Q: My young mare has suddenly started being nasty to other horses (I've had her since a foal and she's always been sweet natured). She is now 5. I know I can't do anything about how she treats her paddock mates. But lately she's started lungeing violently with her teeth bared at other horses tied up nearby while I am grooming/tacking up, or if we are riding near to another horse, not seeming to care if I am in the middle! Is there a way I can correct this unwanted behaviour, or do I just keep her well away from other horses? Also, I'd like to know if it's typical in your experience for a mare to have such a big personality change.
Miranda, via email
In my opinion, horses don’t have ‘personality changes’. Horses do whatever we teach them. We must teach our horses to stand, ‘listen’ and do as we ask whenever we handle them.
The hardest part of horse handling is to discipline yourself. Never allow your mare to take even one step that you haven’t asked for. One unasked for step will become two, two steps become three and in no time at all, your mare is lungeing at other horses, with or without you in the middle.
The first thing that happens is your mare looks away from you and looks at nearby horses. Next, she lays her ears back and lunges at them. The time for you to do something is immediately she looks away from you.
You must teach your mare to stand and concentrate on you whenever you handle her. Whatever you want to do must be more important than whatever your mare wants to do. Whether you’re grooming, saddling or riding her, she must concentrate on you at all times.
Go back to basics and teach your mare some ground lessons. Start in a twenty foot square yard with no other horses around. Teach your mare to walk a five metre diameter circle around you in either direction. Teach her to stand and keep her head bent towards you when you stand at her shoulder on either side. Always rub her head to show her that it’s easy and pleasant to be with you. You can then use these basic lessons when you groom and saddle your mare. Immediately she looks away, pull her head back to you. It must be unpleasant for your mare to look away. It must be easy and pleasant when she has her head with you.
Remember, the problem you have is that your mare stops concentrating on you and looks away. Her next step is to lunge at another horse. It’s too late to try and correct her when she lunges or after she lunges. You must be vigilant and correct her every single time she even thinks about looking away. Her ears will give a good indication of where her concentration is. Ideally she should have one ear back ‘listening’ to you. When you’re riding, watch her ears at all times to make sure she’s concentrating on you. If she looks at another horse, make things unpleasant for her by pulling her around and riding in a tight circle. Make sure you’re in control every step of the way. Don’t let her walk along wherever and however she pleases.
Never raise your voice or yell at her. This will only make the problem worse. Remember, you must make things easy and pleasant when your mare does as you ask. Equally, you must make things unpleasant when she looks away or looks at other horses. You don’t need to be heavy handed and you don’t need ‘special’ headstalls or severe bits. All you need is to be consistent and determined every time you handle and ride your mare.