I've been seeing it a lot lately in different media groups I'm in. A person posts a "help" question about their horses' "new" behaviors. After years of reading different stories, listening to different professionals both in the Veterinary and Horsemanship fields, I've picked up on a common theme when it comes to behaviors.
This topic can be vast with many different opinions, inputs, thoughts etc. so I'm going to just boil it down a bit and try to keep it simple. After all, that's my motto these days, Keep it simple.
Generally speaking there are 2 reasons why a horse who is normally very well behaved to "suddenly" having these awful behaviors. One is because the owner has let the little things go until now it's become a BIG thing. The second reason is more than likely the horse is in pain somewhere.
Horses are always going to test you. It may be slight and you might miss it, but they do it all the time because they are trying to get higher in the chain of command. Just because you set the ground rules in the beginning of being the "Alpha" in the herd, doesn't mean they automatically and forever go, "OK I get it, you're the boss", I'll never challenge you again. It doesn't work that way with them. Wild or Domestic, they're all the same horse. Now it is true, some horses don't test nearly as often, however, they still do it from time to time.
Let's take for example a nipper. Whether they're young or old it doesn't matter. A young horse nips in play with other horses. Sometimes it is just play, however that horse is setting itself up to climb the ladder. It's testing the others to see just who it can move. Maybe your horse starts out licking your arm or just lipping it with no teeth. I have found that most people think it's a sign of affection, or it's cute and funny. Sure it is in the beginning. Then one day your horse has take a chunk out of your arm. Not so funny anymore is it? If you allow that behavior to continue, your horse will continue to do more until harm is done. When it happens you can't figure out why your horse just bit you. You didn't correct the behavior when it was funny and cute.
Biting, kicking, striking, getting into your space or becoming pushy... all behaviors that start out very small and minute to us and we allow them to go on and get bigger until we have a "bad" horse. No, your horse isn't bad, you've allowed him or her to get away with it until it's no longer cute and fun but quite serious.
Now let's check out the other side of the coin here for a moment. You've ridden the same horse for months. You're going along great, the horse is happy, healthy and you're having a wonderful time. You go out to catch them and all of a sudden you can't catch them anymore, or you're bridling or saddling, and your horse refuses the bit, tries to bite you when you cinch up. Maybe they rear when you get on them and ask them to move forward. Your horse is trying to tell you something, though I'm guessing you're first thought in shock is, "What on earth is wrong with you?" You weren't doing this before! Your horse is in pain somewhere and the first 3 places I would check out are their stomach, back and mouth. Check the mouth for lacerations, bad teeth, foul odor, etc. If they are having mouth issues, they are going to fight you when you bridle them. If that checks out ok, take their temperature and get a pulse rate, then call your vet. Ulcers can cause a slough of behavior problems because your horse is in serious pain from the acid in it's stomach. If that checks out, then check his back. Are there stickers or sharp prickly things in the saddle blanket, has your horse gained or lost weight and the saddle doesn't fit quite right anymore, is he out of adjustment between the shoulders back to the loin? Again, ask your vet to give him or her the once over. They know how to poke and prod to find where the pain is coming from and if they can't seem to find it, they will suggest trying something else to discover if your horse is in pain somewhere.
Don't dismiss those "sudden" behavior problems. They are either present because of something you didn't correct, or because your horse is in pain somewhere and he or she is trying to tell you something. If you have them in with other horses, check out how they behave with them. You might be surprised when you see the behaviors you've allowed coming out in the field with other horses.
A horse is honest, always. They bite and kick for 2 reasons, either they're trying to get a higher position in the herd or they're fighting for their life or their herd mates.
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