This 22 year old mare had been used as a therapeutic riding horse for 5 years. During therapy sessions, she would not obey cues provided by the rider, requiring her handler to intervene. Her teeth would be grinding for the entire session, and periodically she would try to bite her handler, often resulting in an aggressive response from the handler. While being prepared for a lesson she would show signs of restlessness and aggression to the point where the Association wasn’t sure they could keep using her.
Aggression is always an alert to something being unclear or confusing in the horse’s training. The therapeutic association was right in questioning their continued use of her (Principle 1), but finding the cause would have been better. Responding with aggression typically makes the behaviour worse (Principle 2).
Bailey tended to grind her teeth when cued to stop, showing confusion about what the cue meant (Principle 9). The stop response was retrained, starting at obedience because she would slow a little bit when pressure was applied (Principle 8). Care was taken that there was no pressure when she was not being asked for something. The teeth grinding suddenly diminished, and the biting stopped entirely.
Next she was taught to ‘park’, an extension of the stop response. This was used in the tacking area, and when she realized that all that was required was standing still and not moving she quickly relaxed and even appeared to enjoy being groomed, wiggling her ears and lips when being brushed on the neck (Principle 5).
With the tension and conflict gone, she quickly became a favourite among the volunteers, and was able to continue serving as a therapy horse.