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Subtle changes in equine behavior & what to do


I am helping a lady take care of her 22 year old horse. I go to the ranch where she boards him whenever I can (about 5 or 6 days a week for about 1 hour) and ride him, clean his stall, groom him, feed him, etc. I take lessons and ride for about 20-30 minutes whenever I go there. He has beautiful manners and is a good teacher, but lately his behavior has changed a bit. When I would feed him he would nicker and glance towards me and follow me around the stall when I would put water in it. Lately though he doesn't nicker, and though he goes right to his food he sometimes doesn't seem as interested in it as he used to. Also, he used to always come right over to me and put his head down next to me, then when I pet him he would move away, and lately he hasn't been as affectionate. Am I overdoing his exercise? Or, spending too much time with him? I am eager to hear what you have to say about this.


Hi Ally,

Subtle changes in a horse's behavior are have as much significance as they would in a human. Sometimes its not getting a good rest, things that come up that produce changes in their environment, changes in friends, some sort of diet change, seasonal changes and the possibilities go on and on. As with a human, we can support a horse in adapting to these inevitable life changes even though we do not know exactly what those changes are that are prompting the behavioral change. Offering comfort, compassion, empathy and support through how we are when with that individual make a real difference. Horses are extremely empathetic. It is actually part of their survival mechanism (they need to know our intentions with them to survive). This aspect of their being has been a blessing to humans forever as horses tend to empathize with and therefore comfort those with them.

What I might suggest in this case is for you to bring your compassion, horse skills, kindness and intuition forward as much as possible. Consider as well a horse cookie a bit more often. Try extended time in pleasurable grooming. Don't ride quite as much for now. Play more on the ground (as this is where the bond is truely formed as opposed to you riding the horse). Make the ground time not 'ground work' but 'ground fun'. Lots of praise for the animal trying to move where you ask. Reward every little 'try' the horse makes with a short rest and a Good Boy. You do not need to over due the touchy feely stuff. A simple scratch on the neck and a little verbal praise is all required for a horse to understand he is being praised. If you have the skill, you could do some simple trick training. This can be fun and different enough for a horse to really spark their interest. Make a few small changes in your routene with the horse is a pleasurable way and see what happens. DO not rule out something physical that may be bothering him. Has he been wormed, teeth floated regularly, appropriate ferrier service, perhaps his back is out a bit. All these things and more could be a factor as well.

Lots to consider, huh? Thank you for wanting to help this horse and for being sensitive to its feelings. Please keep me posted as to how it goes.

Best regards, Franklin

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