Why Do Some Horses Drop Their Penis in Training?

Today I’m talking about willies and training… If you have a horse who drops, you’ll know what I’m talking about! If not, you can probably skip this one 🙂 However, it is about emotions and over-arousal so it’s also relevant if you have a horse who gets:
> Over-excited
> Grabby
> Too focused on the food
> Tense and pins their ears, swishes their tail or has muscle tension
> Too frantic and can’t slow down, stand still or relax

As usual, I’ve turned to Panksepp’s studies on emotional neuroscience to find some answers. He was a groundbreaking scientist who identified 7 structures in the brain that are the seats of 7 core emotion systems shared by all mammals. If this is new to you, head over to Rachel’s fantastic series on the emotional systems now (then come back here!). I looked again at his work to see if I could understand why some horses drop when training and have used his info to create some interesting theories, which I share in this video. I also discuss my own experiences and give you some practical training tips to help, too.

I’ve actually been looking into over-arousal in training since about 2011 and found lots of solutions to create more relaxation and relationship with my own horse, Freckles. I presented on that journey at the Equine Clicker Conference in 2013. Since then, I’ve continued to refine my training with an emphasis on calm connection and finding the emotional balance of both relaxation and motivation. This has improved the communication and made the horses more chilled out, both in and out o training sessions. No more manic energy or horses who are overly focused on the treats and the behaviours but not on their human!

If you want to find out more, there’s a full discussion on this topic (along with actual extracts from Panksepp’s book) in the CT Club, my full 2013 presentation on Over-coming Over-arousal, as well as hundreds of videos showing you how to train your horse and prioritise your connection together. We’d LOVE to have you as part of the Club, along with our super friendly, supportive members from around the globe! See you in there 🙂

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4 thoughts on “Why Do Some Horses Drop Their Penis in Training?”

  1. My horse drops during ground training or when anticipating treats (not under saddle). He gets a little excited—not in a tense way, but rather in a pleasant, focused way, and I’ve never thought of it as a problem. I have been curious though, and this talk helped me understand that it’s associated with activation of the seeking system. (While he’s dropped, I can use the opportunity to clean his penis and remove urinary beans, which is a bonus.) Thanks so much for the lesson!

    1. Hi Jill, yes I think you’re right about the SEEKING system. As long he’s relaxed and it’s not bothering either of you, then it’s up to you as to whether you try to address it or not. And, yes, it can help with the not-so-fun task of willy washing (the things us horse owners have to do! LOL)!

  2. Hi this is a really timely email with regards to dropping. My 3 year old colt is just starting training very early days. He has been in the same stable herd since he was 3 days old, his best buddy is a 19 year old anglo Arab who has never allowed anyone into his personal space until Chase arrived, but that is another issue.

    Yesterday was dentist day and Chase has his first check, not a full dental procedure just getting him used to having someone put a gag on and look into his mouth, so very quick and he was great .

    I kept him on the head collar afterwards waiting for another to have his teeth seen to, otherwise he would have wanted to join in, we just stood outside the field shelter relaxing and having scratches.

    Then when the dentist was leaving we followed them up the field away from the herd into an adjoining field and then as he was quite relaxed about this we walked into the car park. He was very interested in sniffing the cars and was slightly tense so I slowly took him back into the field. We didn’t go straight back to the herd as he appeared to relax again. I didn’t have any treats was just scratching him. Whilst scratching at this point he appeared relaxed but dropped and got erect. I slowed down the scratching and let him graze, he was still not wanting to get back to the herd.

    I wondered if it was internal stress about leaving the herd so far and all the stimulation of the different things in the car park. He has never dropped whilst doing his initial training, we are just on the very early stages of walking, standing and initial target training which he seems to find easy with lots relaxing in between short sessions.

    I would like your opinion on this and whether I over stretched him, even though he appeared a little tense when in the new environment (less than 3 minutes) he seemed to relaxed quickly afterwards but dropped.

    Thanks Sally

    1. Hi Sally, I think this is just about the scratching. Grooming often causes horses to drop, sometimes from relaxation, other times it’s associated with sexual arousal. With colts of his age, it’s really common to begin to see a lot more sexual behaviour (think teenagers!) and it’s often stimulated by touch, so it’s something you’ll often start to see when grooming and scratching boys of that age (usually easily stimulated by grooming on the chest especially, which I assume mimics the feelings of mounting. Having watched young colts learn how to mate, there’s a lot of chest rubbing as they figure it out!!). You’ll see this in his behaviour in the herd, too – sexual behaviours towards mares and much more posing, nipping, striking, rearing and boy-play, too. Just be aware of it in your own interactions as you certainly don’t want Chase to begin to associate you with any sexual feelings – it sounded like you handled the situation perfectly by quietly re-directing him to the grass. There is a chance that the dentistry brought his adrenalin and general arousal levels up, which triggered it more easily, or it could have been a coincidence and just be his age and stage. Anyway, it’s something to keep an eye on. Have fun with Chase as he grows up – that age is so fun and also challenging as they can change and develop so quickly! I love that you’re having fun with CT with him already and that he’s lovely and relaxed during training – nice work! It’s a wonderful way to teach youngsters about the world while bringing out their joy and personality 🙂

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