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How to Recognize Anxiety, Tension, or Pain in Your Horse

Bucking. Rearing. Biting. Spooking. Going Too Fast, Not going forward.

There is one common factor in all of these problems. The problem is tension. Specifically, too much tension.

Yes, the causes of these problems can vary, the horse may have physical pain, he may have had bad experiences in the past, or he may be feeling frustrated or anxious.

However, in each of these problems the horse is tense. It may not always be the kind of tension that is easy to spot – a horse moving warily with head high and tail clamped. Tension can be more subtle, with a clamped lower lip or a wide eye.

Horses are stoic by nature. They are a prey species, and hiding pain and therefore weakness, is key to their survival.

If we don’t learn to recognize and address tension in our horse, we may be caught off guard with behavior that seems unpredictable, but in reality the warning signs were there far in advance.

In the video below, I will show how to recognize subtle signs of tension in your horse.

I would also like to invite you to join me in a Free Online Workshop to discover the connection between your horse’s body and behavior. This workshop is taught by Patrick King and begins March 21!


Now it’s time for a little quiz…

Which images in the picture below show the horses with the most tension in the moment the picture was taken?

Horse number 2 is clearly unhappy – we can see her pinned ears, flared nostrils, and swishing tail. Horse 3 and 4 are both moving similar in that they are hollow and tight in their back, and Horse 3 is quite wide eyed in this moment! Do you have more observations to add? Put them in the comments below!

Resources: Emanuela Dalla Costa, Riccardo Pascuzzo, Matthew C. Leach, Francesca Dai, Dirk Lebelt, Simone Vantini, Michela Minero, 2018 August, Can grimace scales estimate the pain status in horses and mice? A statistical approach to identify a classifier

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