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Equine 'Behavioural' Issues




Is my horse deliberately being ‘naughty’?
This is NEVER true.
Is it a people problem?
This is sometimes true and learning good horsemanship is an integral part of achieving calm, healthy horses.
Is the horse trying to tell you something?
Yes, this is always true and you need to take heed.


How bad is it for the unfortunate horse, who has genuine pain or who is simply ‘not right’ and therefore cannot perform, but whose owner thinks the horse ‘has attitude’ and therefore toughens up, tightens up the noseband, adds more forceful gadgets, digs in the spurs and stings with the whip under the false idea that you can’t ‘let them get away with it’.

How tragic when it turns out to be the very grass the horse is eating that is the root cause of all the issues.

Does the Horse’s Behaviours stem from the diet?

This is true in an astounding number of cases, yet it is a cause that is completely over-looked.

While I have categorised the problems here so you can easily go to the ones that concern you and your horse, in many cases they are very easily remedied by a simple change of diet.

This can be hard to believe with the ‘musculoskeletal’ problems for instance because they appear to be ‘physical’ problems when in actual fact they can be physiological problems.

Over the years there has proven to be a strong correlation between the pasture the horse is eating and the raft of health and behavioural problems many horses exhibit.

'There is no such thing as resistance - only the desperate need for communication'
Dr Deb Bennett PhD.
Grass Affected horse

Nothing dents a rider’s confidence more than the thought of being unseated by a spook!

A lot of riders mistakenly ‘assess’ the situation – they frequently blame themselves, are put under pressure by their peers that the horse is ‘picking up on their nervousness’ and hence they put themselves at unnecessary risk.

Unpredictable, reactive ‘behaviours’ are a clear sign that it is the horse that is not right, not the rider. His brain and nervous system are not functioning normally.


Once this is understood, it is a ‘no-brainer’ that the horse is not safe to ride!

He has become ‘hyper-sensitive’ to sounds and his eye-sight is affected. He goes straight to self-preservation mode and since any horse’s reactions are faster than ours this is when we are liable to get spooked off!

As riders, we have all been there at some point but no-one should have to ‘pluck up courage’ to ride their horse. It should be an enjoyable experience.

I recall many instances in days gone by when we used to ride what we now classify as ‘grass-affected’ horses, where dismounting after a ride was followed by a big sigh of relief – phew! Made it!

That’s not how it should be!

We as riders need to be able to recognise when the horse is presenting as ‘unsafe’.

For example you will notice when you fetch him that his ‘energy’ feels wrong he has grown a whole hand, you can’t keep his focus, his head is in the air, his steps are quick and he is not responsive to your normal groundwork. He tends to REACT instead of RESPOND.

He may be tight in his muscles, twitchy to the touch and not want to be brushed, ‘snatchy’ with his feet, trying to bite you, ‘antsy’ when saddled.

Observing any or all of these signs automatically gives you permission to choose NOT to ride the horse on that day in that situation. Follow your gut instinct.

If you fail to take heed, with the horse’s adrenalin so close to the surface little things on a ride can soon escalate into big spooks, bucks and bolts.

Put your horse away with a smile. Your safety is paramount and doing so will prevent the horse from having a negative experience too.

Fifteen years of ‘Horsemanship Instructing’ has taught me that these are not ‘people problems’ and not ‘training’ issues. Rather they are diet and management issues. Returning your horse to his calm, healthy self usually involves examining his pasture grass and managing its intake, eliminating clover and Lucerne, opting for plain feeds and learning how to use supplements like GrazeEzy, AlleviateC/SOS and the new Alleviate Gold that address the disturbances to the horse’s metabolism.

Horse spooking

This video shows a classically 'Grass Affected' Horse.

Many people would mistake this for 'bad behaviour'.

What is it About the Grass?

Changes to the chemistry of the grass cause disturbances to the chemistry of the horse which directly and adversely affect their metabolism, causing them to become 'Grass Affected’

Some horses are only affected at certain times of the year, some chronically over years and some acutely with very sudden onset.

Sometimes normally amenable, quiet geldings become aggressive, when other horses become irrationally herd bound, others become nappy or spooky (when they were fine last week), others become belligerent, stubborn, resistant, then a person has to wonder why.

Why do horse owners frequently experience unexplained changes in their horse's behaviour - temperament and personality?

If you are like me and know for sure that horse do NOT 'plot against us' and are definitely NOT 'dirty', 'nutty', 'mongrels', 'bitches', 'pigs', 'have got attitude' (the list goes on!), then there must be other reasons for this kind of behaviour.

When I started out as a Horsemanship Instructor in 1996 I was taught that 'horse' problems were really  ‘people’ problems.

I thought that if the person improved their horsemanship skills then the horse's behavioural problems would go away. How wrong this proved to be!

The best course of action when horses are affected is to follow the CalmHealthyHorses diet recommendations and LEAVE THEM ALONE until they are back to normal.

Persisting with trying to 'work through' issues can inadvertently become a 'torture session'.

It is your responsibility to keep them out of trouble until they can think their way through situations again.

  • Avoid tying them up

  • Be very careful going through narrow spaces like gateways as they are liable to rush through

  • Confined spaces like horse floats can cause panic attacks so best not to travel them

  • Don't ride them as it is too risky!

Spooky Stories

'My lovely quirky pony slowly became so difficult that I was scared to ride him.

I’d try to push through moments where he would be rigid and it was like “the lights were on but no one was home”.

The final time came when he saw some rams that he had seen a million times. His head went up and he went rigid. I tried to get his attention but nothing. I turned him into a circle and he spun so much that we nearly ended up over a steep embankment. He then nearly fell over through dizziness.

I got off and walked him home with him spinning and snorting. I contacted Vicky who got Jenny to call me and we made a feed plan and I set up a dry lot.

5 months later with SOS, Grazezy and supreme minerals I have my lovely boy back.

I never thought this would happen.

Thank you Calm Healthy Horses you are amazing'.

Alison Sedgwick


'Best spook was riding over a bridge, where I was ponying a horse and husband also riding.

Two donkeys popped out like trolls.

All 3 horses spun and bolted down 80km road. Funny thing about riding a bolting horse, leading a bolting horse, you have nothing to brace against. Probably went 400meters to hairpin in the road. Husband went straight, I decided to make the corner.


Once separated everyone stopped. Back then we rode western and cowboy hats only. A driver had picked up our hats at the bridge and returned them to us as we shook on the road and told us how cool that was.

(Like we had done it deliberately).

Margaret Davis

'I went to ride my horse to Pony Club, I was a bit nervous, some guys I had met offered to ride with me to a confidence boost.

I mounted up, we got to the next house gate, maybe 20 meters along the road. His head shot up, he snorting and proceeded to produce a bronc performance worthy of an expensive rodeo star.

After a second or two, I got excited, I was still in my seat... then he added spins to his bag of tricks to get me off, that did it.

I was finally on the floor and under his feet, he gave me a haematoma that made my arm look broken, a beautiful hoof print on my calf and likely fracture my foot.

I picked myself up off the road and one of the two gentlemen who witnessed the show said “that horse is going to kill you.”

I replied with a solemn “probably.”

It was after this that I sent him to my friend who kept her horses on a track and introduced me to the ‘grass affected horse’ it was not long later I discovered GrazeEzy, he now gets this almost daily.

I have since finished backing my boy and even been bush riding with him, wild goats jumping out, a herd of cows and a slightly different leafed tree on the other side of the valley were all manageable distractions 

Occasionally he’s spooked on the spot, but a scratch and time to think is enough to help him through'.

Kirsten Watkiss

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