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This page contains examples of specific ridden horse behaviours, and suggests why these might be shown. For each behaviour there will be a video accompanied by a short description.


Avoidance Behaviour


Avoidance behaviour can manifest itself in many different ways, but is generally observed as resistance to the rider's aids to move forwards in a particular direction. There can be many reasons for avoidance behaviour but these usually fall into one of 4 categories:

  • physiological pain
  • discomfort due to ill fitting tack
  • training issues (poor response to forward aids)
  • conflicting signals from the rider

Some examples of avoidance behaviour:

Refusal to move

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Rearing (training / fear/ pain?)


Without knowing the horse's history, it is not clear what the cause of this behaviour is. The horse gives no behavioural indications of fear prior to being mounted. It is very unusual for a horse to rear over backwards unless pulled off balance by the rider.

Rearing (pain related)


Rearing involves the horse raising its front legs off the ground to varying extents. The horse may step backwards while executing a series of rears.


Horses sometimes combine rearing with other avoidance behaviour, eg running backwards, spinning round.

Rearing (training issue)


Some horses, notably stallions, may 'box' or stike out with the front legs while rearing.

The horse in this clip has been inadvetently rewarded for rearing in the past. Note how quickly the horse stops rearing when the behaviour is no longer reinforced.

Don't try this at home!

Running backwards

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Running sideways


Here the horse uses sideways and backwards movement as an evasion.

(Horses can also travel fowards and sideways, usually when spooking ,shying, or running away)

Napping


Napping is not a specific individual behaviour, but a combination of other avoidance behaviours. When horses nap they are normally trying to avoid going in the direction desired by the rider, in favour of going towards the herd or home.

Behaviour name here

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Fear Behaviour


Horses have an ingrained 'flight or fight response', and fear behaviour can easily become inadvertently reinforced. Any horse can demonstrate fear behaviour in certain genuinely fearfull situations, but excessive or inappropriate fear behaviour is usually due to one of the following reasons:


  • physiological reasons (sometimes feed related)
  • lack of confidence
  • training issues (poor response to stopping aids)
  • conflicting aids from rider


Spooking

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Flight




Horses have a strong flight instinct so it is easily reinforced. In this video the newly backed and fearful horse is inavertently rewarded for flight behaviour, and therefore repeats this in the next training session.


Behaviour name here

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Pain Behaviour


Pain can produce any of the behaviours listed above, but certain behaviours seems to specifically indicate pain.



Bucking


This horse shows classic signs of back pain: kicking out with both hind legs and tail swishing

Running

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Bronking / cold backed behaviour

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Behaviour name here

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Exuberant Behaviour


Not all adverse behaviour indicates pain or training issues. Sometimes horses can simply be feeling 'too happy'! Over-excuberance may present itself in behaviour which is similar to, and difficult to distinguish from, negative behaviour. However there are usually subtle differences in posture, most notably seen in ear position, facial expression, and tail carriage, and sometimes also by the presence of vocalisms (eg snorting/ high blowing!)

Bucking

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Prancing



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Behavior name here



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