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Aggressive Behavior in Horses
WRITTEN BY: Cheryl Sutor   [January 2001]

Allowing your horse to be aggressive is very dangerous. It is dangerous for yourself and anyone who is around or handles your horse. Many owners do not actually know that their horse is being aggressive. There are many actions aggressive horses can take. From biting and kicking, rearing and charging to less noticeable dominance acts of crowding your space when leading, bumping you with his head or leaning on you, and many others.

Any horse who gets away with an aggressive act will believe he is dominant over you. It is extremely important in all situations that your horse believes you are dominant over him. It creates a much safer and more controllable environment. Not to mention the benefits of easier training. Submissive horses are usually much easier to train than dominant ones.

Don't let your horse get away with being grumpy or aggressive. An aggressive horse is a dangerous horse to be around. Whether the horse is a violent kicker or one that only teases or pretends to bite. If the horse opens his mouth or even shows his teeth as if he is going to bite...you should consider that a 'bite' and reprimand the horse accordingly.

Even if he was only thinking "I'm gonna bite you!", we still don't want him to get away with it. We don't want our horses thinking things like that. Even if he has never bitten you, only teased...it is still a very dangerous and unwanted habit. If, at any time, you think your horse might be thinking bad thoughts, he probably is.

I've seen so many owners walk up to their horse's stall, the horse pins his ears as if to say "Go away or I'll bite you!", then the owner says in a sweet, soft voice "Oh quit being so grumpy", then the owner pets the horse on the head. --- WHOOps! ---

Put yourself in the horse's shoes for a minute here. You're thinking "Go away or I'll bite you!" and someone comes up and talks to you in a sweet voice, petting you, as if to say "Nice thinking! Keep thinking that way because I like it, and I'm encouraging it!".

We need to "get at" our horses when they show signs of aggression towards us. This doesn't necessarily mean you need to make physical contact, you can talk in a sharp, low voice and say "Bad!" or "No!" and move towards the horse in an aggressive stance. This usually works well. However, there are some horses that won't back down from just voice or stance. For those horses, you will need to use your best judgement as to what degree of contact is needed to get the horse to back down and accept you as the herd leader, the dominant one in the horse-human relationship.

Whatever cue you decide to use as a reprimand, make sure it is aggressive enough that your horse responds by backing down and accepting you as leader. Begin to watch your horse's body positions and body language. By watching his body language, you will begin to learn what positions and actions are aggressive and which are not. Using this, we can learn to stop our horses from getting away with their usual bad habits.

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This article was published on: January 2001. Last updated on: February 23, 2002.