Happy scratch reflex becomes weird tic?

I clean my mares udder whenever I groom. She has always enjoyed it, at least I assume she does as she purses her lips and drops her head (you know what I mean - like when you scratch their withers or itchy spot). Sometimes she would lean in or lift her foot very slightly. With any animal, I have always wondered if this is really an indicator that they are happy, or just a reflex.

For the past few weeks, this has become response has become EXTREMELY exaggerated, and she is doing the same thing with her head/neck, but more-so, and now she is lifting her leg (think a dog peeing) and squatting with both hind legs. She isn’t kicking out - she lifts and holds. It is extreme & I am afraid she is going to fall over (on top of me, or I’d get a hoof in the face on the other side).

The most disturbing part is that when I stop, her head stays in weird position, although not as exaggerated. She looks almost locked/tranced. I usually poke at her to move and she will, but still has weird, milder pursed lip & arched neck. So far she has gone about a full minute doing this before I become too disturbed and make her move. It may be my imagination, but she has a glazed look for another few.

Could this be something neurological? She is 19. I know when my cats have aged, some can’t repress the licking reflex when I scratch their base of their tail, even if they want to bite me.

Yes, it has been hot and gross, so maybe her udder is especially yukky, but this is so strange.

I thought about having someone record it, but have decided that I do not want to replicate it and have her hit the ground.

We started Prascend in April. It is a dopamine agonist & this makes me wonder if it is somehow related. She is great in every other aspect - healthy, good weight, shiny, sound, dressage schooling, trail riding, etc.

Yes, I will be calling the vet, and am currently trying to figure out how to describe what she is doing, exactly.

I wonder if she’s just really itchy - and if you’ve ever had a really itchy situation (think poison ivy or a really bad bug bite) the itching is such a relief, and the sensation actually lasts for a little while after you’ve scratched.

Maybe try treating that area with an anti-fungal or something like Benadryl cream?

1 Like

I would say, combined with what you mention about prascend being a dopamine agonist, that it just feels really good. My mare will sometimes do something similar (face and neck contortion, lifting a hind leg so I can really get in there, but without the squatting) when she’s really itchy and it feels particularly good, so I get it. We just have to remind ourselves that they really can’t reach that spot, so if there’s some kind of irritant there she has to wait until you get to it. Like S1969 said, try some topicals to see if there’s some irritation to relieve, otherwise I would just chalk it up to extra dopamine floating around making it feel soooooo good.


I wash my mare down there with warm water, sometimes with Johnsons Baby Wash but mostly try to keep soap off. It helps with the itching.

Could your mare be coming into heat?

I agree with everyone else - it sounds far more likely that she is especially itchy at the moment, or has decided that she enjoys it a lot.

Wait another few weeks and she will have learned to lift her back leg and give you an expectant look when she wants you to scratch her.

I’m familiar with the glazed look and extended upper lip. You are good at scratching itches. Your horse is fine. Might not be a bad idea to have the vet look at the area and see if there’s an anti-itch topical that’s safe for use there though.

Interesting thought about the Prascend, though. My guy is also on that drug and didn’t start getting quite this exaggerated about his itchy spots until after his Cushings diagnosis.

By the way, you might try to alternate the sides you scratch from to see if you can get her to rotate both her back legs. My gelding tends to be very itchy on his umbilicus and after seeing him lift his back leg to ask for scratches, my vet suggested that this was helping him adjust his pelvis the way you or I would release our hips in a supine twist, and provided he didn’t fall over in doing it, it couldn’t hurt him to keep at it. So, on the days he’s really itchy, I move him against his stall wall to scratch him, so that if he lost his balance he has some support.

Probably just itchy and who knows what the dopamine is doing. But I would stop stimulating her. The scratches might “feel good” in the moment but what actual good is it doing her? Does she NEED it? I say nope. Unless she has real problem, which there is no actual reason to suspect, then she needs to deal with her own lady bits (or not) as best she can naturally on her own. There is no need to “help” her with this non-problem and stimulate perhaps unwanted or possibly stereotypic behavior.

I don’t mean to be gross or provocative, but while she may just be “itchy”, there very well may be some sexual/reproductive component to it for this mare. To be fair, I don’t stimulate geldings with scratches or other manual stimulation that obviously instigates a sexual response. Even if I “need or want” to clean their man bits. Same same for the mare. You understand?

Are you effing kidding me? This response has got to be a joke. Mares don’t get sexually aroused by their teats being touched. And if you’re neglecting to get the smegma off/out of your horse’s reproductive parts because you believe you might sexually arouse them, you’re a crummy horse owner.

OP, I think your mare is fine. My mare does the crazy response thing to getting curried on her right haunch. For awhile, she would try to “move into” the scratches, which got promptly dealt with as I was going to get crushed. Now she drops that hip in an exaggerated way and leans towards me a bit. I feel the same way as you about the dangers of them losing their balance, so I position my body in a way that allows for a clear and fast retreat path.


This is a bit much, don’t you think?

When I scratch my cat’s breastbone, which he can’t easily reach on his own, he turns his head sideways, stretches his neck to give me better access to the itchy spot, and purrs like a tractor. Very much like this mare, presumably minus the purring.

I think you’re honing in on the location of the mare’s itchy spot and assigning a motive that doesn’t bear out upon further thought. And I really doubt that the OP or any of the rest of us who have itchy horses are taking them canoeing.


I think the point here is that the excess reaction could be tending that way. I know my mare invites me to play with her tail and points South. I’m aware of what she’s asking.

Seriously? I wipe my gelding’s anus off every day or he will rub his tail. He lifts his tail so I can do it. Is he sexually aroused?

Something isn’t sexual just because it feels good, even if it involves teats/vulva/sheath/whatever. The things can itch or be dirty, they aren’t sex-only parts.

Good grief, I can’t believe I’m having this conversation…


I can’t even with this load of bologna

About horses.

Let’s just paint scarlet letters on the equine species and drag them to church.


My gelding has the same reaction when we groom him and reach the inner thigh region (note: specifically NOT the penis, but the actual inner leg and crease where it separates from the belly). He will lift his leg like a dog that is peeing, and will try to groom whoever/whatever is directly in front of him.

The reaction is clearly enjoyment, not a tic, because he will run into the wash rack to get groomed whenever he has a chance and he specifically will position himself for us to scratch that area while we are grooming him lol. It just gets itchy/sweaty and feels good to get that itch scratched :woman_shrugging:

1 Like

I asked the vet, out for another horse, and he did think the excess joy may be dopamine related… He did agree response above and beyond, but she doesn’t have scrapie or anything :slight_smile:

For those asking, She has been both in heat and not in heat when she does this.

I have always cleaned her udder every day during regular grooming, as there is always something to clean. No discharge or anything, just lots of sweat and dirt. She has always loved it, including when I just hose it off. We checked carefully when this started and there isn’t anything pathological.

She isn’t rubbing her tail. She is def happier during currying anywhere lately, but I that can be attributed that to general summer sweat/bug itchies. She has no irritation or skin reactions.

I did put vaseline on tonight to see if that made her feel better between cleanings. I was going to get bag balm but ran out of time. On my errand list.

Thanks for all of your responses. Maybe I will get someone to film it. It’s insane.

1 Like

If there is a safety concern, which it sounds like there is, I would do what’s necessary and let it be before she gets too reactive. Eventually, with less daily scratches there, maybe her reaction will settle down. Sometimes, it seems like the anticipation of a good scratch can get a reaction.

Also, I would think too much greasy stuff down there might collect dust, but you’ll have to see.

I have a mare that, while not quite as dramatic as yours sounds, still needs and appreciates a good cleaning between her udders and under her tail essentially daily (or at least every time I ride). Considering there is literally no way for her to scratch between her udders, it doesn’t surprise me she needs me to do it. Any sweat or sand and she has to just tolerate it until I come hose and clean it out. No wonder some of them love having it worked on.

I think I speak for several of us when I say we would love to see a video if you were able to get one :slight_smile:

Definitely. It sounds like quite the image.