You will have to establish this trust with her.
Moreover, when the foal arrives, let the mare and foal have their space. Do not disturb them from one session of handling to another. When you are handling the foal, make sure you allow the mare to stand close to you. Also, make sure that you are not standing between the mare and foal, which makes the mother feel that you want to come between her and her child. These simple tricks will help you handle the foal and teach obedience; at the same time, it will not lead to maternal aggression in the mare.
How to find if your horse is angry?
The angry horse is very dangerous. An angry horse can become very aggressive and try to kick, bite, or seriously injure someone. You should know how to find out if your horse is angry so that you can calm it down. If you can find out what is making it angry, then this can be more helpful.
Ears and Head
Whenever your horse is angry, it tends to pull his ear backward towards his neck. He may or may not pin his ears entirely. While this can also be a sign that he is trying to listen to something, but if tensions follow pinned ears in his body, then this is a clear indication of anger. He may also swish his tail while pinning his ears.
The muzzle of an angry horse is generally very tight. It tries to purse its lips, which is also an indication of fear or stress. The horse can also gape its mouth, making its teeth visible, which is an indication that it is preparing to bite. You can find that the skin surrounding its eyes has become tight, and the white part of his eye is completely visible.
A visible sign of aggressiveness is that a horse will lower down his head and move it from one side to another in a snaking motion.
An irritated horse may start stomping his feet. He may also pawn with his front leg. Although this is a sign of stress or boredom, some horse does it when angry.
How to cure horse aggression?
As previously mentioned, horse aggression can be cured by strategic planning. These aggressions are less of a disorder and more behavioral patterns. If you try to understand your horse and make good relations, there are high chances that it will listen to you all the time.
Moreover, you can consult your veterinarian for help. If he or she cannot find the cause of the aggressive behavior of the horse, then it is behavioral or out of insecurity. These behaviors and insecurities can be handled by the reward-punishment technique, as mentioned above.
“You be nice to us, we will be nice to you.”
If your horse behaves positively, reward him. This reward can be anything like food or a patting or scratching its favorite spot. If the horse behaves negatively, don’t forget to punish it.
Remember, if your horse is aggressive, then this will not allow a peaceful kingdom to form.
To cure overall horse aggression, you can use lunging to reestablish that you are the leader of the horse. Bring him to an open space and lunge him. If he does not stop before you, ask him to stop and snap a rope or a lunge whip behind him. If he still does not listen to your instruction, snap the whip harder. Do it again and again till he follows your instructions.
Remember, there is nothing cruel here. You are just teaching the horse how to behave like a father teaches his son. If you do not cure horse aggression, this can cause a problem for you as well as for the other horses.
Okay, so on the topic, if the horse still does not move. Try snapping on its hamstring. Make sure you do not snap hard, which can hurt. Snap with only as much effort that it needs to move forward.
If at any point in time, if the horse responds aggressively by trying to kick you, make sure you establish your dominance. Try to keep its feet moving. Try to change its direction many times. When the horse stops its aggressive behavior and starts to obey you, ask him to stop. You should make sure that the horse is standing still, then approach the horse and praise it.
Some horses tend to kick during mealtime. You can control this behavior by not rewarding it with a meal when it kicks. If you keep feeding it even when it kicks, this can reinforce this behavior.
If the horse is too aggressive and constantly kicks around while eating, injuring itself, and destroying the stall, then you should try using a kick chain. There are sensors available that can be installed in the stall. These sensors can sense when your horse is kicking and squirt water whenever it does so. This punishment can help cure horse aggression.
If your horse kicks at humans, try to keep it enclosed in the stable and punish it for its behavior. In any case, you should try to establish that you are the boss here, and the horse is bound to listen to you. Keep people far from it as this can injure them.
Sometimes your horse can bite you as a gesture of playfulness. But it does not matter whether the horse bites out of playfulness or aggression; it hurts in both the cases and should not be encouraged. Stop feeding your horse by hand. If you have to feed it, use a bucket or any such container. If the horse tries to bite you, no matter it is out of playfulness or aggression, punish it. The punishment can be no food for a few hours, harsh reprimand, or thrashing with a whip.
If all efforts are worthless, then you should consider punching the horse in the nose whenever it tries to bite you. Punish if it tries to bite. Slowly it will associate the pinching with its biting; as a result, it will stop biting anyone.
With Other Horses
Unfortunately, if your horse is aggressive with other horses, then you do not have much option than changing the dynamics of the herd. Horses are instinctively somewhat aggressive, and we humans cannot change that. If the horse continues to fight, bite, or kick other horses, you need to find a separate place for it. Keep the over-aggressive horse away from its peers. Feed them alone. If this behavior is unusual, then there are chances that it is caused due to hormonal disturbances. Immediately call your veteran and have your horse examined.
Horse aggression can be a great risk for the owner. You should try to cure it as soon as possible.