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April 18, 2008

Mustang Foot Biter

  2009 Cherry Hill   Copyright Information

 

Hi Cherry,

We adopted a mustang recently and, though cute as a button and sweet as she is kind, she does have some nastly little behaviors most of which I have found help to fix but this one seems to baffle me. When we are riding her and rein her to the right and ONLY to the right (she never does it while reining left) she turns enough to bite at your feet (we can only wear steel toe boots to ride her). At first it was a little scary but once you get to know her it could be manageable.

Thanks for all you do. Kris.

 

 

Hi Kris,

How to Think Like A Horse by Cherry HillIA horse is a network of reflexes and reflex chains. That means that they often do something physical as a reflex action, an automatic physical response. I discuss this in detail in several of my books and even have a reflex map that shows certain areas and describes what the action will be if the horse is touched in a certain way in various areas.

In fact, I've posted an excerpt on reflexes from one of my books, along with a map.

As we train horses, we need to over-ride some reflexes completely, moderate others and almost eliminate some. Other reflexes, we don't want to alter as they are necessary for a horse's survival.

But in general, if a horse over-reacts (especially in a dangerous way) to a certain touch or action, the best thing to do is to repeat that action over and over until the horse becomes accustomed to it, thereby reacting less.

Making Not Breaking by Cherry HillAn example of tempering a reflex is the simple lesson of sacking out a horse to a saddle blanket. At first it is the horse's natural reflex action to get away from the touch and sight of the monster and the horse might pull away, swerve, rear, duck its head or back or any number of evasive behaviors. If we patiently and fairly touch the horse with the blanket, flap it, and increase the intensity and duration, the horse gets used to the blanket and the reflex reactions diminish or disappear.

With your horse, there is something physical that triggers the biting response to the right. It could be pressure on the withers from the saddle, pressure against the ribs from the rider's leg or the cinch or any number of other tack related things that occur when the horse bends. Horses often react differently on the left and right. If it were my horse, I'd assess the horse's behavior fully tacked up but without a rider mounted. Do some bending exercises in hand and see if you can mimic the right turn. If the horse doesn't overbend and bite, then perhaps it is the weight of the rider in the saddle that is causing the pressure that initiates the reflex. You will have to do some detective work, trial and error, and perhaps enlist the help of a friend so one of you can be mounted and the other handle the horse from the ground. Eventually I am confident that you will narrow it down to a particular reflex response. The chart and accompanying text will help you look for certain actions in relation to certain areas. Then you help your horse overcome his extreme reaction by repetition and daily review.

I'd be very interested in what you discover and conclude.

Best of luck and have fun with your Mustang,

    Ask Cherry Hill

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