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Franklin Levinson's

Horse Help Center

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Sudden Behavior Change

We have a 7 yo AQH mare. We bought her two years ago because of her ground manners. She was completely submissive, our 10 yo rider could do absolutely anything with her from stalling, tacking, etc. on her own. Under saddle she w/t/c and jumped. We moved to a new barn [which is a much better environment and she is receiving much better care] last Aug. We didn't ride in Dec. or Jan. Since the 2nd week in Dec., she has gone from completely lethargic to completely aggressive. She tries to bite at people and other horses. She is aggressive on the ground and under saddle she is very disrespectful. She is going from turning her back and pinning her ears when she is mad to showing us her back shoes. We thought about having her vet checked because of the suddenness and extremeness of her behavior change, especially since at our vet check prepurchase, the vet said it was a great 1st horse and had the most wonderful disposition. We bought her for her disposition, only. The unusual thing is that one minute she is completely compliant, back to her old wonderful self. The next minute she is aggressive and people are running. Any ideas?


Anytime there is a change in a horse's environment, it can produce drastic changes in the horse's behavior. Not always, but sometimes. It can be something about the new herd, the change in herdmates, inconsistency in handling, some diet changes or something we humans will never be able to determine for certain. With mares, the possibility of hormonal imbalances is also a possibility. Only a vet checking the blood can determine that occurrence.

You use the word 'submissive' in referring to how the horse was. I know this to be an incorrect projection onto the horse. I prefer the word 'compliant'. Horses are not supposed to be submissive like a slave. We do not bend them to our wills. They partner with us when we are conscious, consistent and appropriate with them, when we show respect and earn trust. They will willingly be compliant and cooperative until something prompts them to begin to distrust us for some reason. Then fear based behavior like you are experiencing occurs. If the horse's experience with the humans handling it is unpleasant, unskilled, inappropriate, unconscious, painful in any way (ill-fitting tack, mouth problems, back problems, etc.) or inconsistent due to different handlers, horses begin to fend for themselves and attempt assert their leadership over the unpleasant or painful situation. We would too.

First thing to do is to rule out pain or anything physical. Second possibility is to have a professional (actually sometimes hard to find), gentle trainer work with the horse and the humans who will be handling the horse and teach the humans something about the real nature of horses while reconditioning the horse back to trust. Be wary of the myriad numbers of so called-natural horsemanship aficionados. There are actually few out there really that knowledgeable. Their experience with different horses over time is generally limited. Really good trainers can be expensive and should be referenced by people you know and respect. This trainer may go back to the real basics of the horse's training and re-train it. This would be a terrific process for your children and you to witness. There is so much more to the world of the horse then the human activity of riding them. Unfortunately, riding horses is usually all we think about them. This is like thinking a human is good for only one thing. It also shows no respect and no knowledge or real love or appreciation for horses themselves.

Anyway, these are a few suggestions. You might consider viewing a training DVD or two to acquire more knowledge about horses for yourself and your family. It is always amazing to me that folks will spend so much money on their horses, riding apparel, equipment they don't need (gimmicks), fancy tack that doesn't fit the horse or is inappropriate and never invest in their own education about horses. Training DVD's will always improve your knowledge of horses. Even badly done DVD's may show you things you do not want to do. Training tapes and DVD's are easily found in the backs of all horse magazines. I have a few within the shopping corral of my website. I suggest investing in your own education a bit. It will be some of the best money you spend. You will learn to handle situations like you are now facing yourself because you have acquired the knowledge and skill through education. You can never go wrong by getting education.

Good Luck.

Sincerely, Franklin

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