What you see. The starting point for addressing any equine health related issue is your observation.


Hypersensitive to Touch, Generally


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.

  • Code Yellow

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    • 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.

your role


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 Not To Do

If your attempt to distinguish between a pain-related or behavioral response causes your horse undue stress, do not proceed. Let your vet evaluate them.

your vet's role

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.
Questions Your Vet Might Ask:
  • When did you first notice this problem?
  • When was the horse last ridden?
  • Has there been any change in what you have asked the horse to do?
  • Can you detect swelling or heat in the area?
  • Has the feed, management, rider, riding style, or tack changed?
  • Do you feel confident in managing the training aspects of this behavior?
  • What is the horse's experience level and level of training?
  • What are the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE)?
  • Do you have a relationship with a qualified trainer who can help you?

Diagnoses Your Vet May Consider

The cause of the problem. These are conditions or ailments that are the cause of the observations you make.

Very Common
Less Common
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Treatments Your Vet May Recommend

A way to resolve the condition or diagnosis. Resolving the underlying cause or treating the signs of disease (symptomatic treatment)

Very Common
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Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP