horse trailer behavior

Q.What’s causing my horse’s negative trailer behaviors, such as kicking and pawing on the road, and how do you deal with them? Loading is not a problem.

—Hilary, Florida

A.When loading is not a problem, and the kicking and pawing occur only when on the road, the first thing I think about is something about the vehicle’s movement that is uncomfortable for the horse. Examples we have found over the years include balance problems and painful musculoskeletal conditions, particularly neck and back discomfort, that understandably get aggravated by the horse’s nearly constant effort to adjust head height to maintain balance on the trailer.

In this scenario it can be quite informative to use a trailer video camera or recorder. Try to position the camera so you can see the entire horse—particularly its facial expressions. You can have your veterinarian and/or a behavior specialist take a look to see if any causes are obvious. Observers can commonly associate the pawing and kicking with turns or starts and stops.

In extreme cases, we’ve seen some horses lose their balance and scramble, sometimes falling whenever turning, usually to one direction more than the other. We could see their worried expression and attempt to brace when experiencing even a slight turn. Some of these horses do better with an alternate arrangement say, slant load or open box stall. Or in some cases the horse appears more comfortable when not tied. Even diagnostically, different arrangements would be something to try.