Stopping Aggression Problems With an Equine Shock Collar

"Aggressive behavior in horses is expensive," said Michelle A. Kennedy, DVM, a private practitioner in Delta, Colo. 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," she added. "These injuries are a direct result of being bitten or kicked, or chased through or over a fence."

She noted that every equine practitioner is going to see horses that have experienced these injuries, and all too often, the veterinarian will be asked how it can be prevented in the future. If no possible medical cause is detected (for example, a gelding with undetected retained testicular tissue that causes stallion-like behavior or a mare with a hormone imbalance), the next step is determining how to stop the undesirable behavior.

Isolating the horse can work in some cases if the owner has the space to do this, said Kennedy. However, 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," added Kennedy. "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."

To determine whether equine shock collars could eliminate aggressive behavior, Kennedy 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. She emphasized, "I used an equine electronic training collar. This is not interchangeable with a dog electronic collar. Horses are much more sensitive to electric shock. These two (products) are not the same animal!"

The collar rests anywhere behind the throatlatch, and it does not matter where on the neck the receiver is touching the horse. Place the collar on the horse 24 hours before using it, because it will reduce the chances of the horse becoming collar-wise and only behaving when he's wearing it. "When you see the horse doing what he shouldn't, you push the button," she explained.

"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.

Kennedy described how aggressive mares in a pasture responded to stimulation when they were aggressive toward a new mare added to the pasture. Upon the first stimulation, Kennedy said that the mares would have instant posture changes. "The (aggressive) mares would follow the (new) horse around for 10-20 minutes trying to figure out if the (new) horse really did that to them, but notice the horse is still acting intimidated," she said. "After the second time of being rebuffed by the collar, they (the aggressive mares) wanted to be best friends with the new horse--they wanted to graze next to her and have her as a part of their group."

Kennedy said the total time before first and last stimulations required to change the behavior ranged from 10 minutes to 2 1/2 days. Collars remained on the horses for one week, and none of the aggressive horses on which Kennedy used the collar exhibited aggressive behavior in the 30 days following correction. She said the collar was extremely effective regardless of breed, age, or sex.

"This did not take these horses and make them wonderful, loving, accepting, and sweet," she cautioned. "It only worked with that horse to which it was introduced. The process had to be repeated (for each additional horse). The collar allowed you to integrate a horse into the group very safely and easily."

Kennedy believes the collar is so effective because it's an instant correction to the horse's behavior. "You can correct the horse while he still is performing the act. When you have a delay in discipline, the horse has no idea what he's being corrected for. The other factor I believe is that the correction is invisible--there's no whip and no rocks flying through the air (i.e., nothing to look for and avoid).

"I've seen desperate owners with horses and lunge lines (trying to counteract this behavior)," added Kennedy. "This is a much safer option for horses and owners. There is no physical contact between horses, and it is very easy to use. My experience showed that this was extremely effective--a very viable option to recommend to clients."

The collar can be used to deter aggressive behavior against owners as well. "Most issues are not mean horses," she said. "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.

These collars have an automatic shut-off safety feature that limits the duration of the shock to a maximum of three seconds (although the result is almost instantaneous, so it is rare that you'd use it that long) and the transmitter will work up to a half-mile away. Kennedy recommends that you stand where you can see the horses, but they cannot see you, because you don't want them to associate the shock with you. Several horses can be wearing the collars (color coding helps) and can be controlled by one transmitter. The equine collar costs around $350, and is often specially priced for veterinarians. It is made by Tri-Tronics, Inc., in Tucson, Ariz., and comes with a two-year warranty.

Kennedy reinforces that a specific equine collar must be used. "The shocks are at such a low level that most humans can't feel the lower levels. You don't get a violent shock reaction like you would from an electric fence or a dog collar," and thus the stimulation process on the horse is safe.


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.

About the Author

Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief

Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief, received a B.A. in Journalism and Equestrian Studies from Averett College in Danville, Virginia. A Pony Club and 4-H graduate, her background is in eventing, and she is schooling her recently retired Thoroughbred racehorse, Happy, toward a career in that discipline. She also enjoys traveling, photography, cycling, and cooking in her free time.

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