Horse Behavioral Problem Evaluation

While many of the horses in equine assisted therapy don’t have behavioral problems, there are often times a large number of mis-behaving horses under saddle. Here we will review a study about this problem and you can read more on 


“As many as 91% of leisure riding horses in the United Kingdom exhibit some sort of behavior problem under saddle on a regular basis, said Jo S. Hockenhull, PhD, of the School of Veterinary Science at the University of Bristol, England.

In the study, Hockenhull explained that behavior problems in riding horses in the U.K. could compromise the use of those horses in a leisure fashion and possibly lead to riders selling mounts that behave poorly under saddle. To better understand the prevalence of behavior problems, Hockenhull created an online survey about behavior under saddle that owners of 1,326 horses completed over the course of one year. The survey asked respondents to think only back to the previous week when answering the questions on a scale of 1 to 5 (“never” to “frequently”). The vast majority (91%) reported some sort of problem behavior.

Of the 1,326 horses, 78% were ridden with artificial aids—such as martingales, whips, or flash nosebands—to control their behavior, she said.

According to Hockenhull, this could be reason for concern.

“Poor riding may lead to the development of behavioral problems or learned helplessness in ridden horses, and these problems may be exacerbated as the owner attempts to address the problem by increasing the intensity of the aids or the complexity of the tack used to control the horse,” she said. Horses with ongoing or increasing ridden behavior problems are at greater risk of changing hands or euthanasia, she added.

Even so, most of the ridden behavior problems in the study revealed minor issues that were more likely to be “irritating to a rider rather than dangerous,” Hockenhull said. Bucking was rare (only 17% of the horses), and rearing and bolting were very rare (7% and 3%, respectively). The most common problems were shying (50%)—which can be dangerous if it’s violent, she added—along with walking off before the rider has finished getting in the saddle (46%) and pulling or leaning on the bit (45%).

The good news, however, is that overall, leisure riders—at least in the U.K.—seem quite good at caring for their horses’ health and maintenance. A full 97% of the horses received annual dental exams, and more than a third received semiannual exams. Furthermore, 88% of the riders had had their horse’s saddle professionally checked for fit, and 61% had them professionally rechecked as often as once a year.

Hockenhull admitted that her results might be slightly affected by the survey’s voluntary design. Only people willingly responding to her requests to complete the online survey—through emails, online forum postings, and paper leaflets in riding stables—were included in the study.”


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