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Myths And Fads

Posted by vwkoch, 21 April 2009 · 196 views

Horse Handling Thoughts
I’ve written previously about horse-handling myths (specifically, the myth that hand feeding teaches horses to bite), but I thought I’d touch on the subject again, with some more examples.  One interesting example is the belief that your horse wants you to warm up its bit on a cold day before putting the bit in its mouth.  This idea seems like common sense, and I used to believe it myself, until my horse and I moved to Colorado.  Then, it became clear that my horse really doesn’t care, and I realized this belief is just another myth.

When I bridle my horses, I hold the bit in front of them and they reach for it themselves.  I’ve had horses that would probably do so regardless, just to be cooperative, but Tori is not one of them.  For example, I have a leather show bridle and a nylon work bridle, both with identical snaffle bits.  Tori will readily take the bit on the work bridle, but I have to nag her to make her take the bit on the leather bridle, because it is not her everyday, familiar bit (although I fail to understand what difference she sees, since the bits are absolutely identical).  If a cold bit bothered her, I’m sure she’d be just as hesitant to reach for it as she is with the unfamiliar bit.

One moderately cold day, when I didn’t really want to freeze my fingers warming up her bit, I decided to see if she’d take it voluntarily.  If not, I would warm it up for her.  She took it immediately, with no indication that it bothered her, so I thought I’d quit warming up the bit altogether, unless she indicated the cold was bothering her.  She’s taken that bit at temperatures as cold as 13 degrees, without ever showing any hesitation.  When I thought about it, it wasn’t really that surprising.  She’s also mouthy and likes chewing on metal things (they make noise), and she doesn’t stop chewing just because it’s cold.  There’s got to be SOME temperature at which she’d refuse the bit, but I haven’t found it yet.  Maybe, it’s just Tori, but the need to warm up a cold bit seems to be just a myth.

Another myth is that hitting a horse in the head makes it head shy.  Now, I’m not proposing that people should start hitting their horses’ heads, but I CAN tell you that such punishment does not make a horse head shy.  What makes a horse head shy is being hit in the head for no reason, as far as the horse can tell.

If a horse tries to bite me, I slap its nose.  It’s literally a reflex for me, which means it happens almost simultaneously with the attempted bite, and it happens consistently.  That simultaneity and consistency is the key to everything.  The horse KNOWS why I hit it.  If I sometimes punished biting and sometimes didn’t (punishment can also be just a threat to slap), the horse might get confused.  If it took me several seconds to get around to hitting it, it would very probably get confused.  It would associate being slapped with whatever happened between the bite and the slap, which would probably be different every time.  The only consistency it would see is that, if I moved my hand around its face, I might be going to slap it.  Then, it would be head shy.

My horse doesn’t like being groomed, and she snaps at me when I groom her.  Since she’s not really trying to bite, I let her do it, but the rule is that she can’t even touch me when she snaps.  She’s amazingly accurate now, but when I first got her, she wasn’t so good, and sometimes, her nose would touch me.  When it did, her nose got slapped (or I threatened to slap her).  She is as far from being head shy as a horse can be.  She doesn’t even move her head when I reach out to wipe her eye.  However, she DOES throw her head up if she touches me when she snaps at me, whether I move my hand or not.  I haven’t slapped her in years, because she’s clearly learned the lesson and a miscalculation once every few years is no big deal, so I think the head throwing is more an acknowledgement of her mistake than anything else.  Still, it does show that she knew exactly why she was being slapped, and that understanding is why she never became head shy.

Yet another myth is that a horse won’t come forward if you stand in front of it and face it while you pull on the reins.  An untrained horse certainly won’t come forward in such a situation, and in fact, it would be dangerous to stand in front of an untrained horse in such a manner, but with a well-trained horse, it’s an entirely different matter.  My horse will “lead” even without a bridle or halter, but she’s also used to being able to express her opinions, so sometimes, she doesn’t follow immediately --- which puts me in the position of standing in front of her and pulling on the reins.  She also likes to grab a rein and chew on it when I have it pulled forward that way, and if I’m holding a crop, I’ll threaten her with it to make her stop.  (She knows I won’t do more than tap her with it, so it’s mostly just a sign of my annoyance.)  Even when I’m standing directly in front of her, facing her, and threatening her with the crop, she still comes forward when I pull on the reins.  She doesn’t see me as a barrier because she knows (unlike an untrained horse) that either she can stop when she gets to me or I will be getting out of her way.  Another myth shattered.

The horse world has fads as well as myths, and “natural horsemanship” seems to be the current fad.  I’m all in favor of natural horsemanship, in most cases, because I think it is a good approach to training both horses and riders.  However, I do have a concern about one very popular “tool” called the “one-rein stop.”  The one-rein stop can be a good tool if it is properly taught, but in my experience, it is rarely properly taught.  Even some trainers don’t understand this tool and thus teach it improperly, and I have never seen it done properly by someone who has only read about it.  The reason I have a problem with it is because, when performed improperly, it is just flat dangerous.  Most people seem to think that the one-rein stop simply means that you stop your horse by pulling on only one rein, and when most people pull on only one rein, they pull it both up and back.  One very effective way to throw a horse is to pull its nose to one side, up, and back.  I have seen people come very close to causing their horses to fall with them because they were trying to perform a one-rein stop.  I think the horse world would be safer without its current infatuation with this “one-rein stop” fad.

As always, I would be interested if anyone wants to comment about any other myths or fads in the horse world.  There are certainly plenty of them out there.  “Old wisdom” is often true wisdom, but sometimes, it is not, so don’t take anything for granted without thinking about it!




I think hitting a horse on the head does make most horses head shy. Maybe you don't feel a few slaps on the muzzle made your horse head shy. Well other people are not just slapping the muzzle, too, some horses are touchier than others. If you slapped my mare on the nose, you'd probably have a broken halter, a broken tie post, a broken lead shank, a broken horse and probably a loose horse. I would be awful careful of assuming what you felt worked fine with your horse is a general rule (or that other people would be happy if you did tthat to their horse).

Hitting on the head made two of mine very head shy. One of them still after several years is still head shy, to the point he is terrified if you move your hand near his eye. He has a big corneal scar so I am very sure they weren't just slapping his muzzle.

I don't agree that slapping the muzzle is a good way to stop biting. If it is a horse with a little bit of an attitude it will usually get them biting more, they think it is a game. I would not recommend it. If a horse bites I put a chain shank over their nose and if they bite at me I jerk the chain shank. I do not yell 'NO' or scream because I don't want my horse leaping out of his skin every time someone else yells 'no'.

I don't agree with allowing a horse to make biting gestures toward me. Even if they do not make contact. They have to learn to bit toward something else. They can nip at the wall or stall or anything but not toward me.

I think horses don't put things together in such a way that they would object to a cold bit. I don't think a horse's mouth is extremely sensitive to cold. I think they eat cold wet grass with ice on it just fine. They eat snow, they paw through snow and eat grass. I don't think it bothers them up to the point where it's below freezing, where the bit can be frosty or icy, and it's metal, which is different from grass or hay that's cold.

I don't usually want a horse to go forward toward me when I stand in front of him. When I am standing in front of him that means he should not walk forward. When I want him to move forward I get at his shoulder and have him go forward next to me.
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QUOTE (slc2 @ Apr 26 2009, 06:04 PM)
I think hitting a horse on the head does make most horses head shy. Maybe you don't feel a few slaps on the muzzle made your horse head shy. Well other people are not just slapping the muzzle, too, some horses are touchier than others. If you slapped my mare on the nose, you'd probably have a broken halter, a broken tie post, a broken lead shank, a broken horse and probably a loose horse. I would be awful careful of assuming what you felt worked fine with your horse is a general rule (or that other people would be happy if you did tthat to their horse).

Hitting on the head made two of mine very head shy. One of them still after several years is still head shy, to the point he is terrified if you move your hand near his eye. He has a big corneal scar so I am very sure they weren't just slapping his muzzle.

I don't agree that slapping the muzzle is a good way to stop biting. If it is a horse with a little bit of an attitude it will usually get them biting more, they think it is a game. I would not recommend it. If a horse bites I put a chain shank over their nose and if they bite at me I jerk the chain shank. I do not yell 'NO' or scream because I don't want my horse leaping out of his skin every time someone else yells 'no'.

I don't agree with allowing a horse to make biting gestures toward me. Even if they do not make contact. They have to learn to bit toward something else. They can nip at the wall or stall or anything but not toward me.

I think horses don't put things together in such a way that they would object to a cold bit. I don't think a horse's mouth is extremely sensitive to cold. I think they eat cold wet grass with ice on it just fine. They eat snow, they paw through snow and eat grass. I don't think it bothers them up to the point where it's below freezing, where the bit can be frosty or icy, and it's metal, which is different from grass or hay that's cold.

I don't usually want a horse to go forward toward me when I stand in front of him. When I am standing in front of him that means he should not walk forward. When I want him to move forward I get at his shoulder and have him go forward next to me.


I hadn't considered hitting a horse in the head with a 2x4, but I agree that an overly harsh punishment probably WOULD make a horse head shy. However, my point stands. I have dealt with MANY horses over the years, even cured some head shy ones, and I will guarantee that just hitting a horse in the head does not make it head shy. You have to do something wrong, like hitting it for no reason the horse can see or hitting it too hard or something. If it understands why it was hit, so it knows how to avoid future hits, just hitting it doesn't make it head shy. If another person's horse tries to bite me, I don't really care what the other person thinks if I hit the horse. If they don't want it hit, they should teach it not to bite. I do go by how touchy a horse is, though. As I mentioned, sometimes I just threaten to slap the horse, because with some horses, that's enough of a punishment to stop future misbehavior. On the other hand, if the horse thinks it's a game, then the slap wasn't hard enough. If you do it right, you shouldn't need more than one to make the point (without overdoing it). I don't use chains on horses. If I did, it would not be for a biting problem. I think jerking on a chain is a harsher punishment than most horses need.

My horse does preferentially bite at other things, but if there's nothing else around, she snaps at me. I don't mind because she clearly has no intention of actually biting me. Most people would not allow it, but I see no reason not to let her "express her opinion." To each, his own.

My horse has taken the bit at 13 degrees, which is well below freezing. I know people's tongues can stick to cold metal, so I suppose horse's tongues could, too, although I don't know what temperature would cause that to happen with a bit. At any rate, she doesn't seem to care if her bit is cold when she takes it.

One thing I should perhaps make clear is that my blogs are not necessarily suggestions for other people to try things. I specifically said that I wasn't suggesting that people start hitting their horses' heads. For the most part, I am simply describing how I interact with my pet horses. If other people see things they think they are competent to try, they can choose to do so, but the purpose of the blogs, for the most part, is simply to note the things I do that work well for me and my horses, even if they are different from what other people think is right. My point is that there is usually more than one way to work with horses, and if you're happy with YOUR way, you don't need to change just because it's "different."
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Coulda fooled me. Sounded like you were trying to tell the whole world what to do.

I posted because I would hate to see even just you work your horse the way you describe, let alone anyone else, and I hope you change your mind when exposed to some other ideas.
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QUOTE (slc2 @ Apr 27 2009, 07:11 PM)
Coulda fooled me. Sounded like you were trying to tell the whole world what to do.

I posted because I would hate to see even just you work your horse the way you describe, let alone anyone else, and I hope you change your mind when exposed to some other ideas.


With all due respect, that's just the kind of attitude I'm trying to change. If my horse and I (or anybody else and his or her horse) are happy with the way things are, then why should we change just because someone else thinks he or she knows better? There's way too much of that kind of "I know better than you" attitude in the horse world. I hate to see anyone use a chain to punish a horse, but if you use it correctly, your horse can adapt and still be content with the relationship --- assuming the rest of its care is satisfactory. If you're the type that uses chains, though, you're probably not going to be interested in my approach to horsemanship, which is fine with me. However, the fact that you don't like the approach doesn't make it wrong, however much you might think so.
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Thanks I think more people should listen to the professionals. Most of them I have heard will say that if one way doesn't work, try another. Horses are like people, each one is diferent!!
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This may not be the same thing; I have a something to say about fads.

Do you remember when the fad was going around when everyone just had to have that Buckskin, or palomino? Every person I talked to wanted that color regardless of the horses breeding, conformation or temperament. I don't know if you have covered that area already since this is the first post I have read.... ashamed0002.gif But I thought that some people were ridiculous. Not suggesting that a person having that color preference is bad, I just mean everyone and their brother wanted the color and the industry was trying to give the public what it wanted. Even backyard breeders were trying to come up with the color giving no thought to anything but color and the extra money they could charge. Breeding fees ski rocketed for stallions that could produce those colors. Now the fad seems to have died down mostly in this area. Still a few people wanting only certain color horses but there will always be that.
I remember when I was selling my Black Tovero paint filly and a guy came up, My horse didn’t like him at all even to the extent of pinning her ears at him. He couldn’t ride well and I was selling her for intermediate riders. Well I knew of a horse that was perfect for him and he refused to even look at it because it was not a Black and White paint. Needless to say he pushed to purchase and because I was living with my parents at the time and was young I had to do what my Father said so against my better judgment I sold her to him. He called me for a straight two weeks complaining that she didn’t like him and he couldn’t get her to cooperate with him. I suggested a trainer since he was way too far out of state for me to visit. When I called about 6 months later his little girls were riding her since she got along much better with them then him. That same couple bought a Dun paint gelding just for his color and couldn’t get the gelding away from the barn…

Also I vividly remember everyone in my area of WI trying to breed the Friesian Sport horse, or everyone trying to get into Friesians at some point. I was wondering what your thoughts are on these subjects.
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QUOTE (TerrainAngel @ May 4 2009, 08:14 PM)
This may not be the same thing; I have a something to say about fads.

Do you remember when the fad was going around when everyone just had to have that Buckskin, or palomino? Every person I talked to wanted that color regardless of the horses breeding, conformation or temperament. I don't know if you have covered that area already since this is the first post I have read.... ashamed0002.gif But I thought that some people were ridiculous. Not suggesting that a person having that color preference is bad, I just mean everyone and their brother wanted the color and the industry was trying to give the public what it wanted. Even backyard breeders were trying to come up with the color giving no thought to anything but color and the extra money they could charge. Breeding fees ski rocketed for stallions that could produce those colors. Now the fad seems to have died down mostly in this area. Still a few people wanting only certain color horses but there will always be that.
I remember when I was selling my Black Tovero paint filly and a guy came up, My horse didn’t like him at all even to the extent of pinning her ears at him. He couldn’t ride well and I was selling her for intermediate riders. Well I knew of a horse that was perfect for him and he refused to even look at it because it was not a Black and White paint. Needless to say he pushed to purchase and because I was living with my parents at the time and was young I had to do what my Father said so against my better judgment I sold her to him. He called me for a straight two weeks complaining that she didn’t like him and he couldn’t get her to cooperate with him. I suggested a trainer since he was way too far out of state for me to visit. When I called about 6 months later his little girls were riding her since she got along much better with them then him. That same couple bought a Dun paint gelding just for his color and couldn’t get the gelding away from the barn…

Also I vividly remember everyone in my area of WI trying to breed the Friesian Sport horse, or everyone trying to get into Friesians at some point. I was wondering what your thoughts are on these subjects.


When "everybody's doing it", it is by definition a fad. Fads for buying certain breeds is especially a problem with dogs, but it does occur with horses. When I was a kid, everyone who jumped wanted a TB. Now, they want a warmblood or a sport horse. To a certain extent, that type of fad develops because a certain breed might generally be better than others at doing certain things, but sometimes, people carry it to extremes. We're lucky that horses are expensive, so it's less of a problem with them than it is with dogs. (For example, the Portuguese Water Dog breeders are afraid everyone will want a PWD now, because Obama has one, and those dogs are not suitable for people who can't provide them with a lot of exercise.) When people buy an animal simply for fad reasons, the breed tends to go to pot, because no one is considering conformation, temperament, genetics, etc. The individual animals also suffer, because they are often not suitable for their owners. The problem with fads is that people "buy into" something without thinking about it. If we did a better job of teaching people to think critically, most fads would probably never happen. As you discovered with your filly, people won't always listen when you try to educate them, but that shouldn't stop you from trying. If one person DOES listen, you've made a difference.
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Thinking about some of the comments on this blog made me realize I should probably provide better clarification on when I do or do not slap a horse for trying to bite. Slapping is punishment, and there are times when punishment is not appropriate. For example, I differentiate between biting and nipping. Biting is serious, can cause serious damage, and is (thankfully) pretty rare. If a horse tries to bite me, it gets slapped. Most horses simply nip, usually for one of two reasons --- to play or to express annoyance. (Spoiled horses may also nip when trying to get food from you.) Often, a horse will nip AT you without actually trying to connect. There are too many variables for me to be able to give any rules for when I do or do not slap a nippy horse --- it depends on the horse and the situation.

However, I would like to emphasize once again that the point of the blog was NOT to encourage people to slap horses' faces. The point of the blog was to explain that slapping a horse on the nose does not make it head shy. A horse becomes head shy when it doesn't understand WHY it's being hit in the head. If the slap is not almost simultaneous with the bite, the horse might associate it with something else. If the "something else" is different each time, the horse won't understand why it's being hit. All it will know is that, when your hand is around its head, it might get hit. THEN, it will be head shy. Because PEOPLE understand why the horse is being punished, they think the horse does, too, and that's why people think it is just the hitting that causes the horse to become head shy. However, the problem is not the slap but the timing of the slap. The belief that hitting a horse in the head, by itself, will make the horse head shy is a myth.
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