Behavior Changes After Foaling
We adopted an eight-year-old pregnant mare who was as sweet as could be from the time we got her until the day after she foaled. She is now rather ill-tempered. We can no longer touch hershe pins her ears back and once bit my husband. She is a wonderful mother and allows us to interact with her foal (who is now two months old), so it doesn’t seem that this is about protecting her baby. We were told by the rescue that she was a kicker and biter until she was re-trained by them. Please help uswe want our sweet mare back.
Brenda, thank you for opening your heart and home to take in a rescued animal.
Your mare’s change in behavior might be hormonal or otherwise medical. Step one is a thorough vet exam. Assuming the vet exam is clear, and assuming that the behavior continues even when the foal is weaned, it sounds like you may need to retrain your mare so she learns that biting and kicking do not provide the results she wants. It sounds like she bites and kicks in order to stop you from touching her. I would suggest slowly retraining her that touch feels good, while at the same time teaching her that pinning her ears does not result in you leaving.
There are many techniques to do this. I am going to suggest we not only pair touch with something that feels good, but also pair her ear pinning with something that does not feel good. How about a food reward to cue “feels good” and shaking a soda can containing some pennies for “doesn’t feel good.” I would suggest you conduct the training in a stall, rather than in a pasture, so she cannot simply move away to avoid you. You and your husband can work as a team.
Find some tasty treats that she really likes. Start with you on the outside of the stall and her on the inside. Present the treat in your open palm so she will need to extend her neck a bit out of the stall to obtain it. For the first few presentations, simply give her the treat. Next, you will add a verbal cue of “touch” as she extends her neck for the treattouch her neck for a second with the hand not holding the treat, then give her the treat. If she pins her ears, your teammate should shake the penny can out of sight of the mare; we want her to learn “I pin my ears and this noise happen." Be sure to end sessions only with her taking a treat and not pinning her ears. After several repetitions at this level, you will begin to touch her for longer intervals. Because her behavior had been very appropriate with you in the past, chances are she will cease pinning her ears after a few sessions like this. I also suggest reading through some of the other solutions I have recommended in this column for horses who are uncomfortable with their humans.