Equine Behaviour Consultations

Phone consultations

Most of the time things go well, but sometimes you might face a difficulty with your horse or pony. Perhaps they've started misbehaving in the stable, or out hacking, or at shows, or while being asked to do certain exercises, or refusing to jump, or being impossible to load...whatever issues you're facing, Sarah will help you work out why it's started, and what you can do to improve things.

Please contact Sarah for details.

All phone consultations are payable by cheque in the post or by bank transfer.

The costs are:

  • £40 for a 1 hour phone consultation
  • £20 for a 30 min phone consultation

If your horse or pony has had a sudden change in behaviour, or it involves aggression, please have a chat with your vet first to make sure there isn't an underlying health issue.

Face-to-face Behaviour Consultations

Please contact Sarah for more information.

Please note Sarah's working area is: Hildenborough/ Tonbridge/ Southborough/ Leigh/ Penshurst/ Tunbridge Wells. As there is no practical training during these sessions, it can be arranged at any suitable location. However, video footage of any behavioural issues would be very helpful. 

The costs are:

  • £60 for a 1 hour face-to-face consultation
  • £30 for a 30 min face-to-face consultation - for appointments in Tonbridge, Hildenborough or Leigh only

If your horse or pony has had a sudden change in behaviour, or it involves aggression, please have a chat with your vet first to make sure there isn't an underlying health issue.

Equine reward-based training sessions

coming soon!

Equine behaviour advice

Prey animals

Horses have evolved to run from danger – to be quick in their reactions, and to be suspicious of new things. It’s what keeps them alive. They are also very aware that if they are trapped, cornered, contained or restrained, then their survival options are severely limited. If they don’t trust the situation or the people involved (or don’t understand and accept what’s happening), they are likely to fight their way to safety. So, although horses usually run away as their main strategy, they will also kick, barge and bite. It’s no wonder that we get scared too. Unfortunately, this fear leads people to use harsh training and equipment in order to control a horse further, often at the expense of teaching them how to cope with life, which also does nothing to promote a trusting bond between horse and handler. If we help our horses to feel safe, they’ll have no reason to flee or fight.


Herd life

Equines are social species, which means they are happiest and most fulfilled when living in a stable group of other equines. In the wild this would be extended family groups, occasionally being joined by new herds that have formed or dispersed from their original territory. A horse who is on 24/7 turnout with a group of friends, is one who is much more likely to cope with the stressors of life, than one who is isolated in a stable and is only taken out to be ridden. Many stereotypies are seen in horses that don’t cope with confinement and a very limited social life – their basic needs are not being met, so they develop coping mechanisms. Weaving, cribbing, windsucking, wood chewing, pacing, box walking, wall kicking and head nodding are all signs that a horse is struggling with life. The temptation for many owners is to stop the ‘bad’ behaviour, but that won’t change how the horse is feeling, and will probably make the situation worse. Some stereotypies have links with genetics and nutrition, but since these behaviours are not seen in the wild, it’s more likely to be a lack of appropriate living conditions (either in the present time or in the horse’s early years). Sometimes they are referred to as ‘vices’ as if the horse is doing it on purpose to annoy their owners, but they develop because of unmet needs, lack of choice and control, and a build-up of stress. A horse doesn’t enjoy cribbing – they’ve discovered it’s a way to alleviate the terrible feelings they have because they have no other way of doing anything else about it.



Most of a horse’s life is spent grazing, walking to good grazing spots, or resting between grazing. Grazing and occasional browsing. So it’s no surprise that when a horse is stabled, and put on a restrictive diet, without adlib forage, that they are going to struggle emotionally and behaviourally….and sometimes physically. Many horses suffer from gastric ulcers, and the main causes are restricted feeding; lack of fibre; too much grain; stress; and prolonged use of anti-inflammatory medication. If a horse is given a more natural diet, and kept free from stress, they are less likely to suffer with ulcers.



Horses in the wild are used to freedom and choice. They can go where they want, when they want, hang around with chosen individuals, rest or play or walk. As they also want to stick with the others in their social group, they will also compromise their own choices for the benefit of the herd. But since the herd wants the same things, usually it’s a shared freedom. Compare that with the life of a stabled horse on no or minimal turnout. They have no choice – they are told when it’s food time, what and how much to eat, exercise time, social time (and not always with individuals they would choose to be with), rest time.  Many behaviour issues in horses develop because of lack of choice. If a horse backs away from a bridle, they are seen as ‘stubborn’ or ‘wilful’ rather than a horse saying they don’t want to be ridden. Can we give them that choice? Perhaps, perhaps not. But we can certainly help them to be part of the decision making. If they’re saying that being ridden is a bad thing, we can help make it more pleasurable, and reward them for the bridle going on. The point is, the more freedom and choice we can give our horses, the more they can cope with the events in their day that do cause them stress – namely being ridden, transported, and visits from the farrier or vet.


Riding isn’t natural

Horses are not designed to be ridden. Although their genetic makeup has evolved to enable people to sit on their backs and put bits in their mouths, a horse doesn’t start life hoping a person is going to clamber on board and control them. They might appreciate our company if we’re kind to them, but that doesn’t mean they want us to spend endless hours forcing them to complete a dressage routine or jump round a cross country course. Once we accept that, and accept that every aspect of riding is potentially a negative experience for our horses, we can try to train them in ways that will ease their stress and actually help them to enjoy the experience. There are many clicker trainers showing that it’s possible to achieve great things, just by rewarding a horse with food for learning the cues we give them while we’re riding. Once a horse enjoys working with people, then their life in general becomes a lot less stressful, and behaviour issues such as difficulty catching, or not standing still at the mounting block, disappear by themselves.



Geldings are easier to work with, and easier to keep in groups, simply because they have less testosterone ruling their behaviour. That’s a bit of an overstatement, but the point is valid. To a stallion, life is about finding the ladies, confronting the opposition, protecting territory and resources, and being quick enough to effectively control those around him. And not to focus on the unnecessary stuff (which sadly for us is usually walking, handling and riding). That’s an overstatement too, as many stallions are happy with the quiet life and get on with everybody, and show no resistance to what’s asked of them. But let’s say, as a general rule, geldings find it easier to cope with the normal life of a pet/ competition/ working horse. What about mares? I feel sorry for mares, often labelled ‘moody mares’ simply because their hormones and bodies are in a state of flux as the go from season to season. From spring to autumn, roughly every 21 days, with the season itself lasting about a week. Their behaviour and emotions will also fluctuate during this time, and they may become less tolerant, or extra sensitive, or more fearful, or easily frustrated with moments of anger. This is not the fault of the mare, or even the hormones, but just that this is probably what she’s thinking most of the time, it’s just the hormone changes result in her saying ‘no’ more strongly than normal. A mare whose needs are met, enjoys her work, and loves being groomed and handled, will show less symptoms than one who’s stabled, is resistant to being ridden, and tries to bite people. I know from my own personal experience that my moods and perceptions of events and people change a lot during my monthly cycle. What I can cope with one day may be a problem the next. I can use this information to learn how to organise my life better, so that my bad days inform what happens the rest of the time. Sadly, our mares don’t have that opportunity. All they can do is say “I’m in pain” or “I’m afraid” or “I don’t want to do that today”. Rarely are they listened too, and instead are simply forced to comply, making future interactions worse, to the point where some mares become quite dangerous and run at people with teeth bared. Too often the solution is giving them medication or a supplement to calm them down. Although it’s not a bad thing to help a mare cope better with life, she needs changes to her management, diet and training that will help her live a stress-free life, even when her hormones are up and down. To simply find the wonder drug that means you can carry on as you were before avoids having to improve her life for the better.


Early traumas

Every horse is a product of their genes, and the experiences they’ve had. How they were bred, weaned, kept, handled, travelled and trained in their formative years will have a massive impact on their behaviour in later life. Although we cannot undo all of these stressful memories and trauma, we can help them to cope with what happens in the present, and aim to give them a happy life.


Meeting their needs

The best way to prevent and resolve potential behaviour issues is to provide for our horse’s needs: including dietary, water, exercise, mental stimulation, social contact, grazing, browsing, exploring etc. This also includes safety, predictability and control. It may require a few changes to their management and routines, and the type or amount of work they’re expected to do, but your horse will thank you for it! You may also need to alter your expectations slightly – to do what’s best for your horse rather than what you personally want to achieve. Although you might want to win the next dressage competition, if your horse hates the training and the way they are kept, is this worth it?



As much as we would like to give our horse 24/7 turnout with their best friends, and only do work they enjoy (which might be no work at all), this isn’t always possible. As compensation for the deficits, we can provide enrichment in their stables and paddocks. This might be in the form of food puzzles, toys, or new textures/ surfaces/ items to explore. It can also involve creative use of outside spaces, including the track system where horses can wander from place to place rather than just hang around being bored in a square paddock.


The right kind of exercise

Horses in the wild spend most of their time walking. With a bit of play, and occasional moments of running if they become afraid or excited (or stallions keeping order). Unless you hack out regularly, most horses are ridden in an arena or school for an hour before being put back in the stable or turned out for an hour or two. When walking, horses are grazing and observing their environment, and responding to others in the social group. So, walking exercise doesn’t mean interminable minutes or hours on a horse walker. Yes they’re out the stable and moving which is great, but there’s the constant threat of being pushed from behind or pulled from the front if they slow down, and there’s not a lot to look at…as well as going around in a circle without changing direction. To my mind this is rather like the days when equines were used to turn mills, endlessly walking in circles to make life easier for the humans. Are they better than a horse being in a stable all day? Yes, probably. But that’s not much of a choice, or an improvement for a horse’s welfare when they would much prefer to be turned out with others, or taken on a hack to see the countryside.



Everything takes time. Many training and management techniques are designed to save time. Stabling a horse means they are where we want them, and are relatively clean and ready to ride. Using double bridles and martingales means a horse can be controlled without lots of pesky foundation training. Forcing a horse to submit to a farrier or handling is seen by some as preferable to spending time helping the horse learn to accept what’s happening without fear. Horses are asked to jump higher and more often before they’re ready, and then punished for getting it wrong or refusing. Horses are asked to work excessively in an arena, and punished when they no longer want to be ridden. Many, many behaviour issues in horses start because they are being rushed into something they are ill-prepared to cope with. It’s not about finding the latest gadget or supplement to fix the problem and carry on as before, it’s having empathy and seeing things from your horse’s perspective. If you take the time to understand them, and why they are behaving the way they are, then the way forward becomes a joy rather than a battle.


Reward-based training

There’s beginning to be a real shift towards helping horses learn through rewards rather than through the avoidance of pain and discomfort, and that’s a great thing. It’s not always easy though, and it can take a bit longer in the beginning, but the result is you’ll have a keen trainee who enjoys their work and is willing to put the effort in. Can it work for everything? Yes, it can, but it needs careful planning. You’re never going to stop a bolting horse with a bit of carrot, but you can put the work in to train them to trust their rider and be confident in their surroundings so that they won’t need to bolt in the first place. Reward-based training also works really well for cooperative care, where horses can be trained to cope with the vet, the farrier, or with clipping, washing, worming and wound care. Reward-based training also improves dressage moves, jumping accuracy, agility skills…and is ideal for trick training. You don’t need to use a clicker to accomplish this, but it makes for clearer communication to have a reward-marker (it can be a sound, a word, or a tap on the withers when ridden). What gets rewarded gets repeated (or strengthened), so once you start shaping a behaviour, be careful what you mark as the behaviour to reward – it needs to be whole picture that includes emotions and thoughts, as well as a physical action. For example, if your horse backs up a step, which is what you want to improve, then the temptation is to reward just for that. But what if your horse has their ears pinned flat, or their tail is swishing, or they’re trying to bite you or walk into you, or they’re actually walking sideways rather than straight back? Set them up for success, avoid frustration and anxiety, and reward the right moments.


Got a question, and would like to see it answered here? Please get in touch!



© Sarah Crockford 2024