Walking into a stall and having a thousand pound horse charge at you with teeth bared and ears flat back on their neck really is no fun. Actually, it is quite scary.
Usually horses that exhibit bad stall manners are performance horses. Performance horses are in the stalls most of the day and night and if they are out of the stall, they are under the stress to perform whether they feel like it or not. Horses that are out in a field all day and night can exhibit this same behavior and that is a territory or a dominance issue, but it is rare.
Probably, the first part of this problem is figuring out why this particular horse is behaving in this manner. Is the horse unhappy because it despises being in a stall all day? Or maybe needs contact with other horses? Are they claustrophobic and just really want to get out of the stall and because they cannot, they become very angry? Is there a territorial factor; meaning that this is their space and they really do not want anyone in there bugging them? Or maybe they hate their job and they know that when you enter the stall, it means they have to go to work?
Another type of horse that may be difficult in a stall is a mare that has just had a foal. Even if the mare knows you and knows that you would never harm her baby, some of them become so aggressive that it may take a day or two to get to the foal. Broodmares do not play around so patience may be your best virtue when dealing with foaling mares, and, especially mares having their first foal.
I have seen many horsemen take a carrot or apple into the stall, or a hand full of feed in order to coax a bad behaving horse. Sometimes it works and sometimes it does not. I have seen the horse take the offering quickly and spin around and kick at that person. I have never been one to give an offering. They do not deserve a treat and I think you are rewarding bad behavior. Remember one thing, horses are curious and usually submit very easily. If you have a horse that is almost impossible to catch in the stall, here are my suggestions – if you have the time. First, I would be spending time around that horse’s stall. If someone comes over to speak with you, speak with them in front of that horse’s stall. Grab a chair and read the newspaper sitting outside of the stall just far enough for them to barely put their nose on you. If you sit outside of their stall long enough, their curiosity level will get the best of them. You are now starting to spend time with that particular individual. The game here is trust. Hang out with your horse and make no demands on them. As you become friends, perhaps the horse will start to put their head out of the stall and allow you to speak with them and pet them, and eventually you will be able put the halter on them and THEN you give them a carrot or apple or some form of treat. So now they will associate being haltered as a positive event. Study your horse’s behavior patterns and decide whether your horse is serious or just bluffing. Sometimes being very direct, walking into the stall with authority and as soon as this individual starts to move away from you, move quickly enough to subtly challenge their movements making sure that they do not get the upper hand of the situation. However, always use caution with bad mannered horses and respect their body language. Knowing when to approach, at what persistence level and knowing when to back off is crucial.
Another approach for an extremely difficult horse is to take a lunging whip. This is only to be used to move the horse into a certain position, not to be used as a punishing tool. Let’s say the horse is standing on the left side of the stall with their head facing the opposite corner. Use the whip to motion the horse to move forward, clucking to the horse to encourage the forward motion. Ask the horse to move to the right side of the stall facing you. Ask the horse to whoa and give praise. Move back from the front of the stall speaking to the horse. Approach the horse with whip in right hand, motioning that horse to move to their right, keeping movement behind the horse to bring them full circle and ask them to stop at the same spot. This sounds easy and it is if you give the individual a chance to understand and respond. The object here is, first and foremost, to get the horse’s attention. Secondly, to respond to commands, using the whip only for encouragement behind them, to go forward and stop in a specified area each time.
Once the horse is facing you and you have their attention and are speaking with the horse, you now can try to approach the horse. Having the horse facing you gives you the advantage. If you approach a horse that is facing you, you are clear of the hind legs and if the horse becomes aggressive you can quickly back up out of harms way as the door to the stall is near. If the individual does not behave, use a very stern voice of disapproval and start again with the exercise. Part of conquering this situation is not to show fear. Weakness will open the door for the aggressor. These particular individuals may need to live in a leather halter until they learn to submit and be caught easily. Patience and persistence usually will get the job done. If you can figure out why a horse is behaving this way, you may find another solution to suit that horse or can solve the problem much sooner with less effort.
Do not get discouraged; there is a solution for every problem and if you study a bad behaving horse long enough, the answer and method of operation will come to you. Getting to the source of the problem will relieve the symptoms.