What's Up With Your Horse Acting Up?

Nothing ruins a ride faster than your horse deciding not to listen and acting up. Whether it’s tossing of the head, trying to bolt or simply ignoring your cues, frustration can ensue, especially when this behavior is uncharacteristic for your horse. Since horses can’t communicate and tell us what’s wrong, they often indicate problems such as pain when they act up. Instead of getting frustrated, try putting yourself in your horse’s shoes, and rule out all physical problems before mental ones.

First things first, for your safety and for your horse’s, never try to force your horse to do anything. Try to end the ride on a positive note and release the pressure — horses learn from the reward of release. Next, look for any outward signs of discomfort. Did you miss something during grooming that’s stuck under his saddle? Is the bridle too tight? If you’re riding with someone else or if your trainer is nearby, have them look your horse over as well. A second set of eyes never hurts.

Next, if you haven’t recently, ask your vet to come out for a yearly flexion text to rule out any soundness issues. A flexion test is performed by a licensed veterinarian to indicate any lameness. According to the American Association of Equine Practitioners, a flexion test is like what you might experience if someone asked you to sit in a crouch position for sixty seconds and then run right off. Usually, you can run off just fine, but occasionally, you might experience some soreness or pain in the joint when you first try to run; you might even limp for a few steps. This test is used to evaluate any current lameness issues, or any indicators that there are underlying problems.

After checking your horse’s soundness, have your vet check your horse’s overall soreness and teeth. Your vet will examine your horse’s entire body and will put pressure on points where your tack makes contact, seeing if there’s any soreness. Next they’ll check your horse’s teeth to see if they’re overgrown. Overgrown teeth can result in the rubbing of the inside of the cheek causing ulcers and pain. Often problems such as ill-fitting tack and overgrown teeth are causes of your horse’s behavioral issues and fortunately, are easily fixed.

Depending on the diagnosis, your vet may recommend an easy fix such as changing up the tack, teeth floating or suggesting a new shoeing method. Sometimes, a heavier-handed approach is necessary, such as treatment by medication and joint injections. If your horse is just sore, a visit by an equine chiropractor may also be prescribed. If not in the loop already, be sure to connect with your farrier about all discoveries and health updates, there are often many shoeing options to help keep your horse in tip top shape.

Keeping a close eye on your horse and having excellent communication with your horse’s care team, including the vet, farrier and chiropractor will help keep your horse, and your rides as comfortable as possible in the long run.