Is Your Horse Nervous or Naughty?

Horse bolting

Photo courtesy of the BBC

I was at the local agriculture show on the weekend watching the horse ring events.   Loved watching the great mix of children and adults on ponies and horses of all descriptions.   What caught my eye was the horses having to walk across a large piece of carpet to enter the ring.

Easy for some horses, quite challenging for others!  

Everyone who owns a horse has experienced days when your normally quiet horse is having “a melt down” – a moment when he becomes difficult or dangerous.

So, what is happening?  Is he just being disobedient or is he scared?

Kate Fenner discusses the first question here in her blog “Stepping in to the Light”, and I am going to shed some light on the fear aspect from the inside of the horse.

Horses are flight animals.  They use their flight (or fear) response to survive – it’s an inbuilt safety mechanism to save their life when in danger.    This is a rapid response system of flight so that the horse can analyse the situation from the safety of distance.   We cannot override this natural survival mechanism, but we can try to understand it.

Once the horse has perceived danger (whether real or imagined), neurons send messages to sections of the brain which stimulate the adrenal gland to secrete stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline.

These hormones then set off a variety of changes in the body such as increased heart rate and increase in glucose production which precipitate the need to “run”!

When a horse is reacting to fear, it is operating instinctively from the reactive section of the brain, and not the thinking section – when they are frightened, they are not thinking at all, especially of you.

Obviously, there are varying degrees of the fear response, from the slight snorty/bracing reaction, to the full on bolt/out of control flight response.    But I want you to remember that whatever the level of reaction, what happens on the inside is still the same in every horse.   It’s recognising and understanding the behaviour that will lead to a good result.

With your horse’s health in mind,



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