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How can I help my two horses get along when they’re eating?

By RAY ARISS / Horsetrader columnist - September 16th, 2010 - Q&A Hey Ray!

HEY RAY: How do I approach my mare, Koda, and train her not to bite or kick the heck out of our other horse, Eddie, while eating?
— Ryla Haday, Sonora

HEY RYLA: The easy way to resolve this problem is to stop feeding Eddie. That way you take care of the biting, the kicking and the other thing.

All kidding aside, I understand that not taken care of, this problem can result in one or both horses getting hurt — as well as yourself. First, please understand that what Koda and Eddie are going through is absolutely normal and natural. This kind of thing happens with horses all the time, especially in the wild. This is how the species has evolved and preserved itself — survival of the fittest.

Having said that, the moment you bring a horse from a “wild environment” to the “stable environment”, the rules of survival change. Because you, the caretaker, are now in the mix, the horse’s role needs to change. You have a role in this — it’s your responsibility to help him realize he needs to act differently than the way he feels he should since he doesn’t need to fight for food and water anymore. Your horse will “evolve” into a more civilized horse. I suggest you do this in 10 easy steps:

1. Begin by separating your horses.

2. Enter Koda‘s pen and make sure you can move her around and away from you by simply kissing her off. If she doesn’t move away quickly and willingly, then chase her off while spanking the ground first and her second — until she gets the idea. You should be able to kiss her off without any second thoughts on her part before moving on to the next step. How assertive you will need to be will depend on how quickly she responds.

3. Repeat Step 2, except with food in her stall. Allow her to focus on her eating before chasing her off. Repeat this process until it’s easy for Koda to leave her food instantly.

4. Repeat Steps 1, 2, and 3, with Eddie. Even though Eddie is the one that was being chased, we want to
make sure that he runs away instead of holding his ground and getting kicked. Both horses need to learn how to go to their respective corners after the bell.

5. Place each horse in adjoining stalls. It’s important that they have a common divider between them. If this is not available, simply place one horse in the stall (preferably the aggressive one)and place the other outside. Get a 25-foot rope (or longer) and run it around a post of the panel outside the stall and to Eddie’s halter. You are going to need to be able to draw Eddie in close to the panel as well as allow him to retreat when necessary. I am hoping you have a clear picture of this.

6. It’s now time to throw a flake of hay into the stall where the aggressive horse, Koda, is stabled. It is important that the flake is strategically placed directly below the post that we are using as a pulley, where the rope was threaded through. Have a helper draw the horse outside the pen (Eddie), close up to the divider the moment Koda is deep into her meal. It is important, Ryla, that you are timely with your warning (kissing) as well as your consequence the moment any signs of negative behavior appear. Take special care not to get kicked during this process. Use whatever tools or aids necessary to stay safe.

7. This step is key to the success of this exercise. Remember, we are looking for an excuse to reward — not to punish. Chasing off your horse is a rewardable exercise, not punishment. Your intention and body language should express exactly that. More importantly, any negative expression on the part of Koda should be perceived as her own cute little way of asking you to please chase her off (HARD) and tell her she is a good girl. The reason you are chasing her off is to reward her, because you purposely misunderstood her nasty intention. She surely cannot hate you for that. This will only preserve the positive relationship between you two and will teach her to think as opposed to react when in this situation.

8. You can now have your horses switch places and start all over again, or simply feed Eddie outside if handling Koda is a problem.

9. This next step is the moment of truth. It all comes down to a judgment call — yours. Testing the lesson
without the divider will require you to feed your horses on opposite ends of the pen. If all goes well, move the two portions of food closer and closer together until something changes. When it does, you will have to practice the lesson without the safety net. Have your helper close by but not in the way. Continue this process until there is no issue.

10. This last step is what will guarantee that your horses will do the right thing even when you are not there, because they think you are.

As soon as you feed them, walk away around a corner where you can’t be seen and sneak a peek and listen.
The first excuse they give you to reward them, (for being “KISSED OFF” to their neutral corners), do so by kissing loudly before you come around the corner. It’s like a siren that states “I’m on it, I’ll be right there.” This allows the horse to hold that thought until you get there. This helps them put 2 and 2 together. Continue this until you think they’ve got it.

Ryla, you may want to practice feeding Koda and Eddie on opposite ends of the pen when you can’t be there to supervise, at least for a while. This will keep them out of harm’s way.

Have fun with this as you see your horses transform in front of your eyes. As always, take care, trust your instincts, and think safe.


Horsetrader columnist Ray Ariss, husband to Pippa Ariss and father of six, shares his insight into the relationship of horseand human twice each month, in print and on www.horsetrader.com. He lives and trains in “Horsetown USA”, Norco, Calif., at his bustling Starbrite Riding Academy, where he currently has 50 horses in various stages of training, including Andalusians, Friesians, Quarter Horses, Paints, Thoroughbreds, Arabs, Mustangs and more. Ray attributes his training success to the support of his wife and partner, Pippa, and a system he calls S.W.A.P., to which he credits his multiple championships in several disciplines. His passionate understanding of the “human-horse” relationship was evident when he took on the challenge of training a wild Mustang and — in just 100 days — produced the highest-priced adopted Mustang ever — $50,000. Does your “horse-human relationship” leave you with a question for Ray? Click here to submit one!

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