Addressing Unwanted Behavior in Performance Mares

Addressing Unwanted Behavior in Performance Mares

Robinson said common unwanted behaviors in mares can include aggression, hormone-driven behavior, and resentment or unwillingness to work or perform.

Photo: iStock

Unwanted behavior in mares and fillies can have a significant impact on their performance across a range of equine competition events.

At the Australian Veterinary Association Annual Conference, which took place June 4-9 in Melbourne, Victoria, Simon Robinson, BVSc, BScAgr, MANZCVSc, Dipl. ACT, of the Victorian Equine Group, discussed the most common types unwanted behaviors in female horses and ways to manage them.

“The types of behaviors that are commonly reported as ‘unwanted’ include aggression, sexual-like behavior, and resentment or unwillingness to work or perform,” he said. “All of these can have an adverse effect on training and performance at competition or racing, and can impact the safety of riders and handlers.

Robinson cautioned, however, that not all unwanted behaviors are actually abnormal.

“Sometimes, after we investigate further, we discover the underlying cause and realize the behavior is justified,” he said. “So, if an owner does notice their filly or mare displaying unwanted behavior, they need to seek the advice of their veterinarian who will then work to get to the root cause.”

Unwanted behavior in female horses can broadly be categorized into three groups:

  • Hormonally-driven behavior, which coincides with the horse’s normal reproductive cycle or could be related to an ovarian tumor;
  • Pain or discomfort in response to common stimuli such as items of gear or tack applied to the horse; and
  • Poor behavior with no detectable underlying cause.

“When investigating unwanted behavior, it’s useful for the owner to provide the veterinarian with as much detail as possible about the behavior including when it started, frequency, nature of the behavior, and inciting factors e.g. other horses, humans, gear, locations, environments etc.,” Robinson said. “A detailed health history report is also important and ideally it will include any history of illness, injuries, accidents, and appetite.

“The veterinarian will conduct a full physical examination, which includes an investigation of the reproductive system,” he continued. “From there we will be able to determine the cause of the behavior and develop a management plan to address the problem and correct the behavior.”

In some cases, however, the veterinarian isn’t able to detect an underlying cause, meaning the horse really could just be poorly behaved.

“In these cases, retraining or conditioning the horse to its activity may resolve the behavior, although it is often time which achieves the desired result,” Robinson said. “Behavior modification may also be achieved through changes in workload or type of activity, environment, and/or diet, and a veterinarian will work with the horse owner to develop a management plan in these cases.”

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