• Adele Shaw

Environment Makes A Difference

The longer I've been around horses, the more convinced I am that the majority of "behavior issues" we see are direct results of a lacking environment. Even in my own horses, who I work very hard to keep physically and mentally stimulated, and well socialized, their behavior reflects when circumstances change due to layups or my absence (as I'm the one that provides enrichment activities).

Because of the confinement or me being away, their general level of mental and physical activity and enrichment decreases and they will act differently. It's not usually extreme, just subtle changes... Like being a little impatient, more susceptible to frustration behaviors, a little more reactivate in stressful situations, and sometimes even some increased aggressive tendencies towards one another within the herd. Especially my filly River, who is used to a lot of freedom and mental activity, going a couple days without being free of her pasture fences is maddening to her!

The solution? Just let her out to roam, explore, feed her curiosity, eat different grass, interact with a new horse, learn a new skill... She's like a very intelligent child held back in her education, growing increasingly frustrated by the day, and starting to get herself in trouble. For a lot of horses though, this is their life; four walls or fences day in and day out, plain flat pastures, flat sand arenas, restricted monotonous meals, removed from their herd too young, a solitary lifestyle, stressful showing and training environments (under stimulation to extreme over stimulation. Hello stress overload!). Stereotypical behaviors develop, they act out, develop abnormally aggressive behaviors towards other horses and humans, they pace and stress, and develop painful health conditions like ulcers...


Yet we have a strong tendency to over look it, identify some of these behaviors as quirky and "funny", and even punish the horses for some of it. As if the horse is just being comical, obnoxious, and/or dangerous on purpose by their own doing. They aren't. Your horse is communicating, in the only way they know how, that something is wrong. Hoping desperately that somehow, someway, or that someone will make it better. Here is a list of JUST SOME of the common behaviors I see in horses that are the results of an artificial, stressful, under stimulating, and under socialized life.

  • Biting

  • Bucking

  • Rearing

  • Bolting

  • Kicking

  • Apathy or lack of emotional expression

  • Aggression towards people

  • Aggression towards other animals

  • Aggression towards other horses

  • Excessive resource guarding

  • Pacing

  • Cribbing

  • Pawing

  • Striking at stall doors/fences

  • Weaving

  • Digging

  • Circling

  • Standing alone in the far back corner of the stall most of the day

  • Difficultly being caught

  • Unable to be turned out with other horses

  • Dangerous to have close to other horses in the show ring

  • Difficulty standing still

  • Chewing on wood

  • Separation anxiety

  • And so much more

A lot of these can also be symptoms of physical issues (pain) and/or training issues, but I bet you would he surprised how much just changing the environment and diet of a horse can change what was previously thought to be just a training issue. Training can only get you so far if the environment isn't well suited to the animal, and/or if there are any physical issues going on.

Before I ever even consider a "behavior problem" to be training related, I always look to those two first and foremost.. and I never completely rule them out as a possibility even into the future. Training is the last piece of the puzzle in most cases. Our horse's behavior is the only way they can communicate with us that something is wrong, so it's our job to listen.

- Adele

Taken from my original instagram post on January 22nd 2019 @thewillingequine


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