Picture this. You go to pet your horse and he bites at you - and he does this constantly. Why?
Here's another one.
You timidly ride your horse hoping he won't get so spooked over littlest thing this time. But sure enough, you ride past that same bush and you can feel your horse tense up fifty feet before you get to it. Not only that, he slows down before he gets to it. He swerves his body away from it and he's ready to jump out of his skin.
Suddenly, he bolts past it and you're hanging on for dear life wondering why you even bought this crazy animal.
These scenarios are fairly common for horse owners. I get lots of questions from people asking how to get a horse to stop doing some kind of bad habit.
Interestingly, horse doesn't know it's a bad habit. He doesn't know if something is good or bad. He just follows his instincts and does what nature tells him to do.
If that's case, why does he do it then? After all, if you have a horse that bites, balks, bolts, bucks, kicks, shies, spooks, etc., why does he do it in spite of your vigorous attempts to stop it?
The answer may surprise you. And if you're thin skinned, it may make you mad. But truth is truth. And once you know it, only then can you do something about it.
The answer, then, is mismanagement.
What does that mean?
In a nutshell it means that you or previous owner have made or let that horse get into habit of whatever he's doing.
Let me give an example.
Say you're teaching a horse to drive. Let's say further you've done necessary prep work by teaching him to stop, move forward, getting used to harness, and so forth.
Now you've got him hitched up and for first time he's going to pull wagon you have him hitched to. You get in wagon, grab lines, and tell him to "get up."
Eager to please you, horse jumps forward and then stops. The weight of wagon surprised him. It kept him from moving freely because he now has to pull weight instead of just moving his own body without constraints.
Right about here is where most horse owners mess up their horse. It's here where horse learns to balk.
As horse pulls forward, wagon moves an inch or two then stops. Then handler raises his voice volume and says "Get up!" The horse may or may not try again. If he does try again, and wagon weight stops him again, and handler gets upset and starts tapping him with a whip and yelling "Get up" then this horse is on its way to balking.
When he balks, he'll just stand there. Often he'll turn around and just look at you. His senses even seem to be blunted...like he's in another world. No amount of harsh talk and hard tapping on his butt with a whip is going to get him to move.
Congratulations, you just taught your horse to balk.
Many horse owners would say "But I don't get it. Why did he do that?"
The answer lies in understanding horse behavior.
You see, first time horse has to pull a wagon he's never done it before. When he jerks forward and wagon weight stops him from moving as freely as he's been used to, it's a shock. It surprises him. He doesn't quite know what to think of it. And knowing a horse's nature, it's probably frightening and thus confusing.