Horse Behavior Sleuth

Longtime readers of my blog know that I believe that the foundation of good care for one’s flock is to know them, and you do this by observation. It’s true of horses, too. Before the training, before the riding, you need to know each other.

I have two clients, a married couple, who each own a Lusitano gelding. One is a skilled rider, the other is a novice; both are realistic about their limited experience in horse care. They’re also extremely busy professionals. I was called in to find them a better boarding situation, and then to do a baseline observation of their horses’ behavior and body conditions. I keep tabs on the horses’ progress. When the owners travel, I do well horse checkups and pamper the horses with grooming sessions and walks.

This is what “G” (name initialized to protect his privacy) was like when we first met. He has a lovely intelligent eye.



“S” has a more wary and nervous temperament. He’s also an elderly horse, who has been used hard in his past. This photo captures what he was like when I first met him.



I put S on a

 and a protein additive for his feed. I bathed him and stood quietly with him. I doctored some mysterious sores on the outsides of his legs.

bloody fetlock


The wounds weren’t a one-time occurrence. He continued to open up the scabs and get new ones. How was he injuring himself? I had to do some sleuthing, which, of course, involved quiet observation.

Half of the day, the horses are in dirt paddocks. The other half they are turned out into grassy fields. I walked through both areas. There was nothing dangerous in them. The area that S likes to dust bathe in is sand, and there aren’t any obvious rocks to rub him raw.

These sores appeared in mid-summer when the grass inside of the fence was eaten down so far that there was nothing left to nibble. But, on the outside was glorious, tall green growth. The fence line’s bottom rails of S’s enclosures were rather high in places. High enough for a determined horse to reach under.

G, in the lefthand paddock couldn’t reach the grass. You can see how high it is by his fence. But S has those high rails, and he’s willing to get down. He was doing the limbo, and in the process was rubbing himself raw. No matter that both horses have slow feed hay boxes, S wanted that grass!

over under


I’m 99% sure that this is how S got those sores. I didn’t catch him in the act, although I did see him in a stretch that looked like a bow. Look at how far over the grass is eaten down. There’s no way that he can reach that by just stretching his neck. In pushing himself back up, he would have rubbed the outsides of his legs. The horse that alternates turnout in these paddocks also has sores in exactly the same places, though not quite as raw. S has very sensitive skin.

head under


I talked to the farm manager about this. The fence line has been mowed. The sores are healing.

S and I have gotten to know each other. Look at his expression now.

S head shot


If you need horse behavior sleuthing, email me. I’m also available to do well horse checks, and grooming sessions for bonding and health. (I’m based 30 miles west of Boston, MA) Contact me, too, if you’d like to learn how to handle and groom your horse so that she gives you that soft, welcoming eye. There’s nothing like having a gleaming, healthy horse give you that look.


  1. Nice work! S is a determined guy about that grass. So glad you’re taking the time to get to know him. He looks much more trusting now.

  2. About the only thing I know about horses is that are beautiful….and they smell good! I can clearly see (after you pointed it out) the difference in S’s eye, before and after. You are amazing with animals!

  3. Those eyes in pic #2 sure do tell a sad story…. It does not bear thinking about. Glad he`s in good hands now and can enjoy the `greener grass on the other side`.

  4. Detective Terry, well done. ‘S’ looks so relaxed now. Jess will love reading this blog. Thanks for letting us in on your work, amazing stuff…:)

  5. Gotta love those rascals. One place I worked had a mare that would get her neck and one leg between two boards and get stuck. And then she would start yelling for us to come push up on her leg and down on her neck so she could pull herself out. She’d be on one knee for this. It was always the same leg so it was pretty scraped up on the upper inside. She was in a beautiful twenty acre pasture with woods on two sides. But there were these raspberry bushes… :) Once that was figured out someone was sent to rip them out. :D

  6. I can’t speak to horses other than how beautiful they are. And the difference in that eye is remarkable! You are the horse whisperer!!!! I can speak to the fact that regardless of your pet that it is imperative to observe and know them to know when something is amiss. I know my dogs so well I can instantly tell when something is bothering them and I usually know precisely what it is from their body language. I am also a new chicken momma. I free range and watch my little (3 month old) chickens from my garden swing every evening. Each one has her (and his) own individual personality and likes and dislikes regarding food and attention and favorite place to sit back and observe me. Hands on and eye on have allowed me to quickly spot and care for 2 mishaps that might otherwise gone unnoticed until too late.

  7. Beautiful horses! Yes, you can tell the difference in the “eye”. I think just about every animal wants the grass or other goodies on the other side of the fence. It is sometimes comical to see how they try to get to it, but sometimes that brings troubles.

  8. Upside-down bell boots over the pastern/fetlock work wonders for protecting that area while it heals (and preventing further sores if the horse keeps it up!). The soft floppy kind work best. Nice looking ponies!