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When Good Horses “Go Bad”

How often have we heard about a horse, or horses, who “turned bad,” “went sour,” or turned out to be “counterfeit” (i.e. the horse’s true bad nature did not reveal itself until later)? Typical complaints include a deterioration in work performance or attitude without an obvious physical explanation: a show horse who refuses to leave the in-gate, a jumper who starts having more rails or refusals, a dressage horse who loses his brilliance, or any one of a litany of “naughty” behaviours including excessive spookiness, bucking, kicking, rearing, bolting, freezing, biting, head shaking, self-mutilation and so on. Horses, unlike humans, simply do not to have the cognitive sophistication to become social deviants for personal gain, revenge or pure malice. While at the International Society for Equitation Science last year, I was struck by the number of equine scientists who felt that behavioural problems generally attributed to psychological pathology, or a…

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