Common Negative Behaviors

From our outfit to yours, we’re wishing you well and hope you all are getting lots of riding in!  We know that during these strange and difficult times, it is hard for people to get out and get hands on help with their animals.  For the month of April, we offered to everyone our Remote Training Service free of charge.  We would like to extend the offer through the month of May 2020.  How it works:  If you have a question or something you need help with, you can send us a quick video, write us an email or give us a call and we will respond back to help you.  Please send your questions to or call me at (760) 403-3922!    


When I’m not on the road doing horsemanship clinics or private lessons with students, I’m at home in Oak Hills California training horses, mules and donkeys.  At Tindell’s Horse and Mule School, we work with all breeds, all ages, big, little, gaited, colored, long eared or short eared, untouched, to three-strikers.  We work a wide range of equines with different personalities and dispositions.  But despite the large variety of animals we work, there are some very common habits and behaviors that we deal with on a daily basis.  In this article, I would like to talk about a few of the most common negative behaviors that I see in the animals and some ways I like to address these situations.  



This is probably the most common problem that I see.  Separation can be seen at home when your animal is separated from his buddy, even if it’s only 10 feet away or in a different pen, tied to a hitch rail or left by themselves in the trailer.  The most common and noticeable time is when we try to separate them on a trail ride.  I’ve talked about this before.  You can ride in group, you can ride by yourself, but can you ride in a group by yourself?  I feel that there are two common denominators for separation problems which go hand in hand; 1. They have never been weaned and 2. They are not connected with the human.


When I say they have never been weaned, I don’t mean they have never been separated from their mamas, I mean they have never been able to be confident on their own nor are they connected with the human.  Therefore, they are always looking for other animals for support and direction, no matter who that may be.  It reminds me of the saying “if you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with”.  Granted they are herd animals and feel the most comfort in their herd.  However, when we take them out of their natural herd environment, we must become the herd that offers the comfort and direction, which in turn will connected them with us.


The horses, mules or donkeys that have separation issues, that are the most aggressive or uneasy, are the weakest and need something to believe in, which NEEDS to be us.  We need to become their herd.  To help build connection and confidence in your animals, have a plan and use a program.  I feel that by working your animal either in the round pen, on the ground, riding them, trailer loading, tying, hobbling, etc. will help build a connection and ultimately give them confidence in themselves and in us.    


Pawing While Tied:

The most common place that I see animals paw is when they are tied and/or in a trailer.  Pawing is a negative behavior.  Pawing shows nervousness, lack of patience and that they would rather be somewhere else.  Pawing comes from when their mind wants to leave, but their feet can’t go.  They get release from moving their feet and when their feet are “confined” by being tied or in a trailer, they cannot move their feet and leave so they move their feet by pawing to get the perception of leaving.  If they can paw and move their feet while being tied their mind is still hopeful that they can leave.  

A big mistake I see made is when the human sees this behavior and thinks it is unfair, uncomfortable or unsafe and removes them from the situation.  For example, if we tie a horse or mule up and they begin to get anxious or mad or worked up and start pawing and we go to pet them or untie them or remove them from that situation, we just rewarded a negative behavior.  In their mind they think if I paw, they will come and get me, and I get to go somewhere else.  Next time they will paw longer waiting for the release because they related the release to the pawing.  


To help with this habit, I like to work them before I tie them, especially if I already know that they have a habit of pawing.  If I tie one and they start pawing, I will remove them from the situation to work them.  I would either round pen or work them on the ground, get them focused and in a lesson, then tie them.  I believe they all need a P.H.D, Post Holding Degree.  When you tie your animal after they have been worked, make sure they are tied securely and cannot get their head on the ground or their feet over the rope.  I like to tie short and safe and higher than their wither.  It is also helpful to tie in different areas and locations, so they don’t get used to one place.  I would leave them tied until they get quiet.  It may seem hard on them, but it is worth it in the long run for your animals mind.  If you let them run wild through their feet their mind will do the same.  Try not to let your emotions get the best of you.  It can be tough, but I promise they will thank you in the end.    


Pacing and Walking the Fence:

I believe that pacing and walking the fence is the same as pawing while tied, but a deeper-rooted problem.  Like pawing, these habits are a negative release to an animal wanting to be somewhere else.  Although the animal has a lot more movement when pacing or walking the fence, they still have no where to go.  There is no end result.  The habit of pacing or walking the fence can be a challenge to fix.  I like to help them by working them through their feet.  As I mentioned with pawing and separation issues, I would work them to settle their minds.  Get them engaged and focused on something else.  Unlike the pawing while tied, I would not leave them pacing or walking the fence because they will never get quiet if they can keep the same path.  You must work at changing the mind.       


Food Aggression:

Most people only think of animals with food aggression issues as charging the fence, pinning their ears or lowering and snaking their neck, which they all are.  But I also feel that banging on their feeders or pawing the fence or standing in the feed buckets can be food aggressive behavior too.  I’ve had clients tell me stories about how their horse, mule or donkey will start banging on the feeders at 4 o’clock in the morning to be fed and they will get up, march on out there mad and feed them.  To me that is like letting your kid have a fit in the store and giving them an ice cream, so they’ll be quiet.  For me that simply would not fit.  You’re bound to see other similar negative behaviors come out in different areas.  


When I see food aggressive behaviors, I address the issues immediately.  I like to carry a stock whip or a flag on the truck when I feed and if I have an animal that shows signs of aggression, I simply move them back from the fence or the feeders.  I will move them to the other side of the pen and have them stay back and wait until I can put the feed in and move on.  If they are in an area that I must go into the pen or pasture to feed, I definitely make sure to move them back from the feed truck or feeders and wait for me to leave.  This is for our safety.  If they come in too close and start pushing each other around and you get stuck in the middle, it could be a bad deal.     


As I mentioned with the all these behaviors, they are signs of trouble and build a weak and worried mind.  In all these areas I would suggest you hang in there for the long haul and take the time it takes to make the change.  Don’t weaken or give up if you don’t see changes immediately, it takes time!  You can make a difference if you hang in there; it will be worth your time and be good for both you and your animals.  


Understand that these ideas and techniques work on ALL equines.  Treat them as individuals with fairness and compassion.  Always fit the situation and get involved, don’t leave it unattended.  Address the issue before it becomes a problem!  I always want to have a plan and a program to build correct teaching.  I want to be consistent and correct in everything I do.  I want to be thorough and work my animals before they need it.  


I appreciate you all taking the time to read my articles.  I am hopeful they make sense and are helpful.  I would appreciate your feedback and/or any suggestions on topics that you might like to visit about.  You can email me at or call me at (760) 403-3922.  Please don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions or concerns or if you’d just like to chat!   Hope to see ya down the trail.  

Jerry Tindell   

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