Horse Side Vet Guide ®

Equine Health Resource

Hypersensitive to Touch, Generally

Code Yellow - Contact Your Vet at Your Convenience for an Appointment

Code Yellow - Contact Your Vet at Your Convenience for an Appointment

  • If you want to rule out any physical issue being a factor in the behavior.
  • If the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE) suggest the horse is otherwise normal.

You touch your horse in a location and they swish their tail, twitch their skin, pin their ears, or try to move away. Are they in pain or is this just a behavioral response?

Obviously, an un-handled horse responds this way naturally. But for horses in which this response is unexpected, the question is whether they are really in pain or are just being evasive. (If you withdraw when they behave this way, you may be encouraging this behavior.) Regardless, it is important to try to distinguish between a pain reaction and a learned behavioral response.

WHAT TO DO

Gently, but firmly, try to train the horse out of this behavior. Put your hand in the apparently sore spot, keep it there as long as they are resisting, but immediately remove it when the horse relaxes. Can you desensitize the horse until they no longer respond in the same way? If so, then this response may be behavioral. Stop if your attempt is met with great resistance. In this case, your touch may truly cause your horse pain. Share your findings and concerns with your vet.

WHAT YOUR VET DOES

Your vet can help you separate true pain from a behavioral response. If they conclude that the response results from pain, discuss the diagnostics necessary to determine what is causing this behavior.

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP

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