I posted something similar to this (I think) about Tessa, so forgive me if I'm rehashing old stuff. I would really like to know your opinions on this.
Where is the line between a horse showing you his opinion and expressing bad behavior?
Here's what brought this up. I went out to visit Licorice yesterday. It was super dark and gloomy in the morning, with a cold wind blowing leaves off the trees and a light drizzle. The barn was empty. I was already feeling reluctant about being there, as a giant pile of laundry was beckoning me to come home and be productive. So I decided to just take Licorice out and groom him.
I put him in the crossties and ran my hand down his neck. He was so soft and fuzzy and smelled like warm horse that I wanted to hug him. So I did. He was not a fan. He pinned his ears and nipped at the air. Or maybe at me but he didn't get me. I couldn't see exactly clearly. I backed off. Then I moved to his shoulder and simply touched his shoulder with my body. He pinned his ears. I stepped back and put just my hand on his shoulder. No reaction.
I tried it on the other shoulder. Putting my hand on him as fine, but if I put my body up against him he pinned his ears. If I kept my body close while putting my hand near his girth, he pinned his ears.
I didn't push the issue, but instead brushed him (with no pinning of ears during the process no matter where I brushed him) and then let him wander around the arena for a few minutes.
I want to get Licorice and I off to a good start and I'm wondering your opinions about what to do in this situation. Here's my first thoughts:
1. He's pinning his ears because he doesn't like being crowded that way. Do I respect that? Or do I tell him "Sorry buddy, it's not your choice if I crowd you."?
2. Do I discipline for expressing his opinion or only if he actually tries to nip? I'm trying to allow him to be himself, but I also want him to be a safe horse. He was a beginner lesson horse at his previous barn and did not display this at all. Though I don't think I crowded his shoulder there either.
3. Is this unhappiness due to something else? I don't think I can answer that without giving it more time. If it escalates then it could be because his turnout is different at this barn and he doesn't get as much trail riding (his other barn had AWESOME trails and he went out a few times a week, my barn has one sort of trail and we haven't even found it yet, so we've just gone down the driveway and we've only done that twice because I haven't found the courage to trail ride alone yet.)
I will be double checking the usual stuff like saddle fit, looking for signs of pain etc, but my instinct is that it's not those things since it was specific to me putting my body against his shoulder (not even leaning, just being there) and he wasn't sensitive to my hand.