Tag Archives: equine shock collars
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.

Hi,

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 Dictionary.com:
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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Science Friday: How “Natural” or Humane Are Equine Shock Collars?

Science Friday: How “Natural” or Humane Are Equine Shock Collars?

Just when I start to have faith in the intelligence of trainers and horsepeople, a reader question to Julie Goodnight on the category of horse behavior, on her website sets me back.

The questioner relates problems associated with a four-year-old draft mare in training under harness who is respectful to people but aggressive toward a pasturemate gelding.

Generally they get along fine. However, sometimes she just lays into him kicking, biting, running at him and charging him. Sometimes we are in the pasture with them when this behavior is going on. Needless to say, we are a bit nervous about getting caught in the crossfire.

Two questions for you:

1) Some of this is no doubt just normal horse behavior. Is there an underlying training issue though that we should be addressing with our mare?

2) She has never demonstrated any tendency at kicking towards us. We do recognize the risk to our safety when she is acting this way towards the gelding and we happen to be in the way. But is it likely that a horse acting this way with another horse will start getting that kicking tendency with humans?

Clearly, the questioner is new to horsekeeping. That’s not a problem. Everyone is new in the beginning. They depend on good, safe advice from those who have experience. One would think that well-known trainers like Goodnight would dispense sensible, time-tested advice on how to deal with such issues. This is the problem: wait until you read what Goodnight suggests as an alternative to learning about horse behavior and how to handle horses on the ground. I wonder if she gets a kickback from the manufacturers of the product she obliquely endorses.

While the behavior you describe could be chalked up to normal herd behavior, some horses can be classified as bullies. These horses are unnecessarily aggressive towards others. In other words, even after dominance has been fully established, they continue to attack other horses around them—seemingly for no good reason other than just to pick on them. If the gelding is not doing anything to deserve these attacks, then I’d say your mare is a bully.
There is one sure-fired method of curing aggressive horses and I have used it a few times for this purpose. It is a shock collar. It straps around the horse’s neck and is operated off a remote control, issuing a mild and brief shock when you push the button on the remote. Shocking her for her two or three times for her unwarranted and dangerous behavior would probably be all it would take to permanently resolve her of the aggressiveness.

The Vicebreaker

It is intended for use with extreme behavior that is harmful to horse, humans and/or property and it is highly effective. I’ve used it for stall and trailer kickers, for aggressive horses and for a tantrum throwing horse, who threw a wall-eyed destructive tantrum any time you’d take his buddy away. In most cases, one or two training sessions resolved the bad behavior; for the tantrum thrower, it took a few more.

Many people are initially turned off by this approach—I suppose thinking it is cruel or too harsh. But in my opinion, in certain circumstances, it is the most humane approach. I know of a horse who has now kicked and killed two horses by kicking them and breaking their legs. Then, take the case of a stall kicker—whose behavior can cause him serious injury and is destructive to property (and may result in him being evicted from a boarding barn). The most common training technique for this vice is to hang “kicking chains” on the horse’s hind legs which wrap him in the legs every time he kicks (and bumps his legs every time he moves). It will discourage him from kicking but you have to leave the chains on forever—not a very nice thing for the horse. Whereas one or two sessions with the shock collar would permanently cure him of stall kicking and prevent him from injury.

I would think it might have even more effects than that. Like shock collars for dogs, this seems to me to be a case of thoughtless overkill. The horse’s sense of touch is very keen. To assault him via this avenue strikes me as cruel and extreme. But maybe I’m being naive. There are situations in which horses can be even more dangerous than the horse the reader describes. This from Stopping Aggression Problems With an Equine Shock Collar from the AAEP Convention, 2004 by Stephanie L. Church:

Veterinary expense, property damage, loss of use of affected horses, and the emotional cost associated with the death of an animal if injured severely during an aggressive act all demand a reliable way to change this behavior in the horse. Kennedy has experienced success in using an equine electronic collar with a number of horses.
Aggressive behavior in horses results in a range of injuries that often must be attended to by a veterinarian, from minor cuts and bruises to career-ending or life-threatening injuries. These injuries are a direct result of being bitten or kicked, or chased through or over a fence.

We have all seen horses that have experienced these injuries. We have all pondered how to prevent them from happening. First step in prevention: veterinary examination to rule out health issues that might contribute to the dangerous behavior. Cryptorchidism, ovarian cysts, pain, conformational issues that negatively affect perception can all cause aggressive behavior. Stop right there if these and more are detected. You know what to do. But what if no possible medical cause is detected? The next step is determining how to stop the undesirable behavior.

Isolate the horse?
Rehome the horse?
Euthanize the horse?

This article says,

some horses are emboldened by a barrier since they know the target horse will be less likely to show retribution since a fence is in the way. Not every horse owner is blessed with dead space between fence lines, and many boarding stables aren’t able to accommodate a horse requiring isolation. Isolation can lead to further behavioral problems. Then we reach our final option, which is to sell the aggressive horse. Many do not want to do this because the horse may be exceptional in every other way–they just have a hard time getting along with others.

What does the research say about the effectiveness of equine shock collars? Do they eliminate aggressive behavior in the short or long term?

One study looked at a group of 15 horses that were either aggressive toward a new horse in the pasture, aggressive toward a horse on the opposite side of a fence, or aggressive within an established herd.

About the collar used: The collar rests anywhere behind the throatlatch, and it does not matter where on the neck the receiver is touching the horse.

When you see the horse doing what he shouldn’t, you push the button. Start at the lowest (shock) level–I didn’t count horses that were just posturing with their ears back, I only corrected them when they made an aggressive move toward another horse,” she explained. On the transmitter, which has six levels of intensity, the required levels ranged from 2-5 to stop the aggression, with a mean of 4. One to four stimulations were used on each horse, but most only required two to change their behavior.

Aggressive mares in a pasture responded to stimulation when they were aggressive toward a new mare added to the pasture. Upon the first stimulation, aggressive mares would have instant posture changes. Those mares tended to follow the new mare around for a few minutes, apparently trying to figure out if the new mare was responsible for the shock. After the second shock, the aggressive mares apparently decided to befriend the new mares, seeking to graze next to them and accepting them as part of the group.

he total time before first and last stimulations required to change the behavior ranged from 10 minutes to 2 and a half days. Collars remained on the horses for one week, and aggressive behavior was monitored for a period of 30 days following the initial correction period. None of the horses exhibited aggressive behavior during that interval. The collar was determined to be extremely effective in deterring aggressive behavior.

The authors of the study say that the collar is effective because the correction is instantaneous and concurrent with the undesirable behavior, and invisible. There is no apparent agent of discipline. As such, they say, the collar can be used to deter aggressive behavior against humans, too.

Most issues are not mean horses. Usually it’s a lack of respect, and they know that they can dominate the owner and can avoid a whip. Most know it’s bad, but think they can get away with it. If the client can be consistent in observing the horse, the collar can work well for cribbing and stall walkers as well. These types of behaviors won’t be stopped by one or two sessions of use. However, many cribbers can become collar-wise and any time the horse is likely to crib, the owner needs to be present with the transmitter.

ELECTRONIC COLLAR STUDY RESULTS

Group 1: Pasture Aggression (Six Mares)
Number of times stimulated: 1–4
Time between first and last stimulation: 10 minutes–1.5 hours
Total length of time collar was on horse: 1 week for all horses
Levels used: 3–5
Number of horses that reverted to aggressive behavior in the month after the removal of the collar: 0*

Group 2: Aggression With Barrier (Three Stallions, Two Mares, and One Gelding)
Number of times stimulated: 2–4
Time between first and last stimulation: 15 minutes–2 1/2 days
Total length of time collar was on horse: 1 week for all horses
Levels used: 3–5
Number of horses that reverted to aggressive behavior in the month after the removal of the collar: 0*

Group 3: Paddock Aggression (Two Geldings)
Number of times stimulated: 2–4
Time between first and last stimulation: 1.5–2 days
Total length of time collar was on horse: 1 week for all horses
Levels used: 2–4
Number of horses that reverted to aggressive behavior in the month after the removal of the collar: 0

Group 4: Aggression Associated With Feeding (One Mare)
Number of times stimulated: 4
Time between first and last stimulation: 2 days
Total length of time collar was on horse: 1 week
Levels used: 3–4
Number of horses that reverted to aggressive behavior in the month after the removal of the collar: 0

*Other observations that were made in the pasture and over fence groups were that the results, although long-lasting for that particular neighbor or new horse, did not extend to a new neighbor or additional new horse being introduced and the process had to be repeated.

I honestly believe that the same results can be achieved with less harmful and, if you’ll pardon the pun, shocking means. Training and companionship with humans along with other horses by professionals and well educated owners cannot be replaced by a torture device. If a horse has aggression issues, a lack of “respect” may be the result of many deeper causes. Only with time, patience and inquiry will these issues be discovered and resolved. A shock collar is a cruel bandaid.

I am appalled that Julie Goodnight would hawk such a contraption when her claim to fame is the training of horses. If we can’t trust the trainers who are supposed to teach us how, then who can we trust?

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