Knowledgable Horse People- A Question

I have been volunteering at a horse rescue called A Hoof and a Prayer since the first of the year, and have been working with a wonderful little Appaloosa yearling filly named Jewel. Jewel and I ‘clicked’ right away; she lets me do just about anything with her, nickers when she sees me and comes running to me when she’s out in the pasture.

Now… I have quite a bit of past horse experience, but never working with a baby before. And… I have ALWAYS preferred geldings, finding the mares much more temperametal. I certainly didn’t PICK Jewel… more like she picked ME.

Yesterday I went out, and as always, went in the stall with her and gave her a couple treats. I was standing slightly in front of her, to her right side, and had my left hand rested on her crest then reached under her neck with my right hand to pat her shoulder. When I did, she pinned her ears and lunged her head, biting at me- she has NEVER done this, ever. I used my right hand to push her neck away from me, and when I did, she spun lightning fast, turning her butt to me, and backed me into the corner, hind leg cocked to kick.

I got a hand on her rump talking to her quietly, and managed to push her butt aside so I could slip out the door. I have never ever been afraid of horses, and Jewel in particular, but my heart was in my mouth at that point.

I thought that maybe her shoulder was sore for some reason and had the barn manager check her; she could find nothing wrong with her, but did note that Jewel was in heat, and her raging hormones could be the cause. Jewel does have a reuptation of being… moody with everyone else. The manager’s comment yesterday was ‘welcome to our world’.

This just breaks my heart. I love the bond tht we had. Since I have so little experiece with babies, and not all that much with mares, I guess what I’m looking for here is: could this episode be because she IS young and her hormonal changes are confusing her, for lack of a better word? Or is she indeed like everyone else calls her… ‘Crazy Jewel’?

Any thoughts and opinions are welcome.


Awww!! I hope someone has maybe some answers or suggestions; I certainly hope you still keep trying with Jewel.

could see a possibility that she’s just feeling a bit Marish. Spring and early summer are prime for estrus. Has she been, ahem, “displaying” herself to geldings? Holding her tail aside and flashing her vulva? Mares get uncomfortable during their cycles, just like women, to varying degrees, just like women. If cycles are very severe and difficult, there is a hormonal medication, Regumate, which can be used. But I consider it a last resort, because it’s somewhat dangerous to dispense.

Is she getting enough Vitamin B? Has she, by any chance, been taken off grain because the grass came in so well this year? B deficiency can cause twitchy, reactive behavior as well. Unlike Regumate, which is dangerous for women to handle, a simple B Vitamin supplement is safe, inexpensive, and has no side effects. I like Finish Line Thia-Cal, its sugar free and doesn’t contain any allegedly “calmative” agents like Valerian, etc.

However her behavior in her stall was absolutely intolerable. Mares are clever, Appaloosas are clever, Appaloosa mares are usually VERY clever. They are the mad scientists of the horse world, testing their universe to see what happens. Feeling icky is no excuse for overtly aggressive behavior.

Although I do believe that physical discipline, like a open handed slap or elbow jab to the body (never the head) and a loud NO, is entirely appropriate to correct dangerous behavior – it’s far less than another horse would do for correction – its more important to assert yourself in simpler, everyday ways. One way is to control the food and the water. Stop all “free” treats. From now on, she works for them or doesn’t receive them at all. Never let her barge past you for food or drink. Push her away from it with appropriate force if needed, make her stand away from food until you give her permission. Again, this is how horses manage dominance among themselves. Dominant mares eat and drink first, others wait their turn. Never permit her to walk ahead of you on a lead line, she should “heel” her shoulder to your shoulder at all times. I’ve often found that fixing leading problems, fixes many other problems as well. When you turn her out, lead her through the gate, turn her around to face you and stand nicely before you let her go (I know, it is SO tempting to just open the gate & let them through, but don’t). You have the thumbs, you call the shots.

Last note: horses do not have human like emotional lives. They don’t think like you, so don’t ascribe motivations to them that they don’t have (ie, she loves me exxxxtra special so she could never harm me, aka “Black Stallion syndrome.”). Horses, and especially mares, DO have their preferences and favorites among their humans. BUT… Any horse could kill you, at any time, in a simple moment of fear or inattention.

TLDR: try a B supplement, work on basic manners, consider Regumate if the problem is obviously cyclical and extreme.,

Being in heat could do it, and you’re right that mares do have a tendency to be more temperamental. Sounds like you ruled out a physical cause, so let’s look at behavioral.

From what you’re describing, it sounds like you were standing on one side of her, and reached under to pat the other side. In my experience, baby (and sometimes adult) horses tend to be unexpectedly freaked out by this. Remember that underneath it all they are flighty prey animals, and they can’t see their shoulders if their head isn’t turned. So something contacting them from a direction they’re not expecting can spook them.

Think about how we train people to go around horses, and why. Horses can’t see directly behind or directly below them, so when going around them you keep contact the WHOLE TIME ( and stand as close as possible, because it hurts less when they decide to kick you… :wink: ). That way they know where you are, and when you suddenly disappear and reappear it isn’t as much of a shock. Same thing reaching underneath them to grab a girth strap- contact the whole time. I have to wonder if you’d kept contact with her chest before patting her shoulder, if she would’ve been better about it.

Has she given you (or others) more problems when you’re working with her on her right? You mentioned you were standing to her right, which would put you on the opposite side from where the majority of horsey ground-work interaction (saddling, bridling, mounting, leading, etc) happens. Maybe she’s one of those weird horses that hasn’t adapted to dual-side working?

It’s possible that she’s crazy, or it’s possible (and more likely) that she’s a baby who was just startled and frustrated. That she DIDN’T kick you into next week is a good sign, though I would certainly keep an eye on that behavior and nip it in the bud if it continues.

Incidentally, the photos of you and her are adorable, but I would seriously caution you against putting your face that close to hers, particularly if she’s known for being pissy. I had a good friend get her nose broken that way, seconds before going out to ride in a competition, when she reached up to kiss her horse on the nose. She’d done it more times than she could count, but the excitement of the competition had her horse in a bit of a high-spirit moment, and he turned his head just as she moved forward. Pro tip: their heads are WAY harder than ours. :smiley:

And what Hello Again said. :smiley:

FYI, just because she maybe needs to “come to jesus” and/or “go to military school,” does not mean that you will always have to be the big bad meanie all the time, forever and ever amen. Typically, once you’ve made your point, the point stays made as long as you remain generally consistent.

For example, My old (Appy) mare came to the barn thinking she should drag me along…and she was a big, strong 16.1 TB cross mare, and I was 5’2", 125 lbs. So she totally could, and it was scary. For a month or so I never lead her without a crop in my off hand and gave her a rap across the chest whenever she tried to pull ahead of me. After that period, a quick tug on the lead rope and a NO was enough. Eventually such reminders were rarely even necessary - to the point where she would follow my shoulder even if she wasn’t wearing a halter. From being rather a menace, she became a horse that people would compliment on her manners.

Just remember, if you haven’t meted out discipline with 4 seconds of the misbehavior, forget about it, you missed your chance at correction. Horses have a QUITE limited capacity to understand cause & effect. Four mississippis is all you get to make your point.

Some very good advice so far! I will check on the B supplement and see what Eleanor, the owner thinks about Regumate.

The hugging her- this is something I have done hundreds of times, reaching under her neck and it has NEVER bothered her before. Plus, this was not a spooked reaction at all; I have enough horse experience to know the difference between spooked/afraid and just plain PISSED. Jewel was PISSED.

I realize there is always a risk getting my face close to her (or any horse!) but that is a risk I am willing to take. I have had my own nose broken and my lip split by horses before.It happens. But if the choice is limiting my contact… I’ll risk it.

I have been very careful about working both sides of her every time, with sacking out and such. I have been getting her used to having every part of her body touched and handled. She has NEVER shown any protest of being handled from her right side.

I guess my next purchase will be a riding crop. I don’t want to lose the bond we have, and I do NOT want to be afraid of this horse that I love so dearly.

Even more than afraid, I was hurt by her actions.

When I do dicipline, it is IMMEDIATE. I did not dicipline in that instance because of the position she had me in- I DID NOT want her kicking me, being pinned in the corner. Fairly certain I would not be sitting here writing this, had that happened.

She is NEVER allowed to barge ahead when leading, and how Hello Again described turning her out to pasture is exactly how we do it.

This was just so… out of the blue. And I also agree… Appies are SMART. Jewel is smart. I rarely have had to repeat a correction on her. (Oh, and believe me, I know all about the Black Stallion Syndrome.No worries there!)

Where are these pictures you speak of?

Pictures of Jewel? Ask and ye shall receive!

Previous bad behavior

With pasturemates Bella (front) & Mystery

She’s growing up, and she’s testing you. She was maybe feeling cranky and told you off in the same way she’d tell off a herdmate. She’s going to continue testing you, for the next several years.

You now have to be proactive. Don’t go in her stall or in an enclosed area with her unless you can control her head, or know you have a way to escape. And yes, I would be armed for a while, and even try to set her up so that she turns her butt to you in a place where you can scare the bejeesus out of her without getting hurt.

I raised my little guy from the time he hit the ground. He’s 11 now, and we still occasionally have discussions about things, but he knows that MY space is inviolable unless I invite him into it. As a baby, he got whacked across the butt with an empty bucket a few times (nice and noisy, not remotely painful), poked with the bristly end of a broom, yelled at with my big “I’ll EAT you!” voice. I even popped him a few times with a foot - not the toes but the top or side of my foot, on his chest between his front legs when he tried to pin his ears and barge through the stall door, and alongside his butt or barrel when he was trying to turn away and rip the lead rope away from me. He was a weanling-yearling then, and my leg reach was long enough to keep me out of danger, and it was something he understood. His mother popped him with a hock or a muzzle more than a few times :slight_smile: He is allowed to be displeased about things, he’s even allowed to show that displeasure so long as it is NEVER directed at me, or even in my general direction. Pinned ears and wrinkled nostrils when I’m scrubbing mud off a ticklish area is fine. Whipping his head around in my direction is not.

You don’t have to inflict real pain, but a moment’s scare can be a great training tool.

Don’t get sucked into the Disney aspect of sweet baby horses. They play rough, they do not understand that humans are fragile, and I’m sorry to say that though you feel an affinity for her, she may not see you in the same way. I’m not saying that she doesn’t trust and like you, because I’m sure she does, but she isn’t going to play by your rules unless you make those rules absolutely crystal clear. Horses don’t understand hurt feelings and betrayal the way people do, they understand the here and now, body language (which can be VERY subtle) and positive reward. Negative response IS a factor despite what some Natural Trainers say. Watch horses out together, especially during play or when one wants to play and one doesn’t. They sure as hell punish each other when ‘back off’ signals are ignored. It’s swift, it’s hard, it’s occasionally very scary, and then it’s done. Make your displeasure known loud and clear, and then be done with it. No wheedling, no baby talk, no incessant ‘No, no, no’ (not saying you do this, just something I see a lot). One good open handed slap (starling w/ a minor sting) on a fleshy part of the body and a growling QUIT! to go with it, and then it’s done. Go back to what you were doing as though it all never happened. Lots of soothing skritches in good places when the behavior is what you want.

You might look into clicker work too. It’s a great way to keep their mind working when their body isn’t ready yet to be under saddle. And its a great way to get an opinionated horse to do stuff and make her think it’s her idea :slight_smile: Much the best way with pushy mares :slight_smile:

Bless you for helping out those horses. It takes such work and dedication, you’re a good egg to do it. Don’t be disheartened, just remember that Jewel is a young animal finding her way in the world, and that as much as you love her and she trusts you, she is still a horse. She doesn’t do things to hurt your feelings, she just does them. It isn’t personal.

Oh, Saje, believe me, I have NO Disney-esque visions of baby horses… remember, in my original post I stated I had NEVER wanted to workwith a baby! PUPPIES are challenging enough for me. I love Jewel and workig with her, but feel like I have SO much to learn. There are a lot of good, experienced horse people there at the rescue, but Jewel is rather… opinionated about people. Like I said… she chose me, from the very first time I met her.

I have been reading up a lot on line on working with a yearling. The last thing I want to do is screw her up i any way! And I don’t want to get hurt in the process, either. I’m a fat old 52 year old woman… don’t need THAT happening!

Hoof & a Prayer has become my life. Working with these horses has becme my passion. Seeing them blossom from starved, neglected, frightened animals into beautiful, trusting, useful horses ready for their forever homes is rewarding beyond belief.

I’m not giving up. :slight_smile:

I knew an old woman that swallowed a horse. She died, of course.

Sorry. I had to do it.

Bad jokes and children’s songs beside the fact, you make some good points.

edit: Like you, I respect how the “natural horseman” folks do it, but sometimes, with some horses, the old school, more direct tactics still work.

Hey Pap, agree with Hello Again and, I guess everyone. I prefer geldings to mares, too. My Arab APHA mare went nutso while in estrus. Marish is definitely the word for it, but she’d get way more spooky and downright mean, too.

Agree with the 'no free treats’advice. Learned that the hard way, but it fixed the dominance issues I was having with my mare.

Since the question’s been answered, and at the risk of anthropomorphizing, your description totally reminded me of the time I was 16 and my mother pissed me off and I slapped her. I think I was as ashamed and scared at what I’d done as she was horrified and hurt at what I’d done. I have no good excuse for it, other than I was an adolescent twat in the midst of a power struggle with my mom.

Do horses have adolescent power struggles? Sounds like it. :smiley:

I think that IS part of it, Whynot. Sure seems like it. We were talking about it at the barn and the comment was tossed out that right now, she is like an atheletic, 600 lb hormonal teenage girl with bricks for feet. I think that sums it up pretty well.

Something I found kind of funny at the end of this episode- We put her out in the pasture, and about an hour later, she was up by the gate, so I started out to talk to her. Jewel ALWAYS comes to me in the pasture, but when she saw me coming to her, she pointedly turned and walked away. So I went and worked with one of the new residents, a Miniature Donkey named WeeDonkey, who was not halter broke. A couple of the other ladies and I got a halter on him and got him outside to work with hmi- in front of Jewel’s pasture. She stood there, closely watching as we led him around and groomed him.

Then, I took my riding lesson in the outdoor arena. Also directly acrossthe driveway fro Jewel’s pasture, and after riding, I walked my lesson horse out and let him hand graze for a while. All the while, Jewel watched.

When I started to leave, she came trotting to the fence and followed me down the fenceline, nickering to me. I went to her and she was her normal sweet, loving self.

Jealous, much? :smiley:

I like mares. Yeah, sometimes they have their moods, but sometimes so do I. My first horse was a big grey trakehner mare (what is it with me and white mares?).

She and I got along swimmingly, until she decided she didn’t want to stand when tied. She learned if she backed up hard enough, something would give. She crosstied fine and wasn’t afraid, just doing it because she could - the first time was a fluke, after that she was learning what she could do. Finally I tied her to the post and every time she’d try to back up, she’d get whacked with a crop. She’s go forward and try again. It didn’t take very long before she was back to standing for her baths as nice as you please. But she wasn’t afraid of me, and she wasn’t afraid of the whip - if I fed her in the pasture and the other horses would try and steal her grain, I’d waving around a dressage whip and she didn’t bat an eye. She knew she would get punished for bad behavior and for no other reason.

Don’t worry about ruining Jewel’s trust in you - you’re just teaching her to respect you, too. You have to be in charge, otherwise you’ll end up like the woman with the yellow stallion in the movie Buck, doing a disservice to you and Jewel both.


Is it just me, or does that sound surprisingly similar to the standard advice given for dog owners? :dubious:
Nah. Must be a coincidence. :wink:

LOL yup, I think horse sense and dog sense are pretty closely related, within reason.

StG, I’m not realy worried about breaking Jewel’s trust in me; moreso, I am worried that I am not up to this challenge. The sheer fear that washed over me when I saw her spotty butt coming toward me, knowing if she REALLY wanted to kick there wasn’t a damned thing I could do was almost crippling.

I definitely do not want her becoming dangerous in any way. I want her to have a long, happy life as a useful and loved horse. I just hope I have not bitten off more than I can chew.

PapSett - Fear, when warranted, isn’t a bad thing - it’ll keep you safe. But she needs to learn her boundaries. You’re barn manager is experienced and should be able to help you with hands-on.