Horse Behavioral Problems

Information on the causes of bad attitude and behavior problems in horses.

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    1. What are Horse Behavioral Problems?
    2. What Causes Horse Behavioral Problems?
    3. More Information on Horse Behavioral Problems

    What are Horse Behavioral Problems?

    Horse behavioral issues are something that many horse owners struggle with. Bucking, cinchyness, nipping, bit-chewing, balking and unwillingness to comply with commands are a few very common complaints and may be the cause for much frustration.

    What Causes Horse Behavioral Problems?

    It is always important to remember that most behavioral problems can be explained and it may just mean that you have to do some investigating. Physical discomfort and pain are very common causes of behavioral problems, as are boredom, poor training, learned behavior and fear.

    Horses seldom express bad behaviors for no reason; however, some behavioral problems can be picked up from attitudes of other horses, or could be due to aggressive or dominant temperaments. Below are a few causes of the most common behavioral problems.

    Most equine bad behavior occurs when being saddled by moving away from you, pinning ears back or generally acting displeased with the situation. This is often caused by an ill- fitting saddle that causes pain or discomfort. Another common cause is some pain experience when riding.

    The horse will therefore start getting anxious as soon as the saddle comes out. Always make sure the horse’s saddle fits and that pads or blankets are not pinching or bulky. If the saddle is not the reason for this behavior, then look for any other signs of pain or discomfort.

    Nipping and biting that occurs when you touch or groom a certain area is often a sign that that area is sore. This always requires further investigation. Some horses are also incredibly ticklish in certain areas and may simply dislike being touched there. Nipping passerby or people in the absence of physical discomfort may be a sign that your horse is bored, or has not been trained that biting is an absolute NO for humans.

    Remember that horses don’t have hands or paws to get your attention and so they are very oral by nature, using their mouths to get your attention, tell you something and even show appreciation by "grooming you back". Train your horse early on that nipping is not appropriate.

    Bucking often comes hand in hand with cinchyness and nipping and it is often the result of a more serious underlying problem. First step of action is to check and re-check the saddle condition and fit. If that is not the reason, the next step is to call your vet. Bucking is often a sign of pain, and skeletal or muscular problems are often the underlying causes.

    Dislocated ribs or vertebrae, hair-line fractures, as well as under-developed muscle tone, muscle spasms or bruising can all cause your horse unbearable pain. Once these underlying problems are remedied, most horses will not feel the need to buck.

    Most horses that chew excessively on the bit, try to pull the reins out your hand or throw their heads do so because the bit is uncomfortable or they are trying to let you know they are experiencing some other discomfort. Common causes include dental problems, mouth problems or wounds, and ill-fitting bits. Also check for signs of imbalanced feet or hoof problems, as well as saddle-fit.

    Balking is your horse’s way of telling you he doesn’t want to go any further. This is more often than not because he is afraid of something or feeling some level of pain, discomfort or fatigue. In some cases balking is learned behavior, especially towards the end of a riding session when your horse knows that the hard work should be over, and it can often be remedied by changing your routine.

    More Information on Horse Behavioral Problems

    Tips for equine behavior problems
    • Always look for an underlying problem to equine behavior problems. As horses are prey animals, they instinctively remain quiet when in pain and behavioral issues are often our only way of knowing that something is hurting.
    • Ill-fitting saddles are a leading cause of many behavior problems. Check the saddle thoroughly and make sure it is a good fit for your horse. If you are unsure, request the professional opinion of a saddle fitting expert.
    • You may check your horse and not be able to find anything wrong, but that does not mean that they are not in pain. The best option is to call your vet at the signs of uncharacteristic behavior as there are a number of other conditions such as arthritis, colic, or nerve damage that you may miss.
    • Boredom can result in certain behavioral issues and it is something that can easily be remedied with longer turn-out times and horse toys.
    • Equine massage can be very beneficial for all horses and helps to relieve many muscle aches, spasms and painful joints. It is also very relaxing for horses and can help to reduce stress and anxiety
    • In some cases, especially when behavioral problems are not something new, you may need to look at training, temperament and your horse’s history. It may help to call in a professional trainer to help get rid of bad habits and curb behavior problems. Remember to research the techniques of your trainer first, as training should be gentle and based on natural horsemanship rather than strict dominance and fear.