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Naughty Horses ~ Are you tackling the symptom or just correcting the behaviour?

action animal bronco bucking, naughty horses

Real naughty horses don’t exist. Most horses who display what we would call naughty behaviour have a reason for doing so. They might buck in canter due to being in pain. They might put up a fight about going on the lorry because they remember the last time they didn’t like it on there. They might escape from their field because they are lonely or don’t have enough food. But when our horses display naughty behaviour, how often do we just try to correct the behaviour rather than actually finding out why they are doing it?

Better understanding of naughty horses under saddle

Even in the time I have been involved in horses, I have seen a huge improvement in how we view naughtiness under saddle. If your horse starts bucking, napping or refusing to go forward, the advice used to be to just ride them through it. But now this is only the advice once everything else has been ruled out. When a horse starts showing a new naughty behaviour under saddle, most owners now give their horse a MOT to rule things out.

Getting your horse’s back, saddle and teeth checked instantly rules out the most common pain related reasons for the behaviour. The next step is usually to work closely with your instructor to see if you can work through it while keeping in mind it could still be pain related somewhere. If the behaviour continues most riders then turn to their vet for further investigation.

As a community we generally understand that naughty horses are usually horses in pain or confused. We don’t fight with them to get them to behave, instead we try to work out what the problem is so we can fix it.

Why don’t we treat naughty behaviour on the ground the same?

For some reason, we don’t seem to treat horses who are naughty on the ground the same way. How many of you have used a chiffney when your horse is strong or silly going to the field rather than training the correct behaviour? Or chased a horse onto the lorry with a whip rather than putting the time in to get them used to loading? Or even bribed them with treats to try and get them to stand still for the vet/farrier/etc?

For some reason, we don’t stop and think about why they are behaving like this and instead go straight to solutions to correct the behaviour. Obviously, if your horse usually has very good manners and if feels like a one off, it is certainly fine to tell them off to correct the behaviour. But if it is an ongoing issue you have to consider the idea that they don’t know what behaviour is expected or there is a reason they don’t want to behave that way.

Our corrections might be making it worse

I think we are lazier on the ground. We often don’t feel like we have time to improve how our horses behave on the ground. But worryingly, how we try to control our horses’ bad behaviour on the ground, can actually be made worse. If a horse is being naughty because they are scared, using force to make them do what we want makes the situation more stressful for them. Instead you should put time aside to slowly and calmly introduce them to the scary object or situation.

If you are feeding a fidgety horse to make them stand still for a vet/farrier/etc, if your timing is off, you can actually be teaching them to be fidgety. For example, if your horse lifts a leg and threatens to kick and you distract them by giving them a treat, you are rewarding them for threatening to kick. You should only give them treats when they are showing the good behaviour, standing quietly.

It’s not just horse owners…

It’s easy to get this wrong. A recent study of vets found that only a small number of practicing vets understood and demonstrated understanding of positive vs negative reinforcement. The same study suggested that if more time was spent understanding why a horse is behaving badly and training the good behaviour, there could be less injuries in both vets and horse owners. Recap the different types of training horses.

Last Updated on 13/11/2021

2 thoughts on “Naughty Horses ~ Are you tackling the symptom or just correcting the behaviour?”

  1. Rhis is great and so true , i came off the other day and wondering if it was because he had no turn out from stable before , he is young he also has a issue infront ! I guess snot as confident as i thought he was

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