Dr Debbie Marsden BSc PhD, Equine Behaviour Consultant Contact Details  
Dr Debbie Marsden, one of the world's leading experts in the field of equine behaviour
About Behaviour Problems Lessons Courses Expert Witness Work Fees

Horse Behaviour Problems

Horse Behaviour Problems Example 1Horse Behaviour Problems Example 2

If you are experiencing handling, management, riding or travelling problems with your horse, you are welcome to call me on 01899 221888 to arrange a brief discussion in complete confidence without obligation. No problem is too big or too small!

Sometimes a small change in husbandry or management can solve the problem; sometimes the behaviour indicates pain or discomfort and your horse will need to be seen by your vet and may also need his tack thoroughly checked for fit. In other cases an assessment visit may be necessary and if so, I can make an appointment to come and see your horse or refer you to a SEBC Registered Equine Behaviour Consultant in your area. For details of costs go to fees page.

Scroll down to Body Language table below to check for key signs.

Holistic sympathetic approach - Practical advice - Tailored to each individual and their horse's needs

Only Humane Horse Friendly Training

All trainers, both traditional and alternative, use the same elements of natural horse behaviour, their inherent instincts and natural learning ability, as no matter how you explain or present any training method, a horse is still a horse and all good trainers know that the easiest and most efficient way to train horses is the safest and kindest method.

See Further Information section below for more details about my approach.

There is no charge for a quick chat on the phone about your horse's behaviour or a client's horse's behaviour, and anyone is welcome to call without obligation.

Vet and other Equine Industry Professional Referrals

Vets, Veterinary Physiotherapists, SMS Saddle Fitters, Registered Farriers and staff of animal Charities and Welfare organisations are welcome to call me for informal second opinion on any aspect of their clients horses behaviour without obligation and in complete confidence.

Challenging behaviour in horses and equine behaviour problems which cause concern may be a sign that your horse may need to be seen by your Vet (MRCVS www.beva.org.uk or www.rcvs.org.uk), a Chartered Veterinary Physiotherapist (MSCP ACPAT Registered www.acpat.org), a Society of Master saddlers Qualified Saddle Fitter (SMS QSF www.mastersaddlers.co.uk) or a Registered Farrier (www.farrier-reg.gov.uk). Some behaviour probelms will indicate immediately to me that your horse requires veterinary assistance and where this is the case my advice to involve your vet is without charge or further obligation.

Veterinary surgeons are welcome to refer clients’ horses for behaviour assessment and specialist second opinion. Referral slips are available to any veterinary practice and can be downloaded by clicking on the link below. As a SEBC (www.sebc.org.uk) registered Equine Behaviour Consultant, Dr Marsden works closely with vets (www.beva.org.uk or www.rcvs.org.uk), veterinary physiotherapists ( www.acpat.org), SMS qualified saddler fitters (www.mastersaddlers.co.uk) and registered farriers (www.farrier-reg.gov.uk) as part of a multidisciplinary team to ensure that your horse gets the proper professional help required to fully resolve any issue.

Referral Form

Horse Owners

Challenging Behaviour, Safety and Welfare

My priorities are your safety and your horse's welfare.

Where ‘challenging behaviour’ puts people and horses at risk there are important safety benefits to a positive diagnosis of learned misbehaviour or ‘naughtiness’. Early intervention with appropiate management and training reduces risk all round and can prevent accidents.

There are also important welfare benefits in ruling out learned misbehaviour as a causal factor early in the diagnostic process, to allow a horse in pain or suffering a pathological or other physical problem to be properly referred back to the vet or appropriate specialist for this to be further investigated and treated as required. You will find more information about this on the SEBC website www.sebc.org.uk.

If you have any concerns at all about your own safety or that of your horse or others due to 'challenging behaviour' please avoid putting yourself, your horse or others at risk by avoiding the situation where the problem occurs eg. not riding, not hacking out, not clipping, loading or travelling until you have taken proper professional advice.

Saving Time and Money

Ruling out learned misbehaviour early in the diagnostic procedure also allows more thorough veterinary investigation to be applied with confidence, as using all of the technology available today can be expensive. Insurance companies may be more willing to pay for further investigative work after learned misbehaviour has been discounted as a possible causal factor. This saves time and money all round. It might be worthwhile asking your insurance company about this and checking that any company you are condsidering taking out a policy with, will pay for behaviour referals.

Equine Body Language and Behaviour Problems

Equine ‘body language’ can be used to help you distinguish between behaviour problems due to genuine fear, pain, injury or illness, requiring further veterinary investigation, from those which are due to learned misbehaviour or disobedience, or which are simply misunderstood natural horse behaviour.

Should you become concerned about your horse's behaviour, try using the summary table above and the SEBC website to help you decide what kind of problem you are most likely to be dealing with;

You are welcome to call me on 01899 221888 for professional assistance to distinguish the nature of any behaviour causing you concern, to arrange an assessment visit or book a few lessons on coping with a ‘challenging behaviour’ if you wish!

Video Analysis

Alternatively you are welcome to send me a video clip for analysis to mdmequestrian@gmail.com. There is no charge if copy can be kept and used for teaching and educational purposes.

Body Language Clues

If you are unsure whether any challenging behaviour is due to genuine fear, pain or discomfort or if your horse is just 'being naughty' try using the table below for some information on equine body language which may help you work this out. There is also more information about this on the SEBC website. Alternatively you are welcome to send a video clip to Dr Marsden for analysis as above or arrange a behaviour assesment visit from Dr Marsden or a SEBC registered Equine Behaviour Consultant in your area www.sebc.org.uk.

  Pain/fear/physical problems Confident Learned Behaviour
LOOK AT: Signs are: Signs are:
Tail Tight/clamped/kinked Loose/up/swinging/swishing
Lip line Straight, tight Curled down at corners
Lower lip or ‘chin’ Tucked/tight Protruding/loose/floppy
Nostrils Long/thin ‘drawn’ tight Round/‘soft’ edged
Head and Muzzle Up and nudging out Down and tucked in
Pattern of Activity Sudden/violent Threats/increasing/anticipated
Aggression Kicking (hind leg) Biting/chasing
Type of kicking Hind leg mainly one at a time Foreleg strike/ turn hindquarters towards you and use both hind legs ‘double barrel’
Sweating Immediate/prior to action Rare
Shivering/muscle tremors May be present Absent

Observe the misbehaviour carefully (video helps if you can do so safely!) and highlight whichever description best fits your horse for as many of the rows in the table as you can.

You should find that most of your highlights are in one column, indicating the nature of the problem. Where you have some highlights in both columns there may be several different issues involved and an assessment visit will probably be required to fully investigate each element of any ongoing problems. For example, generally confident horses can get sore too and some illnesses can cause a sudden persistent increase in general aggressive behaviour and healthy comfortable horses can develop fear related issues. A professional Equine Behaviour Consultant can help to find the cause of all issues and advise on appropriate treatment for each.

If any of your highlights are in the left hand column, you should consult your vet immediately, as many injuries and diseases can cause this behaviour. Should your vet find no obvious signs of these in your horse at this point, follow-up checks with a Society of Master Saddlers qualified saddle fitter (SMSQSF) or Chartered Veterinary Physiotherapist (registered as MCSP or ACPAT) may be helpful in getting to the root of the problem. Contact the Society of Master Saddlers to find a qualified fitter in your area: www.mastersaddlers.co.uk Tel. 01449 711642. Contact the Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Animal Therapy to find a Chartered Veterinary Physiotherapist in your area: www.acpat.org.

If most of your highlights are in the right hand column, you may have a ‘naughty’ horse on your hands! A SEBC registered consultant will be able to offer practical advice on appropriate training and management.

Natural Lifestyle and Ethologically Sound Environments for Horses

Modern livery yards and most domestic stables provide a very different environment from that in which horses evolved. However with a little thought it is possible to adapt common practices to give your horse the most natural lifestyle possible in a domestic setting in so far as is practicable. This not only improves welfare but can have a major effect on improving many aspects of your horses behaviour and making him/her much easier to manage. Call me on 01899 221888 to arrange or a practical 'lifestyle makeover' for your horse!

Further Information

Importance of Diagnostic Approach

Many people try a ‘therapeutic’ approach eg trying lots of different things to see if they will help. Lack of success here can be very frustrating especially when nothing seems to help. Using a diagnostic approach which gets to the root cause of any problem leads to the most appropriate and therefore most effective solution.

Sometimes a simple change in management or handling or riding technique can solve the problem. However, there are no ‘quick fixes’ when it comes to re-training horses and changing behaviour. No single system ‘cures all’. To use a medical analogy, the same medicine which cured your neighbour will only work for you if you are the same kind of person suffering from exactly the same disease. I use a diagnostic approach, finding out what is happening and why before offering retraining or other treatment.

I find that once I have explained the nature of the problem behaviour, what is happening and why, you will understand your horse much better, be better able to cope with him or her, improve your horse's life and markedly improve your relationship.

Importance of Holistic Approach

Some behaviour problems are simply misunderstood ‘normal’ behaviour and can be dealt with by very simple practical changes to handling and management practices. Others may be complex, requiring a full history interview and assessment visit in order to properly diagnose the cause. This can be multifactorial and the apparent ‘problem’ caused by factors previously thought to be irrelevant, or made up of several different problems each requiring independent solutions. Most importantly, many equine behaviour problems are due to physical problems causing pain or discomfort and the holistic, multidisciplinary team approach, outlined above, helps you get to the root of the problem and quickly find the best solution for you and your horse.

Importance of the Individual

You and your horse are unique. You have a unique relationship. Not everyone has access to the same facilities and support. The training technique which suits one horse, or one person may not suit another. My sympathetic holistic approach takes full account of your individual circumstances, preferences and your horse's individual character and particular needs, and we can work together to make sure that you get a practical solution that suits you.


Once the causes of any behaviour problems have been established and we are sure that the horse is healthy and comfortable, practical advice is given. This may be relatively simple practical advice on managing your horse or a long term bespoke training programme with lessons and supported training as necessary.

Where training is required, I use all known available humane and horse friendly techniques, selecting which are most appropriate for each horse and person to reduce concerns and change behaviour, finding practical solutions to improve the safety and welfare of all involved.

Your Horse's History

As described above, your horse's past experiences can have a major effect on his behaviour and knowing more about your horse's history can be very helpful in understanding and coping with any problems. There is an excellent website www.horsetracer.info which is dedicated to helping people find out more about their horse's background. You may even be able to trace and contact previous owners, which can be particularly useful if you bought your horse from a dealer.

Click here to go to Horsetracer site

Professional Ethics

As a SEBC Registered Equine Behaviour Consultant, I follow a strict professional and ethical code, prioritising safety and welfare using only humane training techniques, maintain strict professional confidentiality and aim to provide the best service possible to every client.

Further Reading

If you want to know more about Dr Marsden’s behaviour work, you may like to read her book “How Horses Learn” published by Allen’s in 2006. It was written to help horse owners understand how behaviour problems develop and explains the training processes required to solve equine behaviour problems. It is a general interest book and so does not contain scientific jargon or academic references. If you are interested in Dr Marsdens scientific publications please consult the approriate journals and text books - see section (e) of CV on about page.

“How Horses Learn” is available from all good bookshops including the BHS bookshop and can be ordered online from Amazon www.amazon.co.uk/how-horses-learn.

Call: 01899 221888 Write to: Dr Marsden, PO Box 8776, Biggar, ML12 6WL. Email: mdmequestrian@gmail.com
All material on this website is protected by copyright and may not be reproduced in any form without permission from Dr Marsden or Michelle Rushen.
© 2009-2023 Dr M D Marsden BSc PhD SEBC Reg Senior Consultant
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