Is your horse just quirky, or is something wrong?


You may, or may not, recall that I asked you guys about some of your horse’s quirks and strange behaviors. Sometimes, when a horse is quirky, it’s your horse being weird. Sometimes, it’s a sign of things that need further investigation, usually involving a vet.


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Some signs something is wrong with your horse


The tongue is out



horse and owner sticking out tongues

Monkey see, Monkey do! Photo from Dayna – thank you!


  • I can’t explain the horse I knew who LOVED to have the vacuum on his tongue. Yes, we had to turn it on. Other horses really like their tongues pulled or scratched.


Active lips


  • What about the wiggling lip, side to side? I’ve seen this as a response to grooming, and the theory is that a horse is paying back the favor by trying to groom you. But what if he does this? Perhaps it’s his signal that he’s itchy?


Head shy


  • You might also encounter a horse that is ear shy or head shy. So perhaps they have some trauma in their past. Perhaps they have opinions about their halter color. Perhaps their bridle doesn’t fit, or they have weird ticks living in their ear. Or they need more ice as bribes.  Also – never twitch a horse’s ear.  EVER.


horse eating ice cubes

Yum, ice. Thanks, Kell for the shot!


Teeth grinding


  • Horses are often quirky with their teeth. Some horses grind their teeth. I owned one for a bit. He would grind when his hocks were sore. Others might grind when they are pushed beyond their comfort zone. Or their bit is uncomfortable. Or they grind for the sake of grinding.


  • Some horses will also glide their teeth side to side, or run their teeth along a fence to signal something. These two examples illustrate two ideas… one is that some horses display their stress with an action, in this case, the gliding of teeth side to side. The other case of a horse rubbing a fence with his teeth at feeding time is likely an example of horses training humans. A horse brain might have figured out that he will get fed if he does that behavior.


Over-reaction to benign things


  • I’ve known a few that also object violently to weird things. My current horse despises bell boots and will just about flip over and die if you put one on him. Drama! One horse I knew would get mad and kick and stomp his own poop during turnout.


Leg movements


  • A horse at my barn will also cross her legs. Sometimes she stands there; other times she rubs up and down like she’s trying to start a fire. The best we can decide is that she gets itchy sometimes and will just take care of it.


horse crossing front legs to itch

Curtsy? Thanks to Megan for this cutie.


  • There’s also the horse that shakes his leg at you. Perhaps this is a fancy way of pawing? Either way, it’s his cue for a stretch. Possible horses training humans? Shake leg, human stretches. Paw the earth, food appears or attention happens.


Why do horses do these things? 


  • And what about signs of boredom? Are the cute behaviors our horses show a sign of boredom or stress? And we don’t really see that because it’s not cribbing or stall walking? Who knows!? Are quirks just vices that are cuter and more Instagrammable?


  • The whole point of this little exercise was to see if our horse’s quirks are just that – quirks, or if we need to investigate further. Certainly, horses can and will be total weirdos, but sometimes we need to dig deeper and see what’s REALLY up. Might be physical, might be stress-related, might be them and their Jedi mind tricks messing with us.



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