In the Shadow of Horse

In the Shadow of Horse
In the Shadow of Horse

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Equine Behavior Questions and Answers, Old and Young

Question: My horse is a 17 year old Arabian/quarter horse mare. When I\'m riding her and she is tired of going forward she starts backing up. She backs up for a long time and will back into trees, fences ect. Nothing I try makes her go forward unless I get off and lead her. She Why does she do this?


It appears that after a period of time, riding becomes uncomfortable for your mare. At age 17, it is possible some aging is occurring that is affecting the musculoskeletal system. Indeed, you have correctly interpreted her message. She is getting tired, or perhaps sore from her ride. When the discomfort becomes intolerable, she backs up to alleviate the problem to end the ride, and thus her discomfort. As well, you may have reinforced the behavior by rewarding the backing up behaviour by ending the ride when she did this in the past. 
Please have your veterinarian do a complete physical exam and lameness evaluation. The teeth require a thorough examination, as well, as does the respiratory system and heart. A metabolic and nutritional evaluation is in order to assess her geriatric needs and vulnerabilities. Behavioral changes under saddle often reflect physical changes in the horse that the riding has started to aggravate. New behaviors can reflect advancing medical conditions requiring veterinary assessment and therapy. Lastly, make sure her non-riding life is fulfilled and enriched. Most stalled horses require abundant friends, constant appropriate forage, and miles of daily walking to fulfill their physical and behavioral essentials. 


Question: Have a 3.5 month old colt that is always wanting to play (rears) and is very mouthy. He will listen to me when I say NO but then does it again and again. What should I do to stop these behaviors?
The message your colt is delivering to you is that you have yet to adequately enrich and fulfill his needs to play, exercise, chew, and forage, so I assume your colt is stabled. Horses evolved to forage and move nearly all the time. When horses are stabled, many of their natural tendencies are inhibited and restricted, resulting in the development of unwelcome behaviors such as inappropriate play, rearing while being handled, and excessive mouthiness. Most stabled horses require miles of daily walking each day, along with near-constant foraging to maintain an even metabolism to establish predictable behavior. Unless your colt is in race training or something similar, he does not need grain, which often contributes to these behaviors. Please limit his grain to a handful a day, and use it as a reward for acceptable behavior. Make sure your colt gets out to exercise and play and graze or forage with other horses often and frequently, especially when he first comes out of the stall each day. Fulfill his need to move before attempting to train or tack him. Ride him daily. If his essential abundant locomotion needs remain unfulfilled, expect him to exercise and play in fashions that are unwelcome. A similar situation exists with the mouthiness. Horses evolved to move, chew, and forage with others in a connected, communicative method nearly all day long. When horses are stabled, all of their inherent movement, grazing, and socialization needs are required to be re-created in an adequate amount for behavioral health and willingness to train and learn. Regular veterinary exams are always in order, and he is of the age that his teeth may be creating some discomfort, which effects haltering, bridling, and handling.
Horses should never be without a bite of appropriate forage. Your colt should always have appropriate hay, water, and salt 24/7. If he is heavy, he needs more exercise rather than less hay. For optimum behavior, horses require abundant friends, forage, and locomotion. The more fully you enrich your horse’s life with his long-evolved needs, the fewer unwelcome behaviors you will experience, and the easier the development of the willing partnership with your horse will become.
Best wishes,
Sid Gustafson DVM

Question: My 17 year old Paso Fino is perfect in hand, even waiting beside me. Even without a lead rope he is wonderful stopping, turning and backing. But as soon as he is mounted, he becomes so antsy anddoesn’t follow directions I give him. Any idea why? Thanks.
It appears that being mounted to ride has become unacceptable to your horse. This is often due to discomfort or anticipated discomfort while being ridden.  At age 17, it is possible senescence is affecting the musculoskeletal system. It is important that all of the tack is carefully considered and adjusted, and that the saddle fits perfectly. Resentment at being ridden is most often due to a discomfort that arises while being ridden, or a discomfort the horse feels is coming due to past painful or frightening experiences. Riding has to be a good deal for the old horse. From a learning behavior standpoint, it is possible the unwelcome behavior has been rewarded in the past. If past unwelcome behaviors resulted in the horse achieving his goal to not be ridden, the horse is apt to perform those behaviors again, especially if being ridden is uncomfortable. Utilize your veterinarian to help make sure that your horse is physically able to be ridden by you. 
Please have her do a complete physical exam and lameness evaluation. Have your veterinarian and farrier assess the hooves, as well. Unwelcome behaviors under saddle often reflect physical changes in the horse that riding now aggravates. The appearance of previously absent unwelcome behaviors while being ridden can reflect previously subtle but advancing medical conditions requiring veterinary assessment and therapy. 
Best wishes! 



Dr Gustafson is a practicing veterinarian, equine behavior educator, and novelist. The application of behavior science enhances optimum health, performance, soundness, contentment, and longevity in animal athletes. Behavioral and nutritional strategies enrich the lives of stabled horses. Training and husbandry from the horse's perspective result in content, cooperative horses who are willing to learn and perform.
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