Know a Grumpy Horse?

A little while ago I broke my foot. It sucks. A lot.

Have you ever had a broken bone? It hurts like hell. Plus, it is incredibly difficult to do ANYTHING. And when you have animals and a (curious, daring, speedy) toddler to care for, it gets really frustrating, really fast! Aarhh!

My wonderful partner has been shouldering most of the load as my foot heals. He is a legend and has gone the extra mile with a smile on his face - I am so grateful. ❤

It is so difficult to NOT do stuff though. I normally enjoy cramming a lot into my day. Smashing out a to-do list is highly reinforcing for me. So being forced to sit by, whilst others have to do extra is foreign and really, really frustrating. The combination of pain and frustration made it is sooo hard not to be a snappy crocodile to the ones doing all the extra work… even though I knew better!

I’m not proud of it, but I’m sharing because like always, there is a horse analogy in there.

Just like it did with me, pain and frustration can turn otherwise pleasant horses into snappy crocodiles – causing them to display aggressive behaviours that can even be dangerous for their human caretakers.

Those grumpy horses, the ones who always pull faces when the saddle comes out, or won’t let anyone walk past their stable door without attempting to bite them, could be reacting this way because of underlying pain or frustration.

Chronic pain isn’t always obvious. Some examples include: reproductive issues in mares, ulcers, Polysaccharide Storage Myopathy (PSSM), Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS), arthritis, mouth injury or a sore back. Pain or the anticipation of pain can make horses defensive and they may act aggressively to try and protect themselves or prevent the painful thing occurring.

Similarly, we may not realise that our horse is frustrated. Frustration can be caused when a horses’ species-specific needs are not met. Key amongst these are Friends, Forage and freedom.

Ideally, horses should have full access to a herd of horses they get along with, access to grass or hay to eat and the space to move around at all gaits. They need access to all of these things almost all of the time, in order to feel safe and to be mentally, physically and emotionally well. When they don’t have access to these things, for example if they are locked in a stable and fed small meals infrequently, then they can become very frustrated which can lead to aggressive behaviour.

My recent experience has really helped me identify with what horses in these situations are experiencing and helped me recognise quite how much they are suffering. 😢 So, if you have a horse displaying aggressive behaviours, whether they have started quite recently or been ongoing for a while:

  1. Get the vet to do a thorough check for any possible underlying issues that might be causing pain, and

  2. Review your horses’ lifestyle in terms of their access to friends, forage and freedom of movement and make changes to increase their access to all three as much as possible.

It could make all the difference to both your horses’ quality of life and your relationship with them.

© Sara Jackson 2022


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