Progressively worse stall aggression

Hello! Hope everyone has a good thanksgiving!

I have had my 5 year old ottb for about 6 months now. In the past month or two, he has gotten more and more aggressive while grooming and tacking. I will occasionally catch him pinning his ears when I walk past his stall. He is usually outside from 7am-5am, and gets ridden about 6 times a week. He used to NEVER be aggressive, just a little sensitive while grooming and tacking.

He hasn’t gotten to the point of actually harming me, but he bites the air/his stall, pins his ears, and bobs his head significantly when I brush/tack him up. His back is not sore, and I am pretty sure he doesn’t have ulcers. He is usually tacked in his stall with access to hay prior to his ride. He is never aggressive around food, really only when I’m tacking.

PLEASE help me catch this in the bud, as I do NOT want an aggressive horse, especially with him being so young.

Has he been scoped? What makes you think he doesn’t have ulcers?


~ Sounds like pain rather than something entirely behavioral.
~ Riding a 5 year old six times sounds excessive to me, especially since he’s trying to tell you something is wrong.
~ You’re not safe in a stall. Put him in cross ties, and try to sleuth out what’s bothering him, item by item.

If it was me, I’d step right back and rethink my program.


He has had treatment for it, and I have been doing almost everything to help prevent it, but I could be wrong.

He has not been scoped.

Unfortunately I am unable to use cross-ties due to the new COVID rules at my barn.

For a hunter horse, what do you believe is a right program?

He has been in the same program really since hes been off the track.

How much down time has he had since he left the track? How much turn out does he get? What kind of work is he doing? Does he get relaxed hacks as well as drilling in an arena? How about time off of work entirely?

I’d never venture to say what the “right” program for a given animal would be, but it sounds like your horse is telling you that whatever he’s being asked to do now now isn’t the right combination.


Hes been off the track since around feb. 2019
he gets about 10 hours of turn out /day
2 pro rides (One jump one flat)
4 rides by me (1 light hack, 1 light jump, 1 moderate jump, 1 moderate hack)
*By moderate jump I mean 2’3-2/6)
Since I have only had him for about 6 months he has not gotten an extended vacation, but has had an extra day off or two. I have been thinking about giving him a vacation, how long do you recommend? I do not want to lose all of our progress but I would like for him to have some time to relax.

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Honestly the right program varies drastically by horse. I don’t think riding/working 6 days a week is excessive unless you are jumping or asking for very hard work every day.

First I would rule out pain. Ulcers would be my first instinct. I would definitely scope him if you can and if you can’t get him on a stomach buffer. If it’s not the foregut ask about the hind or maybe his spine it neck or feet or legs.

Second I would give him a week off and see if just grooming with not expectation to work changes his mood. Go for a hand walk or just stand and watch the lessons going on. Hang out by his stall and don’t do anything but be with him. See if his attitude changes with that. Than bring him back to work slowly. Maybe a light walking hack and hanging out watching other people ride. A lounge to get the bounce out of his legs. He could just be burnt out and needs a change in pace.


I agree with you.

I dont think I am able to afford a scoping, but what is a stomach bluffer? I have him on G.U.T supplement, he gets aloe, and hay cubes.

U-guard (or any similar product) and alfalfa with minimal grain is my go to. Alfalfa hay is really the best but cubes/pellets work almost as well. I also try and have hay in front of them as much as possible. If that means feeding horse quality hay that is pretty low in nutritional value in haynets to give my horse something to pick at when they are in the stall.

It does take time for the buffer to work and it may not work at all. I would definitely talk to your vet though. They may have a protocol that is different than mine.

Thanks so much! He usually is picking away at his hay next while im grooming/tacking and my vet recommend giving him a few hay cubes before I ride. I do give him a pound or so of the cubes with aloe soaked in after my ride to help with weight gain.

When you say his back is not sore, how was that determined? Do you have a vet involved in this conversation?


No vet yet, but was determined by running the tip of my finger down his spine on both sides, along with applying pressure to spots. My trainer and I both did this.

I think a vacation is a very good idea.

In the first place, that’s a lot of jumping for a guy his age. In the second place, no down time in over a year is pushing it.

If it was me, I’d give him a nice break without anything at all to do - say a week to ten days - then reintroduce a somewhat less grueling schedule, maybe swapping out one day of drilling for a low-stress hack, and/or giving him two days off per week.

You’re not going to lose fitness that way - quite the contrary. When training is relentless, small physical problems turn into big ones rapidly, and small resentments turn into chronic behavioral issues. A happy, rested horse will try harder and progress faster than one who never has a chance to recover from minor injuries - just like a person, really.

But that’s just my old school two cents. :slightly_smiling_face:


Thanks so much! I will definitely bring it up to my trainer.

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IME horses don’t act “aggressive” for no reason. There’s a reason. He sounds like he is in pain and this is how he lets you know.

What happens if you go in his stall throw his halter on, go for a walk, let him hand graze and give him treats? Will he pin his ears and try to bite you while doing all that? My guess is no. It’s not you personally he has a problem with it’s you tacking him up and riding him that he has issues with.

I don’t understand why you “are pretty sure he doesn’t have ulcers”. He is from the track, he lives in a stall most of his life, he’s working 6 days a week, he’s a TB, and he’s showing classic ulcer symptoms. He sounds like the poster child for ulcers.

If it is ulcers, in addition to treatment, something needs to change in his management. Some horses do fine living in a stall with 10 hours of turnout. Some do not. Some horses do fine with 6 days of heavy training, some do not. Some horses do fine being fed a diet heavy in concentrates, some do not. Whatever it is, something in his management is not working.

If it were me, I would involve the vet and get a scope. And if the horse has ulcers, I would rethink his living arrangement and put him somewhere where he can move more 24/7, have constant access to forage, and live with roommates. Once he’s clean I would then start him back into work very slowly.


He may well have ulcers at this point. When a horse does not like to be groomed, then go to a soft brush and/or a towel. Don’t force it. That alone can make a horse anxious and the anxiety can result in ulcers.

Step way back with what you are doing. He is reacting because he is overwhelmed.

Is this the first TB that you have had?

I hope that you and yours have a happy Thanksgiving as well. :hugs:

No, but the last time I had one I was so young I didn’t understand much.

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I do think he is overwhelmed. Some horses love to be groomed. Some absolutely hate it and seem to feel that you are attacking them when you give them the good grooming that many other horses seem to love.
Do you know , or can you find , an experienced TB trainer near you?

That’s absolutely fair.

I think it’s great that you’ve developed better observational skills since then, and are prepared to rethink things when something isn’t working. You simply cannot go wrong with that kind of attitude.