Equine Behavior Questions and Answers

The Question: Why is the mare who was so calm when we bought her suddenly unamangable?

We purchased a then 8 yr old Tennessee Walking Horse for my 12 yr. old daughter. She’s our first horse, and we selected her because she was so calm horse that she would hardly go. We knew she needed some training and we knew she had some heat issues. We are boarding in a shed with a run. She has turned out to be a stubborn horse and I have taken over working with the mare. I am taking lessons on her once a week with the trainer at the barn. She has turned into a completely different horse. Last week she tried to kick the trainer when she was trying to remove her blanket. Then I was walking her around the barn and she went crazy rearing and trying to get away. She hit me in the head the first time she reared and it was all I could do to get her back to the barn. She was thin when we bought her so the trainer has been trying to put weight on her. She feeds her a grain mixture and we put her on a high fat product along with grass hay. Now everyone is telling me she is dangerous and we should take her back. I don’t know how much formal training she has had. I have been trying to contact former owners to see but can’t seem to catch anyone home. She has also become very spooky. This is not the calm trail horse we bought. What is going on? Is it diet? I had a vet check her ovaries yesterday and he did not find anything.

The Answer


It is so frustrating when you buy a horse who appears calm and quiet and it turns out to be something other than what you expected. It has happened to me in the past, and it is so much more frustrating when it is your first horse and was intended for your child.

Sometimes horses who appear abnormally calm aren’t calm. They may be drugged – that’s what happened to me. I purchased a nice mare as a horse for my mother-in-law. When I rode the horse she was quiet and almost fell asleep as I sat on her back chatting with a friend. This should have been a sign for me, but I just thought she was a wonderful horse that we needed to grab before someone else got her. Within days of getting her home, she changed into a different horse. She was very spooky, ran when she saw a whip and wasn’t at all safe for my mother-in-law. With drugged horses, their personalities change within days to a week of getting them home.

Some abnormally calm horses aren’t calm – they’re poorly trained and balky. I think a horse who refuses to go and is so lazy she needs to be pushed constantly isn’t a safe horse. Too often, those horses will explode when pushed hard enough.

Another possibility for a horse who is high-strung, kicks, and rears is medically related. You mentioned having a vet check her ovaries, but I would also have a vet check her for vision problems as well as pain in her back and legs. He might also check her hormone levels.

If all of those things check out, then I think your horse needs to spend a few months with a professional trainer. She needs to be started from the ground up. She needs to learn to give to pressure and lead well and move off when asked. She needs to learn to longe and move forward with voice cues and whip cues and then she needs to be restarted under saddle. Only after she’s working consistently for the trainer should you or anyone else who isn’t experienced get on her.

She still has the possibility to be a good horse for your family – it is just going to take some detective work to figure out what’s wrong and correct it. Good luck!

The Equine Behaviorist

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