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Reader Question: Nothing Else Has Worked; I’m Considering Using A Shock Collar

Reader Question: Nothing Else Has Worked; I’m Considering Using A Shock Collar

I received this email from a reader who is considering using an equine shock collar on her unruly gelding as a last resort. I wrote about equine shock collars as endorsed by Julie Goodnight here.


I was considering buying equine shock collar for my horse and came across your article. I’m keen to understand what the alternative is when you have exhausted every avenue in terms of seeing if the horse has physical pain and it seems it is purely behavioural.
My gelding is not on the extreme end of the spectrum I am sure but is at times dangerous enough to the mare he shares a paddock with and to me that I have considered selling him.
He generally bullies the mare and when she comes into season he becomes quite aggressive towards her, last time pinning her down with his teeth by her neck while trying to climb on top of her.
With me he is generally pushy and argues about anything I ask him to do, and if I am out riding and other horses are running around, he then puts on his best stallion impression, tail up, neck arched, screaming at the top of his voice while plunging and spinning around.
I have had countless people of all sorts of therapeutic disciplines look at him and almost all have concluded there is not a huge amount wrong with him. Vets too and I recently had him tested as to whether he is a rig and his testosterone levels came back as lower than a normal gelding would be.
So here I am, trying to work out what on earth I do. I have had a trainer out who has given me some great things to work on with his behaviour toward me (basically me being a stronger more consistent yet fair leader) and I can see that over time this will work.
However I am at a loss of what to do with him and the mare. I am fortunate to be on our property now so can separate them but this is obviously unnatural and not a nice long term solution for either of them. Most of the day they graze happily together and he even lets her share his food, but in the afternoon, when he is bored, he just starts pushing her around and bothering her. And as I say, when she comes into season this escalates quite dramatically to the point one or both of them are going to get seriously injured.
If you disagree with shock collars, what would you suggest I do?
Many thanks in advance for your response.

I don’t believe there is ever an end to the opportunities for change in a horse. A shock collar is not going to make a lasting difference because horses, like people and other animals, cannot learn while they are in pain or afraid. And that’s just what a shock collar produces.

Imagine being shocked by a stun gun at what you believe are random times during what you consider perfectly normal behavior. How would you make sense of what is happening to you? I think it would take a very long time and a great deal of inductive reasoning. I’m not sure horses are either capable of or willing to apply this degree of reasoning to painful, seemingly random events like those produced by a shock collar.

The fact that you have had your gelding checked out extensively is commendable. But in terms of exhausting every available avenue to improve your horse’s behavior, you may need to consider that there is more to the behavior of a horse than physical or training-based behavior. If you have tried a wide variety of training solutions that have not worked (have you given them enough time for your horse to really learn?), then perhaps what you have is a loosely related group of behavioral reactions caused by fear, anxiety, or the fear of pain. These often are principal causes of “mis”behavior in horses.

It might be helpful to list the “mis”behaviors and group them according to whether your horse is acting aggressively, defensively, overly playfully, or just blowing off steam. Which ones seem to be most prevalent? What happens before “what happens happens (so to speak)”? What happens when you try certain solutions? What works and what does not? Keeping such a log even for a week might show you useful patterns in finding a solution.

After reading your description of his antics, I am reminded of my gelding Buster, who everyone said was too much horse for me. He was. At 17hh (I’m only 5′) and absolutely loaded with personality and great gusto for causing trouble (play) and breaking stuff with his teeth [(investigation) (hence the paddock name)], Buster also enjoyed imitating stallion-like behavior when it suited him. And it suited him every time I felt less than confident in handling/riding him, which was quite often!

In fact, Buster nearly killed me one afternoon as we rode back home along a fence line of fillies and I tried, mistakenly, to rein in his airs above the ground and “look at me I’m such a stud” antics by exerting “control,” rather than just doing the sensible thing and getting off, asking him to drop his head, and working on his body in such a way that I would connect with his limbic system to engage his attention, calm him, and make the situation safe. I should have and could have accomplished this easily with Tellington TTouch© bodywork and a few maneuvers from the ground. There is so much I regret about how I handled Buster, but I did not know at the time that connecting with his emotions through his body could effect such a profound change. In the intervening years, I have seen astonishing changes in just this kind of behavior in all sorts of horses with consistent, calm, quiet work with the TTouch Method.

Reading your descriptions of your horse’s behavioral issues makes me think it won’t help at all to get into a battle of wills by asserting yourself as a consistent, firm leader. This just won’t work. In fact, it has not worked, according to your own admission. So why not try something else? Something different, that affects animals in a completely different ways through different pathways?

Here is an article my friend Caroline Larrouilh and I collaborated on to define TTouch. I hope it helps you to see the possible benefits for you and your gelding.

Alternative Definition of Tellington TTouch In Light of Recent Findings in Neuroscience
by Caroline Larrouilh and Kim Carneal

The Tellington TTouch Method® is a holistic approach to physical, mental and emotional wellness that seamlessly integrates body work and in-hand work (ridden work in the case of horses), promoting a state of homeostasis (or coherence*) in both animal and handler. Maintaining a stable physiological and emotional state under varying types of stresses is the ultimate goal of all organisms. TTouch has a direct effect on the natural physiological responses necessary to achieve homeostatic equilibrium.

TTouch is the first integrated system of touch and in-hand work to consciously and systematically recognize and honor inter-species communication, seeking to create a relationship between animal and human based not on dominance or the “alpha” model, but rather on the acknowledgement of the animal as an individual. Instead, the Tellington Method teaches the handler to lead by example: to approach and work with the animal with respect and empathy; to break information into manageable bits based on what we know about the way animals’ brains and emotions work; and to give them time and space to process what is asked, using feedback from the animal to guide the next step. The Tellington Method teaches the handler herself flexibility and open-mindedness when seeking solutions, requiring that they adapt creatively to the situation to help the animal learn new behaviors. The Tellington Method thus differs from more dogmatic, academic training approaches with circumscribed toolboxes that rely on ethology-based dominance or fear to force obedience rather than engaging the mind of the horse.

In each of its applications, the Tellington Method allows for an animal and handler to connect at a cellular level, experiencing a state of harmony characterized by a calm, focused awareness and trusting confidence in each other. Each species reaches emotional and physical homeostasis individually and as a unit.

The electromagnetic field of the heart is responsible for generating heart coherence.

Heart coherence in turn effects an empathetic experience while increasing levels of neurohormone oxytocin (calm connection through physical contact) and decreasing cortisol (stress) in both animal and handler.

This degree of calm, engaged trust in mutual homeostasis (or coherence) greatly enhances the learning capability of both animal and handler. Research has shown that new skills are more quickly and easily learned in a state of calm, and are better retained and more easily generalized, or applied over a range of different situations. New scientific research about mirror neurons† may explain in part why the Tellington Method is so effective. Its exercises are thought to awaken mirror neurons in the brains of both animals and humans through both the sense of sight and touch. The sense of touch, along with the physical proximity and handler state of mind, is thought to further enhance the capacity for cooperative learning and performance via

Mirror Neurons form a large part of how we relate to others.

Discovered by Marc Iacoboni, they are literally responsible for the old saying, “monkey see, monkey do.

A key difference between the Tellington Method and others is that many of the benefits for the animal are handler independent and reciprocal. TTouch at its foundation is not a one-way endeavor like some methods of animal training, “do it my way because I am lead mare” or massage where the recipient is passive and the massage therapist is active, but interactive because heart coherence, neurohormone levels, and mirror neurons amount to cellular coherence in both beings. TTouch works on the entire body, brain and mind of both species involved. TTouch benefits both animal and handler all the way down to the cellular level.

* coherence–consistency, cohesion. From
coherence (kō-hîr’əns, -hěr’-) A property holding for two or more waves or fields when each individual wave or field is in phase with every other one

mirror neurons–neural cells found in the premotor cortex, supplementary motor area, primary somatosensory cortex, and the inferior parietal cortex of the brains of humans. While studies have not been conducted on horses, it is believed that most mammals share both similar brain structures and the capacity for mirror neuron function. In monkeys, functioning mirror neurons have been found in the inferior frontal gyrus. See Rizzolatti, Giacomo; Craighero, Laila (2004). “The mirror-neuron system”. Annual Review of Neuroscience 27: 169–192.

First, I suggest moving the mare for the short term, for her safety. If you are not her owner, you are at risk of being held responsible for any harm that might come to her through his hijinks. I would not worry at this point about what is “natural” and not natural.

Second, how old is he and how much exercise is he getting? A young horse (like my Buster) with tons of energy and not enough exercise is somewhat like a bored kid with too much Mountain Dew in his system and no hall monitor. “Eeee! What’s next? What can I do with all this energy?”

If he is not getting consistent workouts in interesting and stimulating environments (I am NOT talking about being run in a round pen or W/T/C around, around and around in an arena or lunging) enough to tire him out, then it’s only natural that in the afternoon he would seek out his own stimulation. “Buster” busted a lot of stuff, including me, and eventually, himself. Don’t let this happen to you.

As far as escalation with mares in season, I suggest that after you take a serious look at TTouch bodywork and groundwork, and if you choose to try some out, that you ask him to lower his head and lead him past mares in season using TTouch ground work methods. If you have to stop along the fence line and get him calm, do so through the use of bodywork. It’s quick ad simple, and the calm focus it creates cannot be beat. You are not then in danger of being injured in a battle for control.

Once you have success with a fence separating the mares, try working him (use a partner to work the mare, for safety and to reduce the possibility of mayhem) with the mare that is most familiar to him. If you have even a small success, then you know you are going in the right direction. Keep it up.

What I am suggesting is a methodical examination of how, when why and where his problems occur and what you have done in response. What works, what hasn’t. Follow this by an equally systematic connection with your horse’s mind, body and spirit in a way you might not have done before.

I truly feel that you will not have to resort to a shock collar if you try out these suggestions. Please let me know what you think and if you find a solution. I wish you the best of luck and safety!

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Anky Van Grunsven Accidentally Shows Her Slip

Anky Van Grunsven Accidentally Shows Her Slip

When I was a child, rude behavior, snarky comments, and general expression of my mischievous streak were greeted with this sotto voce comment from my mother: “Kim, your slip is showing.” A reference to what at the time (and especially in the South!) was an unacceptable deviation from decency. Your undergarments (and your true self) were not to be aired in public.

It appears that Anky Van Grunsven, arguably the creator of Rollkur, has flipped up her dress and waggled her slip for the world to see in threatening emails to Astrid Appels of

image courtesy the Daily Telegraph

See the press release from Astrid below.

Date: Wed, 25 Aug 2010 00:03:58 +0200
Subject: Press Release
To: Astrid Appels

Press Release


Team trainer Dutch Dressage Team Threathens Journalist!

Goal of Lawsuit: Anky van Grunsven demands removal of photo and claims damages

The renowned dressage rider Anky van Grunsven feels defamated by equestrian journalist Astrid Appels of According to Anky images of her horses can not be connected to the controversial rollkur training method. This is a system developed by Anky and her trainer and life partner Sjef Janssen in which the horse is bending its neck in an extreme way.

Following years of research and a conclusion by the International Equestrian Federation (FEI), the Dutch Equestrian Federation (KNHS) has decided in February that, “as of today hyperflexion/rollkur is seen as an aggressive way of a deep moving horse. This is forbidden as well as any head-neck position which is obtained in an aggressive way.
The LDR-method, on the other hand, obtains a deep bending of the neck without force and this is allowed.”

Much has been written about this controversial system in combination with animal welfare. And so has journalist Astrid Appels who has paid attention to this topic on her website Through highly aggressive and intimidating emails Anky van Grunsven and Sjef
Janssen have tried to prevent this, but Appels appeals to the freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

In his correspondence Sjef Janssen has sweared at Appels like a sailor. A few quotes:
“You are a tiny miserable figure”
“You’ll be next”
“You’re totally deranged”
“You’re just pathetic”
“You continue to be a super bitch”
“you belong in line with the German journalist mafia”

Appels is shocked by these intimidating and slanderous remarks by the official team trainer of The Netherlands and considers taking necessary legal steps against this.

This court case will start in Hertogenbosch on 8 September 2010.

Appels is represented by Mr. J.A. Weda

Wow. This shows just what the big name riders have to lose if stripped of their methods. Recrimination and anger of this magnitude do nothing to further the sport. Enough is enough. Bad faith, abuse, misrepresentation, and outright threats reveal participants to be manipulative and unpleasant behind closed doors. Vicious emails have a way of becoming public. See?

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By Any Means Necessary? Clinton Anderson’s Training Tip of the Week

By Any Means Necessary? Clinton Anderson’s Training Tip of the Week

image courtesy

When working with your horse, you need to have the mentality: Do what you have to do to get the job done. Do it as easy as possible, but as firm as necessary. Whether it takes just a look to make the horse move, or whacking him ten times as hard as you can, do whatever it takes to get the job done. Notice I didn’t say “Do what you have to do unless you feel uncomfortable and then just quit doing it.” That’s what a lot of people do though. They understand that they need to be firmer with their horse when he is disrespectful, but they don’t like the idea of reprimanding him and increasing the pressure. But here’s the bad news: Every time a horse calls your bluff and you back off, you lose a lot of respect. Every time you threaten that he is going to get it and you don’t follow through, it gets worse for the next time. It’s just like with kids, if you make hollow threats, they know that they don’t have to take you seriously, and as a result they get more disrespectful. When you’re working with your horse, always do what you have to do and follow through. Do it as easy as possible, but as firm as necessary.

Um, all the emphasis is mine. I don’t think I need to say anything else.

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The Wrap Up: Questions on My Pet Issues

The Wrap Up: Questions on My Pet Issues

Wrapping up Enlightened Horsemanship Through Touch will involve the weaving of a lot of loose ends. During this three year experiment, I discovered my purpose as a writer. And I found a lot of folks out there who either share my interests or who make interesting and informed contributions to conversations about those interests. Shared biology, neurobiology, psychology, neuropsychology, sociology and equine behavior as they relate to human-equine interactions, specifically training, with a focus on the sensory system, will be my focus.

In the interest of furthering my knowledge about those topics, I’m planning on posting a series of topics and questions that I sincerely hope you all will respond to. In the eventuality that this work leads to a publication, anyone who responds here or via email will be duly credited.

Many, many thanks for reading, and/or taking the time to explore these issues with me.


I’m thinking about the evolutionary and biological precursors of the herd instinct. According to Frans De Waal, as a reflex, and as a biological entity, the herd instinct (and even man as a social animal) goes way back to the deepest, oldest layers of our brains. We share these layers not just with other mammals, but even with “lower” orders such as amphibians and fish. Even as humans began to hunt the savannas, we were still prey animals. Individuals hide within a larger herd to increase security from predators.* De Waal stresses security as the first and foremost reason for social life, and how predation forces individuals together, on both sides of the equation: predator and prey. Needless to say, when reading this, I thought immediately of horses and humans, and how they relate among themselves and to one another.

I am wondering about the roles of mirror neurons** and body synchrony*** in both horses and humans.

Thanks for thinking!

* Frans de Waal, The Age of Empathy, p 19.

**see also: Mirror Neurons Support the Need for Compassionate Horsemanship and
Mirror Neurons, Ownership of the Self, and Proprioception

***Body Synchrony: (whether it is via the pathway of mirror neurons is unknown) the mechanism by which animals move in coordinated movement. Think of large schools of tiny fish rapidly changing direction to avoid a shark, or thousands of wildebeest changing course upon an unseen cue, or, in a scenario more familiar to most of us, a herd of horses doing the same. Even humans make use of body synchrony in conversation, etc., and enjoy such processes as walking in step, dancing, and singing.

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Anna Wise: In Memoriam

Really nice piece on the maverick godmother of mind-brain investigation, Anna Wise.

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Mindful Monday: Memory, Mindfulness and the Marathon

Remaining compassionate toward others is an exercise in endurance these days. The Armageddon folks are probably having a field day with the earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis and such. There does seem to be a lot going on with Mother Earth. And then there are the personal catastrophes.

Mara and Samsara are cyclical, never-ending. Things are always happening to people. I’ll bet each of us knows someone who has recently suffered some loss, some tragedy, some illness or injury that has changes their lives. And as compassionate, mindful people, we jump to offer comfort, support and maybe even a casserole.

When my daughter became catastrophically ill back in 1996, community support kept me from going over the edge. More than a year of assistance from her school, family friends and neighbors, as well as her father’s work acquaintances buoyed us through the dark days. People gave of their time and hearts to a child and her family in grave danger of death in every way. I am grateful to this day.

When a friend in Virginia finally got her very own horse after 30 years of catch riding and leasing, there was a celebration. She hacked out and showed with well-earned pride and a palpable happiness after so many years. Finally she was able to bond with a horse who was truly hers, and vice versa. It was a match made in heaven. Until suddenly the horse died. She was surrounded by love and support as she worked through the loss and grief.

The thing is, I wonder how it is for her now. She hasn’t gotten a new horse. Many months later, I know she is still grieving. No horse, no equestrian life, still catch-riding. I do not have to wonder how it was for me in the ensuing years after the initial catastrophe with my daughter. It went from dreadful to unimaginably worse, with the added burden of managing it alone.

But as with a string of natural disasters, folks get compassion fatigue. Seeing me exhausted and near the edge of insanity, people would recite to me the (they thought) wise analogy of putting the oxygen mask on yourself before putting it on your child. Then they wandered off to make sure that their golden, healthy children got to soccer practice on time. I didn’t resent them for that, but I did resent the lameness of their unsolicited advice. If they’d taken the time to look (which was awfully hard when protecting themselves from the pain that comes along with compassion overload), they’d have seen that my arms were too tired to lift the oxygen mask.

The initial frenzy of empathy and assistance for Courtney King-Dye has hit its zenith. From personal experience, I envision the downslope. Attention will wander toward personal matters. Because raising your own family, caring for your own horses, doing your own job, are understandably a priority. And then there is the next big disaster. Novelty renews compassion without fatigue.

Let me share with you from my experience this fact: while attention from others wanders, and the initial danger eases, struggle goes on. Reports of Courtney’s continued and seemingly miraculous progress pile up, and we may feel that it’s OK to turn our attention elsewhere. And it is, to a certain degree. Spreading the compassion around never hurts. But remaining mindful of the evolving struggle of others keeps our hearts open.

In six weeks, six months, a year, Courtney King-Dye will still be battling the aftereffects of her accident. If we care, we will be there to help. But but but, you say, humans don’t have that long of an attention span. Sadly, we don’t. Especially when it’s not us that’s the issue. Two years down the road, I could have certainly used a casserole on the rare nights I left my daughter in the hospital for a few hours rest in my own bed and respite from stale sandwiches from a machine. It would have been nice to have some of that early frenzied assistance paced out so that I didn’t have to clean up after dogs who’d been waiting patiently for my return, or find a way to get the grass mowed after a six-week absence. Courtney and her family will face the same dilemmas.

What can we do to remain mindful of her continuing battles? If we don’t know her personally, then the casserole idea is pretty much out, along with offering to mow the grass and walk her dogs, or exercise her horses. But there is an option I can think of, and it’s a simple one. The Courtney King-Dye Medical Fund eBay Store has been very successful. But predictably, numbers are down.

If you have a Twitter or Facebook account, you can easily help by posting about it. The rewards of offering something for sale (service or goods) are great. Watching as your item is bid on is fun, and it feels good to know you will help defray the costs of care that are not covered by insurance. For those in the equestrian/equine business, offering something for sale is excellent PR/advertising. As everyone who is reading this knows, riding horses does not pay. You can also bid on items. The prices are well below retail. Planning ahead for gifts throughout the year will help not only your own awareness of Courtney’s strivings to regain her life, but also of the good fortune of your loved ones.

Currently the store has 12 Troxel Reliance Dressage helmets (that normally retail for $159.95) up for grabs with a minimum bid of only $50. The helmet safety campaign t-shirts are also now available in the store for $22.75. These were designed with a very catchy slogan “Strap One On – Everyone’s Doing It” by single mom and dressage rider Jeri Bryant of CA in order to help support Courtney.

Lendon Gray said yesterday that Courtney is making excellent progress. This is very encouraging, but the road to recovery will be a very long one, with lots of physical therapy and specialized rehab. Run solely by Lyndsey White of SUCCEED for no personal gain, the eBay store aims to hit the $10,000 profit mark before the end of this month. That will go a long way toward helping Courtney in her marathon for recovery.

To contact Lyndsey if you want to offer an item for auction in the eBay store, email, or call (859) 420-1006. You can also find progress reports on Facebook and Twitter.

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