Baby Quirk or Something Worse?

Hi All,

I have a new to me 5 year old that I recently imported, only had him for a month. He’s been wonderful but he has some odd behavior and I’m not sure if it’s a personality quirk or there’s something else going on. He vetted clean, multiple videos and x-rays later I bought and imported him with the help of a broker. It was clear to me that he stood after I purchased him, he lost some muscling and weight. Kind of expected so no big deal.

His first few nights in his new home I get a report from the manager about him bucking up and biting at his back leg. I think maybe it’s a play thing, he’s only 5 after all. He has a silly and sweet personality and a little bit of mischief making. Fast forward to a turnout where he gets to run and buck and be silly and after he runs and/or bucks he will reach around to both stifles like he has some crazy itch he can’t get. He’s completely sound. I’ve checked him over for ticks or insects and scratched the area. He doesn’t try to do it if he’s on the lunge and gets silly, only when he’s loose. He doesn’t persist longer than 10 or so seconds a side and will then run off again or walk off fine.

Has anyone had any experience with something similar? I don’t think he’s neurologic as he has no other symptoms and vets have said he’s not. He’s seen a chiropractor who adjusted him and said he had a really tight psoas on his lift hind but that was about a week ago and it should be resolved. I’ve inquired with the broker I used and she’s consulting with other vets based off the video I took. It’s just so strange that he will turn around and bite at both stifles. I don’t know if something happened during transport but I doubt it, he’s a very calm, collected, and sweet 5 year old. Thoughts?

Are you sure he’s not colicing? Mine does this whenever she colics. She lifts her back leg up and goes after her stifles but that’s her “tell” that her tummy is not happy.

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Sheath needs cleaning? Just a guess. I’ve never seen that. I hope it isn’t colic.

Is he an orphan? I had an orphan filly, orphaned at 3 days old. She did this, she did it when she would eat. Started when we got her onto her milk replacer, drinking out of a bucket.
As she got older she would take a bite of hay, then reach back and touch her own stifle. Repeatedly. Always did it. I sold her to a show home when she was three, and she was still doing it then. I figured it was simply a repetitive habit that she had developed that eased her stress levels… the stress of being an orphan. But she thrived, and was fine. Good luck with yours, hopefully it is as simple as something like this.

That was my first thought. Or ulcers? Wouldn’t be surprising after his long trip.


My first thought was ulcers.


Not colic. He poops fine and drinks his water. I’ve seen it happen only a few times and again, it’s only after hard running and bucking/kicking out.

I should clarify that turn out doesn’t mean he’s out in a pasture for many hours. It means he’s free to run and get the sillies out in a larger arena for 20-30 minutes before going back to his stall.

I don’t know if he was an orphan. If he was, it wasn’t disclosed to me.

Colic comes in many forms, not only impaction. It means stomach pain.

This sounds like a pain response (in the orphan foal story too).


To play devil’s advocate here, do some research into self mutilation. I’ve seen it personally and these behaviors could be SM derived. Albeit rare, most horses that exhibit SM bite at their flank during/before/after periods of more “violent” behavior like spinning, bucking, rearing etc. SM is usually caused by pain or discomfort and often looks compulsive (just like you’re describing). I would do an eval with a second vet and look into things like ulcers as a root cause.


First guess and to rule out. His stifles are quirky from standing around in the stall, and then when he gets out and kicks up he stresses the weak stifles to the point of irritation/pain.

Is he straight behind? I’ve had horses a little straight in the hocks who would stand and kick back w/ hinds after suddenly exercising their stifles. Not quite getting hung up but almost.
He’s biting at the area that’s bothering him. The stifles.

I’d start the 3 exercises for building up stifles- besides more turnout and less stalling.
1- hill work
2- cavalettis
3- backing up

For the record, just because a horse is pooping fine and drinking water doesn’t mean they can’t also be colicing.

And even if it’s not colic, it could still be ulcer symptoms which would make sense after a long trip and it sounds like he doesn’t a lot of turnout.


Mine too. Whole new life, new schedule, new diet, new routine… it’s a lot for anyone to cope with.


What was his turnout routine before you purchased him? What was he being fed? Everything in his life has massively changed in the last few weeks, and on top of that he’s a young, fit athlete being confined to a stall for 23.5 hours a day.

In my opinion, ulcers, mild recurring colic, and neurotic stress behavior are all candidates to explore. And no matter the cause, more turnout would be part of any solution that I pursued.


So, I hate to say it…but I’ve seen a lot of bizarre neurotic/stress-type behaviors from imported horses.

I have to believe that it comes down to the difference in horse keeping from country to country and how different countries raise and handle young stock. That is not to say that horse keeping styles in the US are perfect or better by some standard - they aren’t. But they are different and I’ve know more than one imported young horse that presented with some really odd behaviors. Some of them went away as the horse settled into a new routine, others did not.

I would also be inclined to give the horse a fairly decent “let-down period” before doing any more digging into the “whys”. You have to remember that the business of being freight shipped on a plane, sitting in quarantine at an airport and then being loaded up and dropped of somewhere completely new in every way is extremely, extremely stressful for any horse. It’s pretty incredible that many do as well as they do with that kind of travel. If the horse seems otherwise calm and happy, is settling into his new environment and isn’t causing damage to himself with the behavior, monitor him and see if it gets better over time. How long “over time” is is up to you, but honestly I’d give him at least 3-4 months before I got too concerned.


My mini does exactly this. It took awhile for me to put two and two together but he does it when he has gas. Evidently when he first starts to work it shifts some gas around and he get’s uncomfortable. Once he farts, he’s good to go :grinning:. I have taken to giving him a couple of Gas-X tabs (vet approved, I know someone will ask) about 30 minutes before work and no more stopping and grabbing at his back end.

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THIS, and add in very minimal “turn out”.


I thought about that too when I first was looking into things. What I read was about horses with way worse symptoms so I kind of discounted it. Am having a vet out to take a look though.

Again, symptoms only present when running around. It’s not colic, mild or otherwise.

@Heinz_57I @trubandloki I also considered ulcers but he doesn’t have any other symptoms and he’s not biting at flank or belly and isn’t sensitive in any of the ulcer areas. He’s definitely reaching for those back legs.

I’m not sure about his routine but I kept his feed the same from the grain to the hay. I worked really hard to make the transition as easy on his body as possible.

He was not fit when he arrived, there was a fair amount of weight loss and atrophy from the travel and I think he stood after I purchased him. He was purchased mid-November and didn’t get here until December. Due to his weakness, I intentionally worked him easy and slowly so he wouldn’t blow him top and hurt himself. When he has the ability to be loose and run around, he tends to just stand and mosey around. I’m not in a situation where I can put him in a pasture for 20 hours a day. I do know he was being brought in for the winter, so I’m guessing he would be in a more confined space than he was before.

I’d have to stare at him and let you know about his straightness behind. I don’t think he’s straight but I’ve only had him a month and I don’t have his confirmation memorized yet.

It’s odd that he doesn’t do it on the line or during work, only when he’s loose and free.

Thanks for your suggestions! We are already doing hill work as he has to go up and down to get to the arenas. Haven’t done a ton of backing up yet but we’re working on having him not jump over poles so that’s been slow going :smile: