I have a 9-month-old Thoroughbred
filly we got when she was three months old. The breeder told us that she
had been orphaned and was bottle- and bucket-fed. They warned me that
she was a bit over-friendly, and that I should stand my ground with her
and try to avoid babying her. They explained that hand-raised foals can
think of themselves as people or think of people as horses, so they can
be too friendly around people.
Well, it's a good thing they warned
me, because I have never seen a horse like this one. This filly will
follow you anywhere. She's like a dog. She wants to be touching you
whenever you're near her. But she has no respect or fear of anything or
anybody. If you try to lead her, she just walks all over you. She's not
only in your face, she's clumsy and pushy, more like an ox instead of a
horse. She gets into everything, knocks things over, and keeps right on
going. She walks through gates to get to people. I can't seem to get
tough enough with her to keep from getting pushed around. You can't go
in the pasture with her, even to get another horse. I'm starting to
dread doing anything with her, and I'm also becoming afraid of her.
Do you have any suggestions? I hate
to hit her all the time. I've had other nippy, pushy youngsters, but
they seemed to learn on the first or second whack. With this filly,
sometimes it's like a game, but mostly it's like she's retarded. She's
not at all mean, and she doesn't bite as much as she bumps and nudges
Will she get over this? I'm
beginning to think it's permanent. Beth
What an apt description of this
type of behavior. Reading your note, several experiences and fearful
moments with similar horses over the years flashed immediately to mind.
They can be good-hearted, goofball lunks one minute, and really
dangerous the next. It's a good question about some sort of mental
deficit. On one hand, the tendency to barge around seems to be a lack of
respect for you and your space; on the other hand, there seems to be a
lack of normal caution, reactivity, and ability to process information.
The behavior doesn't seem to change normally with experience, good or
bad. They don't correct and don't hold a grudge. I don't know of any
research work on that question. But I know exactly what you mean.
For your question about growing out of
it, I've seen several horses like your filly, and none have improved
significantly with age. They changed a little perhaps as they
matured--maybe less playful and more dopey. But with greater size, they
seemed to be more into barging through things and dangerous to be
Any suggestions for what you can do?
Well, that's an even tougher question to answer. One thing that is
commonly recommended is to put your horse into organized work on a longe
line or in a round pen to try to get her to take directions from you and
to get some meaningful interaction going. Then try to build from there.
The recommendation is to start them on organized ground schooling even
earlier than you would for a normal horse. Also, sometimes these horses
do better with different people, probably due to differences in size and
handling style. This is one type of horse which you often hear is more
respectful of men, particularly tall, stern men.
Just recently, we have been working with
a horse which, among other health and behavior problems, has some of
your filly's type of over-friendliness and lack of appropriate respect
for people. That horse came with a history of doing better with male
trainers than with female trainers.
One good thing about your filly--it
doesn't sound like she has an aggressive component to her interaction
with people. Some of the human-bonded critters, in addition to what you
describe, can get aggressive with you just like they might with a herd
mate, turning their butts to you, striking, biting, rearing, and lunging
into you. Sometimes it seems like play, but it's dangerous no matter
what the motivation. Those horses, even as pasture companions, require
special facilities and informed, careful personnel to ensure everyone's
You didn't mention how your filly gets
along with other horses. Some hand-reared or over-handled foals seem to
become misfits with their own species. On top of being a problem around
people, they don't normally mingle with other horses. Some can seem
fearful of horses. That becomes an additional concern for how to provide
a reasonable quality of life for the horse.