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Is my colt aggressive or too friendly?

By RAY ARISS / Horsetrader columnist - February 17th, 2011 - Q&A Hey Ray!

HEY RAY!: I am hand-raising two colts, and I am afraid one will be too aggressive – he is already too friendly. What do I look for and do?
Kaitlyn Lebo, Valley Center, CA

HEY KAITLYN: Clearly, you are in touch with your instincts. Your feelings about your colt are probably right, and I bet you are on the right track in addressing these issues now. The way we will assure that you will have a strong and happy relationship with both of your colts will be to have an ideal picture of how you will want them to be – and then work backward from there.

First, let’s look at your concern that one colt might be aggressive because he is becoming too friendly. Let’s recognize the difference between “aggressive” and “too friendly.” It can be said in one word: INTENTION. We must not confuse good intentions with bad ones. I believe that your horse isn’t trying to be too friendly because a horse can never be “too much” of a friend. You have done what a lot of horse people do when you attached a negative connotation to the term “too friendly.” Folks do this because they love their horses and would hate to think that they would ever take advantage of us or hurt us in any way. If we expect to have a valuable, safe and happy relationship with our equine partners, we need to acknowledge when they are “ S.W.A.P.ing” (Sweet, Willing And Predictable), and when they are not.

In your particular situation, your colt is trying to get close enough in order to size you up and make a move to see what happens. This is a sign of intelligence, but it’s not necessarily in your best interest. Testosterone more times than not will motivate a horse to be not only aggressive, but also controlling. We call horses like this “calculating,”, and this characteristic is not limited to stallions. Mares and geldings also have learned to be this way because of other motivators and have found value in it, too.

The thing you have going for you is that your horse is intelligent and therefore capable of making adjustments in order to make smart decisions. If you expect to maintain the relationship with your horses, you should consider a couple of things:

1) Look for an excuse to reward and not to punish when you find a behavior that is not of your liking. The way you do this is by recognizing that even though you feel justified in punishing your horse for something, you should instead put him to work on another exercise that he can be successful at — and reward him for that. Simple “reward-able” exercises would be lunging, backing, turn on the forehand or roll backs when, on the ground, are followed by praise. Once again, the underlying thread here is the intention to reward. Horses are masters at reading body language and expression. I think the key here is to genuinely want to say “good boy” to your horse. There may be a world of difference between two exact situations when good intentions become a factor. It doesn’t matter whether a horse is biting, kicking, striking or rearing; the thing to remember is that although all these things are normal and natural to a horse, they are not acceptable if our relationship with them is going to work.

2) Clearly and in a timely fashion, recognize when your horse is doing something that does not fit the ideal picture you initially started with. Without delay, try to intentionally “misunderstand” your horse’s negative behavior. By that, I mean interpret the behavior as if your horse is saying to you: “This is my cute way of asking you to please make me _______ (choose an exercise to fill in the blank) until I do it well and then tell me I’m a good boy.” If you accept this as a request from your horse, you should have no trouble maintaining a genuine, positive attitude toward his behavior. You simply continue to follow through with your “reward-able” exercise after any unacceptable behavior.

Kaitlyn, I believe this is a great opportunity for you to apply a system and an approach that will work in your horse’s favor as well as in yours. More importantly, you will be a part of a foundation that will clarify many things in your horse’s mind from here on end. Remember to above all 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 horse-and-human twice each month, in print and on www.horsetrader.com. He lives and trains in “Horsetown USA”, Norco CA, at his bustling StarBrite Riding Academy. Does your “horse-human” relationship leave you with a question for Ray? Just go to www.horsetrader.com and click on the “Hey Ray!” section, then submit it!

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