Moody horse?

"Hi Al!

I've read though the Groundwork Exercises book and it will help me so much with Breeze. Thank you again!!!

As you know, she is my first horse. I took riding lessons for several years in middle school and high school and have always wanted a horse but never lived where I could have one.

Those riding lessons were forty years ago and I finally realized my dream by getting Breeze in August.

What Bev wrote, “I didn’t cherish this dream for all these years to say ow that hurt and quit,” prompted me to share this story about Breeze. Feel free to share if you'd like...

Since August I've hung out with Breeze while she puts on weight and gets healthy - she is a thoroughbred rescued from the track a week before being put down.

I spend time grooming her, feeding her treats and working on little things - like leading. She is very sweet and gentle.

She loves to have her forehead scratched and follows me around like a BIG puppy.

However, last Friday (it is now October) she was in a mood that I've never seen before and it really scared me. She laid her ears back and tried to nip me when I tried to brush her.

And, she sort of kicked out when I rubbed her sides near the back. I had never experienced this behavior with her before. Reading her signals that she didn't want me touching her, I backed off. It was very cold and windy so I thought maybe it was the weather and she was cold.I know I get a bit ornery when I'm cold.

Not completely listening to what Breeze was telling me though, I tried brushing her again. She started to swing her back end around to kick out again but I pushed her off. Her ears were back too. I fed her a couple treats and scratched her forehead but she didn't seem herself. She was preoccupied with something but I didn't know what. So, being the stupid human, I tried to groom her again. This time she swung her back end around, ears laid flat and planted a kick in the metal fence right next to me at the same height as my head.

This scared me to death and I left the pasture immediately. I was very shaken and didn't know what to do. My sweet, gentle horse was showing behavior that I'd never seen from her before.

I asked a few horse people about her sudden change in behavior and one told me that I spoiled her with treats and she'd become a brat. Another said that maybe it was getting close to feeding time and she was hungry. A third said that maybe she was in heat. I had not even thought about that! And, my instincts told me that it wasn't the treats or being hungry or cold - although I doubt my instincts all the time because I am not an experienced horse person.

I researched horses' estrous cycles and, sure enough, what I found described the situation completely! Being a human female, I know how miserable I can feel during my period. So, I can totally relate to Breeze's behavior and not wanting to be touched!

After the incident with Breeze and before I realized she was in heat, I had serious doubts about whether I could be a good human for Breeze. But I was not going to give up on my life long dream!

Now that I understand what she was telling me I feel so much better! I have learned to respect what she is telling me and and to trust my instincts - Breeze is an amazing creature and I am so fortunate to be a part of her life!


Just goes to show, Horses have bad days too.




  1. DAN

    My Mare taught me that sometimes it’s best just to walk away and leave her be….Took awhile but I learned it applies to my wife and daughter too!

  2. Carolann Clark

    Unfortunately mares follow a heat cycle similar to women. I can certainly understand being in a bad mood at that time of the month, however, life goes on and so it should for your mare. Maybe it is time that you gently teach her that kind of behaviour is not acceptable, perhaps by starting with a stern “no” or “stop”, and staying away from the particularly “ticklish” areas.

  3. Andrea

    When my filly became a mare, she let me know that her flanks were a no go zone during certain times in her cycle. The first time it happened I got a very similar reaction to brushing her as you describe. Now I get the early warning signs and just give her a couple of days off.

  4. Jean

    Respect for our equine partners is an important part of our relationship with them, but this respect goes both ways.

    It would not be acceptable for a human female to bite or kick another human or any animal simply because the woman was menstrual or pre-menstrual and it is not acceptable for a mare either. Thank God she kicked the fence. She could have killed you!

  5. Lisa Williams

    Good article. I learned the watch all the ” signs ” my 2 normally quiet mares give me – eye stance, head position, body posture, ear behavior, tail signs and respiration rate. If she turns into a concrete statue I NOW know flight instinct is in high gear and I had better get out of the way. I found a good listing on line to print out and hang in barn of horse body language.

  6. kimberly woodward

    I rescued a 4 yr.old OTTB almost 2 years ago. ChuBasco as I named him was being auctioned off for slaughter but I couldn’t stand to see this beautiful gelding going there. He wasn’t beautiful in physical shape though. He was 300 lbs under weight and in horrendous condition. Anyway, I’ve been having the same problem off and on as you have had with Breeze. At times he’ll pin his ears back and try to nip also. There are times when I can just pass by his stall and he’ll reach over to nip me either midsection hand or even the top of my head ! While reading your article I understood your fear but I also was hoping I could find the reason my Basco was doing the same exact thing.
    As I said before he’s a gelding so I assume I can rule out the mare cycles.
    Wishing you lots of luck with Breeze.

    1. Shirley

      Hi This makes me feel so much better I have a 6 year old quarter horse who does the same thing. I can go down the yard and he is fine I can go in his box put his head coller on and rug and pick his feet out another time he will nip me as soon as I try to go into the stable nip me again when I am putting on his rug and somethimes lifts his leg but does not kick. Then another time I can go into his box and he is fine. Same with the grooming I can stand him outside is box and brush him for ages then another time as soon as I start brushing his side he will swing round and nip me hard. Some people at the yard say he is bored some say he is spoilt, but basically no one has been able to expalin it. I don’t know whether to tell him off or just leave him alone. then people say I am letting him get away with it but enven in I tell him off sometimes he will come back at me so that does not always work either.

      1. val

        Perhaps you might have a look at your expectations. Perhaps it might be you having an off day & transmitting the energy to him. Ever hear of the “Horse Whisper”..look it up might help you understand his moody days.
        God gave you this wonderful horse who should be loved & respected as he is only on loan to you.

  7. Very Good advise….our mare was the same way but at the age of 17 we thought enough was enough and took her in and had her fixed. It has tamed her monthly episodes…..but the hormones are still there and she can still get cranky. She never did get owly with us her human counterpart but she put all four of our geldings through the fence one day. THat was the last straw. 😥

  8. Bonnie

    Great story. And Dan you are a very wise man!

  9. I have 40 horses, with 15 of them being mares. Out of those 15, I have three who exhibit “witchy” behaviour from time to time. It is most prevalent during their first and last heat cycle of the season. The other times it is present, but not pronounced. For those three, I give them a progesterone shot and that clears their moodiness up immediately. The shot lasts about 3 months, so each get their shots twice during their cycles. Check with your vet, but that has been my experience. One is a Standardbred, one a QH and the other a draft X.
    Hope this helps

  10. Jeanne

    I think that having a mare is really, at times, a challenge. Having one of both (mare and gelding) I prefer to trust my gelding more.No mood swings!!

  11. Linda

    My previous mare wasn’t too bad at her ‘heat’ time but you could definitely see a change in mood and attitude. I remember reading a line:” You TELL a gelding, you ASK a stallion and you DISCUSS with a mare” – Not a label for all horses, I know, but it kind of made sense and I had a little giggle about it when my mare was in her moods.

  12. Donna

    Hi Shaun,

    I just wanted to share with you to never give up your dream. I wanted a horse my whole life and finally got one when I was in my 40’s. He wasn’t exactly the 1st horse for someone who never owned a horse. He was an abused show horse a 3yr.old gelding. I was very fortunate that I ran into a “Horse Whisperer.” If I had not I know I wouldn’t still have him today. He came such a long way in about a year. We have been on the Sheriffs Posse for 12yrs. and he did great. He has had heaves really bad for the past 2yrs. He probably won’t be around much longer but, he was my dream come true. About 4 mo. ago I bought an 11yr. old quarter horse and I am now working on him. I have told many people that they are my best therapy and they are. I wish you the best and keep dreaming because, dreams do come true.

  13. Tammy

    I think you need to watch horses in a herd they like to nip each other when grooming or when playing. Sometimes when I groom my pony if he really likes it he tries to groom back which is by nipping which I discourage. Usually I will rub his lips which seems to give him a release.

  14. linda mazeika

    hi shaun.
    this has happened to me as well.
    but it was my gelding 5 years old.arad
    still have no idea why…but i don`t let him get away with it…..i never gave him a treat for 2 days..he just gets in a mood every now and then.
    any answer`s anyone.

    1. Val cormier

      to Linda Mazeika
      What does with holding a treat do with anything.Appreciate whad God gave you..this wonderful horse. Have you not had an off day ? Does anyone withhold any thing from you because of it.
      Perhaps it might be your negative energy effecting your horse.
      God made this wonderful being for you to keep care of…Let some of Gods grace be with you.
      I really feel sorry for your gelding

      1. This horse was displaying aggressive behavior. In a herd the lead mare would not let another horse move her feet or disrespect her like that. A gentle horse can become a dangerous horse without a strong and gentle leader. Ground work could help. There are lots of how-to videos on youtube. I would be very careful not to reward bad behavior with a treat. Everyone has bad days, but she needs to respect you even when she’s grumpy.

        Val cormier-Your comments have negative energy. I’ll pray for you.

  15. Bev

    Wow Shaun, what a trip to hear you mention me! Glad you have the same sticktoitiveness, (ha) I do! I hung in to a fault. In July I attempted to lunge (very important) Shasta and she didn’t want too. I spooked her accidently and I didn’t get the memo that said LET GO OF THE LUNGE LINE (very important also!) and flew like a flag behind her landing on some hidden rocks and broke my right hip. I can’t begin to tell you how bad that did and still does hurt. I’m actually sort of afraid I won’t beable to ride due to the ackward position my hip healed in, but! I will so help me GOD! I can just now walk without a cane, so next spring is a real goal for me and Moka? Nasty when in heat. Not Shasta, she’s a love. It’s always the small things that get us, so be careful and definetely pay attention to the ears! Good luck and happy riding!

  16. Michelle

    I am wondering why no one has considered that maybe the horses were in pain for one reason or another…

    Many things can make something act up / flare up & that will change a being’s mood and desire to interact…

  17. Patricia Preston

    Yes, mares can be a bit grumpy but that does not give them permission to be disrespectful! I suspect she would never act like that to a lead horse in a herd, if she did she would have recieved a quick kick or bite and be ostracised for a while – my point is that her behaviour is not acceptable and would not be tolerated. This is the same for the geldings mentioned – bottom line: these horses mentioned are not seeing you as the lead horse, they feel they are level or above you in ranking and that is dangerous. The nippy gelding would never attempt that with a lead horse (his superior) and expect to not be punished with a bite or a kick. I am NOT saying you need to attack your horses – just teach them that you are the higher creature. Get in a round yard with no halters etc and make the horses work, don’t stop them till you are ready, make them change directions when you want etc. Get them cantering if you can – this is work. Only stop them when you are ready (I am not talking about forcing them to run in circles for hours!!) just till they know you are calling the shots. Do NOT use a whip or even a rope if you can help it. Use lots of energy, then lower your energy and tell them whoa. Back off from them slowly (no pressure), then with no eye contact, walk to them and stand quietly beside them, then walk away – they should follow, if they don’t chase them up again – until they decide to follow you – remember: no halter etc. Once they are following you all around, stop and pat them all over – if they show any resistance or try to move away from you, increase your energy and make them work again – they should soon learn and decide that you are the superior being and they want to be in your good books and your friend and that the place to be for protection is with you. May take a few turns around but it does work – it is very good for horses who wont let you lift the hooves etc as well – they soon realise that it is better to stand with you and pick up their feet then to work around the yard at a canter. Horse are not stupid. Trish

    1. Sharon

      Trish this is the most sensible, caring, clear instruction I have ever heard/read about working to gain respect from your horse and become the leader. Thank you for sharing your wisdom in such a clear and specific way. These great forums allow novice horse owners/lovers like me hear from truly inspirational people like you. Thank you!

      1. Dawn

        Best horse advise for this lady. Let’s not forget horses aren’t puppies. They are herd animals and naturally look for a herd leader. They won’t respect you unless they feel you are worthy. It is only natural in them. You can still be the leader and love on them too. Does not mean you have to be a tyrant.

      2. Patricia Preston

        Thank you Sharon, that is lovely of you to say, I don’t often write on these forums, but I was concerned about the above mentioned horses’ behaviour as they can lead to people getting badly hurt – or having a horse that will only really do what s/he wants too, which may be fine if they like to be ridden etc but if it comes to the crunch, and they don’t want to do something, look out! When the time comes when you really need your horse to do what you ask of it – and this could be for it’s safety or yours, or to bandage a leg or something – and the horse decides it isn’t doing that – it really is not the time to try to get your horse to respect you as the leader. I also think that it is horses like this that end up being too ‘naughty’ for their owners and so they get sold, and maybe sold again and again and the worst case scenario is them ending up at the knackery or just left in a paddock. Such a waste of too many good horses who just needed a leader they could respect. Trish

      3. val

        Right on Patricia Preston ! !I couldn’t agree more. Very good way to be the superior being.

    2. Trish, we have recently been gifted with 5 horses, and we tend my neighbors 7 horses, they run as one herd. Never had horses before, but have found such joy in having them. However, they are mysterious to me, I found that people would advise me on different matters in ways I was uncomfortable with. It was absolutely wonderful to read your letter, because I started smiling and nodding my head right from the beginning. You helped make my horses less mysterious, and put the confidence back in my head. It will give me a grounding in which to begin to have a working relationship with them. Thanks for the advice.

      1. Patricia Preston

        Thanks Terri, and best of luck with your horses. I have 11 horse,mostly Standarbred horses who were going to the knackery. 10 of them have had the roundyard exercises – I do all their hooves my self etc and so they need to behave. The one big Thoroughbred mare who hasn’t been in the roundyard is the very worst to do anything with – ever since I have had her she has had problem hooves and been lame – so I have not been able to work her in the roundyard – that would be cruel. I have been treating her hooves and trimming them regularly to get a better shape to them, and she is the most pigheaded forceful mare there is – she wants her own way and that is that – I have had to accommodate her to a degree and work around her overbearing big self to do what I need to do – but she is almost sound again and she is in for a big shock soon. Roundyard here she comes. I have had the same issues in the past with some of the other 10 but a few lessons in the roundyard and I can do their hooves and rug them in the paddocks now rather than taking them to the shoeing bay. I got one big Standardbred filly (166hh – 3 years) who couldn’t pace quick enough so was going to the knackery – and what a forceful bit of work she was, no respect for anyone – and she would NOT allow her hooves to be done – just ripped the front ones away and stamped them down every time I picked them up, and kicked like a fool with the hinds – so into the round yard she went and around she went. It only took one session and then that filly stood like a statue in the middle of the round yard whilst I picked up each hoof and trimmed them – all without a halter or headstall. On my first attempt she decided she would pull her front hoof away – and around the yard she went again – next attempt you would have thought she was asleep, she just stood there like an angel – she is now 6 years old and has never been a problem since. It works. Trish

    3. val

      So glad to hear someone agrees with me. You did an excellent commentary on solving the problems with humans & horses.
      Thank you & I do hope every horse owner reads your input. Do post it on Facebook & other sites.
      Right on.

  18. Val cormier

    I felt your pangs dealing with your mares. For that reason I haven to have geldings for over 40 years.
    Just thank God for giving these wonderful horses He has entrusted us to care for them.

  19. Cher

    I have always had mares & sometimes they do get cranky. I’m all for giving them their space when need be, but that behavior is unacceptable & should never be rewarded with a treat! When my mare was about 2 years old, she tried to cow-kick me once while being groomed in the flank area with a shedding blade. Before I even realized what I was doing, I slapped her with the handle of the shedding blade. It was just a slap & in no way hurt her, but she got the message & has never done that again. I am mindful of her wishes during her cycles & don’t push my agenda with her when she’s feeling cranky & she, in turn, continues to be respectful of me. I am a firm believer in treats for good behavior just like for a dog or a cat, so my horse knows if she doesn’t get a treat–she did the wrong thing. Don’t try to josh her out of an ugly mood by giving her a treat. That will reinforce the bad behavior that she mistakenly will think earned her the treat in the first place. That will just confuse her. Try to find something she’s doing correctly and then give her the treat.

  20. Sue

    Hi. Reading these stories had me remember a similar situation I had with my mare. Ericka who is an Araiban cross mare estimated age of 7yrs. Before I had her moved to her current stable, I had to go to where I bought her from. She was in very poor health and I knew I had to buy her. I knew she needed help when I looked her in the eyes. Instant connection. Mind you, we are still learning of each other up to this very day. I traveled 360 kilometers a day to go see her and administer antibiotics. I arrived and saw that she was down in the field, I called her name, she didn’t come and I know she saw me. Fine, again I call her and nope, forget it; I’m not coming kinda look came from her. I went to lead her up to the apple tree, (we used to hang out there) I groomed her while she was eating her grain, as I had done on every visit. As the brush came to her hip and her flank she threw a warning bite and it scared me. But I had to try it again but watch her this time, and she warned me again. Now, this is my first horse and i knew nothing. So Ericka finished her grain and left down to the field. I stood there with brush in hand, thinking to myself that she hates me. On my drive Home, I was trying to think and figure out why she did what she did. I got home and on the computer!! I thought she had colic!! I had myself so convinced that’s what she had I drove out again. She was fine, of course and didn’t come to me so I went to her. I tried pressing around her barrel and around her back through her hips and stifle and up the flank down to her backside. Nothing. She turned looked at me for a moment and walked away. Home I went, thinking, fine, I give up, maybe a sore spot but was not there on the second visit. I have shrugged it off. I know what was wrong now, it was her heat. I just figured out today. I don’t like to ride when I have a period, not much of anything actually for at least four days. Perhaps she is the same way. I wouldn’t want to be her during those days either. She’s is a little testy during her heat and I have almost learned to listen. I didn’t listen!! These comments tonite have caused me this lightbulb moment, thank you everyone. I now will always be listening.

    1. val

      I just have to comment on your above comment about your experience. I have had mares & geldings all my life. I am in my 60’s. I have never come across a horse that likes to be “groomed” whilst eating grain…that is their time. I would nip at you to if you tried to brush my hair while I ate.
      Any horse would not let a “heat”. mare to have bad manners without being put in her place by her field mates.
      Just read Patricia Preston comments above…it will clarify so many things for you.
      God gave you this wonderful horse to care for do show some grace & patience.

  21. Michelle

    Your mare lacks respect for you plain and simple. Horses are not “big puppies” and treating them as such is dangerous. Her behaviour – in heat, cold, hungry…whatever the reason is unnacceptable and dangerous and if you don’t nip it in the bud immediately it will only get worse.

    If you don’t know how to gain her respect properly (it dosn’t require violence or harsh handling it requires understanding horse psychology and behaviour!) then you need to seek professional help.

    I don’t mean to be rude, but if you don’t sort this problem out, the next time her back feet might just connect with yur head! While *some* mares can be benefited from hormone shots, however, and while being in heat may contribute to her behavioru – this is absolutely a respect issue – she has none for you and that is dangerous.

  22. Nizaar

    Hi Guyz
    How do you know when she has hey cycle?

  23. Bev

    If all the warning signs and polite requests are ignored, you must expect a horse to get “louder” in trying to get the message across. Why punish the horse? The human is at fault and even when desperate to get her message across, the mare was carefull to give a demonstration of what would happen if her plea of “that hurts and is uncomfortable today” continues to be ignored, rather than actually hurting her human.
    How different are we when our polite pleas are repeatedly ignored by those who claim to love and care for us?

  24. Belinda

    My gelding occasionally also objects to being groomed. Although he has never actually bitten or kicked, he flattens his ears and lifts up his rear leg. Because it doesn’t happen often I respect his need to be left alone. It doesn’t affect his behaviour on the ride at all though.

  25. Tony

    I have a horse I don’t get the opportunity to ride because of my job. I only get the chance to ride about once or twice a month. What can I do to bond with my horse, even though I don’t have the opportunity to ride my horse Everyday. Please give me some incite. Thanks. Tony:

    1. val

      Spending more time on the ground just bonding…be it brushing, going for a walk, sharing hugs…use your imagination…ground time so pays off to bond deeper with your horse. just enjoy what God gve you to take care of.

  26. Jennifer

    I don’t think there is anything wrong with a firm “no” any time a nearly 1000 lb animal exhibits threatening behavior. However, I find mares are in general more sensitive to pain, less tolerant of pain, and more self defensive. This makes sense to me as they are the ones to become mothers and need to defend their young. I’ve never had a young horse turn girthy unless there is a saddle problem, rider crookedness or other pain problem. I’m so tired of people saying you have to punish a horse that’s in pain! Imagine yourself in a corset! Likewise, horses can get bladder stones, infections, ovarian cysts, constipation, muscle spasms, etc etc. But some people will always assume it’s attitude! what I find works best with all my horses, and especially my “Missy” of a mare is good health, consistent exercise and training program that doesn’t make her sore. Since she was hurt by a bad saddle tree before I got her I settled her defensive girthyness with a nibble of grain as i tighten the girth. Now she’s chewing instead of nipping. Mares communicate, keep listening! 😉

  27. Sara

    Hi there,
    I agree with having a vet check first and then getting to work on the type of horsanality your horse has.
    I have raised mares from foals and purchased full grown mares. Every time they turned out beautifully and I never had the problem you described until my current horse that is a different type. I thought this horse does not look happy. I have lost my touch ! After researching this and about 18 months of working with her, she is the horse people all want to be around. The situation you described escalated because of your curiousity but when it got out of hand you did need to let her know it is unacceptable. Be consistent with your direction and timing is everything. I picked a sound that I would only use in extreme situations and I have only had to use it twice. I am not one that believes a horse thinks you are a horse. I want my horse to understand I am a fragile human and being in my space is up to me. I also don’t believe in treating for behaviors. Scratches are fine and not all the time. Yes. They are not dogs.Before I leave the barn I now give my girl a scratch and a kiss and then last thing toss a couple of treats in her bucket in her in and out stall. Avoid any hand feeding and leave instructions for no one else to hand feed until you know what Breeze can tolerate. A lot can be taught at feeding time. Never let a horse rush you for feed. My horse turns her head away from her bucket until I pour it in. As I spread hay she does not take it out of my hand and has to bend down to start eating. Lol, but it is the little things that start disrespect. And then they add up. This may be the type of horse that you need to walk away from at the first sign of doing something you don’t like. It sounds counter intuitive, but soon your horse will think it is your idea and crave your attention and decrease these behaviors. I always had left brain mares and mine now is a right brain. I would not have believed it if I had not experienced it. I also do the seven Parelli games which really teach a horse respect/bonding and gives them confidence. Very few horses are mean. It is usually fear and insecurity. Round pen maybe after has mastered the games. I find left brain horses do better with these right away. Lunging really isn’t for any horse IMO. Most everything I do with her is at liberty now and it is a lot of fun. To make her lady days better I have added a small scoop of dried red raspberry leaves to her feed. They are inexpensive and smell wonderful. I think.
    The most important thing with any horse no matter how tame, is to always be aware of where your body is in relation to your horse and other objects. Always leave yourself an escape route. It is like driving in snow. No quick movements. The most innocent movement like kicking at a fly can do a human damage and is not the fault of the horse.
    If your horse is a right brain they are usually very protective of their hind feet because they need them to be ready to run away. I stay very close to her hind end when walking around her and she still does not fall asleep when being groomed like all my previous mares did.
    See what you find online about what I have mentioned and something may jump out that works for you and Breeze.
    Horses are the best teachers. It sounds like the student is ready ! Have a blast !!!

    1. Melissa

      Hi Sara,

      Where are you staying ❓

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *