Antsy About Urinating

Q. My horse is a 6-year-old off-the-track-Thoroughbred who raced until he was 3 years old. Whenever he has to pee, he gets very nervous and dances around. This happens on the ground and while riding. When this happens while riding, he loses all focus and cannot be calmed down. Is there any reason why this happens, and could it be linked to his time on the track?

Kristen, Nicholasville, Ky.

A. Before assuming this behavior is a psychological issue related to past experience, we typically recommend a veterinarian thoroughly evaluate these horses' urination behavior in various situations. We find it especially useful to evaluate behavior when the horse is at rest in his stall or paddock, when no people are nearby. We typically evaluate a 24-hour stall video to compare urination behavior when people are in the vicinity to when no one is around. If, for example, your gelding is similarly nervous or shows signs of hesitation or discomfort in association with urination when alone in the stall, then I would recommend further evaluation for a physical source.

In similar cases we have identified a physical problem that would have made a full bladder and/or urination uncomfortable. In some cases the nature of the problem fit with a history of greater nervousness with tack and a rider, in that the horse expected physical discomfort to be exacerbated by a rider and tack and not being able to freely adjust his posture. The good news is when you diagnose and relieve the physical discomfort, the nervous behavior typically diminishes quickly.

About the Author

Sue McDonnell, PhD, Certified AAB

Sue M. McDonnell, PhD, is a certified applied animal behaviorist and the founding head of the equine behavior program at the University of Pennsylvania's School of Veterinary Medicine. She is also the author of numerous books and articles about horse behavior and management.

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