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What do you do when you are stressed?

Scratch your head, crack your knuckles, fidget with a pen, rub your hands together…

Do you recognize any of these common moves in others?

These are called pacifying or self-soothing behaviors and they are part of how our bodies regulate stress, whether that stress is from learning, frustration, fear, or anxiety.

Horses also have self-soothing behaviors, but many riders do not notice these behaviors for what they are, potentially missing subtle signs of stress in their horse.

When we learn to recognize what these behaviors are for our own horses, we become better at reading our horse and understanding what they may be feeling.

 In the video below, I will show you what these common self-soothing behaviors are and how to recognize them in your horse.

Now I would love to hear from you! What is a pacifying behavior you notice your horse doing? Scroll down and leave a comment!

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134 Responses

  1. Thanks Callie for the focus on this. One thing my horse does when he’s stressed as I ride is he will pull his head around (as in a yielding exercise he first learned while in training) and stay there. I scratch his head and he will linger there. Then he takes a breath. After I watched this video, I realized this is most likely his way of finding “center” and “regrouping” when he doesn’t understand what I mean. It’s my cue to take a breath myself, un-tense my muscles, and wait till he is confident and settled with his head in front.
    My other horse shakes his head and gets really squirrelly, almost like a temper tantrum of a toddler. All I do with him and increase my own stability and let him work through it. He then takes a breath and settles.
    Both horses are so different! My response to each is unique as well. However, one dynamic that is similar is that when I notice either horses’ behavior, I need to slow down and become more clear.
    thanks again Callie! If you have any additional comments that would be appropriate for these 2 horses, feel free to let me know! I’m always ready to hear and learn more!

  2. I’ve noticed for awhile that my horse bites at his chest as I brush and saddle him before a ride. I wondered if he was sore in some area, but noticed he didn’t do it as I was tightening the girth later or when I brushed him after finishing the ride. It was only as I was getting ready to go for a ride. What can I do to get him to stop, or should I worry about getting him to stop? Thanks!

    1. It sounds like it might be a tension thing – does his saddle fit alright? It could be from discomfort when the girth is being tightened.

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  3. Great info. When I’m getting ready to put the bridle on my horse, he starts yawning. I do let him finish his yawn and then put the bridle on and he’s usually just fine when I get on and ride. I don’t know if I should do something different? Any suggestions to help him? This happens 99% of the time.

    1. Same with my horse. He always yawns when I pick up the bridle. He happily puts his head down for me to put it on and readily accepts the bit, but always yawn when he knows I’n going to put the bridle on.

    2. Amy, does he seem like he gets anxious or upset at any other point of the tacking or grooming process?

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  4. PG is a big yawner. She also does the leg scratch with her nose. She’ll also procrastinate, stopping to smell everything or turn her head away from me. Head shakes when frustrated. And then there’s the ultimate neck arch, which means look out world, I’m coming through!

  5. Noticed my mare does little bites ( no ears back, and not intended to be hard) when I’m doing some work with her prior to backing. She might do it one day, then the next day doing the same exercise she doesn’t. Does this mean she has accepted what I’ve done and is ok with it?

    1. Jane, it is really hard for me to say exactly what could be happening without see it!

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  6. Jake paws and waves his foreleg when he’s anxious. Also some head scratching which I always thought just meant he itched (which it might). I talk softly, move slowly, breathe deeply, etc, but he still paws—mostly when crosstied (we’re working on standing without ties) and when trailering. Any suggestions for getting him to relax about the trailer? I keep thinking that if he use trusted me more this wouldn’t happen.

    1. Nan, to get him to relax in the trailer I always recommend getting them on and off the trailer even if you aren’t going anywhere! It is great to practice!

  7. Yawning…she yawns and yawns when I am untacking. Occasionally when tacking but most often seen when untacking.

  8. You mentioned cribbing …. my horse’s cribbing currently seems food driven, although initially I think boredom may have been another factor. When he first arrived to our barn several years ago, he cribbed constantly. However, I believe our set up has been helpful for him: after having freedom of movement on 30 acres, being in a herd of 10 and having access to forage 24/7, his cribbing has diminished. He will still crib, but now it occurs any time another horse is being fed, or he is being fed. I wish he would stop this habit completely. Do you think he may eventually stop? He is a 21 year old, high energy Rocky Mountain.

  9. When I start to take my pony out of her stall for our daily ride, she always goes straight for the salt lick. After a few locks she is ready to go!

  10. I have a mare out of impressive who is very Alpha at times. I’ve noticed her way of telling me she’s unhappy with the situation and she’ll walk away from me and just throw her head back and forth and Swisher tail. I’ve had fellow Barn mates tell me she’s happy and I tried to explain to them no I believe she’s showing me displeasure and she’s unhappy and maybe you could confirm that she’s a busybody she gets agitated if she’s not doing things she’s you know open gates and I would like to comfort her or understand what’s bothering her at times it’s been that pre colic, I think other time is is her showing me she’s upset with me because recently after losing her partner I have not been able to spend a lot of time with her as I’m working a lot. I’ve had horses many many years but I always enjoy listening to you cuz you always tell me something that I didn’t know thank you very much for your videos Camille

  11. After a very good session of bitting and ground driving, my horse will drop his head dramatically and start the lick and chew. This is only at a stand still. If I really loosen the reins and pick his head up he will then start to relax him self. If I don’t do this, his reaction will continue. It seems to relieve his stress and then he relaxes.

  12. My mare tends to pull on her bit and draw her head forward when a lesson draws to a close. She may have had enough bending and stretching into the bit as we work and is signaling “Enough, already!” The trainer and I usually agree to let her rest if the lesson is a successful one for us both. We occasionally do just one or two more simple exercises to prevent this from becoming a habit. She is a challenge for me, but I love working with her.

  13. Hi great info,I have a 20 yr.old QH Paint who likes to chew on the wood fence what could this mean? Posted June 14,2019 Reply thanks Barb

    1. Hi Barb, there are a few reasons he is chewing on the wood. He may need different more nutrients than what he is getting, he may not have access to free choice forage, or perhaps out of boredom!

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  14. My horse does EXACTLY what you described when my horse is beginning to have a pssm episode he rubs his head on the inside of his leg just above the fetlock. Thank you for this REASON he does that!!!

  15. Blaze chews on the bit while on a trail ride. We can be walking along at a slow pace just relaxing and he is still chewing on the bit. This is a habit he has had since I got him.
    It is worse if I ride him in the arena. He is a very mouthy horse, always picking things up and pulling on things, very food driven. So I am not sure if the bit chewing is a release or not. Would love your opinion.

    1. Nancy, it sounds like a bit of tension but it could also be that the bit he has isn’t comfortable holding the bit in his mouth!

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  16. Both my horses bite the knot in the lead rope once I’ve tied them up. It’s definitely a nervous reaction by the way they clamp down but stops once they work out their hay net is below.

    Think I must be giving off negative vibes

  17. I’ve been doing a lot of Focus for relaxation stuff with my horse (Warwick Schiller-style) in addition to in-hand work that I’ve learned through Patrick’s course. Interestingly, my horse will now have these amazingly long “let down” sessions every time I get her out of her stall. All I have to to do is halter her, lead her into the arena and stand in front of her and she will lick, chew, sigh, do crazy tongue/yawning movements, rub her head on her front legs, etc for 15 min or more if I let her. If I ask her do to something like walk a simple circle on the lunge line, she will start up all the behaviors again before she does anything. I’m beginning to think that she’s figured out that if she starts all those behaviors, I will wait until she’s finished “letting down”, so she can get out of working by doing them. Is this possible or am I making it up???

    1. Hi, I have been using the same focus for relaxation with my horse & it’s great watching the relaxation signals. I don’t think it’s getting out of work, when you can see the raised veins running from under the eye down the side of their face, they are ready to learn, as in using the thinking side of their brain rather than the fight/flight side. Sorry I can’t remember the correct names

    2. Katrina, I think it is very possible! It is a pattern that she has become accustomed to it sounds like!

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  18. My mare does most of things when riding. She also chews her cheek every time I ask for trot. I’ve noticed these things actually have been increasing over time rather than decreasing with further training. She’s on the more green side, no work at all went into her learning to use her body properly before I got her. So now we are working on this a lot and these stress behaviors have really ramped up. I wish I knew how to help her with this. I am a very quiet rider and ride bitless so the stress isn’t from my over use of aids.

  19. My mare Pearl bites her sides and rubs her face on her front leg. Unfortunately Pearls previous owners were mean to her!

  20. Thanks Callie for another great video. Anxiety signs not noticed can so often lead to accidents! (a lesson hard learned in distant past!)

    Signs of tension I now always watch for: tightness of lips, ears held stiffly, tail swishing, ‘hard’ eyes, high head.

    Relaxation indicators include soft lips and muzzle. soft eyes, flexible ears; ‘exhale’ of breath; the lick and chew (when processing info), yawning, and when riding, my horses always start to make ‘blowing out’ ‘soft-snorting sounds’ when they begin to really chill out.’
    Another indicator is willingness to go forward softly. If nervous ‘cuz of dead or alive wild pigs or other scary, the feet get ‘stuck’ or alternately can move TOO much (I’m outta here!). Often a few guided steps of retreat from scary object, while I simultaneously exhale, gives horse a moment to process and produces a sweet r e l a x.

  21. My gelding is 8, my impression of his odd behavior is that he doesn’t think he’s getting enough attention from me….for instance if I’m puttering around in the barn, he will start clapping his lips….everyone thinks it’s hilarious and he keeps doing it. We were recently at a clinic and all was quiet, just standing watching another horse being worked and he started his lip clapping. He can’t do this when he has a bit in his mouth thankfully!

  22. My horse will often flap his lips when I’m preparing to feed him; I assumed he was hungry. But today while the farrier was trimming another horse outside the stall, my horse began flapping his lips, making little popping sounds. I wouldn’t think watching another horse would make him require self-soothing but there he was – flapping. He was fine when it was his turn to get trimmed.

    1. Yup-Feather too! She can almost pop a “tune”…which she then goes into licking and chewing-head lowering as she relaxes. The older she gets-the more vigourous her lip popping has become under stress…so it must help her. I always pay attention though-as sometimes she does it when by all accounts things are just “moseying along”. Her head will be down-she will seem completely relaxed and yet she is popping her lip some…I think sometimes it is a form of self entertainment or meditation! 🙂

  23. Thank you ,Callie and great comments above too. My horse rubs his hind end on the pipe panels. Leaving grey zebra stripes

    1. Margie, has he been wormed recently? Could be pinworms that gather around the rectum and are super itchy to the horse!

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

    2. When my horse was doing this she also had dry flakey skin on her tail. She would rub until she had sores. The vet felt she was reacting to bug bites on her tail. She told me to use the fly/bug spray since it has oil in it that can act as a moisturizer. I spray it into her tail and massage it in to get down through all the hair to the bone. I do this whenever I apply the spray to the rest of her, (at least twice weekly). I’ve had no more problems unless I forget.

  24. My horse does all of the things you mention plus onein particular. Every time i tighten the girth of the saddle he chews frantically on the wood where he is tied up. I think he wants to bite me but takes out his displeasure on the wood. His ears are back at the same time. Whenhe is really upset he shakes his head up and down and i definitely feel something is about to pop. He pretty systematically bucks just a little if i use the reins to slap him to correct misbehavior (like backing up in revolt) or if he needs to speed up the tempo. he was a school horse before I got him and he learned’every trick in the book to protect himself from bad riders. Now he is gentle and more affectionate after a few yearsnof being coddled by an adoring mistress and grandchildren.

    1. Meggan, my only thought that you might want to consider saddle fit! Those behaviors could be a pattern from an ill-fitting saddle either now or in the past!

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  25. I don’t own a hore, but I have ridden many different school horses, the majority of which have been full or half arabs. Almost all the horses take time at the very beginning of each lesson to cough, snort, sneeze, etc. Sometimes it goes on for quite awhile! I’ve always thought it was because of the dust in the arena or pollen in the air. But mow I’m wondering it is release of stress… any advice?

    1. Jill, it sounds like it might just be due to a dusty arena but it is hard to know without knowing the whole situation!

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  26. Rem sticks his tongue out of the side of his mouth when he’s stressed. It’s pretty easy to convince him there’s nothing to be worried about and he will stop. However, he has had a pretty rough 8 months or so while we worked to find the source of lameness and during that period he began cribbing (my first clue that something was bothering him). He never cribbed before. He has been on stall rest and limited turnout the better part of this year (he’s now recovering from colic surgery) and the cribbing is making ME nuts. Depending on his frame of mind that day, he can exhibit zero cribbing, or he will crib on anything. I hope that once he’s fully recovered and can go on pasture, he’ll settle down and maybe the cribbing will go dormant.

    1. Karen, it sounds like the cribbing is from the limited turnout – when is he allowed to be turnout out again?

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

      1. He can begin limited small turnout in July but he isn’t thrilled with that paddock and will pace and crib out there. (He was turned out there for the lameness issue and the cribbing was increasing when he colicked.) I think I will have to move him to another facility that has more options for turnout.

  27. My filly paws when nervous although she usually will work herself quickly thru it and stand still without need for correction.

  28. I’ve noticed that my horse does reach back and bite at his shoulders when we are exercising together, but I never associated that with stress. Thank you for making me aware that this reaction may be related to a stress behaviour. I always thought that he had an itch that he had to alleviate.

  29. Hello from New Zealand! My horse rubs his head on his leg! I have often wondered why and now it makes sense. I have only had him 4 months and he is a 12 year old warm blood. Another habit is pawing. This is most often during grooming. He does not like being still for too long. I am still trying to understand him and I feel he is still trying to understand me. I have had some more aggressive behaviors such as stamping of a back hoof. Very forcefully. These behaviors do concern me. I am just trying to understand him more, which hopefully may lead to understanding these more intense signs.

  30. Pawing and yawning for sure. And this week he started reaching down to his left front leg and scratching it. Very timely video – thank you for all your awesome videos.

  31. I have noticed that as soon as I enter the ring or indoor arena, my horse needs to scratch his leg/rub his face on his leg. I always use to joke about his incredibly itchy legs that only itch when we are going to do some work. Now I’m wondering if this was to relieve some stress that he was feeling.

  32. My 19 year old sensitive Westphalian loves his bi weekly massages from a certified massage therapist. Still he gets anxious at the sound of a whip in the ring and paws quite a bit in the stall. I talk to him in the stall and ring and also we get busy working together in the ring which calms him. Finally, I do believe eye contact during grooming helps.

  33. Great topic ! My horse definitely does a lot of tail swishing when I’m asking him to work. And he’s always a gentleman and good boy ! However my question is … I was always told the “chewing and licking “was a sign of relaxation like” blowing out “ what are your thoughts ?

    1. Audrey, the lick and chew gets a lot of different meanings associated with it. Callie does say in the video that it comes after a period of stress coming to an end!

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  34. Great video! I’ve noticed when my horse is in a new situation or there are other horses around he will get “guy” sounds when he does more than a walk. The vet says just sheath moving. I totally disagree because when I lounge him, no sounds……… He also yawns quite a bit when I have been working him hard.

    1. Kimberly, he could be holding himself in a different posture when you ride and that could be causing the sound!

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  35. Hi Callie –
    I think it is very interesting to watch a horse and figure out what he or she is telling us through behavior. My 7 year old warmblood seems to like to “teethe” – with her often finding a lead rope, a portion of the reign, a lunge line or a piece of wood to chew, even with the bit in her mouth. I do wonder if this is her soothing behavior. I also had the interesting experience of her starting to shake her head/neck quite forcefully while I was riding recently, with this occurring after a long session of work. It was as if she was saying, “I have had it and need a break…this is your warning.” I really do think these animals will offer you everything they can, while also trying to communicate their needs. It is up to us to be smart and interpret things with intelligence (maybe it is a ploy to get out of work or to get away with something) and a giving heart (maybe the horse is saying to human Mom or Dad, I am tired, you have challenged me enough for now, and I need a break). Curiosity and empathy should guide our interpretations.

    1. My horse also mouths his lead rope when he’s stressed. I’ve noticed that when he becomes tense (he’s an unbroken Brumby) when we go for a walk or doing exercises I’ll stop & let him have the end of the lead. He’ll chomp away for a while & you can see his eyes soften & his whole body relax.
      As you said, it’s about us being present & observant and loosing the ‘schedule’ and working with what we have on that day. When you listen to them, they give so much more – and willingly.
      They are incredible teachers!

  36. Ollie starts to chomp on the bit when he is stressed – most often its when he is with a group of horses. If I push him too far in his schooling, he can become very ‘over the top’ and almost unrideable so I am very aware of how far to go outside his comfort zone.

  37. My mare grabs her noseband or throat lash as soon as I put on her bridle and chews it. I am continuously taking the leather straps out of her mouth while trying to do the bridle up. I have always felt she is anxious with the work to come and this has a soothing affect for her.

  38. My horse rolls his tongue around. It’s looks really funny. We always thought that he was just board. When he was a stallion and was isolated from other horses, he did it constantly. Since he’s been gelded, I’ve noticed he hasn’t been doing it that frequently. When he does do it, it’s usually when grooming is taking too long.

  39. Blue tends to chew or bite down repeatedly to one side of his bit when we are standing still, or he will reach back and try to grab my boot. When I ask him to lope, sometimes he tries to grab my left shank! If he is just standing he gets quite “lippy ” with his shanks on his bit. Drives me nuts..

    1. Dawn, this type of mouthing behavior is pretty common in geldings! The best way to handle it is to just ignore the behavior or don’t allow him to mouth on things he isn’t supposed to have!

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

      1. Thank you Julia. I have thought about moving into a bosal with him so he can’t grab anything. Also I need to get him out on the trail more, he is so quiet everywhere else, but the trail with multiple horses just freaks him out and he gets terribly nervous. I brought over my neighbors horse so he can have exposer to other horses and I am hoping this also helps. He just wants to touch them all!

  40. I have several. One paso I am working on, she stretches and rubs her front legs. I thought just trying to get out of work, but like the thought maybe she is stressed and I need to work differently.
    I have a mare I use for lessons. After so long she just shakes her head up and down. Arguing I was told, but now I see it may be stress. Appreciate your help. Thanks

    1. Jana, it could be a stress behavior! Are the flies bad during your lessons? That could explain some of it as well!

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  41. After I’ve ridden my horse (and not doing anything that I would have thought was stressful), he stands and begins to pop his lips then almost at the same time he starts to stick his tongue out the side of his bit area. Then if I’ve gotten off him sometimes he searches for my hands where he then puts his tongue between his teeth and rubs it on my hand. I’ve asked a lot of people what they thought and some said he’s board??? stressed ??? Happy??? He’s pretty laid back and I love him to death.

    1. Lynn, if he seems like he is relaxed then it might just be one of those self soothing habits that he enjoys doing. If he seems like a healthy, happy guy probably not too much to worry about!

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  42. Shakespeare loves treats. Hand fed too many times. We no longer treat by hand any more and that’s helped a great deal. I’ve noticed though, when he is in the stalls he likes to find something, usually the cross ties, and puts it in his mouth, almost like a pacifier. Sometimes he may be playing… it’s hard to tell.

    1. Vena, if Shakespeare is a young gelding they tend to be very oral so playing with things is normal play behavior most of the time. Does he get turned out with other horses?

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  43. well I just had an epiphany, thanks to watching this. When I first got my mare, she would head toss when I asked her to trot or canter. She had been someone else’s horse before me. It has taken some time to get past this, but she will do it when I start something new. Now I get it. It is her stress release. Another thing that she does, is snort and travel behind the bit, at any new transition, until we are into our work time. This all makes so much sense to me now. She is a bit insecure, and until she realizes that she can trust me, and she relaxes, she has these little quirks. I have been told by instructors that she is trying to get out of work, but alas, it’s because she feels stressed and not sure what is to come. She has some baggage, from her previous life. Such a great tip!!!!

  44. Oh my goodness! I have a VERY intelligent and sensitive standardbred. He loves to learn new things and he learns really quickly but he also is easily stressed and shows multiple self-pasifying behaviours. The most frequent and obvious is he flaps his bottom lip. I know a LOT of other Standies that do this too but with my boy it’s definitely a tension thing (95% of the time ). I say 95% because I have photos of him as a day or 2 old foal and he’s flapping his lip in the photos. And occasionally I’ve seen him do it in the paddock when there’s been no discernible reason for him to be stressed (he’s the boss of his 2 elderly paddock mates and they never challenge him ). The next 3 behaviours he exhibits habitually are: widely opening his mouth when I pick up the bridle (I’ve never clunked his teeth or been rough with him); when schooling him he will often try to scratch his head on his leg when we halt. He used to do it all the time on rides when he was first backed but doesn’t do it any more. And he does it much less often whilst schooling now than in the beginning; when in company (particularly at a competition ) he’ll reach around and scratch his sides behind my leg. Ive always been aware that he’s a sensitive soul but now I realize he’s even more sensitive than I thought!

  45. Hi Callie, Great video. The people who owned my horse before me used to keep a tie down on him when ridden. When I bought him 8 years ago , I had taught him to ride quiet with nice relaxed head placement and never used the time down. I did not like it. At times when we ride or should I say when he feels he is done riding he bobs his head up n down as if remembering those the down days. I can tell he is stressed.
    At that time we do some nice trotting or figure eights til he focuses and then I call it a day as a reward. Worked well in the past and no tie down since I own him.

    1. Pattie, that is a great way to handle that situation! Those patterns are probably pretty hard wired in him so anything you can do to disrupt that pattern will be good for him.

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  46. My horse Brody is great on the ground in general. However once he sees something that causes him concern, he doesn’t let it go. He looks and looks and it takes a while for him to relax. This is true mounted or on foot. Worse is that he is highly trained horse who is wonderful in almost every aspect except, he gets nervous either from something he sees or hears. Because he can’t let it go, it has become a terrible problem for me on the trail. He is always waiting for something to jump out of the bushes, or jumps away from say a fish jumping in the pond next to us. When this behavior happens he is also on the bit which shows the intense nervous intensity. I can challenge him with any obstacle, he is fine. He is desensitized to most things you can think of, but on the trail he is just afraid. Any ideas for me.

    1. Alan, how much time has he spent on the trail? If he is highly schooled he sounds like he hasn’t spent a ton of time on the trail! Do you hack out with a friend, is he more brave with a buddy?

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  47. My coming 4-year old mare tends to chomp the bit, mostly when asking her to do something new. I’ve noticed that when out hacking that sometimes she sounds like she’s sucking on the bit, this is new behaviour. I have noticed that when out hacking she is moving more relaxed and forward
    My other horse cribs, he has a lot of separation anxiety when I take my mare out, he does have a goat but doesn’t help reduce his anxiety. I can ride him out alone with no issues at all but goes crazy, running, bucking, rearing and neighing the whole time I’m out on my mare.

    1. Hi Melody, it sounds like you keep your horses at home – are there other horses on the property or is he just really attached to your mare? The chomping behavior might just be a bit of tension when you introduce a new concept to her. I would say if you notice it continues to double check her teeth – at her age there are lots of changes going on in their mouths at that point!

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

      1. I do keep my horses at home, I just have 2 horses. I think part of his separation anxiety comes from when he was weened, he was put in a stall away from all other horses. He does better in a standing stall tied than in a box stall when I take my mare out. He gets panicky even if he can see her when I’m working her in a nearby field.
        I have my horses teeth checked yearly and they were floated this spring. She did have wolf teeth but were pulled last year before I started her in the bridle. I’m doing more hacking out as she relaxed more, building trust before I ask for the more structured work. Schooling sessions are short, hacking out longer, she seems to enjoy hacking out seeming more relaxed the more we are on the trails. Thank you for your comment.

  48. Thank you for the stress video.
    Our two 19yo, mare and gelding are chewing alot when just free ranging.
    Two things have changed prior to me noticing this. First, we introduced two miniature ponies, mare and gelding (8 and 7yo).
    Second, introduced a herbal tummy poultice in to their feeding regime.
    What’s the likelihood that one or the other, perhaps both the cause?
    Kathy, rural Victoria Australia

    1. Kathy, the tummy herbal supplement sounds like the likely cause of this behavior. Maybe they can go without the supplement and see if it continues?

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  49. My horse has numerous behaviours that may be signs of stress. Some I’m sure are stress, others I’m not sure.
    When I pick up a brush to groom him, he does a stretch, like the down dog yoga posture. He moves both front feet forward and then leans back and tucks his head between his knees.
    When I pick up the bridle he yawns, before lowering his head into the bridle and happily accepting the bit.
    When I tighten the girth he bites his knee or forearm, even If I tighten in very small increments.
    When I start to ride he always coughs and sneezes.
    Sometimes when I’m riding he shakes his head.
    When I try to do the ground work, as shown by Patrick, he constantly tries to bite my hand.
    When the blacksmith is trimming his feet he attacks his lead rope and grinds it in his teeth.
    If anyone can shed light on these behavoiurs, that would be great.

    1. I’m not an expert, but I’ve had horses my whole life, and Rehabed a few. It sounds like some of the behaviors such as when you girth him, may be that he’s been kneed, a lot of Old-Timers used to knee the gut to get the air out sounds like some of its nervous like maybe he’s had bad experiences from a prior owner if there was one. I have a mare now that when I first got her had been beaten so the first 6 months her job was to try and slide past me and kick me in the head. Her prior owner hit on the back with a 2 by 4 when she poop in her stall. I spent a lot of time looking at her eyes talking to her intent sending my love to her anyway I have found with most of them, just a lot of time and a lot of patience and a lot of soothing and a lot of reassurance that you’re there for them. But u must be calming let him know he doesn’t need to do those behaviours, and you’re not going to hurt him. I wonder if the teeth grinding is play or a sign of pain. He sounds like he’s wonderful. Just has past issues. Have u had a chiropractic check up for him. Maybe back issues. I.am CK has great insite & advice.

    2. You know-He may be just a very social, mouthy sort-I have a gelding like that…it has mellowed as he’s aged-and as long as he is not being aggressive or biting people (which he never is) I don’t correct it-I “direct” it. I always played lip games and allowed him to put the rope in his mouth. Scratching his favorite spot while his feet are getting done-also re-directs it.
      Mine will also “communally groom me”-but he never bites…just “snuffles.” Everyone who owned him before corrected it-sometimes harshly-and he really was “crawled inside himself” when I got him…With some cranial sacral therapy and assurance that snuggling was ok-he has always been my very reliable, loving creature-I adore him!
      The combination of head shaking (though that is not anything but a “re-arrangement” sometimes I think-with itching or whatever), “bowing” and biting at his legs when you saddle and girth up-might be a nerve something or other from his wither/torso area-which goes down the front legs, and under the girth along the sides as well. Chiropractic??-but also-he sounds like he is very happy and relaxed-which is what tells me he’s probably just fine.
      Kudos to you for noticing and not getting all bent out of shape about it! Oh-a small jolly ball to hold with the farrier-or in his pen or stall or pasture…Is he “attacking the rope and grinding” with scared or mad face? or playful/nervous/bored or resigned facial expressions?

      Here again-I would recommend a chiropractor…My young mare can NOT have her front feet lifted at all-when she has a girth on…something pinches-we do not know what-but she actually looses her balance and has come close to falling over. I always have to remember this when on the trail and needing to check her feet! 🙂 She seems to have a very surface nerve bundle somewhere-that gets pinched. I also do not girth her up very tight at all and we switch around girths all the time. She’s very expressive if you put one on her that she doesn’t deem passes the muster-so to speak.
      If we think of these horses as if they fall into the “retriever” catagory of dogs??? Those breeds just love to have something in their mouth! 😉 Teaching them what, when and how strong-is the ticket! None of this would make me worry, or stop riding, just more aware and experiment with anything withing budget that changes the behaviors, without dulling the animal and his natural inclination to be what sounds really sweet.

    3. Hi Robyn, thanks for your comment. I have a few questions to be considered. First, does he exhibit any of these behaviors when he doesn’t have human interaction? What is his management, is he in a stall or does he get a lot of turnout? How old is he?

      Does he have any discomfort in his feet? How does he do for you when you pick out his feet?

      Hope we can help!

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  50. Callie – good video. could I ask your opinion? My horse often reaches his head down to rub against his front leg…. My trainer tells me he is avoiding working and to put leg on to move him forward. She also corrects me when I give him the reins to scratch because she believes the majority of the time he does not have an itch. I guess what I am wondering about is why she never said it was a sign of stress. Your video makes total sense and I am feeling that I have not been sensitive to my horse’s stress. How do I correct myself? How can I help my horse? Your input is respected and appreciated!

    1. Linda, I would recommend being mindful of when you notice he does that. Is it only certain days? After you canter? If you being to take notes on what kind of pattern he is exhibiting you might be able to find a pattern and the source of any stress.

      On the other hand, this could also be a pattern if he is itchy in his eyes for any allergies or he has an itchy leg.

      We have a horse that has learned to pass manure a few times during a lesson to avoid having to work so it could be he has learned that it does get him out of work.

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

    2. Hey all-
      I just got my order of :
      Horse Speak: An Equine-Human Translation Guide: Conversations with Horses in Their Language
      Wilsie, Sharon
      Looks like a really good book and covers in detail all these behaviors! Fun and well illustrated read so far. Might help a lot of us!

  51. This was a great video – I have an 8 yo arab that came from a killpen just a year ago – He was close to death from starvation and we found he had been tied to a tree for most of his life – he literally had to learn how to walk because he had been tied for so long. From there he was put in the auction pipeline – i cant imagine how scared he must have been. Anyway…. when he arrived his main stress reliever was cribbing (very understandable) but because of his emaciation, he didnt show much else for a while… then it started. hahaha – not only cribbing but biting himself, his tail, his legs, biting the lead, the halter, the handler, biting the bark off every tree he could find. We have worked patently for a year, allowing him to do what he needed and wanted to do, i didnt try to stop any of his behavior – just redirected. (except biting me – that i stopped). he was allowed to run the fields, bite the trees, play with his pasture mates and a year later he actually seems like a real horse at times 🙂 I can lead him without signs of stress – i can handle him, brush him – he roams the pasture (he used to bite our donkeys butt but that has mostly stopped thank goodness) – the main thing i did was to teach him (and myself) focus and breathing – when i see his stress levels start to rise, we stop and focus and breath (i imagine my breath is going in his nostril and then i breath that breath out of him -slowly) and i gently touch the end of his muzzle – sounds weird but that is what he has shown me that he needs. After a very short time of doing this, he yawns…. and yawns and yawns… alot , then drops his head and rests his muzzle on me – not biting but im guessing the touch of the muzzle releases some sort of endorphin and he relaxes – it is the most rewarding amazing thing i have ever done with a horse.

    1. Great work with this horse! Being in the present moment with your horse brings him peace. So happy for you and the horse!! Also with nutrition deficiencies, chewing on wood, bark and cribbing can be a copper deficiency. Often the tip of the hair might have a little curl,

  52. Wildfire will literally “chomp at the bit” when trying to figure out what I’m asking for when I teach her a new behavior or trick. One day I had her in a bitless bridle and asked her for something new. While I was thinking “this is great because she doesn’t have a bit to chomp on” she turned around and grabbed a rein and started chewing on that instead! I guess this is her version of lick and chew as a pacifier.

    1. Mine does that too. Shes been doing that way way before my ownership and her previous owner. Shes had it vet checked… they chalked it up to habit as no underlining conditions are causing it. Bitless she shakes her head… cause she doesnt have her relaxing behaviour to fall back on.

  53. I had no idea that scratching his head on his leg was a self soothing behaviour! My horse does this after I have ridden him and sometimes he will stop or try to stop and do that. I always assumed that it was because I had given him cookies and he was grooming them off. My horse does not have a tough life at all … no showing, 24×7 turnout, 2 buddies and ridden now only 3-4 times/week for an hour. He also cribs when I turn him out … always has … I have had him for 15 years … no idea why

    1. you could be describing my horse. 24/7 turnout, horse friends, half hour of walking as his only job, bad cribber, rubs face on leg when ridden, sticks tongue out of the side of his mouth in the bridle, chomps on bit constantly except when the tongue is out. he is nice to ride, is a former Standardbred pacer, 16 years old, was rescued from slaughter auction a year ago. his teeth that were terrible when I got him have been done twice, no issue there, does have previous tongue damage . I’ve tried several bits and he sticks tongue out with all of them, even when being led around. so this could be all stress related, but he moves calmly and not sure there is a cure. if you have found any, or anyone else has, would love to know! thanks!

      1. If he is quiet, responsive to aids in turning, stopping, etc…you could try an “S hackamore”-which is what I ride all of mine in once they are aid savvy….they just get lighter and lighter and lighter-but if the chips are down-there is enough eventual crank to help a person out…which is not available in a bosal-and is too much in the wrong place (chin) and too confusing in a mechanical hack.
        I’ve had the best luck finding those in the endurance tack world. Unfortunately-like everything else-I like the most expensive one the best-it is titanium, short shanked and either flat sided or rounded altogether. They literally are S shaped-I use a leather chin strap-and make sure -as in all hackamores-that you have it fitted on the broader bridge part of the nasal bone-where it joins the skull-or maybe just a smidgen below.
        Their action is nose, then poll-then chin…a very good sequence on light hands to give them enough cue.
        My little wee half arab mare is a dream to ride in one of these-and I put my husbands old horse in one after it was clear a bit was stressing him out-and they are both calm, easy to cue, responsive (VERY light), and enjoy the snack times without having to have their bit removed on the trail rides. Good luck.

  54. Great videos always have helpful info .My gelding Dakota came from a rescue and had several bad habits which included cribbing and weaving. I realized he was IR so I took him off all sugars,those behaviors stopped,but one he does still is knaw his back teeth but he does this when something is uncomfortable, when there is pain . We just went through a bout of laminitis, so he of course was displaying this behavior. One thing I do for him is give him a rope to chew on this pacifies him. Thanks again for all the wonderful info!!

  55. One of the things I notice my horses do when under stress and being trimmed is yawning. Constant yawning. Nothing new and same routine. I’ve also seen the head shaking and wipe their mouth on their leg at times. But the thing that sticks out the most is the yawning.

  56. I had no idea that rubbing his head on his leg, which he has been doing quite a bit lately, could be stress related! I thought it was flies or itching ( which I suppose it could be), so I always use it as an opportunity to give him a scratch, though I am never sure if it is his leg or his face that itches. He is an Arabian that I adopted 3 1/2 years ago and he was always very spooky, but he has come so far and seems to be fairly happy, especially now that he is in a pasture with three other horses instead of a pipe corral on his own with only physical contact with the horse next to him. Recently I saw him playing for the first time with the other gelding in the field with him, nipping and rearing like a foal. It made me so happy! He also has more access to forage, at the last place it was two feedings per day, and I lived 17 miles away so there wasn’t much I could do about it. Strangely, the rubbing his head on his leg isn’t the only thing, he will also walk away from me when I want to mount. I let him do that, then he comes back a couple minutes later. He can be a constant puzzle to figure out but I am doing my best to make him as happy and stress-free as possible. I thought it might be pain, but when I sit on him he is fine, no ear pinning or tail-swishing. The vet said it is behavioral, but I am not convinced.

  57. I just got back from a trail riding / camping trip with my horse. I noticed that he liked to lick and/or bite the corral wood. If he got a sliver off the wood he chewed and swallowed it. If I got after him he would stop for a while but then start again. He doesn’t do this in his stall at home. I thought he was bored but maybe stress?!

    1. Tresa, did he have lots of forage available to him? If he doesn’t do that normally at home I’m just wondering if he was hungry or looking for nutrients on the ride?

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  58. Hi Callie. Love your capsules. My horse, whom I adopted when he was about 2 years old, came from a difficult environment. He began nibbling at himself (he reaches back and bites himself ou sometimes mimicks a bite) when he sleeps inside in his box during winter. I rarely see him do it in the summer when he’s outside most of the time. Could it be a self pacifying behaviour? Been checking with vets to find out if it was health related, but he’s a healthy. An equine behaviourist told me it was a way for him to evacuate the stress he feels being in a confined environment.

    1. Martine, does he wear a blanket or rug when he is outside in the winter? Perhaps he comes in a bit itchy? It could also be different allergens in the winter that he is reacting to?

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  59. Hi Callie,

    I would love to get your thoughts as to why my thoroughbred tends to pee and poop more than usual when he’s impatient in the cross-ties, wash stall or with the farrier. I move pretty quickly with him to make sure he’s not having to stand still for too long but it’s a really bad habit he’s had for a little over a year now since I’ve owned him.

    1. Hi Melinda, I think those could definitely be signs of stress. I would try to think of ways that you could make the time in the cross ties (or just the barn aisle in general) more pleasant and relaxing for him.

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  60. Hi Callie, I have a quick question for you. We’ve been riding our 10 year old mare in a hackamore lately due to some excessive chomping on the bit and bracing on the bit that was happening. During this time, we’ve been working on straightness and strength in the hind end. Sometimes things are a bit hard for her due to lack of strength but we are taking it slowly. A few times during the course of a ride she will still chomp on the air and can get a little excessive. Is this a habit or her way of trying to self soothe when things are harder? She tends to do it when things are more difficult for her, but she will blow out and relax when I finally have her straight through her body. We’d like to be able to get a bit back in her at some point this spring but don’t want this to be a habit, obviously not good in the dressage ring. Any ideas on ways to break this habit and bits to try when we do go that route again? Thank you in advance

  61. Thank you for the video! I board my horse and come out once a day to feed him. He has access to quality hay 24/7 and is in a large paddock. My question is, is that he starts yawning, licking and chewing when I first get there and greet him with pats/scratches. I’m not sure if he’s stressed when he sees me or is ‘glad’ to see me? Hes an 8yo OTTB and i have had him for 3 years. He was extremely untrusting for the first year. I guess I have a hard time trying to figure out if my horse even likes me. When i get to the barn he is always just standing and seems relaxed. Thank you for the insight.

    1. Hi Kim! Does he do that behavior when you show up to feed him? It could also be in response to anticipating eating? It might actually also be that he is experiencing a drop in stress and that is why he is licking and yawning!

      -Julia, CRK Training Community Manager

      1. He does do it when I come to feed him. We have a routine that i greet him first and then do my chores and refill his portagrazer and hay net. I guess I just wasnt sure what it meant because I always try to make sure he is never without hay-half of the time he is down to scraps left tho.
        Thank you!

  62. I have an OTTB that yawns right before I put his bridle on. He also works with his tongue lolling out the side of his mouth. I know this is common in racehorses and I’m convinced it a sign of stress. He’ll stop once he’s in a routine but if you add anything new he starts sticking his tongue out again. Can you suggest any training methods to help with this? Also, have you had any luck with calming supplements? If so, which ones?

    1. Hi Colleen, yawning can be indicative of stress. I would consider actually his overall stress level, considering first his management. Does he get plenty of turnout? Is there forage available to him 24 hours a day? Has he even shown any signs of ulcers or gastric discomfort? Has his teeth been done recently? We always recommend ruling out any physical discomfort before addressing training solutions. I would also recommend checking the fit of your equipment – like the bridle, bit, and saddle.

      I hope this helps to get you started in resolving this problem!

      -Julia, CRK Training Community Manager

  63. When I first got my horse a year ago, she would almost always poo while I was tacking up. Over time she began to do it less and less. However, she recently bucked me off and pooped a few minutes beforehand and my new instructor says that was a warning sign. She doesn’t often poo when we’re riding and I hadn’t thought anything of it previously. (I think she bucked for a combination of reasons – we changed facilities a few weeks earlier and this was about our 4th or 5th ride there; we’d been for a farm ride and had just gone into the arena to do some schooling – I would normally school before a farm ride and I think she assumed she was having an ‘easy’ day and didn’t like the idea of unexpectedly being asked to work, but most importantly, she had a different saddle on, and I was nervous about that – my previous instructor used to say that you should always walk, trot and canter on both reins in the round pen when trying new tack, but we went straight out on the farm and I think the saddle might have been a bit small across her shoulders, plus me being nervous and stiff as a result probably didn’t help. I know that’s not much to go on, but do you think pooping might be a sign of stress for her – and any comment on my thoughts re the buck? Thanks!
    Also, she sometimes tosses her head when asked to trot and especially when asked to canter; my reaction (I’m a fairly new rider) is to get nervous and slow her down but I’m told that she’s probably a bit frustrated and I’d be netter to nudge her on a bit. She’s not particularly forward, but I’m conscious of a possible cycle of my hanging on too tight, her getting frustrated, me hanging on tighter…again, I know that’s not a lot to go on, but I’d be interested in your thoughts. thanks very much!!!

    1. Hi Cate, horses can most definitely buck when they are uncomfortable from a saddle I would recommend checking the fit of the saddle. Also, defecating can be a sign of stress but it can also just because they have to go sometimes!

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  64. Hi there

    I have a 6 years old who was working absolutely fine, he can be quite sensitive and is quite sensitive to season changes.

    He had been working beautifully and the other day I took him in the sand school for a lunge. Occasionally he will shy away at the clip when I pop it on his cavesson but will then work fine.

    The other day I popped it on ( very quietly) and he just exploded and bolted around the sand school puffy like a steam train and bucking. I ended up walking away as I spent 10 mins trying to slow him down with my voice but he was going so fast and kept looking like he was going to mow me over.

    I let him calm down and I then clipped him on and he was fine but he wouldn’t go out on the lunge and just kept turning into me and we Were just dancing around one another. I ended up taking him out.

    The next day I tried to take him in and it took me 5 mins to get him in the school, he literally stood their grounded and grabbed the lunge line and started chewing. He does seem to grab and Chew at things when he is anxious. I eventually got him in but he wouldn’t go out on the lunge again and we kept dancing around. I couldn’t get behind his bottom to push him out and I made sure I wasn’t blocking him. I eventually (don’t know how!) got him out on the lunge and he did some nice work but then I went to change the rein and then had the same problem again and could send him out, I then re tried on the left rein and he wouldn’t do that either. The more I kept persevering, the more worked up he was getting. I didn’t want to tell him off in case he was worried but also I felt if I did that he may well read in front of me.

    Today I tried again and he came
    Straight in the school but again, got him out on the right rein this time but when I changed the rein he refused to go out and then I couldn’t do it on the other. Any suggestions (he is an in-hand show pony) so not ridden. Many thanks

    Lisa

    1. Hi Lisa, I’m sorry to hear about the challenges you are experiencing! There could be a couple of things to look into, how often is he in that setting? Could it be that he isn’t used to the environment or has he had bad experiences there? Are you able to take him into the school and just allow him to spend some quiet time in there so he doesn’t associate it with any previous anxiety triggering thoughts?

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

      1. So he has been in that environment for over a year now, he also gets turnout in there with the others whilst mucking our and is always very very chilled in the school.

        I dont know if he’s bored and it’s a bit of a protest to work ??

  65. I have a very green horse I’m learning with (haven’t ever ridden such a newbie to riding before). He just came back from the trainer two weeks ago and had about 20 rides on him. He’s a very patient and gentle guy. First 5 rides went really smoothly- out on trails alone and with my other horses. The last two times I’ve saddled him up, he’s had a huge resistance to turning right, and when I ask him to he very exaggeratedly yawns and chews the bit (he didn’t do this right after I picked him up, just within the last week). I’m using it as a sign that’s he’s confused or uncomfortable- so we just slow down and take a breather and then try again. It definitely seems like a nervous thing, but he’s so new to riding that I figure he’s just going to take some time getting the feel of everything. He’s very responsive to pressure, and I’m working hard on making sure my body and legs aren’t miscuing him. I was curious what his yawning meant, and appreciate this video! Looking forward to more 🙂

    1. Hi Amy, thanks for your comment! I would be curious whether or not he is in some sort of physical discomfort since these behaviors are just showing up. For example, does the saddle fit well? Has he had his teeth looked at lately?

      -Julia, CRK Training Community Manager

    2. Hi Amy!
      I agree with Julia’s things to check on for sure-and also want to pass on my experience with bringing on a youngster for the first time in forever…
      She would do just as you describe-amazingly calm, willing and responsive-(1/2 arab/1/2 foxtrotter)but we’d get about thirty or forty minutes into any given trail ride (she was a solid five when we started riding her-prior to that-we always ponied her along) and do what I described as “the toddler discovering that all these new adventures might actually mean work!”…She would wander from side to side, change up and down in gait, be totally unfocused for about fifteen minutes or so…which we got through by a lot of variety in transitions, direction and other things to grab her mind back.
      Magically-she’d settle back in for the most part and finish the ride with a positive sense of accomplishment. If she started OUT that way-I knew we needed to do a lot of groundwork till she clued in again…which we did by walking next to her.
      Very smart little mare-she’s twelve now-and a real fun ride…but she probably did that till she was seven or eight. It really helped if I could put her in terrain where she had to puzzle out her footing. She still doesn’t suffer a “straight road” with much delight-but is at a stage where we can up the ante with gaiting and canters, lateral work, collection etc Have fun!

  66. I’m not sure why she does it so I suppose it could be stress related. She will repeatedly strike forward with her right front leg.

  67. Hi! My horse does this stretching of the neck and mouth (as if he was stretching and yawning, but it is not yawning is a real long stretch), only in specific moments. Either when I am riding him (always bitless) and asking him to learn a bit more advance things, or when I hug him, or when I put the bridles on (although he is in a very big field and consent me to go to him and very quietly and slowly put the bridles on, he doesn’t try to run away). Sometimes when I groom him either he loves it or he tries to nibble me and if he can’t reach me he bites himself (the grooming is always without halter and in a big field, so he could leave if he really wanted to).
    So I don’t understand what does this mean. I get training part, but when I hug or cuddle him?

    Thank you so much

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