Introduction To Horse Behavior

The subject of behavior is fascinating to me because we all usually are interacting with a captive horse.  Their behavior has adapted to what they know from being handled by humans from their first moment on this earth.  They have never been free.  Yet deep in their minds are the instructions to survive as free animals.  Conflicts arise when primal instincts are juxtaposed with current knowledge and beliefs of what they are experiencing.

For example, all horses should be afraid of humans as in the past they were hunted and eaten by other animals.  Some were captured and tamed for riding and pulling our things around.  It must be realized by all owners that the brain of the horse is very similar to ours.  When we touch a hot stove as a child we remember and avoid touching hot stoves forever.  When we are embraced by our mothers after a bad dream we remember that too.  The good and the bad memories are kept in the neocortex and their associated emotions are connected with in the amygdala.  This emotion area of the brain is directly connected to the motor cortex causing movement.  When afraid, the horse will run.  When afraid and no where to run, the horse will fight.  This is their most basic survival behavior.

In between “normal” behavior and survival behavior lies the complexities of owning a horse.  What drives them to pleasure (mutual grooming)?  What drives them to chew the barn down?  What makes them curl their upper lip?  What is causing food aggression, bad riding behavior and shutting down?  Surprisingly, the causes are simple and similar to our own thoughts.  Unfortunately some of these behaviors may be impossible to correct if we continue to cause them.  With some really aggressive and dangerous horses, euthanasia occurs.  But I have found one thing that seems to really work.  Let them know you are listening.  Some just need to know you are listening.

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Herd Hierarchy In Horses

Every group of horses has an order in the social structure that when established, brings peace to the group. But when disrupted, brings chaos.

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Mutual Grooming In Horses

Mutual grooming is when two horses stand facing in opposite directions and scratch each other using their teeth on the other horse’s withers, neck, and back.

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Normal Foal Behavior

Foals are very different than adult horses. It is very important that they be dealt with on their level which is an infant and not an adult.

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Stall Kicking In Horses

The reasons for horses kicking the walls of their stall are numerous and so are the ways to protect them and the barn from the damage.

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Weaving Behavior In Horses

Weaving is when a horse swings their head sideways in a pendulous motion while usually rocking back and forth from one front hoof to the other. In my experience, they are trying to tell somebody something.

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