What should you do when your Miniature Horse turns his bum to you?
You might’ve been told that was a sign of “disrespect” and you need to chase him off, or even smack him to make sure he will keep his bum away in the future.But before we decide our horse is being “bad”, let’s think about what they’re trying to communicate.
When observing interactions between horses, turning the hindquarter is usually a defensive or submissive gesture. Studies show that it’s a calming signal, a way of communicating stress.
So if our horse is letting us know they’re feeling uncomfortable in the only way they can, then punishment and fear based approaches are not only going to just increase their stress and potentially make them even more likely feel they need to defend themselves, but will undermine any relationship you hope to build. Instead, listen to them. They are asking for space – give it to them. Take a few steps back away from them and a deep breath to show them that you’re relaxed. In many cases, that’s all you’ll need to do to give your horse the confidence to turn and face you again, because now they know that you will listen when they say they’re uncomfortable.
But if you have a horse who is more fearful, then instead of trying to drive the hind end away, focus on getting their face towards you. You don’t need to chase or use any sort of aggressive tactics. Simply offer them a treat, teach them to touch a target, or otherwise make having their face towards you so much more rewarding that they just won’t even think of turning their bum. If they’re very fearful, start with tossing a treat their direction for them to find, work with them in protective contact (through a fence) at first to give them confidence that you’re not going to grab and manhandle them. Instead of teaching them that they have to turn their bum away because you said so (or else!) you’ll be teaching them that you are a very reinforcing place to be and it’s going to be worth their while to point their nose your direction.
We don’t have to be in conflict with our Miniature Horses. We’re on the same team, and need to focus on communication, not correction.
When I posted the above on Facebook last week, I got a number of comments from people who said their horse turned their bum because they wanted scratches. Some said they had to warn people, because they would be afraid they were going to get kicked.
My Bentley backs towards me to tell me he wants to play, because backing is his favourite trick ever. When he takes a liking to a visitor (he is a mule, and quite stranger danger with most people) then he likes to show them his favourite trick, and often they scoot away from him, worried he’s going to kick.
There are many reasons that a horse (or mule) might turn their hindquarters towards a human. Not a single one deserve instant punishment, and every single instance should be evaluated to see what our horse is trying to communicate. It might be that they’re scared, or need some space, or are trying to escape. It might be that they have an itch they’d like you to take care of. And it might be a rare situation, but occasionally they’re just trying to show off their favourite trick. 😉