I have just acquired a 3 year old gelding. He has had 5 different owners in less than a year. I just looked at his papers and he was gelded when he was 2 years old. His behavior is becoming more and more aggressive, I have even put a stud chain on his halter so that I can at least keep him under control just to walk him out in the pasture.
He has kicked me several times when I am leading him, I yank down on the lead and tell him “NO”. But it doesn’t seem to be slowing him down. I have had several horses in the past and have never had this problem, I had even bought a horse that wasn’t even green broke and I trained her without any problems. Do you have any advice on what to do?
The first thing I would do in your situation, is contact my veterinarian to make sure that the horse was properly gelded. In some situations, when the horse has not been properly gelded, he may still be capable of reproducing, and will be more likely to show aggressive behaviors.
If the vet confirms that he was gelded properly and there aren’t any problems, then the reason your horse has become aggressive is due to lack of training. I would suggest that you take the stud chain you are using and throw it in the trash, as it is not needed for any horse. With gentle training, any horse can lead respectfully with just a lead rope around their neck (or even at liberty).
You will need to study up on herd behavior, pecking order and dominance. Your gelding knows that he is higher in the pecking order than you are, and therefore, threatens you by kicking and by ignoring your requests. You will have to prove to him that you are higher in the pecking order than he is, if you want him to respect your space.
There are so many methods that you can use in every-day situations to enforce your dominance without becoming physical with your gelding. The very first place I start this training on an aggressive horse is in the round pen. Turn the horse loose in the round pen without any equipment on him.
Basic steps of round pen training
Proceed through the basic steps of round pen training, by asking him to circle to the left consistently, circle to the right consistently, and change directions from both sides. If, at any time, the horse turns towards you aggressively (he may squeal, arch his neck and hop, buck…anything), you’ll need to really get after him. Swing the rope or whip towards him aggressively and make him turn away from you. By doing this, you are telling him that you are dominant over him, and you are higher in the pecking order. This training should continue until the horse shows NO aggressiveness towards you while in the round pen.
When using the round pen training techniques on this horse, in the beginning, do not allow him to make “inside” turns. When you ask him to change directions, be sure that he turns away from you (towards the round pen fence) to make a direction change. Until he has learned to be more submissive, do not let him turn to the inside (toward you). However, once he has stopped exhibiting aggressive behaviors, it is important to teach him to turn to the inside on command.
Very simple approach-and-retreat exercise
Another method I use in the round pen is a very simple approach-and-retreat exercise. After warming up with round pen basics (as described above), I walk up to the horse’s face and pet him. If, at any time, he acts aggressive towards me, I immediately ask him to get away from me by swinging the rope or whip towards his rear. I repeat this over and over, until the horse decides it is much nicer to stand submissively and allow me to pet him nicely without exhibiting any aggressive behaviors.
You might ask, what does this have anything to do with leading my horse? Well, it has everything to do with it! The reason your horse is aggressive and maybe “un-ruly” when being led, is that he does not respect your requests and also does not respect your personal space. When starting in the round pen, you are establishing a pecking order with your horse without the danger of being close to him or on the other end of the lead rope.
Once you have proven to your horse in the round pen that you are higher in the pecking order than he is, you can begin training him in halter. After warming up using the round pen techniques, put the horse’s halter on and attach a soft cotton lead rope. Proceed to teach him to give to pressure in all directions by applying and holding pressure consistently on the halter in the direction you want him to move. Hold that pressure consistently until he makes an effort to move in that direction. The instant he moves as desired, release the pressure and praise him.
Halter training, there is more than “forward, stop and back” cues!
Remember that in halter training, there is more than “forward, stop and back” cues! To thoroughly train your horse to respond to pressure on his halter, he must also learn the cues for “left”, “right”, “up” and “down”. Each cue must be repeated hundreds of times for him to make it instinct to respond correctly.
Once you have taught him to respond 100% of the time to pressure on his halter, you will need to teach him to respond to pressure on other body parts. Teach him to move his shoulders away from you when you put pressure on his shoulder with your hand. You’ll also need to teach him to move his hindquarters away from you. Another very good lesson to teach an aggressive horse is to back away from you when you jiggle the lead rope. All of these cues should be taught to every horse that is handled by humans, as they come in very handy in every-day training and during distracting situations.
Now, on to the leading. Start by taking your gelding out for “joy walks”. You need to practice walking him all over the property, not just from his stall to his paddock. He may be anticipating the freedom of being in his paddock, and therefore, acting anxious to get there, and he may be attempting to trample anyone in the way to do so.
Try to take your horse out for “joy walks” every day.
If at any time you lose his attention and he refuses to listen to your requests, ask him to halt immediately. Then ask him to drop his head, back up, turn right, turn left, move his shoulders over, move his hindquarters over, drop his head again, move forward, halt, raise his head…you get the idea. Keep him busy! Ask for a series of cues that you have taught him until you gain his attention again. Then, proceed with your walking.
Over time, he will learn to focus on you during your entire walk around the property. He will begin to forget outside distractions because he will be too busy listening to, responding to, or waiting for your requests. There are also many other articles in our Ground Manners and Equine Behavior sections on aggressiveness and leading, of which you may have interest in reading.