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Understanding Horse Behavior Changes


I’ve seen a change in my horse’s attitude since starting him on supplements and I wanted your take on it. Could a joint, digestive, hoof, or coat supplement make him difficult to handle or feisty? He’s never acted this way before and I’m worried that he’s reacting to an ingredient. Should I stop his SmartPaks? – BH from Argyle, TX

Dear BH,

Your safety and the safety of your horse comes first, as well as the safety of other people and horses around you. However if you feel like there’s no danger to you, him, or others, before cancelling your next supplement shipment (and potentially not providing your horse with the support he needs to be his healthiest and offer you his maximum level of performance), ask yourself these questions:

  • Have I changed barns recently, especially to a different state or part of the country?
  • Has his turnout schedule or buddies changed (e.g. he’s been in for a week due to weather)
  • Has the barn changed brands or increased grain?
  • Am I working my horse less than usual because of work, family, travel?
  • Have I changed trainers?
  • Did the behavior occur when I took him away from the barn to a lesson, clinic, or show?
  • Has the weather changed recently, like from hot to cold, dry to rainy, or calm to windy?
  • Did my horse have an injury requiring stall rest or at least a reduction in exercise?

These are examples of common situations we hear about that could lead to a personality or behavior change in a horse. Our advice is three-fold:

  1. Work with your veterinarian to rule out any medical issues that could explain the change in behavior
  2. Work with your trainer to identify any changes in his exercise that may be contributing
  3. Work with your barn manager to ferret out feed, turnout, or other changes that could be having an influence.
  4. Can I share with you my favorite customer story about an attitude change? A horse owner called because her horses were on supplements and one of them was suddenly acting out of character on trail rides (anxious, nervous, and spooky). Later in the conversation it was revealed that she had run into a BEAR on this particular path with this particular horse so now he has become apprehensive about starting down that trail again!

    Here’s hoping you DO find something simple in your horse’s daily life that is causing him stress and that it’s NOT a large, man-eating grizzly!

    Lydia F. Gray, DVM, MA SmartPak Staff Veterinarian and Medical Director Dr. Lydia Gray has earned a Bachelor of Science in agriculture, a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM), and a Master of Arts focusing on interpersonal and organizational communication. After “retiring” from private practice, she put her experience and education to work as the American Association of Equine Practitioner’s first-ever Director of Owner Education. Dr. Gray continues to provide health and nutrition information to horse owners through her position at SmartPak, through publication in more than a dozen general and trade publications, and through presentations around the country. She is the very proud owner of a Trakehner named Newman that she actively competes with in dressage and combined driving. In addition to memberships in the USDF and USEF, Dr. Gray is also a member of the Illinois Dressage and Combined Training Association (IDCTA). She is a USDF “L” Program Graduate and is currently working on her Bronze Medal. Find Dr. Gray on Google+

Posted in Ask the Vet

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3 comments on “Understanding Horse Behavior Changes
  1. Terry Bahner says:

    Something else to consider is a change in tack that might be causing problems. I also had a horse that about a month after I started him on a comprehensive supplement, began to get more alert and bold. He was fairly new to me from a rescue. Turns out he was just feeling much better!

  2. Maria says:

    Ulcers were to blame for my mare transitioning from merely refusing to go forward to trying to buck and rear her way back to the barn. I have her on a steady diet of Smartgut Ultra!

  3. Carrie Miller says:

    If he is just being fiesty or “fresh” where maybe he is a bit excited on the lead or is trying to buck and take off a bit under saddle but isn’t being obstinate it could actually mean the joint supplement is working! When a horse has been in pain before and his pain eases and he starts to feel better he may get a bit “fresh” because he feels better.

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