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Naughty Horses, Part 6 - Horses that are in pain 🤕

Has your horse suddenly started to misbehave? Acting out of character? Perhaps he’s just having difficulty with something that is normally easy for him?

In the first blog in my ‘Naughty Horses’ mini series I looked at 5 reasons horses can misbehave. Here’s a recap of the 5...

  1. They don’t know what to do

  2. They have learned to respond incorrectly

  3. They are scared

  4. They don’t have enough incentive

  5. They are in pain

In this blog I’m going to look in a little more detail at number 5...👇👇

Horses that are in Pain 🤕

Horses only have two ways to express pain or discomfort:-

  1. To be lame or display some obvious sign

  2. To display pain associated behaviour, this can range from pinning his ears back to more extreme things like bucking or rearing.

Added to this, being prey animals, horses have been designed by nature to mask pain so they don’t get picked out for special attention by a predator! Some horses are real stalwarts who can virtually have a leg falling off before they look like they’re in pain, some are real pansies and are holding their leg in the air from a fly bite, and this is where you really need to know your horse.

How do you know if it’s pain or your horse being naughty? 😳

For me one of the main indications that it might be something pain related is if it’s something that didn’t used to be a problem but now is and there’s no identifiable reason this has changed.

A client came to me with a spooky horse that would suddenly take off, it turned out that one of the reasons the client had originally bought the horse was because of his calm demeanour but at some point this had changed. After discussing the problem I suggested that it might be worth a chat with her vet. It turned out that the horse had stomach ulcers and once these were resolved the horses behaviour improved dramatically. Now if that horse had started spooking at something that he’d had a bad experience with like a dog had chased him and he’d started spooking at dogs then I would have been less inclined to suggest that we contact the vet as there’s a clear experience that has led to the behaviour.🧐

In some cases having the problem diagnosed and treated is enough to completely resolve the problem. In other cases the pain has caused a behaviour problem associated with remembered pain and in these cases once the problem is treated and the horse given the all clear from the vet the horse can benefit from some training to help. As long as the pain has truly gone this shouldn’t take more than a few sessions depending on the severity of the problem.

When it’s not pain related

In an effort to provide some balance it’s probably also worth noting that I have also seen people be so convinced that the horse is in pain and spend years looking for it, only to find that they have a behavioural problem that could be solved with a little training. This situation is quite unusual, but it does happen!!

So, how do you know? And what do you do about it?

The early signs of discomfort can be subtle and hard to spot and there is a lot of research going on to help identify these signs as soon as possible.

More recently there have been a number of studies carried out to examine the relationship between horses facial expressions and pain. See for more information on this.🤓

My personal opinion is that if your horse is showing ‘unusual’ or ‘naughty’ behaviour that it’s only fair to rule out pain first. A thorough check by trusted professionals should be the first port of call when issues come up. I think this is only fair on the horse. If you have a clean bill of health, saddle and bridle fit have been ruled out and you still have an issue, you can then comfortably start treating the problem as a training issue.

I believe also that we shouldn’t underestimate the fact that as an owner you are the one who spends everyday with your horse so even if you’ve had all the checks but your gut is saying there is wrong it may be worth your while to have a second opinion.🤔

So, whenever behavioural issues come up I believe it is our duty to ask the question, could this be pain related? This question needs to be thoroughly explored in terms of saddle fit, dental checks and consultation with professionals such as the vet, farrier and physical therapist (physio, chiro, osteo) before embarking on any kind of re-training to resolve the problem.

Have a great time with your horses 😃🦄💕


Before trying any training technique it is important to rule out pain or discomfort. Saddle fit, teeth, back, hoof balance and lameness issues should all be checked by a qualified professional before applying any training.

If you have questions or need idea's to help with a specific problem feel free to get in touch with me on


Lyla has been helping riders and their horses in the UK, USA and Europe for over 15 years. She has prepared horses for crowds of over 6,000 people with no calmers or ear plugs for venues including Birmingham NEC, Aintree, Bury Farm EC and Hartpury.

Lyla specialises in horse psychology and behaviour problems with a specific interest in dressage and has worked with horses from grass roots to Grand Prix across the UK and Europe including international competitors and Olympians from Spain, the US, Canada and the UK.

See or email for more details.


All training techniques discussed are from experience only, it is impossible for to accurately advise on horse/rider combinations without seeing them live. Lyla Cansfield & Equine Mind & Body Training strongly advise anyone considering using any of the techniques discussed to get live help and can take no responsibility for the outcome of applying any of the techniques discussed without supervision. Riding is a high risk sport.

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