When a horse changes in attitude – particularly becoming less obliging, grumpy, right through to excessive exuberance, aggressive etc – there may be many reasons, so keeping a record of when and what he is doing will help to analyse the why.

The number one reason for a change in demeanour is pain, whether from internally like muscle or joint soreness, gut discomfort and low-grade colic type pain, or from equipment that doesn’t fit properly.
The most common pain source is from issues within the gut of the horse from poor processing of food. Many horses have difficulties when digesting starch and sugars resulting in hindgut acidosis and some suffer from ulcers or disturbances to the mucosa lining the stomach and gut wall.

The next possible reason is a lack of correct balance of work to feed ratio and/or a poorly balanced diet, eg the ratio of protein/fat/fibre/carbohydrates. Link to the article how much to feed .. Also some nutrient levels too high or some too low, for example selenium whether its high or low, will show up in behaviour
Maybe too high from selenium enriched pasture or too low because the pasture level is too low. This is a very important mineral which if either too high or too low, will definitely affect the behavioural responses of the horse. Also, if overfed may be toxic to the horse – it is important to add up the daily intake from all sources eg feed , supplements and pasture. Link to the article supplements

Sometimes it’s as simple as lack of knowledge and understanding of the horse and how to manage and train it. Obtaining the help of a professional and having regular lessons is the answer to that.

To assess pain that maybe from injury or soreness the examination of a veterinarian is needed with such diagnostic tools as flexion tests, nerve blocks, x-rays, scans, blood tests and others.

To check for pain from equipment again ask a professional instructor to look at this and an experienced qualified saddle fitter. However, it’s worth noting that a sore back is often not the primary cause and has resulted in great expenses of new saddles etc. A horse will become sore in the back because he is getting off a limb and changing the way he carries himself thus causing back discomfort. The primary cause of a sore back is 90% in a lower area or limb.

Gut pain is often overlooked unless it develops into the obvious signs of colic. Nevertheless, it is a very common cause of negative attitudes such as overly touchy, girthy, easily irritated and even difficult to handle and ride. Dietary imbalances, high grass sugars, poor pastures, incorrect feeding, can result in an inefficient digestive process and so partially digested food passes through to and ferments in the hindgut where it causes discomfort and even pain. A product which provides enzymes to assist digestion can prevent this. Correcting the feed and helping digestion can be way more effective than overdosing calmers and toxin binders. When a horse inadvertently eats a toxin, it doesn’t become exuberant or grumpy – it becomes ill and often scours. Don’t believe the” toxins in the grass myth”. Link to the article toxins

The other source of pain from within the gut can be caused by a poor microbiome – this is the body of bacteria and microbes which breakdown the food so it can be transported into the physiology of the horse. A poor microbiome occurs when a horse is on antibiotics, or has a change to diet, often from becoming stressed, in hard work or recovering from illness.* Providing a product with an active probiotic to provide new microflora, proven prebiotics to enhance existing microflora and a phospholipid ( a substance that assists the protection of the gut wall), will help re-establish a good working gut thus reducing discomfort occurring at times noted above.*

Finally some horses (often thoroughbreds) do not have high enough levels of tryptophan, or thiamine (vitamin B1) or magnesium. A daily calming formula supplement can assist that and reduce the level of tension which can result in hyperactive behaviour, such as Vetpro Relax. Note: Magnesium does not create a calming effect in the horse, it is only if it is a little low in the normal levels that the horse may become edgy. So once the level has been topped up (as with the daily amount in Relax), additional intake, or fast acting expensive liquids or other sources will not create a calmer horse. Once the horse has the daily requirement and is at the level is required it will excrete all excess – so that can be expensive manure!

It is important that the owner/trainer accepts the fact that the horse is not happy, and by changing his behaviour he is trying to communicate that he is in discomfort or pain. Then to analyse and resolve the issue by using experienced professional help.

To know more about this topic follow the articles on this site:

How Much Feed and What to Feed Your Horse

Why Does A Horse Need Vitamin B1

Sixty Signs Of A Happy Horse

Selenium – What, Why, How

Carbohydrates In Grass and the Affects on Behavior and Performance


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