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Horses - Behavior Issues, Breaking and Training/New horse - Establishing itself as top in the pecking order



Last year I bought a pony for my 12 year old daughter as her first pony.  He is a 17 year old cob who seems to know every trick in the book and has napped and bolted with her.  On the ground however he is very good and everyone is so fond of him that we can't bear to sell him.  Last week we bought her another horse, one that I can share with her, although I am a returner to riding after 25 years!  She is an 11 year old, 15.1hh cob x Irish Sport Horse.  For the first couple of days she was great, well-mannered, did everything we asked, hacked out nicely - couldn't have asked for more really.  However, she is now really testing us and it is quite obvious she is trying to establish herself higher in the pecking order.  She is very stroppy, won't lead in from the field, nips, complains at being tacked up, won't stand still to mount and is very nappy when we are out.  I don't mind admitting I'm a novice and have no idea how to get back to where we were in those first few days.  The person who sold her to us came back to see her and rode her out and she was good as gold for him, so she can do it.  Any help would be very much appreciated.  Thanks, Diane

It is your handling of this horse that is more than likely to blame.  If you and daughter are the type to baby, pet and spoil horses, this is what you will end up with.  

To begin with, you need to quit babying her, any at all.  That includes treats, talking over much to her, and using soothing voice.  Also, make sure you do not give ground, either at feeding time, grooming or what have you. Attitude is everything with horses.

This one has your number and knows it.

She has already found out that you are not her boss basically, and is letting you know where you two stand, which is on bottom.

Some horses will no be so bold as to try the things you mention, even the cob has been getting by with things that he should not have, but he wasn't the type to push it.  This mare is.

If you do not routinely do ground work with her, begin.  Make her back up, move hindquarters and forequarters, make her stand still at various times when leading.  Do not let her back you away at feeding time, if she is, not sure if horse is stalled/boarded or what, but if you do the feeding, make it clear that she eats at your decision, not hers.

And too, I would check the quality of her feed, hay might be too hot?  Or may need a different feed as that will add to this type of problem.

When leading her, stop periodically, and just stand there.  No talking, nor petting her, and if you are the type to give empty praise?  Quit that too.  She is doing nothing to get praised for.

The mounting could be that you all are toeing her in side when you go up.  Or that you have reins too tight, or are flopping in saddle.  And the problems that you are seeing could also come from your hands or daughter's not being quiet, and steady on reins.  Also could be you are heavy handed.  Some horses will tolerate that, many won't and to protect themselves will do just as you are describing.

If possible, you really should see about getting some lessons from the person who you got horse from, and not just astride either, but on ground too.  The fact that she is responsive to them, means this may just be a poor match for you all.

Also, videotaping yourself and daughter handling horse, and riding will give you some insight possibly, as to whether or not you are doing something to cause this, past inexperience that is.

Even a kid broke/bombproof gelding can do just as you are seeing, with too permissive handling, and an owner that they can boss around.  I've seen it too many times.

Enlist a trainer, if former owner has not got the experience to help you through this.

Horses - Behavior Issues, Breaking and Training

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Melanie Rowley


Questions relating to first time, or inexperienced horse owners. Other questions as needed. Questions on American Saddlebreds. Old fashioned training advice, riding advice for beginners, and general care questions. Behavior problems, with emphasis on thinking through aspects of problems that might not seem an issue at first.


About to turn 55. My father was a Saddlebred trainer, and I grew up around horses. I have also worked as a Master Saddlebred Show Horse Groom, working with Dale Pugh, Art Simmons, Sonny Sutton, and others. I also have worked with Quarter Horses, and Thoroughbreds on a mare and foal operation in Alabama. I have owned for years, and currently have two teenaged geldings. I also for many years have taught riding lessons, to adults and children, working with beginners just learning, and older adults who have lost their confidence, or wanted to get "back in the saddle." I was lucky to be around many of the best horsemen in MO, and AL and learn from them, and strive always to think through a situation and work to keep riders and horses safe. Those also include the many talented grooms, and farriers I met along the way.

Some college. General studies towards a nursing degree, which derailed due to divorce. Horse skills learned through over 50 years of watching, learning, doing and absorbing as I grew.

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