According to Kelly Marks, pain is often at the root of equine behavioural issues. Think how grumpy and groggy you feel when you’re not at your best. If a personal trainer showed up and tried to make you drop and give them 20, chances are you would ‘nap’ in response.

Regular check-ups

So, how you can tell if your horse is in pain?

“I like my horses to have a twice yearly physiotherapy check and treatment from an ACPAT (Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Animal Therapy) qualified practitioner,” says Kelly.

There is a new ‘gold standard’ register of animal musculoskeletal therapists that includes physiotherapists, osteopaths and chiropractors who meet the required standards ( Or ask your vet to recommend a practitioner.

“If your horse starts to behave out of character a vet check is the place to start,” Kelly adds.

Brain, Pain or Training?

As well as getting your horse regularly checked, it is important you are aware of how he is feeling on a daily basis. The key is to this is knowing what ‘normal’ behaviour looks like.

“As an owner it can be difficult to determine the cause of bad behaviour,” says Kelly. “Last year I contributed to the book and DVD Understanding Horse Performance: Brain, Pain or Training, which explains how you can figure out for yourself whether it’s pain or behaviour, and where to go for help.”

Physiotherapist Sue Palmer, who put the book together, has compiled a comprehensive questionnaire consisting of 50 questions, which will help you assess your horse. We have listed some of them below.

If you answer ‘yes’ to any of these questions, your horse’s behaviour may be affected by pain.

21 key questions

  1. Does the problem only occur on one rein?
  2. Does the behaviour happen at home, but not at a show?
  3. Does the problem occur when you are riding in the arena, but not out hacking?
  4. Is the issue worse at the beginning of the session, and improving towards the end?
  5. Does the issue get worse throughout the ride?
  6. Does the problem only happen when you are riding in one of your two (or more) saddles or bridles?
  7. Does he kick or bite, or is he generally nervous around people or other horses?
  8. Is he ear-shy or head-shy?
  9. Does he need to be sedated to have his teeth checked?
  10. Is he difficult to catch, clip, or load?
  11. Does he pull a face, swish his tail, move away, or otherwise indicate displeasure in relation to bridling, saddling, girthing, rugging or mounting?
  12. Does he have limited turnout?
  13. Does he play excessively with the other horses in his field?
  14. Does he struggle to get up from lying down?
  15. Does he only lie down on one side, or is he unable to roll right over?
  16. Is he only ever ridden in an arena?
  17. Is he grumpy, aggressive, or otherwise generally miserable, at all or any specific times?
  18. Does he misbehave for the farrier or trimmer?
  19. Has there been a recent change in farriery?
  20. Is he shod at intervals of greater than six weeks?
  21. Does he wear a particular type of noseband in order to stop him from opening his mouth