Days 63-69 – Phil’s Courage Journal

Week of June 8th-June 14th – Is your horse loving on you or is he dominating you?

At the show last weekend I witnessed a horse rubbing his head on his handler. I over heard the handler comment that her horse was “loving” on her. This is an all too common scenario. When I first met Phil I saw him rub his head on his owner; this was a very calculated move on Phil’s behalf to dominate his owner. I would like to discuss this rude, dominating, obnoxious behavior. A horse rubbing his head on you is telling you he’s in control. He is not only in your space, but he views you as he would a fence post or tree, not a leader. Think about it. You will absolutely never see the subordinate herd members rub their heads on the Alpha mare. You may occasionally see a subordinate rubbing his head on a lower ranking member. Clearly, this behavior is not to be tolerated. Phil has never attempted to rub his head on me, but I work every day to remain the Alpha. Another common occurrence I see is a horse bumping his handler with his shoulder when he is led or moving a hip towards his handler during grooming. I have yet to see any handler correct their horse for this threatening behavior. If a horse can feel a fly land on them, they sure know they have bumped into you. It is these little infractions that build up over time into big problems. Many times people say “I don’t know what happened, he just one day charged and reared at me when I brought him his food”. 

No, what happened is all the infractions went unnoticed and uncorrected until the horse felt he was now in control. This is how horses get labeled as “bad” or “dangerous” horses and end up passing from owner to owner or worse get sent to auction.

In reality, the behavior was never the horse’s fault; it was the uneducated owner or handler that is to blame. This is why I am so passionate about passing on the knowledge.

A good example is Phil. He had aggressive behavior that stemmed from his lack of confidence, like the bully at school. He was mislabeled because he was misunderstood.

A minor set back.

Phil appears to have a sole bruise on his left hoof. This probably is from some of the rough terrain we rode through on our group trail ride. He shows all the classic signs. I have started to pack his hoof twice a day. Through my many years of observations many owners stop working with their horse when he is recuperating or worse let their horse get away with more “pet behaviors” than ever because they feel sorry for their horse. I am emphatic and sympathetic to Phil’s soreness; I don’t believe our learning has to stop. In fact, I tacked up Phil today, led him to the round pen, and mounted, even with his wrapped hoof. I am not heavy enough to cause any discomfort to Phil. I asked for lateral flexion. This exercise we can work on standing in the shade. Phil ignored my requests and even closed his eyes in a lazy way. I asked him to disengage his hindquarters; this caused him some hoof discomfort and he woke up. I spent 30 minutes flexing. Phil only half heartedly flexed, but I was tenacious and kept up my requests. The bar has been raised, so I expect Phil to give me his face, neck and shoulder at this point. Phil finally worked through his lazy mental block and as soon as he was soft as melted butter in my hands, I jumped down and loosened the girth.

I walk Phil to and from the barn twice daily without a halter. Phil goes into a stall during the heat of the day. Phil and I feel comfortable enough with each other that I can climb up on his back while he is in his stall.

The farrier was out on Saturday. It was apparent that Phil has typical TB dropped soles. This is just a generic description of a soft sole that grows faster than the hoof wall. I opted to go ahead and put some light front shoes on Phil since I have been hauling him where the terrain isn’t always sand. Phil jogged out sound after shoeing.

We are back in business!