How can I correct the behavior of a 20-year-old mare when I out turn her into the pasture’ I can barely get the halter removed before she bolts away. I’m lucky that she always bolts away from me, but I find this behavior disturbing. She is a new horse for me, and the previous owner took the halter off slowly as she gave her a treat so she wouldn?t bolt so quickly. I suspect that if I continue this pattern I would be rewarding this behavior. I would like to just walk her to the pasture and quietly remove the halter! Any suggestions’
Performance Editor John Strassburger Responds: You probably know the maxim, ?You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.? Well, that may be the situation here. we’d bet this 20-year-old mare has been doing this for years. She might even have learned it as a foal from her dam.
You may not be able to change her behavior, but you want to make her quick exit as safe as possible. So here are a few suggestions.
The previous owner?s plan of feeding her a treat as you remove the halter is a good one. In your mare?s mind, you’re rewarding her for walking quietly into the pasture and waiting for you to remove her halter. Freedom comes next in her mind, and you aren?t present after she achieves that, so you aren?t rewarding her. If sHe’s reluctant or difficult to catch, be sure to reward her when you do catch her.
You could also practice leading her into the field and, instead of releasing her, walk a circle and exit the field. Walk around outside the field, walk her back in, and then release her. You could repeat this several times. Do it for several days or weeks and see if her behavior improves. This training could decrease her level of anticipation, making the release anti-climactic. But it could also make her more anxious. you’ll just have to read her personality and react.
Another training option is to put two halters on her each time you turn her out. Take the top halter off and hold on tight as she tries to bolt, making sure the leadline on the second halter is not wrapped around your hand, arm or leg. Walk her around (even go out of the field) and then quietly remove the second halter. If you use a leather or breakaway halter, you can also just quietly unsnap the leadline and not remove the halter, disrupting her association of removing the halter with freedom.
Be sure that, whenever you remove the halter or unsnap the leadline, your mare is facing you and not dragging you parallel to her. Also be sure you’re not standing against the fence or the gate. You want to have room to move to avoid a kick or charge.
Finally, many horses bolt away because they’ve been kept in a stall for longer than they like, so the release is a highly anticipated moment. If you can leave her turned out for the whole day or night (or, even better, 24 hours a day), that moment will be less exciting. In your situation, though, that may not be possible.
My mares sometimes eat willow branches and lick dirt when they can’t graze due to a snow cover. I found a website that said this means they have a mineral deficiency and need seaweed. Does this make sense’
Veterinary Editor Eleanor Kellon VMD responds: don’t you believe it! Horses chew on trees and lick dirt, pipes, walls, fences, etc. when they can’t graze. Toss them some hay instead. They’ll eat seaweed, too, but they don’t need it.