View Full Version : Biting the Rope
9th Jun 2004, 08:52 PM
As many of you know, I am currently studying Parelli Level 2 with Ferdie.. we are steadily working through, at the moment our main aims are perfecting sideways game without a fence, leading from a line around the leg and gradually moving the circling game further out on the 22ft line. Anyway, we are making progress and I'm getting OT
today I took him over to the river crossing, to squeeze over it, which he was doing brilliantly - just in walk. He thought it was so much fun he began to get a bit over-excited... his reaction sometimes when he gets over-excitied and doesn't want to listen to my instructions, is to bite away at his rope.
This is an increasingly regular problem.. he did it a bit last year, but we hadn't had it for a couple of months and I thought he'd got over it, but it's happened 3 times this week. He is an obsessive chewer, and he really wants to chew the rope behind his chin, he throws his head around trying to get the rope in his mouth, and the more he throws his head the more he can't get at the rope (as it's waving in the air!) he then starts throwing his front legs out in front of him to try and catch it, and then, if he still hasn't got it, he starts rearing to try and pounce on it, and beyond that starts broncing in circles in a mad attempt to get the rope! As we were in an isolated field, I tried to think quickly, and a temporary situation was to attatch the rope to the noseband, where he could bite it easily, and his spaz-attack stopped as he was satisfied and happy! But that's no permenant solution.
Back in the winter, when there was a Parelli helpline, I asked about this, but Alison Jones reckons he would grow out of it, and I shouldn't do anything about it, as then it will be more of a game eg. the more I remove it, the more he'll bite it back... but it has been getting worse recently, he's showing no signs of getting used to it.
He is the same with leading with a bridle, leading with a normal headcollar etc. but doesn't attempt to do so ridden. When he is being lead he either starts the mad dance as described above, or tries to get the part of rope near my hand, which means he swings his head round to grab the rope with his teeth bared.. but his ears are pricked.. he really isn't biting me, he just becomes fixated with this rope!
He is a nibbler in general, you can't leave him with anything, he loves picking things up and throwing them, he has before now grabbed my carrot stick off me and waved it and the savvy string at me, forcing me to retreat from this flying string! He likes to break things, enjoys removing light covers from the back of the trailer etc.
I know he's not being mean to *me* but he is so fixated on this rope, and he is so quick to throw his toys out of the pram, that I'm finding it hard to think of a solution to this :rolleyes:
Any help please?
10th Jun 2004, 06:47 AM
Ferdie doesn't hlf go out of his way to get that rope!
Our babies do this quite alot, but it was getting to a point were half the rope was disappearing down their throats so i used the yo-yo game, giving them a long phase 1 then going through my phases quite quickly and as soon as the dropped it i stopped, but only for a short pause, then went on to ask for a circle, walk about whilst circling them then when i hit the fence ask for sideways from the circle, it took their minds off the rope!
Or squirt something really nasty tasting on the rope!
Sorry this probably isn't very useful!
Have you rang Kaffa, she is so lovely and so helpful.
Still waiting for L1 results!
10th Jun 2004, 09:42 AM
My 4 year old does the same thing, although he has 'grown out' of it a bit now and isn't nearly as frantic!
I started off doing Parelli, but I'm now doing 'Australian Natural Horsemanship' with him which seems to work better!
I decided after months of chewing the rope that enough was enough and started to back him up every time he tried to chew it.
It seemed to work very well, but I'm not sure if it would work with Ferdie!
Persevere, he probably will realise it's a bit pointless eventually!
15th Jun 2004, 05:35 PM
Rope chewing can also be a sign of stress (displacement behaviour) - so perhaps its worth considering if he is happy with what you are asking of him, or perhaps his teeth need checking ?
My youngster also plays with everything and it drives me mad!! His favorite is trying to climb in the skip bucket and he is 17hh!!!
Hope you get it sorted
17th Jun 2004, 09:33 PM
Sorry.. I'm a bit late picking this up!
It's a tricky one this.. he's such a difficult horse to understand sometimes.. he combines extreme dominance, with sudden anxiety due to a bit of a sketchy past, so while ridden work is now becoming really fantastic, handling is still variable to say the least!
My Mum thinks that he starts to fight with the rope once he is fed up of doing games, which could mean after 5 minutes, or after 2 hours.. of course I only do as much as seems sensible gauging his mood, but as soon as he deteriorates into the rope fighting stage, there is not much you can do :rolleyes: Perhaps I need to try and make our groundwork more interesting, as he thinks of himself as rather intelligent (even if, hush hush, he isn't!) perhaps the games in their current form are quite boring for him and his extreme playfulness.
When he started this the other day, I simply took the halter off and put it away, we carried on to do a little bit of Parelli games 1-4 with no halter on, and he was responding well. I only asked for a little bit, one or two steps over or one or two steps back, but because he couldn't distract himself, he was really listening to me! Perhaps this may be a route forwards?
I don't think backing him up each time he chews the rope would work, as it is like a downwards spiral, he can't get the rope because he moves his head too violently, so he gets more violent, and is totally tuned out to me :rolleyes:
Flowergirl, I noticed on your website that there are Bach flower remedies that may help with dominant horses.. any info?
17th Jun 2004, 10:14 PM
I hadn't suggested this before, because I don't think it's the direction you're trying to go (sovling the mouthiness completely)...but it's still an idea. Can you give him something that he *is* allowed to put in his mouth? He might be more content with a pacifier of some kind; a lot of horses like hard brushes, or some sort of rubber toy.
It does help with dogs who are mouthy, to take away the thing they're not allowed to chew, and give them something that is permitted. Quite a few dogs eventually get over mouthiness once they're allowed to get it out of their system. Dogs that stay mouthy, but who are aware that some things are chewable and some not, will usually chew the things they're allowed to chew. It might help with a mouthy horse.
It's still probably not the kind of solution you're looking for, but I figured it was worth expressing :)
17th Jun 2004, 11:43 PM
Yes the Bach Flower remedies would be great for him, to be honest I would have to know more about him to prescribe properly as every horse is very different and each will need a different set of remedies for thier particular problems. But from what you've said I would give him the following prescription:
Vine for his dominating behaviour
Chestnut bud for focus and concentration
Star of bethlehem for his past (presuming you mean he was abused in some way)
vervain for the extreme playfulness
You would need to buy a 30ml dropper bottle as well and put in 2 drops of each remedy 5ml of organic (40%) brandy and fill with spring water.
Any questions let me know.
You can try these or if you would like a consultation for a more precise prescription email me on email@example.com
PS I would keep the sessions very very short - to short for him to get bored or lose concentration - build them up but break off just before it becomes enough. Horses actually learn better this way as the nervous system takes up to 48 hours to digest the info properly!
18th Jun 2004, 12:05 AM
Warrior my old horse would chew anything he could get hold of. His was stress related and this was his way of relieving it. When I first got him he was absolutley manic! When we rode out he turn his head round really fast until he could grab his reins and he'd chew on them madly. I had him 9 months and went through 8 pairs of reins from where he literally chewed through them. When he was led in a head collar he'd grab the lead rope to chew it and when tied up he'd always have his lead rope in his mouth. When we were showing in-hand he always had to atleast have hold of the leather in-hand thing (god its late I can't even think!). If you tried to stop him he'd have his panick attacks (he was a slightly trouble little guy and would have panick attacks). He still does it a bit now but its more of a habbit rather than a compulsive thing which is what it was before. The vet said Warrior was basicually like somebody with sever anxiety and put his rope chewing (which was many of his little things) down to being his main way of coping with his emotions which he couldn't control. Usually fear but some times excitment for expample when he was at shows. Because Warrior found being tied up out side his stable or being led to the field a 100 times bigger deal than most horses, nobody knows why he just lived on his nerves. And biting the rope was like his stress relief. So maybe, although not to the same degree, but when Ferdie gets bored or angry or frightened etc his way of telling you or relieving him self is to bite the rope.
Galadriel what you said is really interesting. Vinny is very mouthy, I know its probably just a baby thing but its still been a problem. He doesn't bite but if he gets mouthy enough he can nip acciedently which hurts enough! He is constantly trying to mouth everything me, buckets, brush, my feet, Flyte, anything he can get near. And when your trying to groom him and he just wants to chew on you it makes life difficult so he has his own feed bucket which he gets to play with and chew on his much as he wants while I'm around him or trying to work with him grooming etc. It really helps but I was a bit worried that I'd be encouraging him to chew things which would lead to biting. But you don't think it will?
18th Jun 2004, 01:06 AM
Originally posted by Tor&Warrior
And when your trying to groom him and he just wants to chew on you it makes life difficult so he has his own feed bucket which he gets to play with and chew on his much as he wants while I'm around him or trying to work with him grooming etc. It really helps but I was a bit worried that I'd be encouraging him to chew things which would lead to biting. But you don't think it will?
Tor! Inhale. ;)
All I can tell you is the way it works with dogs, because I've never had a horse quite that mouthy. With the dogs, anytime they get mouthy, you give them the toy they *are* allowed to chew. If necessary, take away whatever they're chewing, and give them the one they're allowed to have.
They will learn that they can chew on some things, and not on others; when they want to chew, they'll look for the things they're allowed to chew on.
I can't imagine it would be all that different with horses. You're not teaching him to bite at *you*, you're teaching him that there is ONE thing that he may chew on (and it's not you, or the lead, or...)
Also--with dogs, if you do not allow them to chew ANYthing when they feel chewy, it can become almost like a compulsion; denying it to them makes it more of a need. They are less likely to overcome the chewiness over time, also; it's like they never get it out of their system. I would think it might also work that way with horses.
20th Jun 2004, 09:59 PM
Interesting Galadriel... he does actually have a football on a rope which he is allowed to bite and chew, but the majority of the time he doesn't want to. He prefers to take whatever I have in my hands, or move things into my way or shut gates... I think he desperately wants a pair of hands so he can cause even more havoc!
Just watching him with this rope, gave me the feeling that it wasn't so much that he needed to chew, more that he was just annoyed with having a rope behind his chin, and was working himself into an angry mood as it jerked away from him.
Anyway, I may be getting somewhere, I had a good feeling today. I thought, lets not so much concentrate on breaking the habit of him biting the rope, but more on building the habit of listening to me, in the hope that by building that habit, his anger with the rope will not be so forefront in his mind. If that makes sense to anyone??!!
Ferdie is established in Parelli Level1, even if he will do it somedays and not others with the halter on... so I have taken the halter off, and instead have a bum bag of treats! I seemed to be getting much more of his attention, of course, we are only in his field, but he stayed with me, responded to move away from pressure, I could motion to lead him out onto the circle game and he responded, he was backing up from a wiggle of my finger, and coming back in from relaxing my posture. He also did some sideways game against the fenceline, albeit not perfectly sideways. Whilst it was very odd not having the security of the halter, I think I had so much more attention from him, so that when he began his very dominant behaviour, I was able to sternly say 'Ferdie' and he looked at me, and I could back him up, without further argument on his part. After he had done some good work, I gave him a very very tiny amount of food and some friendly game, but I guess I shall have to be very careful about when he receives any treats. I'm slightly worried that they seem like cheating, but I just felt so much better about NH after his positive reactions tonight :)
So, do you think I may be on a good trail here? I still think it's possible to improve and develop his seven games without the halter.. he was actually doing yo-yo to a distance of about 20 feet without a halter or rope, so I think other things could also get to that standard?
20th Jun 2004, 11:04 PM
Sounds like you are doing a great job to me and getting good results!
21st Jun 2004, 02:43 AM
I thought, lets not so much concentrate on breaking the habit of him biting the rope, but more on building the habit of listening to me, in the hope that by building that habit, his anger with the rope will not be so forefront in his mind. If that makes sense to anyone??!!
It made sense to Tom and Bill Dorrance (and their followers/contemporaries: Brannaman, Parelli, Cox, Pate, Hunt, etc.), who were of the opinion (to paraphrase) that a horse that is nervously chewing on things doesn't have a mouth problem, nor an excitment problem; it has a foot problem: the feet are not moving enough.
Horses naturally (i.e., instinctively: genetically) resolve their fears and anxiety by moving; to another place. When they're really anxious or fearful, this can result in the famous 1/4 mile run (or further). This instinctive behavior is also the basis for bolting and running off.
Your horse is not allowed to resolve his anxiety naturally, by running off - he is required to stay with you; so he chews, and otherwise acts out.
From your description, it sounds like your horse is anxious (rather than excited), and keeping him busy (i.e., "Give him a job to do.") by moving his feet will help him learn to overcome his anxiety.
I suspect that when you worked on his "...listening to me...", you did so by making him do something that required him to move his feet. In other words, you addressed the cause (he's not busy enough with his feet), rather than the symptom (chewing).
This is exactly the correct action to take anytime he chews, or even thinks about chewing (or any other vice).
Put him to work (on the Seven Games or whatever) until he works through his anxiety; then, let him stand and consider the comfort of not moving (and not being anxious).
When he starts chewing again, repeat. Or, better yet, keep him busy enough, that he doesn't start chewing.
Also, please understand that the "job" you require him to do should not be something new and unfamiliar to him when he's anxious, as that would heighten his anxiety. Make it something he knows, such as the Seven Games, or their variants.
I guess that I'd work him continuously in and out of the Seven Games (or alternatives), during a training session, with very little standing/idleness between games. I'd keep the horse so busy thinking through it's movements, and getting good at them, that it would not have time (nor inclination) to chew on anything. First, this game; then, that one; then, another. When I stopped, it would be for about five-to-ten seconds, just as a release/reward; then, I'd lead the horse forward, on a short walk (maybe 20 feet), to clear it's mind (again, by moving those feet).
Then, we'd start again with a series of movements.
Keep him busy moving his feet, and he'll lose the chewing.
21st Jun 2004, 02:54 AM
Very interesting, Harry. Makes a lot of sense. Horses I've known who were very mouthy weren't usually trying to be evasive by mouthing, they were just trying to get SOMEthing into their mouths; provided with a pacifier, they were usually pacified. I can see how anxiety as a reason for mouthiness could be very different.
Sounds like Harry's info contributes a lot to the track you're already starting on, Rachel. I hope it works out for you; I'll be very interested to hear more :)
21st Jun 2004, 07:47 AM
It's quite difficult sometimes with Ferdie, he seems to have a multi-sided personality. He can be very dominant, often stallionish, yet he can also get quite anxious and worried by other things. I think he used to be more anxious being handled from the ground, and almost developed this pacifier as a habit, which he can now turn to whenever he doesn't fancy doing what I have suggested. He also gets quite angry quite quickly, and sometimes I think he bites at the rope in anger also.
The thing is, to get any attention at all from him I had to take the halter off because once he has started trying to grab the rope behind his chin, nothing that I can say or do, will stop him. He has fallen over on the circling game before as he was writhing away trying to get the rope at the same time... I would like to move his feet every time he grabs the rope, but in biting the rope he just puts up a huge communication barrier, which leaves me stood at the end of the rope unable to get a message across to him :( Oddly though, once I am in the saddle, he no longer displays this behviour, and is the happiest most willing ride you could wish for :D He is unusually brave under saddle too, he jumps anything, he goes anywhere, and he does it all with pleasure!
SO.. on the ground, the halter is off, as that's the only way I can stop losing our communication. But, as a question, at what point should I re-introduce the halter... say should I leave it for a few weeks, or should I put it on at the end of every short session and allow him just to stand still with it on?
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