I've taken over ownership of the big TB I started working with last spring, and am SERIOUSLY excited about his potential.
After moving him to my trainer's barn, pumping him full of food-stuffs, and putting him into a work program, he has gotten back up to fightin' weight, has muscled up, and is building a nice topline. He looks and feels amazing, even with a swollen leg last week due to a tantrum in the turnout over a mare.
However. Now that he is healthy and feeling good, he is realizing just how big, and how good he is feeling. On the ground he is still a model citizen 90% of the time. The one thing that we can't fix (we've tried everything) is head bobbing when he gets bored, anxious, wants to be fed, or has been in the cross ties for longer than he appreciates. We believe it is a habit he picked up at the track. Previous owner told me he has always done it, but I digress. Under saddle, however...is hit or miss. One day he will be quiet, focused, and just amazing. The next he is throwing a temper tantrum because I am insisting he carry himself properly, pay attention, and not canter like a giraffe. He is significantly hotter when the temps dip. He is getting as much turn out as we can do...two scheduled days a week, but I toss him out whenever I can as well.
We had a bad ride last night (how dare I make him work when its close to feeding time) and this morning (OMG my girlfriends are in the pasture next to the arena!), and I was ready to brain him with my whip every time he threw his head up. He has been adjusted by the chiro recently and his next appt is in a month. He just had his teeth done, and they were pretty icky. We have played around with his feed, but since he was quiet before the temps dropped on the same amount/supplements, we don't believe that is the root of the problem.
In a minor lapse of self-control, I picked up a small bucket of Vita-Calm at the feed store. I know it will test, but we are a LONG way from worrying about that. I am just desperate to have two rides, IN A ROW, where I feel that he is the same horse he was in warmer weather. Is that too much to ask?! Am I jumping the gun by buying a calming supplement? Should I wonder about ulcers? My vet suggested getting his testosterone levels tested because he does act a little studlier than normal geldings. He will randomly throw a "toss my head and strike" when he gets REALLY pissed that I'm asking him to work, so she may be on to something...
Anyway. Sorry for the novel. Opinions? Suggestions?
His current feed is 5lbs of TC Senior, 1lb Calf manna, 8,000mg Glucosamine, and about 25-30lbs of Orchard/Bermuda grass hay.
It sounds like you're doing all you can to make him happy and comfortable. Your boy is incredibly lucky to have you! Good for you to address all his physical concerns, particularly teeth.
It would be best if you could utilize a regular program that allows him to settle in his mind. The more he learns that he can settle and relax with you on him, the better he will be. Horses develop best with routine, so setting up a structure that encourages him to be regularly calm will greatly aid in your work with him.
It's good that you're getting him out as much as possible. However, 24/7 turnout is key, and will resolve a multitude of sins. If there is any way you can keep him out (beg, plead, bribe the barn manager if need be ), you'll almost immediately find a much calmer and relaxed horse. Think of it as the panacea of horse behavioral ailments.
Lungeing before you ride (particularly in combination with 24/7 turnout) is also a nice addition to a horse's program. At this point, consider it buck-and-play time; no need for sidereins, ropes, etc, quite yet. You'll hopefully only need to include it for a short time, until your boy figures out that he can be mentally focused. (As things continue, and he understands the program, you won't need to lunge for the purpose of taking off the extra edge.)
For the lungeing, try to acquire a 60' lungeline, and let him feel good and express himself. (60' allow the horse to feel more "free," and will actually encourage getting out the playful behavior. With a standard 30', you may not get much playfulness, but it'll still help.)
As turnout and lungeing take off the extra edge, you'll find that the rides will become more relaxed, mentally engaged, and all-around successes. As he learns that he can settle into the rides, he will adjust to the new behavior, and the calmness will be promoted. Set up your rides for positive experiences-- no wishing or hoping that things go calmly -- and the good-quality, calm rides will grow in number. "Success breeds success."
Take the grain and molasses out of his feeding program. Find a feed that has mostly fibre in it.
TTouch is incredibly helpful in teaching horses how to relax!! Teach him to stand with his head low. You will have to find a way to stop rewarding him for his habit and reward him instead for standing quietly.
Are you using a running martingale? I would add one and keep it short enough that it is actually effective. If he finds that throwing his head can't get him out of work he'll knock it off fairly quickly.
You don't mention how old he is. I find that a lot of horses doe go through a adolescent stage that you really do just have to persevere through.
His turn out situation DOES NOT HELP. I realize you are in SoCal and that's just life there, but I would see if you can arrange it so that he can at least get out for an hour EVERY DAY, and make it routine- "Poof goes out at 10am for an hour EVERY DAY."
Seriously consider his feed. Now that is weight is where it should be and he's looking good, try backing it down while adding in more forage (hay, cubes, chopped, whatever you can get). You can add in fat in some way (if you don't already) to help keep the calorie count up without having to feed a bunch of concentrates.
Also, does he ever get to do something that ISN'T schooling in the ring? My horse is a total workman, but he gets pretty hostile after too many days in a row in the ring, especially this time of year. You may try getting him out and about and see if his mood toward work doesn't change. And don't drill the same stuff over and over when you are in the ring. You may need to change things around, add in more lungeing or ground driving, more poles, whatever, to keep him curious and interested. Doing the same circle again and again is like working in a cubicle- mind numbing.
Set yourselves up for success by picking a good time of day to ride him (ie, NOT at dinner time), and do it every day. Routine may help a lot, and picking a quiet part of the day may help you get more days of good work in a row.
Lastly, while you should everything you can reasonably do to avoid the issue, this may just be him, at least for the time being. Some horses react to increase pressure by being jerks. Stay calm and unemotional and just be persistent and correct and reward him for correct responses to the things you ask of him. Don't play into him by getting angry right back at him (speaking from experience...I failed at this a little with Vernon, but I'm getting down pretty pat with Toby...and it is making a huge difference in the length and intensity of Toby's "THIS IS HARD!" type temper tantrums).
-That 4-6 year old age range can be prone to tempertantrums even if everything in the world is perfect. If your guy is young, or an alpha type, it could just be his personality right now.
- He really, really, REALLY needs to go out more. I get that it's hard, but I am willing to bet his two days of turnout are the root of the problem. Get him on a schedule, and get him out. Or pay someone to hand walk him. Something. If my only outlet for exercise was in the ring with a rider on my back once a day, you can bet I would not be well-behaved.
-Routine, routine, routine. Thoroughbreds in particular tend to cling to, and seek comfort from their routines. No, you don't want to rock his world just cause you're 15 minutes late to feed him, but it wouldn't hurt if you were there at the same time every single day (ditto the no dinner-time recommendation) to ride.
How old is the horse? Good behavior does not, ever, come out of a supplement bucket. Either he is ) being pushed too hard, or b) not being pushed hard ENOUGH, doesn't have enough turnout, or (far less likely to be THE ISSUE, IMO) he's getting too many calories for his current workload. It is the mark of a savvy trainer to be able to figure out "a" or "b". "c" should be a no brainer and feed--meh--I think horses getting "hot" from feed is much less common than reported.
-Ulcers. Causes unpredictable behavior that varies day to day. You can feed tums throughout the day for a few weeks to see if his behavior levels out. If it does, treat for ulcers.
-Find a soothing exercise he enjoys. (This goes with routine!) Begin the ride with it and end the ride with it. The idea is that he always starts and ends calm (even if the in between is a mess sometimes). For my tb, this is either natural horsemanship stuff in her rope halter (she loves it, and I love using it as a tool for babies ... she just hasn't outgrown the need for it) or walking bending serpentines. Even if she gets excited in the serpentines, I can take her back to walk and get her to really focus on the bends. She's quite bendy, so this is a natural fun activity for her. For my other mare, she likes stretchies, so I incorporate that before and after exercise to get her happy and calm.
-And I agree with setting up for success. It may feel like cheating but it actually builds good habits, and then when it IS feeding time, he's used to being calm and sweet, so doesn't react as badly. So for me, one of my mares likes to ride near the barn, especially at night. I will ride there most of the time, and then 2x a week get her working out in a field or out on trail. She has to get out of her comfort zone sometime, but no so much that it just creates unnecessary issues. If I'm teaching something new, I want it to be in her safe zone. Like I said, it feels like cheating, and some may argue that it is and spoiling the horse, but it really does help create consistency that can be applied in later situations.
I've herd that Senior does, on occasion, produce hotheads... My OTTB was a bit of a spider monkey on TC Senior 2 years ago (when he was 8). He has calmed down quite a bit on a pretty plain pelleted feed, even though his turnout is a bit less than it had been.
With that being said, he DOES get out daily from about 9-4, which (in my own experience) is the biggest factor to keeping him mentally manageable. I can't even imagine how much of a knucklehead he'd be if he only got out 2 days a week!
*friend of bar.ka
"Evidently, I am an unrepentant b*tch, possible trouble maker, and all around super villian"
Can you turn him out overnight in an indoor or riding ring? He really needs turn out.
I 'm very reluctant to manage behavior with feed changes when dealing with tbs. They need high octane feed but they also need turn out. Not only do they play out some of that exuberance, they also learn about using their power and athleticism. They're all about space and movement. He may still bring you some challenges, but at least you'll be able to tell you're dealing with a learning curve and/or attitude and not a real need to just move around and feel exuberant.
Yeah, feeding time . . . the always-demonstrative Keebler would have a HISSY FIT if you started tacking up at feeding time. He would literally stick out his lower lip like a toddler and pout at you.
As a BM, I make a point to hold off on feeding dinner if I've got a boarders tacking up in the cross ties. I know how cranked Tobes would get if that happened to him....I wouldn't want to wish that on anyone!
I dont' agree that TBs NEED high octane feed. Not all of them, that's for sure. Yes, you need to keep their weight up, but not every TB needs to be fed buckets and buckets of feed to do that (and I've had my fair share of fatties you live on nothing...and were TBs). I do think it is worth TRYING to cut back the concentrates now that he's where he needs to be. Do it gradually and be sure there is forage there, but it's not like this is a high performance animal at the moment...my understanding is he's just a greenie, and I don't think you should have to fight through a calorie induced mania to get them broke!
May not be at all possible, but work him in the a.m. If you can. Consistency. We have the twin to your guy, except no bobbing on him. If he is first ridden in a.m. He doesnt get upset ever. If he is anywhere else, head bobbing all day. As for stabling. He needs turn out. Depending on what you are going to do with him, depends on how much.
I know 24/7 is great, but take that horse to a two star, where they are in four or five days....no thanks! So we keep our competition horses in during day, out at night, in on weekends. It is a routine, and allows them to know what is happening!
Yes, turn out is your problem. Two days a week is nothing. I insist mine are always in 24/7 turnout, no matter who I have to beg or bribe, I hate stalling horses. And gold, they have no problem chilling in the stall at HT's -- I take them out and handwalk them often, let them graze, I don't just toss them in there and walk away.
He is a TB, he is bred and born to move, he is fit, he has energy to burn and he needs to burn it. Whether its taking him out for a good 15 mile trail ride (we MOVE OUT, we're not walking), a gallop session, longeing productively, he needs to MOVE.
Azu, I don't think every horse is the fan of turnout, especially 24/7 turnout, that people want to think they are! My horse LOVES his stall and is pretty content to hang out and nosh his hay. I had a horse that was VERY fair weather...he felt a rain drop, saw a bug, felt a coolish breeze, felt a touch of sunshine, and he was at his gate, hollering to come in.
Also have horses that never ever leave their sheds or stalls, even with access to big beautiful pastures. And some who never go in.
Being in a stall 23/24 hours is what OTTBs are USED TO. Doesn't mean it's optimal for them. Most youngsters will choose to sit and watch TV for 12 hours, given a chance. And yeah, some horses just like their stalls. But if you took away her option of a stall, assuming there was something to eat, an absence of horrid insects, and companionship I'll bet you she'd have no regrets.
...I dont' agree that TBs NEED high octane feed. Not all of them, that's for sure. Yes, you need to keep their weight up, but not every TB needs to be fed buckets and buckets of feed to do that (and I've had my fair share of fatties you live on nothing...and were TBs). I do think it is worth TRYING to cut back the concentrates now that he's where he needs to be. Do it gradually and be sure there is forage there, but it's not like this is a high performance animal at the moment...my understanding is he's just a greenie, and I don't think you should have to fight through a calorie induced mania to get them broke!
I wonder if I've misunderstood your meaning and think you're suggesting reducing the quality of feed when in fact you're just suggesting that the quantities be reduced? I'm happy to reduce quantities but even my retired guys are fed the quality of feed and hay I give my horses in work. And back when we broke babies we absolutely never skimped on quality of feed. But, I've always had access to tons of turn out with all the horses I've worked with.
It sounds like you are doing a great job trying to find the root cause.
I know its the standard answer for anytime a horse acts out....but I vote for ulcers, more turnout, and routine.
What has helped my mare:
1/2 C aloe juice twice per day. She was diagnosed with ulcers a few years ago (before she came to me), treated with 1 month of Ulcerguard, but then never put on a preventative or soother. So she gets Aloe 2x a day. She also gets magnesium (MagRestore) which has significantly decreased temper tantrums and increased her work ethic.
I also did everything I can to set my girl up for success. It may sound silly, but I did not ride at feeding time without giving my girl a snack. I did not ride if there may be horses galloping through the neighboring pasture. I did not ride when there was too much activity at the barn. After several months of quiet routine and being set up for success I can now ride with howling winds, kids playing basketball, running horses, etc without problems.
And wet saddlepads are your friend! Lots of work, especially at that age.