Intent Matters

I’ve been kicked pretty hard a couple of times, but in none of those incidents was I the intended target of the horse.  In fact, I can only remember being the focused target of a horse once.  That time ended with the early and unfortunate demise of a plastic feed bucket and a pound of feed.  I’m not sure why that horse chose that particular meal time to think I needed my face rearranged, but it was early in our relationship and he hadn’t yet conceded to the fact that I was a bigger badass than him.  Even so it surprised me since feed time had never been a source of problems before, but more surprising was that he missed me – all four times (he was a very persistant sort) – though, his best chance had undoubtedly been his first.

Blondemare forwarded me this short video that shows clear intent on the horse’s part.  It made me wonder what history this horse and rider had, since it appears to me that from the very start of the pinned ears that this horse knew what it was doing and going to do.  The usual response of a horse, even one that’s been harrassed in the past is to simply leave.  Sometimes injuries happen in the leaving process, but there’s typically no intent to harm, it’s all about the escape.  I’ve worked with some pretty aggressive individuals and others who’ve been severely beaten, and in every case, if given an out, the horses chose the option to leave before standing to fight.

Why did the horse in this video go out of its way to purposely wound instead of just leaving?

34 thoughts on “Intent Matters

  1. ok….so it was clearly intentional….and I admit, I was kinda rooting for the horse, but only saw it land one hit. NOW, why would I say something so bitchy and heartless? Well, imagine if you will, that horse hated his job….and one day, he finally said, “I ain’t a gonna take this no more, and BLOWS” I think this is what we’re seeing here, a classic example of the old Johnny Paycheck song, Take This Job and Shove It. Haven’t we all felt that way? You get pushed and pushed until you go over the edge and just blow up, your coworkers are going “holy heck, what happened to Martha, she’s always been so nice?”
    That said, I too have been kicked intentionally….a demonic little yearling had leaped his fence and I had to go catch him, as I was approaching him at the end of an alleyway between paddocks, he picked his head up, and started looking side to side behind himself….backed up about 4 strides and nailed me in the thigh. Oh ya, it was intentional, it wasn’t a running past you, kicking out for the fun of it blow. He had to back that bus up to hit me.

    • The yearling: What you describe is a horse that’s ‘trapped’. The only way he gets out is if he removes you. Had he had an option to ‘leave’, a way out, my guess is he wouldn’t have backed into you to kick you out of his way, but would have just left. I don’t count this situation. A cornered animal is dangerous, and when we consider this was a baby, who was likely scared…

      Horse in video: I do believe there’s some ‘history’ here that would connect the dots. The horse decided it had had enough long before it was presented to the next fence. The horse pins his ears, which is not what happens when a horse is surprised or startled by a fence. The effort to get the rider off was half-hearted, imo, and a rider with better body control and balance doesn’t fall off, but once the rider is down, the horse clearly chose to take some shots before leaving.

      • I’d give any horse that same excuse, of being cornered and trapped… but… I wasn’t even close enough to him to press him, the “alleyway” is 40′ across, he had plenty of room to go around me….and we weren’t even near the end of it where the corner was, we were approximately 25′ from it. He is one that came out naughty, backing up to people and kicking him, as a baby, and his owner’s had never corrected the behavior when he was young, so he became a surly, hormonal teenager.

  2. Thanks for posting this for discussion. It’s so blatantly clear that the horse intended to do damage and chose fight over flight. This is where I go from ‘what has this rider been doing to this poor horse’ to ‘you SOB, I may not be the greatest rider but I do feed, groom and care for you and in you try to kick my head off?’ I do believe there is something going on behind the scenes, the rider came off from a fairly docile refusal suggesting a less than stellar seat. It’s quite possible the horse has an ill fitting saddle, sore back or something causing it grief. But in the end, is it ever ok to allow our horses to attack us when flight is a viable option? Not in my barn. The very first thing any horse learns is to never, ever, EVER turn tail to me. Not in the stall, on the lunge, or at play. This rule is completely non-negotiable and seeing this video affirms my belief. A mistake, out of fear, is one thing – this attack baffles me.

    • The thing is, it doesn’t even look like a refusal to me initially. The horse pins its ears long before the jump. Unfortunately, the video is of poor quality, but perhaps the rider put a spur in the horse’s sides and then the horse pinned its ears – game over?

      I’m really okay with a horse taking an aggressive posture with me, but then I’m typically not dealing with well-adjusted horses. Later…after we’ve had a chance to get to know each other, that’s when I expect that line in the sand to not be crossed, and that line is ‘intent to hurt/harm/maim’ – provided of course I haven’t done something to warrant retaliation because an animal has a right to defend and protect themselves, imo.

      Don’t misinterpret, I’m not going to stand there for target practice, but some horses have a very good reason for being aggressive and I’m quite okay with them expressing themselves, particularly early on when they have reason (from their point of view) to not trust me. But I’ve not had that many issues and as I said in the post, off the top of my head, I can only think of that one instance and I took immediate action. I still mourn that poor plastic bucket. It shattered like a wine glass being tossed at a stone fireplace. LOL!

      This is one of the main reasons why I don’t go to horses’ or ‘go get horses’. I don’t walk into stalls, paddocks or pastures to retrieve horses. I have horses come to me, meet me at stall doors and gates. I ask permission before entering personal space, I don’t go barging in. I don’t fuss with horses when they are eating. I rarely train in stalls unless it’s absolutely necessary. I always try to give the horse the option of leaving if things get to be too much and then I wait for the horse to return on its own. I pay attention to expression, ears, body posture and I don’t ignore the warnings. The instant a piece of tack goes on, it’s work time – I don’t confuse play time and work time, and so on…

      I agree that it’s not okay for horses to attack when there’s a choice to leave, but I understand that it can happen and that from the horse’s POV it might be completely warranted. In that situation, I’d protect myself. Afterward, I’d try to figure out why it happened with the focus on ‘what did I do to cause that’ and make necessary changes in my approach and work through the issues with the horse.

      • I don’t go to horses either. When I open a stall door or paddock I want to see eyes and ears with an expression that says ‘ hi mom, what are we doing today?’ I do take it a step further, however, and train in stalls. This is a habit that was instilled in me many years ago by my trainer and has served me well reforming horses. My feeders are on the far wall of the stalls. In order to eat, the horses have to face me, move laterally toward the wall,and wait patiently at the feeder before I dump. This allows me to be the provider of life sustaining feed and to command their cooperation to have it. I’m still surprised how quickly even the most food aggressive crankpot ‘gets it’ and learns to cooperate. I may start a newbie out with a halter/lead for this but usually teach it free. It’s never taken more than 10 minutes for any horse to learn. I open the stall door with one intention – to see ears pointed at me. If I’m being ignored (oh so typical with spoiled horses) I will cluck, then slap the wall with a whip or clap. They react by being startled, look at me with big eyes, and I say gooooood and take a step back. When they lose interest I repeat the cluck which usually works without a stall slap the second time and ask for eyes. Once this works well, I cluck and take one step toward the hind end and ask for forward. Goooood, I back up. If the horse shows me tail, I make a racket and immediately release pressure when I get eyes. Repeat. They learn incredibly fast not to show tail and within a minute or two I’m able to use my body to turn the front end toward the feeder. Though it’s important to know where to put my body, not too far, just far enough. The first time they only have to be close too the feeder and still, I continue to encourage with a soothing voice while I dump grain, then lots of pets for a few seconds so they know they were correct. I can see the recognition in their eyes at the exact time they get to eat. Food is a wonderful motivator! I’ve had some nasty, food aggressive beasts over the years that would threaten me at feeding time. This has cured every single one of them within a couple of days. It’s about respect and knowing that I have control of their life sustaining nutrition. It carries over to when I have horses out 24/7 in great weather and walk into the paddock with several grain buckets and place grain without being accosted though I feed in order of hierarchy so it doesn’t turn into a 20 minute training session! It’s harvest time and everyone gets apples and pears by hand daily and take them as nicely as I could hope for. I love being able to relax and not fear bad behavior, the herd is balanced and happy with me leading their lives.

        When I see this video, two things come to mind. An unhappy and possibly sore horse and a horse that didn’t learn to respect humans though he (I think it’s a gelding – which is even stranger) did learn a trade under saddle. Ground manners are paramount for every horse and I full believe they carry over to riding as well.

        • Oh I am so glad to see someone treating food aggression (and even just food as a motivator in general) in the proper way. Yes, if your feeder is on the far wall of the stall, teach respect, but then let the horse know that eating time is sacred. To often I hear of people messing with the feeding of their horses. Although I do always feed from the outside of my corral. Another thing I have always done is “use” my horse only once a day. When he’s done and put back in the corral, his working day is over.

          • I think multiple training sessions in a day can work, especially for youngsters and performance horses. Indeed, I’ve done it on occasion.

            Youngsters have very short attention spans, so 2-3 ten minute sessions can often yield better results than 1 thirty minute session.

            With performance horses you can build endurance with multiple, shorter sessions and reduce injuries. Standardbreds have been heat trained for decades and there was even a time when a number of trainers were exercising them in the mornings and then a second time in the afternoons. It has its advantages, but like anything else, it can be taken to an extreme and become detrimental. Balance is key.

            Horses are quite adaptable and many thrive on routine, even a routine of working twice a day. Some horses even perform better in that second training session over the first.

          • The first day I fed my mare when I got her I asked her to move over so i could get something from behind her – she put a hole in the breeze block wall with her hind foot. She had her dinner removed from her. The second day one of the dogs ran vaguely near her while she had her dinner, again she kicked out but didn’t contact anything. She had her dinner removed again. Only had to do it twice. She now backs up when I give her dinner until she’s told she can come forward to get it (they’re fed from floor buckets). We did a similar thing with my sister’s yearling tb when he turned his butt to kick becuase he thought she wasn’t putting his feed down fast enough. It was lifted and he had no dinner that night. Next morning he backed up respectfully.
            My mare is protective of her food, both hay and feed, to horses especially, and sometimes to people she doesn’t know but I can remove her food without any problems.

        • That just seems like standard practice to me. Since I don’t stall horses much anymore, and I’ve had horses that like to stand in their feed tubs hanging from stall walls, I typically feed from big rubber tubs off the ground. And since those tubs are loose, they often end up in all sorts of places requiring me to retrieve them…like from snowbanks, water troughs. (You know who you are.)

          Point being, horses are to walk to their feed tub (or the general area) and wait until I retrieve it, clean it of dirt/mud, blah, blah, blah. I carry a whip with new horses or aggressive sorts initially. But yeah, just standard practice. I forget that for some people this is a big training issue. Just as it’s impolite for me attack the hostess at the party before she’s put the food on the table, it’s impolite for a dog, cat, horse to harass me before I’ve put the food out. (Okay, it’s kind of cute when the cat screams at me and tries to trip me on the way to the cupboard.)

          I do get a kick out of people who don’t feed herds by ‘food’ hierarchy, causing all sorts of issues. (Hierarchy changes depending on the situation). Whenever I’ve had to have other people feed my herd, I leave detailed instructions of who to feed first and where. Somebody always thinks they know my horses better than me or doesn’t see the importance of my instructions (yes, I’m talking about you, Honey) and attempts to feed out of order. LOL!

          On stall training – I believe horses should have a safe haven that is completely theirs that requires all to ask permission to enter. Where there’s no uncertainty, no chance of punishment, harassment, confusion, frustration etc… So many horses are stressed in stalls or territorial about them. I also like to be very clear about when it’s work time and doing stuff in stalls tends to cloud that for some horses. Again, I’m usually dealing with horses that have a lot of people problems so my approach has to set clear boundaries for everyone right from the start.

          I make exceptions, though. The current horse I’m rehabbing came with a history of pulling back, breaking ties, flipping over etc.. so I don’t tie her and I work with her loose in her stall. She still occasionally will have a backwards freak out when on the longe, when you towel her face off, sometimes when you’re not even doing anything with her. She’s got some sort of memory trigger. I don’t really train her (as in teach new things) in her stall, I just prepare her in there; brushing, picking feet, stretching and tacking up. If she was at my place I wouldn’t have her in a stall at this stage, but that’s not an option so I have to work with the facility at hand. It’s an issue I prefer, at the moment, to work around via trying to avoid triggering the behavior as much as possible. Sometimes you can eliminate a behavior like this through avoidance; avoid triggering it, reduces frequency sometimes to nothing. Sort of a practice of ‘forgetting’. And sometimes it’s just a matter of waiting it out; avoid triggering it while building a strong relationship, then that relationship helps the horse work through it in their head. I probably didn’t explain that very well.

          Lastly, using food to fix food aggression (and biting) is absolutely the easiest and quickest to go about it. I always hand feed treats, there’s always something in my pockets. The horses know it and yet none bite or get aggressive. They are attentive and waiting for the next instruction that might yield them a small food reward.

          I use treats as part of my stretching regimes with horses. I point to a body part, like a hip, and the horse is to stand square and reach around to that point and take the treat from my hand. Since the stretches are always done in a specific order, invariably the horses quickly learn the sequence and will do the stretches on their own (and sometimes when you haven’t even asked them to – like yesterday I’d finished longeing the rehab mare and we were standing in the middle of the arena and I was checking her loin and she spontaneously started doing her stretches.)

          Okay, that was rather long-winded.

          • OK, yes, working horses more than once a day works in many cases, I just sometimes view the horse world through my own perspective, working with a trail horse. My personal training system
            uses the “once a day rule”.
            And I totally agree with using hand fed treats, most people are so against this! It has to be done properly. My horse never gets a treat unless I give him the “here, have a treat” signal. This is so that he does not start always begging for treats. If he begs, no treat. And I am really strict about this. No one is allowed to feed my horse treats but me.

            I once read about a horse that bit a lady on the breast, and I always figured that someone had kept treats in a shirt pocket at some point in the horses life and that the horse was being unfairly ruled a biter.

          • Out of curiosity, what is your signal?

            I can’t remember where I read it, but I apply it to treating horses: “To get the treat, you must leave the treat’. So like you, ‘begging’ gets no treat. Instead, ‘leaving the treat’…turning away from the treat/hand, gets you the treat.

          • For the horse I have now I just use a cluck. And for different horses, the treats would be used for the individual horse’s needs. Long story short, my horse does not like other horses to get close to him. For trail riding in a horsey area on narrow trails, this is a problem. Trained him to walk past or away from other horses, and VOILA! Problem solved. He walks past, I cluck that a treat is on the way and turned a dangerous horse into the “best trail horse ever.”

          • Your post made me laugh. Feeding my gang is an art in itself… the multiple grains and supplements for specific horses, that’s the easy part. Then there’s the order of feeding and where each horse expects to have grain dumped in the outdoor tubs (I can’t believe how far those things travel from one feeding to the next), then knowing to double-snap certain latches against the houdinis, which corner of the stall a certain Princess mare has to have hay in or will poop on it, how far apart hay piles need to be outside and most important of all, remember to unplug the fence and replug when done. My boarders think I’m being picky about my routine but they learn quickly that I do what I do because it works! No need for chaos.

            My theory on training is that whenever I enter the horse’s space, stall or paddock, training starts. They typically have at least 23 hours a day to be left completely alone to be a horse so I use feeding as another opportunity to train. I want my horses to know that it becomes my time when I start communicating to them whether in a stall, on the lunge or under saddle. It’s what I was taught and it has served me well. I find it terribly discouraging to walk into a barn and see nothing but flattened ears, teeth on walls, and hate filled eyes. I want to be friends with my horses so they don’t see me as just someone who rides them but someone who is fully involved in their lives, first as a teacher and then as an itch scratcher, cookie giver, groom…so it’s important that I can enter their stalls and not be a threat, sometimes just to hang there and watch them happily munching away.

            I’ve had some tough ones and it sounds like you have a doozy. I completely get what you’re saying…teaching them a new way to be, leaving the past behind. Doesn’t it make you wonder (or fume) about what happened to get her so unglued? Those types are frustrating, trying to teach them to forget, not that they every completely forget. They can certainly be too broken to recover, though they will improve. I feel bad for those types, it’s a people problem, a disconnect that a human caused and difficult to get to the root of. I’ve only run into one that I considered ‘broken’ in such that fear was so deeply rooted that the horse would never be a trustworthy mount. Bleh, not going there!

            Horses certainly like routine and I can see your stretches becoming a showoff for them! I think they’d stand on their heads if they knew a treat would follow! They still amaze me with their intelligence and willingness but if they kick you in the head when you’re down, you frigged it up pretty bad somewhere!

  3. The first question that comes to me mind when I see an aggressive horse is whether or not it’s been bottle-raised. Horses raised by humans are amongst the rankest creatures I’ve ever met.

    • I might be laughed at a little, but I have perhaps the first horse ever to not like treats. Not that I think this is the worst news ever, but it does make rewarding via food rather anti-climatic. He loves his grain, though that is certainly less easy than a nice neat horse cookie. Has anyone else ever experienced a horse that will not eat cookies, apples or carrots?

      • I have a horse who’s not food motivated. He’ll eat treats, but he won’t do actions for them. Despite that he was always the most dedicated horse to work than any I’ve ever come across, such that he would extend himself too far in his work and hurt himself if you let him.

      • I’ve known a few, mostly range bred horses but also a couple “pet” ones that had just never had treats. They all came around pretty quickly though. Try putting some carrot or apple slices or a cookie or whatever in the grain with the meals for a few days, then offering separately at mealtime, then in general. Or just use pieces of hay cubes, if he likes those. A bit messy in the pocket (and your jeans will smell like alfalfa) but easier than grain. Mine now do hay cube stretches, since IR has become an issue.

        Tho even treat-lovers will have “typical” horse treats they don’t like. I have one who loves all treats except sugar cubes. Tho oddly once some meringue powder is incorporated (for Dia de los Muertos skulls), sugar apparently becomes pretty tasty.

      • I like to feed treats, so all my horses learn to eat them. If you have one that doesn’t like treats, and access to one that does, bring the one that does in close proximity to the one that doesn’t. Feed treats that horse really loves. Pretty soon, horse that doesn’t like treats is curious about what other horse is enjoying so much. Usually they learn pretty quickly, one or two sessions in most cases. Harder horses are those that have withdrawn from and distrust humans, some ground work where you demonstrate you know how to communicate so a horse understands, that you are consistent, and ie trustworthy.

    • Bottle raised horses are the worst! The problem is that the handlers feel so bad for the foal losing its dam that they go too far the other way coddling and becoming a personal horse toy. Orphan foals need to get into a herd as soon as physically possible – even a mini will give a better education of horse than a human.

    • I’ve a hand reared horse. He’s not rank but for sure he’s opinionated and confident and considers people as herd members and as such tends to want to test humans and push the boundaries more than any other horse I’ve ever known.

    • I have to disagree with you. I have raised four bottle fed foals (people bring them to me because of lost mares and they themselves do not have the time it takes to raise a bottle baby). These foals have turned out to be the nicest, most well mannered adult horses anyone could want. It is not the fact that they were bottle raised. It is that I never lost sight of the fact that they were horses and had to to be treated like you would any other young horse.

  4. There is, of course, another motivation for stallions. My wife handles our stallion for breeding. He is very aggressive and came to us with severe respect problems. However, he has learned that if he does not “park out” and allow her to put on his special breeding halter and lead, she will put the mare back in her stall and walk back in the house until he decides to stop bugling and climbing his stall walls. He is still a tough horse to handle, but he has gotten much better.

    • Is your stud allowed to socialize at all; i.e. common paddock fencing? My stud had a paddock right off his stall, only about 40’x60′ but allowed him to self exercise and have a ‘herd’ relationship with the horses on the other side of the fence. (added electric wire of course!) He reacted like a stud to new horses on the farm but would hang his head and snooze with his herd mates most every day.

      Bad stallion behavior is human induced by separation from other horses, sounds like this is what you inherited. I still believe they need to have the same respect attributes in place that mares and geldings do, instilled in black/white fashion. I would suggest teaching him to stand in the corner of his stall, as I stated above, to receive his feedings. I would also take him out several times a day to do something pleasant (not breed!) like grazing or grooming. He should come to the door of the stall to be haltered, certainly not climb the walls – mare or no mare. I have a stud in the barn right now that came with an attitude about people in or around his stall. Once I open the door, he either goes to his feeder now or when asked, comes to me to be haltered. If he were to start climbing the walls, he would get a bath until he gave me two eyes – and they’d probably be quite big! Just my 2 cents, I understand how difficult it is to change long held behavior.

      • Blondemare: We bought him at age 10 from an Amish farm. He was kept in a large box stall and exercised in a round pen. He apparently always was rank-we found out later he was banned from Berlin Ohio for trying to breed mares on main street (in front of the tourists!) while still hitched to a buggy.
        We have him in a 3 acre pasture with electric top wire and free stall. He can see his mares and be part of the farm life and it has helped him considerably. However, he cannot touch noses over the fence or I would have no fence! He is the toughest horse I have ever had, and by comparison, in the 1980s, we stood 5 stallions on our farm and had less trouble than one of him.
        I understand your comments, and our other stallions were always well behaved. However, we raised all of those. Something was left out in the raising of this one and frankly, I think he was too much for the Amish (which is really saying something-I have seen many spiritless Amish horses, for they value manners above all, and will use harsh methods to enforce them).

  5. My guess, the horse is used to being struck in the hindquarters for failures, probably is sore, heavy rider water skiing on the mouth, mouth was open, martingale adjusted short increasing th pressure from leverage, could be damage to the mouth, not just a saddle that maybe didn’t fit, rider hung on reins on the way down, looks like martingale maybe didn’t release so the horse was still feeling pressure in its mouth. Plus it was leaving, it wasn’t going to choose forward, so where that horse was, it wasn’ going to voluntarily choose a jump to approach or head further into the arena. The rider could have been yelling, so he’s in the way, the horse is still feeling pain, and the horse needs to make sure its not going to be pursued and hit. Probably the horse never accepted this person as above him in the pecking order either. So it put the lower ‘herdmate’ into its place and then left.

  6. I wish I had more context. Even the earlier part of the same course would have helped. I can’t see anything in the video that justified the horse’s reaction. So I have to assume, as others have pointed out, that something, more multiple somethings, happened leading up to that moment to cause the horse to react that way. The very first still frame prior to pressing play, although poor quality, shows a high head, high tail, hollow back, and rider in a defensive posture – things have already gone wrong. leading to the swerve past the jump, rider’s too-late effort to correct course combined with his own poor seat puts him off balance and causes the fall. To me at this point the horse looks overwhelmed and strikes out. We’re seeing the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back, we haven’t seen the thousands of other straws this poor horse was do no doubt carrying. I suspect the more intense atmosphere of the show was also a factor, putting the horse more on edge, lessening its ability to tolerate whatever else the rider did wrong before the clip started.

    I appreciated blondemare’s point much earlier about never accepting this kind of behaviour from horses no matter what caused it. Forgiveness and tolerance are qualities I seek out in horses; I am not a perfect rider and while I constantly strive to get better, I prefer horses that will tolerate a certain amount of rider error. However, I also try to be respectful of my horse’s tolerance, and listen to the signs that I’m pissing the horse off (tension, pinned ears, etc) to address the problems before they escalate to something like this.

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