Problem Horse or Horse in Pain?

Recently I listened to Olivia Towers’ podcast episode which featured Miri Hackett. Olivia and Miri are two equestrians who I follow on my Instagram and I feel they have a lot of knowledge to offer. They raise important issues and I certainly feel more people should benefit from their knowledge and experience.
I often think the horse world can be a bit stuck in a time warp and many do things ‘just because that’s what’s done’. I have always disagreed with the mainstream equestrian world and firmly align with Cinderella when she said:

Just because it’s what’s done, doesn’t mean it’s what should be done.

Cinderella, 2015.

Olivia and Miri raised these questions in the podcast:

Problem horse or horse in pain?
How can you tell the difference?

I thought these were interesting questions as many equestrians can relate to this issue. How do you know if a certain behaviour is purely just cheekiness from the horse or if it is pain related?

I think many humanise horses and view their horses’ responses through human eyes. They don’t want pain to be the issue because let’s face it, if a horse has a pain issue, that absolutely means spending money. Instead, lots of people will decide that their horse is fine physically, they are just misbehaving because ‘they don’t like it’, ‘they’re stubborn’ or ‘they just don’t like to be told what to do’.

I have studied Equine Behaviour and my moto or mantra if you like is ‘there is a reason for everything’. A horse could be acting out for a number of reasons and it’s rarely related purely to attitude. There are lots of things which could be causing a behaviour and a good point which Olivia and Miri made is that behaviours can be caused by things that the general equestrian would not consider. Miri gave the example that many will claim they don’t get what’s wrong with the horse because their teeth are fine, their back is fine, their saddle is fine. When actually, it could be their hocks having a knock on effect to somewhere else in the body-causing the behaviour. It might not be as simple as a primary problem, it could be secondary, even tertiary.

What sort of things can cause behavioural issues?

Learned Behaviours Pain (literally anywhere)
Social Anxiety Negative Associations
Past Experience (baggage)Poor Relationship/ lack of knowledge

What can horse-owners do?

It’s tricky to know where to start because all horses are different and so it’s definitely not a one size fits all kind of solution. Some ideas on how you might start to determine if it is a behavioural issue or a pain issue are below:

  • When in doubt, give the vet a shout –
    Get the vet to carry out a thorough examination to check for issues. This may need to be done in collaboration with a physiotherapist, chiropractor, farrier etc. Getting the vet to check the horse out is the best bet to determine the root cause of the problem. You need to get a whole picture to understand- not just single areas like teeth or back.

  • Listen to the early signs-
    A good thing to do is to capture the behaviours on video. Watch them back and then analyse what’s going on. Did you do something before the behaviour began? Is there a pattern? If you can determine changes in your horse from the early stages, the issue will be smaller and much more easily resolved than if you are in denial and think it will just go away. You need to pay attention, start listening and not just brush it under the carpet.
  • Be open minded-
    This was a point made in the podcast which I totally resonate with. We need to be open to learning about horses so that we can help them. If you love your horse, show them that love by constantly seeking knowledge to better yourself which in turn will better their standard of living.

Overall, this was a very interesting podcast which I thoroughly enjoyed. Remember, our job is to love our horses and to seek the best for them. That often involves being a bit of a detective but love knows no bounds, am I right?

If you are interested in learning more you can find both their Instagram’s below.

Miri Hackett
Olivia Towers

Happy Horsing!

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