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  • Writer's pictureLouise Stobbs

"Dangerous" horses

There is a huge trend of trainers posting videos of them “fixing” horses with “dangerous” behaviour. It is often framed as “saving their life” to make the story extra juicy and the trainer extra heroic, and it makes great social media clickbait. Pair that with a thumbnail of said horse being pushed completely over threshold to show their “terrifying” behaviour and you have a marketing dream.

Unfortunately, a lot of the horses in the these videos are showing clear pain indicators, lameness, stiffness, weakness, muscle atrophy etc none of which are mentioned or addressed. The horses are often fearful and confused. The focus is purely on whatever perceived “dangerous” behaviour they want to get rid of and a fear-mongering explanation of how dangerous this behaviour will become if they do not use their methods to fix it immediately. Some go as far as telling clients that if they use more ethical methods they will make their horse even more dangerous.

Behaviour is communication, a horse putting their ears back is not aggression, a horse pushing on you is not aggression, a horse pawing with a front leg is not aggression, a horse being mouthy is not aggression. If your horse is pinning their ears at you, this is a communication, and if you listen and figure out what is wrong, it will not escalate into louder behaviour. If you look at a behaviour as a stand-alone thing a horse has randomly decided to do and you suppress it by punishing it, all you have done is shut down the only line of communication your horse has to tell you they aren’t okay. I promise you your horse isn’t out here trying to dominate you for a laugh, he is trying to explain.

If you ignore the quieter behaviour and continue to push a horse you will get these big, loud, scary behaviours. Then the trainer can say “a-ha look! I told you he was dangerous! We need to sort this out.” Good, quiet training is pretty dull to watch does not push the horse into bucking, rearing, bolting, kicking etc on purpose. Pushing a horse into an undesired behaviour just so you can punish it doesn’t sound very kind does it?

When we over-simplify behaviours by putting connotations like dominance or stubbornness onto them, we miss the bigger picture and end up creating horribly shut down horses that have horrible associations with humans. When you punish a horse for trying to communicate pain and fear to you, what do you think happens to that relationship? Imagine your horse has a weak, sore back and this is the cause of their behaviour. A trainer comes out and spins your horse in tight circles and backs them up harshly, this causes even more pain to your horse, but when they protest it is explained away as more dominant behaviour that needs to be worked out of them or else you’re creating a dangerous horse. Do you see the trap?

 I am so tired of going to see desperately sad owners with traumatised horses from being trained like this when they were just trying to communicate pain or fear. Convincing a horse who has been not only ignored but actively punished for their communication to find relaxation and soften again around people is a long, slow process. And I am sad for both the horses and their lovely owners that they have been let down in this way, it is so unnecessary.

I think what pains me the most is I will be appalled at what I’m seeing in these videos, but the comments sections are full of praise for the kind, wonderful, horse-centred training they’ve just witnessed. I’m absolutely baffled, but the positive is clearly these people really care about horses and want to train kindly, they are just mis-informed. It all comes down to education. Just because someone says what they’re doing is kind, doesn’t make it true for the horse. Just because someone calls themselves a behavioural trainer doesn’t mean they actually study or acknowledge the behavioural science we have access to now, there is zero regulation within the industry. The best thing you can do is empower yourself with self study so you can recognise when the training isn’t quite matching up with the words. 🐴

Photo of my horse Lenny showing explosive behaviour in the round pen, he was described as bolshy, rude and dominant. Turns out he had pain in all 4 limbs, feet and his spine ☹️. He is now 20 years old, extremely gentle and enjoys clicker training at liberty with my novice dad.

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