Excerpt from Turning Challenging Horses into Willing Partners due for release winter, 2010
Editor’s note: Robert is currently working on the upcoming Horse Sense and Cents™ title, Bringing Up Baby. Look for future blog posts that invite you to view this work in progress and provide input on content direction.
Dominance to the Extreme
“I had one stallion in here for collections that was showing at a very high level and had shown internationally. He showed up with a note saying ‘don’t give eye contact.’ And, I was like, what is this? I thought, well this is out of the ordinary. And it was no guff. As soon as I went in the stall and looked at him straight on, he lunged at the stall grill, teeth bared, with a look that said he wanted to kill me. I tried something; he was nice and calm in his stall and I’d walk by with my head down then with my head up and he’d lunge at the grill again. This is a horse that I have to breed, and I can’t breed if he feels that he is the dominant one. He had to understand that I was going to protect him, and I’m the one that’s going to tell him when to breed and when not to breed. It took about a month to get him slowly used to the fact that I wasn’t going to hurt him; and that I can look at him face-to-face. At first, he’d always want to rush. He wanted to run and he was obviously not really well trained in hand. He was uncontrollable and high strung with a lot of anxiety. It took a long, long time just to get it in his head that I will let you do what you want to do, but you can’t be stupid about it. Relax. Eventually it worked.
“Drugs, like Valium, also help with those kinds of problems. It’s not that you’re sedating these horses, but you are taking the anxiety level down. Then, you can take him off the Valium and he’s already gotten used to you without the anxiety level. The real reason for a lot of problems is, horses get anxious because they think they’re going to get hurt or beat. It almost blows their mind, and they forget everything and get all nervous, and the next thing you know, some people are giving the horse a beating because he’s not doing what you wanted him to do. And, if you don’t register that as a horse handler or even a rider, that anxiety keeps building until one day it explodes and you have an unruly horse. They just go over the top.
“That’s what may have happened with that stallion that I couldn’t look in the eye for the first little bit. With anxiety comes gastrointestinal problems and a variety of lashing out. And that goes back to the young horses. If you stress them out and make them anxious, you’re not achieving anything.
“If we can make stallions content with respect to nutrition, housing, turnout, exercise, and health management, we will get more out of them. With that also comes a respect for the fact that they are a very proud and noble creature.”
About Robert Fera
Robert Fera is the owner and manager of Deerpath Breeding and Development in Puslinch, Ontario, Canada. The facility takes in stallions at stud owned by others, provides collection and training services, troubleshoots nutritional challenges for stallions, mares and foals, and provides a resource for those seeking a safe, watchful, and expert environment for births and early foal imprinting.
With his education and experience in animal health, Robert works with many veterinarians who both refer to and rely on him for experienced stallion management and foal development. He also provides support to breeders and feed dealers as an equine specialist for an animal nutrition company in Cambridge, Ontario.
He is also a published author on such topics as stallion management, foal nutrition, and foal development.
Visit his website at http://www.deerpathequine.com