Is My Horse Being a Pain or Is He In Pain?
Abnormal behaviour while tacking up and mounting is just that. Abnormal. We are so used to seeing it that it has become normalized. But it is not normal for a horse to pin his ears when you approach with a saddle or a blanket. It is not normal for the horse to try and bite or kick you while grooming him. It is not normal to take half an hour and ten carrots for you to catch your horse. We need to become more vigilant when it comes to these things.
Horses rarely do things without reason, so it makes sense that these different behaviours such as biting, kicking, tail swishing, etc. are usually a cry for help. Persistent behaviour like this often stems from ill-fitting tack, rider imbalance, a subtle lameness, or from too much work when the body isn’t conditioned to it.
Recently there has been research to investigate just how common these behaviours are and how aware (or unaware) owners are to this behaviour. Abstracts of those studies can be found here:
Just because something is common, does not mean that it is normal. There has been a proven connection between these behaviours and pain or discomfort in the horse, so it is very important that horse owners can recognize these behaviours so that they can be investigated and resolved before becoming larger issues. These larger issues require time and money to rehabilitate so it’s in our best interest if these issues can be avoided as much as they can be.
The next time you tack up your horse, be very, very observant. Compare your horse’s behavior when you’re tacking him up to when he’s just standing quietly. What changes do you see? How does he react to each step of the process? If he isn’t happy with it, try and figure out what it is that’s bothering him. It might take some detective work and some effort, but our horse’s wellbeing is our responsibility. If we want to ride them, it is only fair that we ensure they feel good doing it.