Lately I hear a complaint from a lot of farriers, who are also good horsemen, that they are getting tossed around, yanked around and injured, quite seriously injured in some cases, by spoiled horses.
There seems to be a rampant mentality among horse owners that smacking your horse, or snapping on the lead rope, is inherently evil and will emotionally traumatize your large 1200 lb animal.
There also seems to be a rampant mentality that you can bribe aggressive behavior out of a horse by feeding it treats.
Unfortunately, while you can use food as a motivator to exhibit good behavior or learn new tricks, giving a horse a treat 30 seconds after it kicks someone, with zero immediate discipline/correction for the kick, because "now the horse has stopped kicking and we are rewarding it for standing there", sends the wrong message to the horse.
The words "force" or "discipline" seem to cause horrified gasps. How dare I smack my horse (when he just tried to run me over at the gate). How dare I jerk on the lead rope three times (when he just tried to bite/kick at another horse being led past him). That horse I just je**ed on will be scarred for life. Traumatized. Will react twice as badly next time...
Yesterday, I forced my 1260 lb gelding to stand, back up, and stop trying to run over me and a friend of mine when he forgot his normally excellent manners at a new barn. I stomped my foot in his direction. I used my angry voice. I pinched him in the chest. I tapped the lead rope. I poked him hard in the ribs.
Since he is a solid 1260 lbs and I'm around 160, much of this being successful relies on our established relationship, fast timing, and the areas/frequency I'm applying pressure to.
Each move as a consequence for a single rude/aggressive action he displayed. An immediate and short-lived consequence that varied depending on which behavior he was exhibiting. Repeated only if he repeated the rude behavior.
No Fat Turbo, you WILL back up if you try to barge forward. No, you WILL get pinched if you try to bump into me with your chest or shoulder. No, you WILL get snapped on the lead if you threaten to cowkick, even in midair.
When he stood quiet, when he dropped his head lower on request, when he backed up nicely, when he halted when asked, when he walked forward when asked, he got told "Good boy" and patted for each of those behaviors.
Boundaries. Positive AND negative reinforcement. Shortly, he became less rude and quieted down. He got a nice grooming, a nice neck massage (his favourite thing), and we went for a nice normal ride with no more drama. He went back to his calm state of mind. He still let me approach him loose in the field. His mental state was jusssst fine, even after I'd be soooo mean to him during his tantrum earlier. So, so mean.
Too many people seem to think that shoving a treat in a rude, pushy or aggressive horse's face equals "positive reinforcement." Horse tries to kick farrier. Horse gets a treat when they stop trying to kick, but doesn't get told "No, that's NOT acceptable." Hmmmm....
Horse continues to be untrustworthy and tries to kick because they've never had any consequences for it. The boundary is not there. That method of "training" works as motivation for teaching new things, but it unfortunately doesn't set boundaries or manners, any more than it works on a small child who thinks it's ok to bite and kick people when they don't want to do something or don't get their way.
My lead gelding aggressively corrects his buddies if they are rude towards him, with as much force as necessary to get the result. Then he allows them to come back and eat side by side with him. His buddies follow him happily everywhere. They are more secure in his presence. He does not get injured by them. They don't get injured by him because he gradually escalates with ears pinned, small nips or fake-kicks which work. Rarely does he actually make contact, but they *think* he will. If they don't move out of his way or out of his space, he forces them to move by any means necessary. He is very fair about it and uses only as much force as necessary-- he doesn't use excessive force.
That is how horses work: a combination of appropriate discipline for rude, aggressive, pushy behaviors, and rewards (companionship, grooming, access to food, shelter and water) for desirable good behavior.
If you use both, you are setting clear, fair boundaries. You're less likely to get kicked or whacked in the face by a horse's head, more likely to have your farrier call you back.
There is too much mentality of "Poor horse, I must never get mad at him or smack him for trying to run me over, bump into me, push me around, bite at me/nip at my clothes, kick me, yank their hoof out of my hand, refuse to move in any direction, get into my pockets (which are filled with treats), or whack me or any other person with his giant 150 lb head when he doesn't want to do something!"
That mentality is creating spoiled untrained horses that cannot be safely handled, injuring vets and farriers, and the owner themselves, sometimes very seriously-- broken bones, concussions, lacerations, nerve damage.
Did you know that a horse yanking its leg away from a farrier repeatedly can leave large bruises, abrasions, muscle tears in arms and shoulders, sprained wrists, and serious chiropractic problems? Massage therapy and chiropractic care to fix injuries from horses who yank their legs, paw the hoofstand, try to kick or strike, can take several months and cost several hundred dollars. Your $40 trim or $100 shoeing bill doesn't nearly cover the expense.
It's **OKAY** to force a horse to stop trying to run you over, bite and kick at you. You're not going to hurt their feelings and you will still get personal emotional validation from them when they "love" you for feeding them, grooming them and stuffing more treats in their mouth later.
If you've ever had a farrier not call you back after your horse has pulled their legs away, kicked, bitten, nipped, striked, or done anything other than stand quietly and cooperate, read this four times and make some changes before someone gets hurt.
If your horse can casually push you around, what's going to happen if they push past you and run right over someone's child? Think about that and the resulting liability lawsuit, then pretend there's a child behind you every time you ask your horse to halt and stand.
Do whatever it takes, any means necessary (except food), to get that horse stopped. One day the treats will run out and you should hope there's not a child behind you when they do.